Tuesday, January 3, 2012

I Hate Goodbyes

My neighbor is dying of cancer. In fact, he may have passed away by the time this posts. He is mostly unresponsive and is under palliative care, which is a fancy way of saying they're just trying to keep him pain free. Mr. John has spent the last two years battling cancer, and he put up a good fight. Better than most. In fact, I don't know anyone who has fought cancer harder than he has. He lost a leg in the process, learning how to use an artificial limb and tearing up the neighborhood in his motorized scooter. I nearly fell over back in the summer when I looked outside and saw him mowing with the riding mower. I just knew he'd turn over the dadgum thing and cause great excitement, but he didn't. And although it often terrified her, his wife got used to his shenanigans and would just shake her head and pray for the best. He would zip up and down the street, talking to all the neighbors and giving Hubby all kinds of advice on yard work. He volunteered at his church, and back in October, he spent his weekends helping out at the local pumpkin patch and laughing with all the little kids who came there for Halloween pumpkins and hayrides. The Vietnam veteran was unstoppable. Until last week.

His cancer resurged recently, and he'd been undergoing experimental treatments when he developed a fever right before Christmas Day. Not wanting to be in the hospital at Christmas and during their 30th wedding anniversary he held off going to the doctor until he knew it was inevitable. Sure enough. They sent him from the Veteran's Hospital by ambulance to another hospital for more intensive care. He knew his time was up, and he started preparing his wife for the inevitable. He's actually been preparing her for months. He spent most of the past year, getting things done around the house to make it low maintenance for her when he's gone. He spent a lot of money on rubberized mulch, so she wouldn't have to drag and scoop mulch around their extensive landscaping. He paid for new windows, gutters and other improvements that were going to be needed in the next few years. He sold stuff he couldn't use anymore to eliminate some of the stuff she'd have to go through and sell. And he talked about dying.

I think he talked about it to help take away the fear for her. He wasn't afraid. He never was. Or at least he didn't act like it. I really think he had little fear. He is a Christian man who is strong in his faith, and it showed in his war against cancer and in his surrender this week. He confidently told his wife a few days ago, he was ready to go.

It also showed in the way he lived his life these past few years. He and his wife traveled and did things they wanted to do. He volunteered at many activities and basically enjoyed each day. And he didn't complain about his disease. If you had never asked him about his leg or scooter you wouldn't have known he was sick. I've often pondered the matter of fact way he has dealt with all that has happened to him in the past two years. If I am ever unfortunate enough to have a terminal illness, I hope I have the courage to put up the same kind of fight. Was he perfect? No, but he was good. I will miss seeing him fly across our yard on that scooter to find out what's going on whenever Hubby is in the middle of a project. He and another elderly neighbor stood at the edge of our pool last year, overseeing and debating its construction while the workers dug the hole and moved dirt and concrete. I wish I had taken a picture of them.

Last year, we bought Mr. John's Christmas lights. It was a pretty elaborate set of life sized nativity figures, complete with camels and donkeys. He had reached the point where he couldn't maintain them anymore. He helped Hubby put them up in the yard last November, and it made him proud to see them on display. I hate that we didn't get them up this year. With Papa T.'s hospital stays and life's craziness, we just couldn't find the time to set them up. I know Mr. John would have enjoyed seeing them one last time. We plan to have the displays refurbished this year with new bulbs and to do a little electrical work so that it's easier to set them up in the yard. We want them to be ready to go when November rolls back around. And when I'll look at that bright glow of Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus and all those camels I shall think of Mr. John, a life well lived and a life well ended. I should be so lucky.


Bro. Dave said...

You should pass this blog on to Mr. john's pastor. It's a beautiful eulogy to the man's life. (Have you ever considered the ministry?)

J.G. said...

This is a beautiful and heartfelt tribute, Hula, to a life lived with verve. His family would surely appreciate the way you have portrayed his unique spirit.

I will keep all of them in my prayers.

Kelley with Amy's Angels said...

I hate good-byes, too. Keeping you all (and Mr John's) family in my thoughts.

The Sweetest Days said...

Well said. I hope is wife is holding up okay and receiving plenty of support. With your husband being home and being such a nice guy I'm sure he offers help when he can.
Not sure I could handle death so gracefully.