Daffodils and forsythia are in bloom here. Egrets and ducks have returned to the pond. We all made it through another winter, a difficult season with plenty of cold, snow, and ice.
When I was in my forties, I wrote a short story about a woman whose first serious high school boyfriend was drafted to serve in Vietnam. He would die in battle and be remembered as perpetually nineteen. She went on to college, married, had children. As her son prepares for junior prom, she is reminded of Bernie. On the anniversary of his death, she writes him a letter about what it has been like to age decades beyond her teens.
Late in 2022, I prepared for serious surgery. The surgeon called me a ‘low risk’ patient and young for my physical age. Tests showed no other options. All was successful, except emotionally I landed in part of the world described in Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal. He writes that we tend to consider aging a failure, or weakness, rather than a normal process. As we live longer and longer, medical processes becomes part of our experience. Doctors know how to preserve life, but not how to help patients cope with how life continually changes.
Like most surgery nothing looks different to others, but I know where the scars are and what each means. I know the medications that support carrying me through a normal life expectancy. I am also learning their downsides. I haven’t returned to tap dancing because the studio floor is slippery, and I am still fighting to return to my prior rock-solid balance. Down dog is back on my aspirational list, but for different reasons than undeveloped muscles.
In the weeks between the first time a doctor said, “maybe six months, certainly not more than a couple of years,” and the night before surgery, I thought about not seeing my granddaughters grow up, about the writing projects that might not be published, about my unwillingness to let life go. When I stopped pushing to be the person folks expect, my fatigue was immense. With surgery on the schedule, I slept a lot, read a lot, thought even more. Because I am used to being productive, I labeled that week practicing recuperation.
I have had friends die of cancer without the medical miracle surgery offered me. I am humbled and so respectful of how they faced the eventuality of their passing.
This spring I wonder how to make these next many years meaningful. A wise friend told me the body needs at least six months to recover from major surgery then encouraged me to give my emotions the same time. A good plan. I’ll enjoy the daffodils and forsythia, then the tulips and lilacs. The demands of regular life are close enough.
With love to my brother, Darrell J. Frisque, who passed too young on April 14, 2007.