Through life we experience a multitude of rituals, weddings and all the nuances within, christenings, parades, sporting events, the list goes on and on.  One ritual that surfaced for me is that associated with funerals.  It is a funny thing in may ways with a variety of possibilities, most of which reside within the realm of what I consider the macabre.  Someone dies and we send them to the undertaker who ‘prepares’ the body based on things like the number of ‘viewing’ days, we place it in a box made of any of a variety of materials and then we put the body on display for those friends and family to mourn.  We then have some sort of ‘service’ performed in order to ensure the deceased, or should  say the spirit of the deceased, is properly launched to wherever they go and then we place them into the ground or should I say typically into a concrete box in the ground.  Lastly, we mark the grave with a marker of sorts, a stone monument offering some bit of information on who lies below.

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Throughout life we often speculate our reaction, or action, in response to some event.  We think about what we would do if we won the lottery, instantly becoming a millionaire or perhaps what we would do if we faced death.  For some that event never becomes reality, never materializes and so we remain speculative.  In some cases the proverbial ‘rubber meets the road’, the event happens and our speculation can now become reality.  I knew someone who did win the lottery and when buying tickets had always said they would keep their job, trying to retain as normal a life as possible and, for a short while, that was the case.  However with time the lottery winner moved to other things, built the big house and started the business always dreamed of being theirs.  For others, and as is the case for me, their event, their reality, is impending death.

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For those familiar, you will know I recently relocated, a major move that included leaving a warm climate for one substantially colder.  One may ask the reason, but as I try to humorously put it, ‘there are more folks here to dig the hole’.  In saying that I convey most of my family and friends live here. It is a coming home of sorts, but with a different slant, a coming home after thirteen years of being away.  It is also a chance to reconnect with many old friends, some I’ve not seen for many years.  However, with it comes all the mechanics of relocating, establishing my residency in a new state, finding a barber and, most importantly, identifying several doctors for the day-to-day nuances of dealing with cancer.  Principally, and most urgent, is identifying a primary care physician, a ‘family doctor’ for things such as pre-operative work necessary for things such as my ‘oil changes’.

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For those who know me well they will, if asked, tell you I am quite the stoic person.  They will tell you of antics as a child where pain was not an issue and where I demonstrated an almost incomprehensible tolerance for pain.  They could tell you of the time when I was 15 years old, cut my finger and put in 4 stitches myself, of my daring, as a hockey goalie, players to see if they could hit my face.  Friends will also tell of all the times I challenged many things, many accompanied by pain, just to prove I could accomplish the whatever it was in my path.  However, they now see someone who appears soft, sometimes brought to tears by the constant and intense aches that are now mine.  They now see, as I am now experiencing, the pain of cancer.

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The late comedian George Carlin had a routine aptly called “stuff”.  The routine is a about all the things we accumulate over time, that we keep, that makes us feel secure and that we find useful in travels.  With my recent move I experienced that which he described, that accumulation of things and memories comprising my “stuff”.  The need to pore through it all, to learn all of its nuances and to evaluate its true relevance to my life became necessary.  In thirteen years I had built a life in Chapel Hill, built a life raising my son and by making friends.  With all of it came the stuff that makes memories and with all of it came a certain sadness, the sadness of leaving something endeared behind.

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Sometime in the past I wrote about seeing an older gentleman in the local home improvement store whose hands I noticed, worn from the years of labor.  His face was also weathered and it is clear he lived life, it was clear he spent time working with his hands, using his body to effect the toils of the day.  At the time I observed him, looking for different signs of age while wondering how I would display my years of toil, many on a farm, some driving a truck across country and others at a desk working on a computer.  I recognized whatever  envisioned would never come in this world, in this material world, given my condition.  While moving, I learned of more, more things that are creeping upon me as this disease infiltrates my body, I learned I am loosing my ability to work, to do those physical things I had so much enjoyed.

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I have been a little quiet lately, particularly when it comes to my writing.  The reason is simple, I sold my home of 13 years and I am in the process of moving with all the ancillary tasks, packing, discarding, changing bank accounts, forwarding mail and fulfilling closing obligations.  However, the most important, and time-consuming, has been saying goodbye to those people, who, given my move out-of-state, I will likely not see ever again.  Adding importance to these goodbyes is the reality that with my last staging I learned my cancer is spreading at a rather remarkable rate and it appears my time is shorter than previously anticipated.

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