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Posted By Opening the Heart

      "It's never too late to have a happy childhood"     Ken Kesey

   In my therapy practice, I see a 64 year old man who is dying of liver cancer. John tells me that he asked his oncology doctors at Dana Farber in Boston to be "straight" with him in re: to longevity. John said "They told me I have 3 to maybe 20 months to live". He added "That was 10 months ago". He is a very successful businessman, impeccably dressed in clothes that fit him perfectly. He tells me this stoically, without a tear or any drama. And yet, there is a tenderness to his voice when he adds that he wants to "get some things right" before he dies. He explains that he would like to get closer to his two children and also to their partners. "My whole life, I never knew how to make time for John". What this meant was that he grew up in a home without a lot of emotion or warmth. But he learned to work and be productive from the time he was 14. And he was successful at harvesting recognition from his accomplishments. "I had no idea that maybe I should aim for a little more balance in my life" - to try to grow love for both self and others. His disclosure that he never made time for himself was poignant to me. He'd never just vegged out in front of the tv with his feet up, munching popcorn or went to the movies, or took a stroll in the park with his son on a beautiful early spring day- never took time to just enjoy himself.

   Two weeks ago John asked his daughter-in-law, Suzanne, to go with him to meet with the social worker at Dana Farber for some "planning" to bring closure to some of the details of his life. Frank, the social worker, suggested that John may want to write instructions for his family regarding who John wanted to be pall bearers at the funeral, and also for John to make a list of who should be notified of his passing. As John gave the names, Suzanne wrote them down. And as John continued, he gave up a tear and he became quiet as the names of loved ones caught in his throat and more tears came.

   Suzanne looked up, her eyes also filled with tears. She'd never seen John cry before. At lunch after the meeting, John thanked Suzanne for being there, telling her how much it meant to him to have her there. She hugged him hard and long and said how much his tears meant to her and they cried, again, together...

   Someone told me that in this country, we spend $300 million dollars a year on costumes for pets for Halloween. And I thought of how much we spend on ourselves, too, to put on costumes and masks for this one day each year. But really, when Halloween is over, we take the masks off, but make sure that the other masks we wear year round are still well in place. I thought "Where in our lives do we feel safe enough, courageous enough, to take off those well-fitted masks and risk showing who we really are, how we really feel".

   It occurred to me that at that meeting with the social worker, John really was, finally, taking time for himself to be real with his daughter-in-law, and what a gift it was to them both. But, even more, what it might mean to John's son and grandchildren to be able to see behind the curtain. Since that meeting, John has committed to getting other "things" in order. He is meeting his son for breakfast once a week and he has invited his daughter to go with him to a conference on "Living Beyond Cancer". I have such admiration for John and his courage to not give up learning how to love even at the end of his life.

   With Love and Respect, JonJon


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