Last month I wrote a column about the way we all used to tan so madly, all heedless of the consequences. It was a humorous piece, or so I thought – until, this email about skin cancer arrived from a reader:
“Parents and middle-aged adults can quip about how fun it was to tan, or do all the stupid things we did as kids and then ask coyly how we made it this far. The answer is that those who didn’t make it aren’t here to write an article.”
Her words led me through many long corridors of regret and ended by bringing me to this memory: of an essay someone wrote for a class I once taught in which he described the final days of his robust 40-something son, who died of this disease, leaving his own young family to live on without him. The slightly shortened piece appears here below:
Our son’s death was a sledge-blow, but from the gentle way he told us of his diagnosis until those final days he lived his time with grace.
He had no illusions about his illness. He recognized that this sudden ambush attack by a cancer of unknown origin had made his body a battleground.
Doctors hoped he would have a few weeks of relative ease, and though his body lost the battle in a matter of days, his spirit remained undaunted.
“It’s a good day to die,” he told us on one of those days. “‘I have just seen my beautiful place and I want to go there.’
We knew he would, because anything he ever wanted he worked for, and he was working for this.
There were important papers to be gotten together which would require his signature. If we worked all night, we saw that we just might have them ready. We asked him if he could hold on and he said, “I will wait.”
On the road home that night, we received a call from his sister, herself an RN who had been in constant attendance. She said we should come back. Then our son insisted she hand him the phone and his voice came clear through the night:
“Mom. Dad. Don’t rush back. Don’t do any more work. We’ve said our good-byes. Remember when the children came in? Have you ever seen such a day? I love them! And I know you love me. Good-bye!”
Then his sister had the phone again. We talked it over there in the dark and decided maybe it wasn’t yet ‘a good day to die.’ So we kept on, collected what we needed, and gave it to the lawyer who worked all night. The next morning we presented the papers to Scott. Propped up with pillows, he signed them with a barely legible signature.
He and his mother talked for the last time. Then he smiled at her and said, ‘Night ‘night, Mom,’ reminding her that, as in childhood, he felt loved and unafraid as he went to sleep.
When it was my turn, I told him I only wished I could have been as good a father as he was. He asked me to kiss him. As I bent down to his bed, he squeezed my hand, smiled, and said, ‘On the mouth, Dad.’
Then something wonderful happened: As we held each other, a great clear aura of love filled the room. There seemed to be no furniture, nothing physical at all, and I saw that all the love he would have shown had he lived was now here, to be felt and used by us all.
That love has already bound our family closer together, given us more understanding and more consideration. As John Lennon wrote, ‘All you need is love.’ Love is here for us all. Believe it , feel it, use it and add to it from your own stores.”
My thanks go here both to the wise reader who led me back to this story and to the brave grieving father who first set it down.