I’m here to pass on one of humankind’s most beloved clichés: Life is short.

On the first Friday in June, the life of my 41-year-old cousin was cut entirely too short, at the whim of glioblastoma, an almost always fatal beast of a brain cancer. He lived maybe two years after diagnosis, which, considering the statistics, is longer than most with the same diagnosis. My aunt is heartbroken. It’s hard to know what to say or do, especially from a distance, so you simply keep checking in.

Several years ago my longtime neighbor, who has been my unofficial neighborhood watchperson for almost two decades, developed lung cancer. Along with that came an orange-sized protrusion in his neck. The lump is gone, but the sickness lingers. Probably in his late 60s, he now receives a prescribed immunotherapy to treat cancer. It makes him exhausted. He doesn’t want to eat. He sits on his front porch and gabs with his brothers and mother.

My brother’s mother-in-law, a jovial, sweet and selfless woman, is nearing the end of six sessions of chemotherapy. August will mark the end of twice-monthly treatments that zapped her white blood cells, causing her exhaustion and confining her to home, for fear of catching nasty germs out in the world. The doctors have offered a 50% chance the treatment will work. The question of the future is an unknown quantity, floating in the ether, the kind of loose end that wakes you in the pre-dawn to gnaw and gnash upon.

Surgery removed much of the sinister glob of cancer cells that first sent my cousin to the ER with headaches and fainting spells, though it was impossible for doctors to find and incinerate every poisonous tentacle. And glioblastoma seems to grow like your most unfavorite backyard weed. Radiation came next, likely buying him extra time, which he used to go for long walks, heading out from his Cocoa Beach, Fla., home for up to 18 miles at a time, multiple days a week.

What did he think about as he racked up the steps? Was he angry with whatever higher power he believed in? Or did he cease believing in a higher power? Did he manage to find peace and surrender to the fate he might have known was coming? The answers are unknowable.

My brother’s mother-in-law lives for her two grandkids, driving from Fountain to Colorado Springs almost daily to watch them during summer breaks and often during the school year. But not this summer. When spending time with her tiny beloveds would likely help her heal, her fraught immune system forbids it.

The immunotherapy seems to be doing its job of keeping my neighbor alive, but at what cost? His quality of life is low, and he’s thinking about stopping it, meaning there’s a good chance it will only be a matter of time until he moves to a new neighborhood. It’s a hard decision, he says, but one he’s considering on this warm and green spring afternoon, the kind that can make false promises about the future.

Earlier this year doctors found the malignant scoundrel had spread to the other side of my cousin’s brain, and hastened him into oral chemo. It wasn’t long before he wound up in the ER, unable to stand and laboring to breathe. From there it was a quick two-step to a rehab facility and then to hospice. I told my aunt to keep talking to him, even when it seemed like he wasn’t present and couldn’t hear. I didn’t know this, but the universe kept conspiring to bring me this information.

And then he was gone. He’d never married, didn’t have kids and was still trying to land on a career that suited him, though he seemed to like cooking. There’s so much he’ll never experience.

The fate of his life, shorter than many, much longer than some, dismantled something in me, as I watched the inevitable conclusion snake its way toward him, toward all of us, if we care to be honest.

We were built to forget we will all cease to exist at some unforeseeable point. It’s always good to be reminded. Gives us a chance to course correct.

What are we waiting for? Why don’t we say yes to what lights up our hearts and no to what deadens us? Why don’t we say what sits in our throats, aching to be revealed? Why do we let the quotidian details get us down?

Over the last year I’ve found myself playing the occasional round of the morbid, yet illuminating, game of: If I died today, what would I regret not doing, experiencing, saying, trying? And also: What do I regret and can I make any sort of amends for it?

What burbles up is often not that surprising, and probably not far off what most of us want: love, fulfillment, contentment, knowledge that our lives mattered. The answers have prompted some new choices in my own life, and the work of loosening deeply grooved habits, thoughts and patterns. Pretty soon I’ll be a whole new person. A little humor in the midst of all the death talk. Though really, thinking about death can lead to a more joyful life.

So here it is one more time: Heed the tiny whispers of inspiration or intuition to do something, talk to somebody, pursue that thing. Live into the corners of your life. Enter the great beyond with nary a wistful gaze back.

Contact the writer: 636-0270

Contact the writer: 636-0270

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