Posted on

A Dear Friend Loses Her Husband To Cancer

My dear husband Jim died during the night.

Since his diagnosis with pancreatic cancer in November of 2014, Jim fought the bravest and most gallant battle. I lost count of the hospitalizations, surgeries to insert stents, drains, tubes, the fecal transplant, the hyperbaric chamber, the MRI’s and scans—not to mention the fourteen hour surgery to remove the tumor , last June—the Whipple Procedure, performed in Boston. In the twelve months since we returned from Boston, after two months of treatment and recovery , there was seldom a day in which we didn’t have some appointment or procedure or test or scan, and he approached them all stoically and without complaint. As recently as a month ago, he was still talking about clinical trials, more chemotherapy. If he had discovered methadone sooner, he said, he could have gone back to practicing law. (The pain was vast. But on methadone—given to him only when he signed on for Hospice care–his head stayed clearer than it had on the Dilautid. For Jim that meant one thing: He could work on cases again.)

I do not think Jim spent one day without pain over these past nineteen months. But at this hard moment, I prefer to focus on the joyful parts of his life, and on our life together. Since we met in the fall of 2011, we travelled to Paris four times and fell in love with that city, also to Budapest, and Chile (where we visited all three of Pablo Neruda’s homes, and whereJim climbed a 12,000 foot peak , after five rounds of chemotherapy). And to Mexico, and —seven times—to Guatemala, where he climbed a volcano two times, and made friends with so many people in the village we both grew to love.

We went many times to New York, and to Maine, and to my home state of New Hampshire, where Jim also made many friends. Over our much too short time together, we hiked miles in California and New England—including a four day trek over the Presidential Range in the White Mountains, back east, and Point Reyes, and Mount Tam, and in the end, down the road closer to home, where getting to the trail we loved required us to climb over a tall gate. As recently as two weeks ago, Jim climbed it.

We went to hear a lot of music, and never missed the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in Golden Gate Park. All three days of it. And until last fall’s festival, when this was no longer possible for him, Jim went along with my desire to lay out a blanket at each stage, and to run —wildly!—from one stage to the other, to catch as much music as we could . That was always our approach, come to think of it. To catch as much as we could.

Over the course of our time together, Jim got his motorcycle license– and how we loved to ride that bike. We also kayaked in a spot near where we were married called Silver Lake, and rode our bicycles in the Oakland hills, and rode horses in the foothills of the Andes, and fished for salmon in South America. We ate a lot of oysters, and drank some wine. OK, a lot of wine.

Jim was a car lover—a man who could sometimes be found, early mornings, bent over his laptop studying some new story about the Tesla–and he was a a wonderful driver, which was a good thing, because I was not. And Jim was always up for a road trip: Just a month ago—with a cooler of antibiotics in the back seat, and an IV infusion pole in the trunk–he brought me to the Eastern Sierra and his beloved Owens Valley. Ten days ago, we headed out again, to Monterrey and Big Sur, though this time I was the one at the wheel as we made our way down Route 1. The fact that this was so told me how sick he must be.

Though he loved the law, Jim had so many other passions. He studied photography in Maine—photography, a lifelong love–and Spanish on the shores of Lake Atitlan. We made a plan to memorize poems we loved; he got to work on The Wasteland. We took Zydeco dance lessons. Just last fall, he said he wanted to learn how to fly a plane.

And of course, he loved music. One of his joys, never more so than over the nineteen months of his illness—and the nearly fifty years that preceded it—came from playing his bass with friends. Jim loved all kinds of music, but in his heart, he was a rock and roll man. Most recently—and by this I mean, over the last couple of months—he seemed to need to reconnect with the Beatles. Every time we got in the car he played those old songs from their earliest albums. I think it had something to do with knowing his life might be coming to an end that made him want to go back to the beginning.

He was a fierce and unabashed liberal, who was determined to walk into a polling place to cast his vote just ten days ago—and he was never reluctant to engage in political debate, and when he did so he revealed a depth of knowledge and history that went a long way and even succeeded in changing a few minds. He never assumed it was a hopeless cause to convince a person, regardless of ideology, to see things in a new light. He particularly believed in the importance of the judicial branch of government, meaning of course Supreme Court, and of the many things that made him so sad about dying , one was not getting to be sure that Donald Trump never became president.

I am not done talking about my husband yet. There is so much to say.

Until he blew out an ACL ligament skiing—and then blew out the other— Jim was a runner, who set a record in distance running back at his high school in Venice, California. His greatest skill as an athlete, I think: tenacity. He ran the mile in (I think I got this right) 4 minutes and 34 seconds. He was also an Eagle Scout. When he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I reminded him that as long as the odds were, of a person surviving this disease, the odds of a young boy becoming an Eagle Scout were longer. And look…he’d done that. So what else might be possible?

Jim cared deeply about justice, equity, the environment. And he loved …no, he revered…science. Just a few days ago, he was still reading out loud to me about the discovery of a new planet, with as much excitement as some people might, announcing the birth of a grandchild.

Like every parent I know—and divorced parents most of all, as I know well myself–he carried regrets about what he could have done better . What I saw in him was steadfast devotion to his three children, Matt, Phil and Laura. As a single parent trying to keep up with a demanding law practice in the competitive climate of San Francisco, he still made it home to cook dinner and took them camping into the wilderness, even when they were very small. He celebrated their independence, their education, and their freedom to make their own choices in life. Most recently, on Earth Day, he celebrated the marriage of his daughter Laura in Brooklyn. Up until two days before the wedding, he was still hoping to get out of his hospital bed and get there, but it wasn’t possible, and that was a heartbreaker for Jim.

Six weeks ago, when we learned that the cancer had returned, and we ran out of options, Jim took the news with the greatest courage and grace. He said he wanted to take me dancing, and out to dinner, even though he could not eat much any more. He wanted to attend an Episcopal service and receive communion, and he visited that other altar of worship, AT and T Ballpark, to watch the Giants with his son Phil and me. (The month before, he got to see the Warriors, just feet from the court. How he loved that.)

He was determined to visit the newly reopened San Francisco Museum of Modern art , and did—not just once, but three times, each time taking in a different floor and then returning to his favorite painting, by Brice Marden. He wanted to get to a jewelry store to replace the wedding ring that had slipped off his finger and gotten lost (because his finger was so thin now) . Having a ring on his finger mattered a lot to him.

Just a week ago, he took on our friend Jason at ping pong, his killer serve still intact, even if his pancreas and liver were not. Just five days ago—this seems like a dream to me now– he took me to a Bob Dylan concert at the Greek Theater in Berkeley. He walked in on his own steam—slowly, and no doubt in pain, but dashing as always, in his black hat and boots. That night proved to be the last of our adventures out in the world together. After we got home, he climbed the stairs to our bed, and he did not leave the bed again. His last words to me were spoken in the parking garage, heading back to our car that night. “Did you have a good time?”

The best.

At the point we met, I lived in Marin County, California. Jim had a house on the other side of the bridge, in Oakland. Over the first two years of our time together, we moved back and forth between our two places, unsure of where to make our home. Then one day, just over two years ago—this was a total fluke—I happened on a picture of a house that had just come on the market that day, in a place called Hunsaker Canyon, in Lafayette. There was land and space for all our big projects—a writing studio for me, an office for him, and a place to set up his guitars—and space,too, for children to visit, and grandchildren one day, we said. There was a hillside where we planned to plant olive trees. And a house that looked as if it had been designed with the two of us in mind.

I told Jim about it, and in his typical fashion—always game for following up on my wild ideas—he took out his motorcycle and we rode right over to take a look. The wisteria was blooming that day, but even if it hadn’t been we would have fallen in love with that place.

We scrambled like crazy to get Jim’s house on the market, so we’d have a shot at buying this one. Three weeks later, we’d done that. We moved in that summer. This house in the canyon was , for us both, the most perfect home for us, our dream come true. Less than two years later, with the wisteria once again in bloom, he would turn to me (this was April of this year) and say , “This would be a good place to die.” And it was. Deer and wild turkeys wandering just outside the window. Owls at night, and the stars clearly visible as they aren’t in the city. Quiet. Three weeks ago, I finally got around to planting olive trees. Twelve of them.

We were never happier than the day we moved in to this house. And never sadder than the day, three months later, when we got the diagnosis. After, we drove home, dazed, lay down beside each other on the very bed where he lies upstairs right now, and read out loud to each other the wedding vows we’d recited just over a year before, on a New Hampshire hillside, with fireworks exploding around us because it was 4th of July weekend.

Jim was so many things: Smart and kind and open-minded and passionately interested in the world, and the outdoors, his friends, his children. He was not simply extremely handsome, but classy and debonair. The sharpest dresser, when he wanted to be—but at home in a flannel shirt. and I loved that about him.

And how can i not mention here what anyone who knew Jim already knows so well? Jim was just so playful. So downright funny. He invariably had interesting things to say. Seldom the obvious.
Oh, could he ever make me laugh. (Most recently, watching a Warriors game in the living room of friends, and more than a little stoned on painkillers and exhaustion, he woke up very briefly during the third quarter of a game our guys were losing badly to the Cleveland Cavaliers and observed, drily—even in his Dilautid-addled state—“Steph Curry appears to have gone septic.” Sepsis being—during this last round of infection— the very thing we feared so much, for Jim. )

He was a marvelous companion, a fierce protector, and the most deeply romantic partner.

The first time I ever cooked him dinner, back in my old house in Mill Valley, a few days after we met, I made a mess, as i generally do. Evidently there was a drip of pesto (or , knowing me, more than a drip) still on my arm as we sat down to eat, or perhaps I’d dripped some more on myself when I raised my fork. Jim reached across the table, past the lit candles, and brought my hand closer. Then very tenderly, he brought his lips to my elbow and licked off the sauce, as elegantly as a sommelier, considering a particularly fine vintage. I probably knew then that I would marry him, though he revealed so many other good reasons later.

There was not a moment in the four and a half years we spent together when I doubted the depth or constancy of Jim’s love for me. Or mine for him. I used to call him my guard dog, because he was always looking out for me in a way I had never known. Just hours since he took his last, labored breath in our bed—with my son Willy’s dog Tuck still curled up beside him, as he has been for the past five days– the world already feels desolate without him. But though he is gone now, and I will miss him forever, i feel his fierce love still.

The song linked here was sung at our wedding . It says just how I feel about marrying Jim.


PS There will be no funeral . But in September, we’ll plan a memorial celebration of Jim here at our home in Lafayette.
I may not answer emails for a while. But please know that I will read them.
Thank you all for being in Jim’s life, and mine.

'Our wedding in Harrisville, NH, July 6, 2013'
'Plum Island, Massachusetts, with my daughter, @[100000673569778:2048:Audrey Bethel]'
'Maine.  Lobster. 2013.  I taught him what real lobster tastes like and where to go to get it .'
'Summer 2013.  Motorcycle pair.'

About tatamkuluafrica

I am a man who has lived n 6 of the 7 continents. I first arrived in Africa on April 18, 1981. Africa has been a part of my life since. I spent 8 months living in a Xhosa village in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. I was given he nickname Tatamkulu Africa. In Xhosa it means "Grandfather Africa." In April of 1994 I was allowed to vote in the first democratic election in South Africa..I was honored to be part of such a historical moment. It was a beautiful and a magical day.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s