The pain started a little after lunch. Was it what she ate or something more serious, like the blockage that put her in the hospital for a week last March? With ovarian cancer, one never knows. When the pain persisted, we reluctantly decided to leave the family reunion in New Hampshire and head for Beth Israel.
She was again in remission after a second round of chemotherapy following an earlier 13-month period of remission. No shrinking violet, she studies all her medical reports, reads everything she gets her hands on about the disease, and carefully regulates her diet. “I know my own body,” she likes to say.
We left Thursday about 8 p.m., and a few miles beyond Franconia Notch, I heard her praying and then noticed she had fallen asleep. A good sign. On we drove and about two hours later as we approached Boston, she woke up with no pain. If I go to the hospital, they’ll just admit me; so let’s go home and see how I do, she said. That night she slept for seven hours and awoke with no symptoms.
Having decided it was likely only a severe attack of indigestion, we decided to head back to Bretton Woods. Short of a medical crisis, there was no way she was going to miss the reunion that had been planned for months. All 21 of us: our 5 children, their spouses and 9 grandchildren were there. Three hours later we were back, and all were relieved to see her return.
Aside from that scare, the weekend was a grand success. There is nothing we enjoy more than a family gathering highlighted with great food and drink, lively talk, laughing, music, singing, dancing, and the simple joy of all being together. There was swimming, hiking, fishing, bocce, badminton, and shooting from the deck at cans in the backyard with a pellet gun and BB gun.
A full moon rose above the trees in the backyard and cast a soft glow over the ski trails etched by the moonlight against the mountains. Without ambient city lights, a cascade of bright stars added their splendor to the magic of a beautiful night. There was a spiritual quality to the scene that brings a tear to the eye and makes a heart soar. It doesn’t get any better than this, I thought, as I turned to enter the house.
My wife’s cancer makes these reunions all the more precious. Strong and realistic, she confronts problems head on. This disease is going to kill me; I just don’t know when, she told me. In the meantime, I’m not finished raising my children or grandchildren. We have a Cape Cod reunion planned for next summer and another in New Hampshire in 2017. These goals give her something to strive for. We pray she will make it, but if not, she’ll be there in spirit.
I admire how she has coped with cancer and the example she sets for the rest of us. She continues to live a full and active life despite the inevitable anxiety and discomfort. We all face death, so one might as well make the most of it. The gift of a graceful death can be the last thing we leave to those we love. It provides an opportunity to show love, courage, faith, and acceptance.
Now is our time to part; my life will soon be over.
I leave you my love, our family and the joyful times we shared.
I take with me the sadness and any pain I may have caused.
Forgive my weaknesses and cherish my strengths.
In my absence, care for those we love;
For they are what remains of me.
I’ll be waiting down the road.
James W. Dolan is a retired Dorchester District Court judge who now practices law.