Monday, March 16, 2009

No man is an island

I first met George about two years ago.

It was a week or two after we moved into our house. I was in the back yard trying to do something about years of overgrowth and neglect by the home's previous owners. George was in his backyard, raking his tidy, well-kept grass.

We met at the chain-link fence and introduced ourselves. George and his wife are the original owners of the house next door to ours. They're retired and split time between Overland Park and their house "down at the Lake" of the Ozarks.

I saw him frequently outside, tending to his yard and house. When we had our siding replaced, he asked for a couple dozen of the cedar shingles we removed. He used them to patch holes wood peckers had made in the cedar siding of his house.

We always took time to greet each other and spend a few minutes talking. He'd ask after our family. He made friends my parents and in-laws.

A guy couldn't ask for a better neighbor.

I became a little concerned when I stopped seeing him so much. The lat time I saw him was in September or so. We were talking about various home repairs when he mentioned, with a smile and a chuckle, that "I just don't seem to be getting around as easily as I used to."

I told him in parting to take it easy and have some red wine, then went on with my mowing or raking or whatever I was doing at the time.

Then October and November passed. December, January and February. I knew he and his wife liked to spend time at their lake house. They were also prone to flying south in the colder months, wintering in a condo in Florida or taking a Caribbean cruise.

Finally, this weekend George was out in the back yard again. I was glad to seem my friend again, but I almost wished I hadn't.

George had lost about 50 pounds since I'd last seem him. He moved slowly and his voice, low and smooth six months ago, had become raspy, like there wasn't enough breath behind it.

George was polite as ever, but he did say it hasn't been a good winter. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in October and has been on chemotherapy for six months.

The clothes he wore as a healthy, paunchy 195-pound retiree look like they're going to fall off of the 50-pound lighter version of him.

I awkwardly gave encouragement and inquired as to his prognosis. He said the doctors have told him you never really get rid of pancreatic cancer -- that you can hope for another year or maybe two.

True to his from, he was positive and upbeat. He said he would enjoy each day as much as he could. He is determined not to give anything up.

But even though it is apparent that he is still the same strong and healthy person in many of the ways that really count, I can't help but feel worried and sad for my friend.

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  1. Sorry to hear about your friend... it really ticks me off that there is still no cure for cancer.

  2. went to the funeral last week,still a young woman, just over 50. cancer sucks.

  3. Sorry to hear about George. Cancer sucks (and I have the pin to prove it!) He sounds just like my dad. Interactions with friends, family and neighbors really do keep him going every day - the more "normal" his life, the happier he is.

  4. Dying's just as natural as being born. Can't say life's good without embracing death as well. In fact, it appears the whole purpose of being born is to die, since thats what happens to everything that lives. But like a birth, the emotions associated with a death and dying are overwhelming. Can't think your way out of the conundrum that is existence on this planet. Can only accept or you'll tear yourself up--and you might do so anyway. Keep living till you dont!

  5. Nice sentiment and says alot about the kind of guy he must be.

  6. I get ticked every time I read of someone like your neighbor. There should be a cure by now. My Grandmother died of lung cancer back in 1959 and Dana Reeves died of lung cancer two years ago... what in the intervening 46 years has been preventing a cure discovery, or, at the very least, treatment that isn't almost medieval and almost worse than the disease. Just asking here.

  7. what gets me about this post is how quietly and gracefully some people become a part of your heart, your life -- without either of you really realizing it until a something so real, like terminal illness, removes that veil of formality. i think it's touching, these moments when we glimpse our own interconnectedness and even fragility in some sense, just through realizing the extent of our care for another person. I hope your friend enjoys what time he has and I hope the same for all of us, really. Thanks for that post.


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