Death and Taxes

If one is diagnosed with stage-four gall bladder cancer and blogs about it, at some point the topic of death must be broached. I could think of no more appropriate time to bring up the subject than tax week. Some things just go together: peanut butter and jelly, salt and pepper, death and taxes. Considering that I  just wrote a tax check for more than my cancer treatment will cost, I would much rather write about death.

When I was thirty-one, after we were married and before we had kids, I told D that I was ready to die. To be certain, I had no death wish, my comment came from a place of gratitude. This was my way of saying that I was genuinely thankful for having lived a full, eventful and blessed life. I was raised by a close and loving family; I lived in God’s own Alabama, in the majestic mountains of Colorado, in the stark beauty of New Mexico, and in the Scenic City; I played basketball at a very high level; I ran a couple of marathons; I completed an Ironman; I was blessed with great friends; I knew a number of girls, and married the best one; I traveled at home and abroad; I saw Alabama play in bowl games; I saw Birmingham City win at Villa Park; I purchased a house; I had my share of drink and cigar smoke; I saw Oasis play at Madison Square Garden and Ray Charles sing Georgia at the Olympics. (That list could go on for a while). On the other side of the scale, nothing really bad had ever happened to me either: no one very close to me had died (that I was capable of remembering); I never had a serious illness; I never broke a bone; never had a surgery; and despite being “broke” in college, I never had to seriously worry about what I was going to eat or where I would sleep. In short, I had lived a very good full life in three short decades.

Over the past decade things have only gotten better. I started a business with people I love and respect; I started a business for myself; I designed and built a house for my family; I’ve designed and built houses for others; It taught architecture at a university; I’ve been back to England a few times and on to Amsterdam, Paris, Rome, Cordoba, Malaga, and Granada; I’ve seen the morning sun bathe St. Peter’s and the evening sun set on the walls of the Alhambra; I’ve played on the white sand beaches at Seaside and on the black sand beaches of Costa Rica; I've cooked fancy food in my house and eaten fancy food in a world class Parisian restaurant. (That list could go on for a while). In fact, things have been so good that I felt like I’ve been getting away with something. From a selfish, personal perspective the idea of dying now as opposed to sometime in the future isn’t really that troubling. I am confident in what I will find on the other side, I’ve lived a very full life, and I have seen and done things that most people on this planet don’t get to.

In the past decade, however, the two greatest things have happened as the boys have entered my life. All of the events listed above pale in comparison to what my boys mean to me. It is because of them that I can no longer honestly say that I’m ready to go. Of course, there is an element of self-interest as I am very keen to watch them grow up for my own personal satisfaction. From a broader perspective, my dread is of them growing up without their father. I don’t want them to feel that kind of pain and grief. I want to be there for them for everything. (I will revisit the father/son topic in a future post, stay tuned).

All of that said, I have no intention of cashing in just yet. It’s easy for me to write about death and to keep a positive attitude because I don’t believe that this will kill me (this time). That belief is most certainly grounded in naiveté and probably sustained by a health dose of denial. I know what the prognosis is, and I am aware of the statistics, but I have a feeling that we’re going to win this one. (If I’m right, then we’ll celebrate. If I’m wrong, then I won’t be around to hear anyone say I told you so.) Over the years I’ve played in a number of games where a team is down big with time running out, when the seemingly impossible happens and we’ve come back to win. There is a special feeling in those instances that despite the score and time, victory is the only outcome. Call it confidence, call it swagger, call it faith- but it’s special and it’s real.

This is also one of those blasted times where the parent has to practice what they preach. From time to time, the boys get upset when they’re losing- whether it be one their own sports games, or watching one of their favorite teams playing on TV. I constantly tell them not to focus on the score or the clock, but to focus on playing each play as hard as they can. I’m also fond of telling them that it is important to play as hard as you can for the entire game, regardless of the score, because that is the measure of a competitor. It’s never all right to quit... We must finish what we start....It’s not over ‘til the fat lady sings...(and so on).  It appears that I am now receiving a full dose of my own medicine. Admittedly, this is an extreme method of teaching, but I will lead by example if only for their sake.

So, there you have it, my obligatory post on death. While we’re on the topic, this week marks the death of one of my heroes. Louis Sullivan died on April 14, 1924. For those of you who are new to the blog, you might enjoy reading about another of my great adventures during the Summer of Sullivan. Chemo starts tomorrow (April 13), and I’ll let you know how it goes. Oh, and don't forget about your taxes, it's the one certainty in life.

One last death-based observation: In August of 1977 Elvis died. That summer he played his last four shows in Des Moines, Madison, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis before returning to Tennessee to die, aged 42. As fate would have it, last summer I visited Des Moines, Madison, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis, then turned 42...will my friends please help me keep clear of  Codeine, Valium, and Morphine prior to heading to the bathroom.

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