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Celebrating Life

September 10, 2016

In early 2014, Melinda, the founding and longtime editor-in-chief of the alternative paper Sacramento News and Review, married to my friend Dave, found out she had a rare form of skin cancer and had a “yearish” to live. In 2015, she wrote an op-ed piece that ran in the LA Times describing the experience of a terminal diagnosis.

It’s worth reading for its intelligence and clarity in the face of such an unknown path.

I’m fascinated by how people handle their transitions. Jim and I have definitely entered that time in life when our generation is experiencing the passing of parents, and more than a few in our generation are facing untimely deaths. It’s just no longer out there.  I’m very grateful for the many reminders to cherish–to look around, recognize the beauty and many gifts of life, let go of the icky stuff, relax and love.   

I like what Melinda said here in her op-ed:

I sometimes worry about my ability to exit life with grace and humor. What if I’m bad at suffering? I admit I can fill up with fear, but what’s the point? For counsel, I turn to my favorite philosopher, Lao Tzu: Be content with what you have/rejoice in the way things are/When you realize there is nothing lacking/the whole world belongs to you.

I understand that my infinitesimally tiny piece in all this is coming to a close. Letting go will be difficult, but death has its own clock. So I will take solace in the idea that, once gone, I may come to occupy a small space in the hearts of the people who loved me most. And perhaps from there, I will be a source of a few simple reminders: Time is limited. Life is miraculous. And we are beautiful.

She’s had a pretty good year. Her oncologist, coincidentally a guy from Davis whose practice is in San Francisco (and also someone I knew as a somewhat awkward junior high school student at Holmes whom I supervised in a recreation program I ran for the City of Davis back in the early 80s), included her in a clinical trial (described in a follow up  LA Times op-ed a couple of months ago) which, so far, has been impressively successful. She describes herself as being a lucky participant on the very fortunate front lines of new strategies for cancer treatment–in particular, immunotherapy–and that it’s offered her the gift of extra time:

My place in the timeline of these changes is at the inception, and there is much yet that is not understood. My treatments are stretching the good time I have left, not lifting my death sentence. I am still coming to terms as best I can with my own unequivocal transience.

When people are surprised to see me, I tell them I’m among the early fortunate. I am grateful each day for my husband, family and friends. Facing death on a close horizon has heightened my awareness that our time on Earth is finite. But quite unexpectedly it has also made me a living, breathing advertisement for humanity’s hopeful new edge on cancer.

Well. All of this is to say that Melinda’s 60th birthday was last week and today she was celebrated by a warm (and fun and sizable!) crowd gathered at the Davis Art Center.

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^^ Melinda, a guy I don’t know, and Dave listening to well wishes.

Melinda made comments, too:

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She spoke about how it’s so unfortunate that the greatest party ever thrown for a person is their wake, how we so often lament that the person is not there among his/her family and closest friends, all of whom are remembering and sharing the very best of that person. Melinda decided to attend her own party… so to speak.

Pretty great.

Her comments were very brief, prompting the funniest comment of the evening from Dave… something like: My wife spent a lifetime writing and editing 4000-word pieces…

It was good to be among a surprising number of friends..a reminder that our community is both large and has embracing arms (and also good music, flowers and food!).

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