Jack Thomas is an 82-year-old newspaperman who unexpectedly learned he would die soon. He wrote about it at The Boston Globe. RTWT. If you’re old, you may need a tissue handy, in case you get something in your eye. He’s a talented writer. A few out-of-order excerpts:
“After a week of injections, blood tests, X-rays, and a CAT scan, I have been diagnosed with cancer. It’s inoperable. Doctors say it will kill me within a time they measure not in years, but months.
“As the saying goes, fate has dealt me one from the bottom of the deck, and I am now condemned to confront the question that has plagued me for years: How does a person spend what he knows are his final months of life?
“Atop the list of things I’ll miss are the smiles and hugs every morning from my beautiful wife, Geraldine, the greatest blessing of my life. I hate the notion of an eternity without hearing laughter from my three children. And what about my 40 rose bushes? Who will nurture them? I cannot imagine an afterlife without the red of my America roses or the aroma of my yellow Julia Childs.
“We told each of the three children individually. John Patrick put his face in his hands, racked with sobs. After hanging up the telephone, Jennifer doubled over and wept until her dog, Rosie, approached to lick away the tears but not the melancholy. Faith explained over the telephone that, if I could see her, she was weeping and wondering how she could get along without her dad. Now, she is on the Internet every day, snorkeling for new research, new strategies, new medications. My wife cries every morning, then rolls up her sleeves and handles all doctor appointments and medication. Without her . . . I cannot imagine.
“Editing the final details of one’s life is like editing a story for the final time. It’s the last shot an editor has at making corrections, the last rewrite before the roll of the presses. It’s more painful than I anticipated to throw away files and paperwork that seemed critical to my survival just two weeks ago, and today, are all trash. Like the manual for the TV that broke down four years ago, and notebooks for stories that will never be written, and from former girlfriends, letters whose value will plummet the day I die. Filling wastebasket after wastebasket is a regrettable reminder that I have squandered much of my life on trivia.
“Unlike Roman Catholics, Jews, and atheists, we Episcopalians are very good at fence-sitting. We embrace all viewpoints, and as a result, we are as confused as the Unitarians.
“Does the intensity of a fatal illness clarify anything? Every day, I look at my wife’s beautiful face more admiringly, and in the garden, I do stare at the long row of blue hydrangeas with more appreciation than before. And the hundreds and hundreds of roses that bloomed this year were a greater joy than usual, not merely in their massive sprays of color, but also in their deep green foliage, the soft petals, the deep colors and the aromas that remind me of boyhood. As for the crises in Cuba and Haiti, however, and voting rights and the inexplicable stubbornness of Republicans who refuse to submit to an inoculation that might save their lives — on all those matters, no insights, no thunderbolts of discovery. I remain as ignorant as ever.
“I’ll miss my homes in Cambridge and Falmouth. I’ll never again see the sun rise over the marsh off Vineyard Sound, never again see that little, yellow goldfinch that perched atop a hemlock outside my window from time to time so that both of us could watch the tide rise to cover the wetland.
“As death draws near, I feel the same uncomfortable transition I experienced when I was a teenager at Brantwood Camp in Peterborough, New Hampshire, packing up to go home after a grand summer. I’m not sure what awaits me when I get home, but this has certainly been an exciting experience. I had a loving family. I had a great job at the newspaper. I met fascinating people, and I saw myriad worldwide wonders. It’s been full of fun and laughter, too, a really good time.
“I just wish I could stay a little longer.”