by Harvey Gould
A few months ago I turned sixty eight. When I was fifty five I was diagnosed with PMF. With the diagnosis came the prognosis—three to five years to live. Even for someone level-headed and not easily shaken, that verdict was hard to hear, hard to absorb, hard to accept.
I had no desire to change my life. Instead, I wanted to experience it with then highly heightened senses. There were aspects of my life that I was forced to leave behind because of a significantly decreased level of stamina. One of those casualties was my career as a lawyer. But what most caused me to feel emotional pain was the thought of not being able to grow old with my wife. It was a second marriage for both of us and when finally she agreed to marry me, by then I’d courted her for twelve years. Suffice it to say that I’d be happy if the epitaph on my gravestone is “Karen married him.” I adore this woman and now, twenty three years after we’ve been married, it just gets deeper.
So, though I’ve generally come to terms with my disease, I still find myself with tears falling down my face when I think of not being there with my wife, my children, my grandkids. I don’t think so much of how the end will come, but mostly about simply not being there. And yet, at a time in life when most folks have long since decided not to deal with things like renovations to a house, and especially not at a stage of advanced MF, Karen and I are planning to make major renovations to ours. Why? Because we’re focused on life, not death.
As much as we love our house, as is, there are elements that can make living there more enjoyable and we want our comfort zone to be maximized and I want her physical surroundings to be as perfect as possible for our remaining years together and afterward.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t intend to die in the near future. I plan on traveling with Karen back to our beloved Ireland. Maybe I’ve got another book in me. Maybe I’ve got more songs to write and record.
I’ve said before that being diagnosed with a chronic and terminal disease does bring its blessings. Yes, blessings. Over the millennia writers and philosophers far smarter than I have explained that only by facing loss can you truly come to understand the gift of what you stand to lose. How can you fully appreciate the sensation of pleasure if you’ve not known pain? How can you fully comprehend the gift of life, the meanings of time and love unless you know that you are likely to lose them in the near future?
One of the things I did within a relatively short time after my diagnosis was to smell a rose. It’s not that this was a new experience for me, but in an important way, it was. I didn’t just smell that rose. I inhaled its scent. It was as though in times past I’d taken a waft and thought, Lovely. Now, I took it in deeply and thought, This may be the last time I’ll ever smell a rose so I’m going to make it count. I’m going to close my eyes, and accept this perfumed gift as though it’s meant just for me in this moment.
And so I’ve tried to treat every day as though it could be my last. I don’t take time for granted. I am thankful for each day. There are times when I’m laid low; there are procedures and surgeries I’ve been forced to undergo; there are times when it takes all my effort just to stand up, but somehow I come back—back to life, back to enjoying the sunset, back to kissing my wife’s head as I pass her while she’s reading a book, always desperately not wanting to leave her for many more years.
I sometimes ask Karen, “If you’d known what you’d be facing with all that you have to deal with because of my challenges, and all that this has put you through, would you still have married me?” She tears up, puts her hand on my cheek, gives her head a slight shake, looks deep into my eyes, kisses me softly and says, “I wouldn’t change one year, one month, one day, one minute” and I know life is worth living.
© Harvey Gould and MPNforum.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Harvey Gould and MPNforum.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.