Not Yet 60

The mid-afternoon autumnal light slanting across the parking lot warms the day and lifts my heart, an involuntary response to something in the quality of the light. The air has a crispness we don’t get in the heat of summer. Dried leaves whisper among themselves, thrown together at random by the winds swirling in the corner of the L-shaped strip mall.

Without much difficulty I dodge the cars moving gingerly in and out of parking spots just a shade too narrow to accommodate them, and make my way over to the mailbox. As I stand in front of it with my card in my hands, I think of the intended recipient.

Daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, all-round good soul. Not yet 60; starting chemotherapy.

Cancer. It comes in many forms.

Prostate, kidney, pancreatic, liver, lung, brain, bowel, cervical, skin, uterine, lymphatic, breast, bone.

Cancer. It takes all kinds.

Grandparents. Minister. In-laws. Colleague times four. Maybe five. Neighbours, current and former. Aunts and uncles. Friend. Friend’s husband. Cousin. Colleague’s friend. And now this. It just never quits.

Cancer. Sometimes it sees me tippy-toeing around the person, afraid to breathe the word. Afraid to intrude. Afraid to presume. Afraid of the pain. Sometimes it sees me finding a way through the fear. A way not to flinch away from the pain.

As I stand there, still uncertain, I think again of the card’s recipient and try to see it from her perspective. Coming from someone in her extended circle, someone who cares but who is unconnected to the ups and downs of her fight, will it brighten her day or impose a burden?

I can’t say. As much as I want to, I can’t control the outcome – not of her cancer, not even of this card.

But I can choose my actions and, this time, I choose not to flinch.

I pop the card through the slot.

The mid-afternoon autumnal light slanting across the parking lot warms the day, and lifts my heart.

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10 Responses to Not Yet 60

  1. Ralph Gibson says:

    Nicely done!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Ralph – My thanks. From the far side of 60, a life-threatening illness at less than that seems way too early – and it is.

  2. Facing cancer country, it must help you know you have support on your travel through it from all kinds of friends, close and not-that-close, but who care about you. My thoughts go out to her to add “white-light” around her. Can’t hurt!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – That’s the hope, certainly. I remember talking to an old friend who, after her husband died, had to let the condolence cards sit, some days, because she couldn’t look at them. As she said, every person is different and every day is different for every person. I guess as long as we don’t expect a response – or require one, somehow, by our actions – it should all be good.

  3. Surely, every loving act helps? You speak for all of us in that secondary or tertiary band of friends who hesitate, not knowing how to help or what to say. I was afraid to carry illness to a close friend during her chemo; much later, she said she would have preferred those risks to my absence. If the crisis deepens, the circle of those most wanted and needed by the patient shrinks and concentrates to those closest and most affected by the illness. Yet, I cannot separate my grief after one recent funeral from the feeling that I should have done more while I could. At the very least, your unflinching choice strengthens me for another occasion.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – I’ve seen that narrowing of the field you speak of happen with folks who are close to death. Not surprising, really – I don’t want a stream of friends through my sick room, even. Yet, somehow, when I know someone is close to death, I feel more impetus to go – especially if I haven’t done anything earlier. Imagine how exhausting and how distressing – having to keep saying goodbye to everyone. Better to cherish them while I can – the sooner the better!

  4. Marjorie Gibson says:

    From where I stand, among a collection of people who have a fatal condition, age, I say you did the best thing. The sense that people care is a comforting and a powerful thing, helpful even when their problems cannot be cured.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Marjorie/Mom – What’s that old “joke” about life – Nobody gets out alive! Thanks for your perspective from a rather different stage. I’ll go with the hope/belief that showing concern is better than not.

  5. Judith says:

    I’m working, and learning, on the palliative care ward at the moment and opened up your “Not Yet 60” for a light distraction. So much for that! I think your approach seems good- offering your support and sympathy without demanding any response.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Judith – Yes, there’s little rest and no respite. Life just keeps on coming at you. I think you make a good point – it’s good to find a way to provide some support without turning it into an obligation.

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