Dealing with mortality

Bill and Maureen Compton, David Compton's parents, with their daughter Tracy Sharpe (right) and her husband, John, at the Gloucester County Courthouse after James Stuart's plea.

This week kinda sucked, and it had nothing to do directly with my melanoma.  On consecutive days, we were given reminders of how mortality can come at any time. 

First, my in-in-laws (or whatever you would call “my brother and his wife/in-laws”) dealt with the arraignment of an off-duty Deptford cop who “allegedly” shot and killed their son – my brother-in-law-in-law, I guess.  His death happened just before my TIL trial started in January, and gave our entire family an additional layer of emotional stress as the legal proceedings slowly developed over the course of 2013. The arraignment was a step forward, but re-opened a wound that never healed.

Tuesday, our babysitter’s grandmother passed away; she got the phone call while watching Tommy, and decided to stay the whole day anyway.  As she put it, the little guy was a “good distraction” and even was wiping her tears away. A toddler is a great diversion from reality, but only for so long before it sinks back in.

Then, I found out Wednesday that Chad, a fellow Stage IV melanoma patient who I knew (but never met) through a mutual friend, had died peacefully earlier that morning.  I wrote about Chad and Aimee in March, the week I found out my TIL trial hadn’t worked.  Since then, the similar paths our disease had taken made a distinct fork in the road.  I was able to get onto a drug that has produced good results; Chad’s condition gradually worsened.  He completed his final mission here and was called home to the Lord long before his time should have been up. 

Learning of these passings got me thinking (always a dicey proposition) and reflecting on the last 15 months.  For anyone who’s been in a funk, you know the feeling when bad news descends and overrides thought processes.  You lay there a little longer before getting up.  You bump into things walking around in a slight haze - a desk, a door jamb, the kitchen chair.  You go to put something away, but instead toss it haphazardly on the bed.  You walk into a room and have absolutely NO IDEA what you came in there to do.  The last few days I slipped in and out of that.  It’s nothing compared to what the Comptons, the Altmans, or the Wriglesworth families are going through, of course.  Without realizing thought, I internalized their losses, at least for a bit, until I looked in the mirror and snapped out of it.  

I got up this morning, made it through yoga (despite yet another colostomy breach).  I got a nice long shower, made a salad, blackened some fresh-caught mahi for a healthy lunch.  I played with my son and gave my daughter a kiss when she went off to school.  I woke up, in my own bed, in my own house, next to my wife – the kids even let us sleep in until almost 6 AM.  I finalized plans to see the Sharpe side of the family for a pre-Thanksgiving trip.  I emailed Andrew Fox’s wife Bonnie about the melanoma fundraiser basketball tournament they have every year to honor Andew’s memory.  He lost his battle in 2007 at 43, leaving behind a family – another reminder, in a week full of them, that I still have a family and a life here to focus on.  I was alive AND living, two things to be very thankful for this holiday season.

So when I looked into that mirror, the reflection gave me a little kick in the rear.  The reminders for me – for everyone – to take that time to play with your kids, kiss them hello and goodbye.  Share a quiet moment with the better half.  Go see your parents.  Call up a couple of buddies and go play hoops (specifically, on the Main Line, next Saturday 11/30 at Harriton High School in Rosemont). 

The quiet end to my reflection was the Irish folk song “The Parting Glass”.   I first heard it at Irish Kevin’s in Key West, which, unsurprisingly, is slightly different than the traditional Celtic version sung by, among others, The Clancy Brothers.  (You can Google the Jared Michael Hobgood version, but it’s NSFW)  The last two lines have always stuck with me, a metaphor for saying goodbye for an evening or a lifetime:

But since it falls unto my lot, that I should rise, and you should not
I’ll gently rise and softly call, goodnight and joy be with you all

Whether the parting of ways was as friends, of a relationship, or even the literal interpretation of not rising, the melody evokes strong sentiments of a journey completed and separate ways initiated. My visualization has always been, in typical Hollywood-drama fashion, starting down that road less traveled, and looking back to smile and nod goodbye (in my world, there’s rolling hills of four-leaf clovers in the background, with flutes and bagpipes playing – told you it was dramatic). Today, I looked back down that road, at David, at Grandmom Altman, at Chad, and at every patient that has come before me (like Andrew) and lost their battle. Goodnight – and joy be with you all, during these difficult times.

T.J. Sharpe shares his fight against Stage 4 Melanoma in the Patient #1 blog. Read more »

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