Yesterday, a local musician/singer passed away at the age of 65.
We had seen him perform a few times at the Shaker Festival we attend in Ohio every fall. Actually, when I say see him perform, I really meant we would sometimes stroll past the stage and listen to a song or two. Because it was a "Christmas in October" festival theme, sometimes he was performing Christmas carols. Other times he just covered popular tunes. He had a nice voice, and we liked him, but we knew local friends who had grown up in the area who really adored him. I think there was a special "western PA" connection that people had with him which we, as native Virginians, never quite felt.
I mention this because we saw him again recently, not on stage, but at the cancer center where I am regularly treated. We were in the treatment area so I could get my immunotherapy, and he was in the next chair getting chemo treatments. He looked familiar to us, but we couldn't quite place him. Then some local fans started coming up to introduce themselves and to say how much they loved his work, and the penny dropped.
Even though we then recognized him, and it would have been easy to say, "Oh, we've heard you several times at the Ohio festival!" we opted not to. He seemed very tired that day, and something he said to a woman who was a bit gushing with him indicated to us that he was not entirely thrilled that people were coming up to him while he was in the middle of treatment. He wasn't rude - in fact, both he and his wife, sitting next to him, were very gracious to everyone who talked with them. But you just got the sense that he would have preferred a little privacy, or so D and I agreed when we talked about it later.
I am thinking of his wife a lot today. I know how much love the people who sit in those accompanying roles have. I know they are often the anxious looking ones, the ones who jump up and fetch what the person in treatment needs, the ones who ask the nurses questions and advocate with the doctors and sometimes leap into the middle of patient-doctor conversations to say "well, this is how he's been feeling lately," or "she said last week she felt this way." I know from all that my husband and sister have done for me, how much every cancer patient owes to anyone who comes with them and sits with them through treatment, loving them through the moments when they are allowing toxicity into their bodies in the hopes that it will kill what needs to be killed without hurting anything else.
And I am thinking of him too. The obituary said he had an inoperable brain tumor and was diagnosed in 2007, which means he and wife had been living with the reality of that for nine years. Nine years is a long time to fight, a long time to stay on the mat. A long time to go through treatment, particularly in the knowledge that it might or might not make much difference in the end. I don't know, but I hope it made some good difference. I hope it gave him some years he wouldn't have had otherwise, and some pain relief. I hope it gave him more time to sing his songs and more reason to sing.
And now I am thinking of -- and praying for -- not just this family affected by cancer, but every family afffected by it, including my own. I am remembering that every time I go to the cancer center, the person I sit next to has a story to tell whether or not they choose to tell it (sometimes all it takes is a sympathetic smile and a question for some people to tell their story, or sometimes they ask you for yours and then tell you theirs, and sometimes they'd obviously rather not talk at all). I am remembering that the person sitting next to me may have been on their journey a long time or a short time. They may be facing the incredible news they are on the road to healing, or the news that they will soon die. They all need prayer, every single one of them, just as I do. They are all thankful for the love of whomever is with them and for the incredible care from the nurses and doctors.
It takes courage to get through illness, courage I never thought about very deeply until I needed to find it, and until I spent time watching other people find it too.
From Mary Oliver today:
"No, I'd never been to this country
before. No, I didn't know where the roads
would lead me. No, I didn't intend to