Paul L. Caron
Dean




Sunday, August 8, 2021

I Just Learned I Only Have Months To Live. This Is What I Want To Say.

Boston Globe Magazine:  I Just Learned I Only Have Months To Live. This Is What I Want To Say, by Jack Thomas:

ThomasI’ve been a journalist for more than 60 years. So after doctors delivered the news, I sat down to do what came naturally, if painfully: Write this story. ...

After a week of injections, blood tests, X-rays, and a CAT scan, I have been diagnosed with cancer. It’s inoperable. Doctors say it will kill me within a time they measure not in years, but months.

As the saying goes, fate has dealt me one from the bottom of the deck, and I am now condemned to confront the question that has plagued me for years: How does a person spend what he knows are his final months of life? ...

Till now, life’s been grand. I was blessed to write for a newspaper, a career H. L. Mencken described as the life of kings. I was a teenager when I began to work for the Globe as a copy boy in sports, followed by beats as police reporter, State House reporter, city editor, editorial writer, Washington correspondent, national correspondent, television critic, feature writer, and ombudsman. My first story was in 1958, so publication of this essay today marks the eighth decade that my writing has appeared in the Globe.

In every newsroom, death has a full-time job, and so, like most reporters, I’ve written a lot about it, about murders, suicides, and fatal accidents. I’ve written too many obituaries for my family, friends, and colleagues. ...

Editing the final details of one’s life is like editing a story for the final time. It’s the last shot an editor has at making corrections, the last rewrite before the roll of the presses.

It’s more painful than I anticipated to throw away files and paperwork that seemed critical to my survival just two weeks ago, and today, are all trash. Like the manual for the TV that broke down four years ago, and notebooks for stories that will never be written, and from former girlfriends, letters whose value will plummet the day I die. Filling wastebasket after wastebasket is a regrettable reminder that I have squandered much of my life on trivia.

The final months would be a lot easier if I could be assured that, after death, we’d get a chance to see people who have died already. I’d like to shake hands with my best friend, my father, who died in 1972 and whom I’ve missed every day since. I owe him an apology. When I was 12, I stole 50 cents from his trousers, two quarters. The guilt was suffocating, though, and 10 days later I replaced his 50 cents, and I added an extra 25 for interest and atonement. ...

Does the intensity of a fatal illness clarify anything? Every day, I look at my wife’s beautiful face more admiringly, and in the garden, I do stare at the long row of blue hydrangeas with more appreciation than before. And the hundreds and hundreds of roses that bloomed this year were a greater joy than usual, not merely in their massive sprays of color, but also in their deep green foliage, the soft petals, the deep colors and the aromas that remind me of boyhood. As for the crises in Cuba and Haiti, however, and voting rights and the inexplicable stubbornness of Republicans who refuse to submit to an inoculation that might save their lives — on all those matters, no insights, no thunderbolts of discovery. I remai­­n as ignorant as ever.

I am now so early into this new hell that I have no pain, although that is coming, surely, and no symptoms except moments of utter exhaustion and, in the past three months, a loss of 20 pounds. After decades of turning down desserts, candies, and pastries to control my weight, it now seems cruel to be pressured to eat more food for which I have less appetite.

As my life nears the finish line, the list of things I’ll miss grows. ...

After I die, I’m not expecting the world, but this business about the afterlife is more complicated than what they describe in the Bible. The experts say more than 100 billion humans have died. If you’re looking for a buddy to have a beer, like jazzman Dave McKenna or writer Jerry Murphy or possibly Peter Falk who played Columbo, how are you going to find him in a mob of 100 billion people? ...

As death draws near, I feel the same uncomfortable transition I experienced when I was a teenager at Brantwood Camp in Peterborough, New Hampshire, packing up to go home after a grand summer. I’m not sure what awaits me when I get home, but this has certainly been an exciting experience. I had a loving family. I had a great job at the newspaper. I met fascinating people, and I saw myriad worldwide wonders. It’s been full of fun and laughter, too, a really good time.

I just wish I could stay a little longer.

 

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