Friday, July 31, 2009

July 31st, 2009:

Next Tuesday, Eileen Lemus and I will take a trip to Maitri to participate in a pre-intake interview. We will meet with Daniel Hill, the intake coordinator and Grace Molyneaux, the staff nurse who runs the medical side of the residence. I hope it's many months before I am ready to move into Maitri. However, I do have questions right now that will help me prepare for my final home. I last did regular bedside care at Maitri in 1995, back when the residence was located on Hartford St. and had six beds. Since moving to 410 Duboce St. the facility has grown to 15 beds.

Although I've been on the Maitri Board of Directors for the past thirteen years, I have spent little time in resident's rooms. Now that I'm going to become a resident myself, my curiosity is piqued. What will be in the room when I arrive? A bed, a chest of drawers, for sure. Maybe a chair and maybe a TV with DVD player. If they aren't there, I will bring them myself.

Also, I want Maitri's intake personnel to know about me. That will involve catching them up on my medical status, giving them access to my records, contact numbers of my doctors, etc. Again, I don't plan to move in anytime soon, but I do want Maitri to know that I am heading their way. Also, I know that Eileen has a lot of questions about how the facility operates and what I can expect. She has also served on the board, but still, board work and the daily life of a resident are at ends of a continuum of care.

My body will determine when it's time to move from my apartment into Maitri. The word from both doctors, Lisa and Dr. Jahan is to move in earlier rather than too late. I'd like that; meaning, I'd like to have time at Maitri when I'm still reasonably well. There's a daily and weekly rhythm in the residence that can be best appreciated by someone who's ambulatory and eats their meals in the communal dining room. The social life of the place is a big part of it's success. It's a healthy and safe place for residents to interact. And that is part of my plan. I'd really like to move there and step into the Maitri world.

My model in this is role is a terrific fellow named Percy who served as the chief Certified Nursing Associate (CNA) for many years. Unfortunately, Percy's advancing HIV illness compelled him to retire, but fortunately, after a few months in retirement, he moved into Maitri for end-of-life care. Wow, was he taken care of. The staff had never had the opportunity to take care of one of their own, and they were humbled by this opportunity to give back to Percy. Initially, there was concern that Percy would return to Maitri as a senior caregiver. But no. He totally changed. Rather than giving orders, he let himself be cared for by his peers. It was astonishing: all his knowledge about how to run the floor dropped and was replaced by his willingness to be loved and attended to. That's my model. I have no inclination to make board decisions from inside my bed. By the time I move into Maitri I will have left the board, and stepped into a brand new identity: resident-in-need-of-care. My task will be to let myself be cared for.

Prior to that new role from within a bed, I have my current identities which include the following. For another month or six weeks, I am still a consultant in Information Technology in the Financial District in San Francisco. I live alone in my apartment and happily cook, clean, and generally maintain myself. I'm a homeowner in Sonoma County who is selling his portion of the property to his land partner. I'm a 62 year old man with metastasized cancer to lungs, liver, bones. I'm a gay man with a well-developed aesthetic, special attention given to Baroque and 19th Century opera and Central Asian textiles. I'm a lucky guy with a lot of friends. I'm grieving the loss of my Mom who died in March of this year. I am on the board of Maitri Compassionate Care residence for people with HIV. I am an astrologer with a developing interest in other psychic teachings. Many identities, many of which will start falling by the wayside over the next months, only to be replaced by the new identies, some of which will jump aboard when I move to Maitri.

After the interview on Tuesday, I'll report in about the results.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

July 30th, 2009:

Today marked a major turn in my life: I announced that I'd be leaving the workplace. My first jobs where I did something defined and was paid for it started when I was 10 years old. I mowed lawns for neighbors, and then graduated to splitting cords of firewood and heavy-lifting yard work. In high school and college, I worked in a bakery where they made what we'd now call artesian french breads--no preservatives, wonderfully fresh--primarily for restaurants. Initially, I cleaned bread pans and swept the floors (flour everywhere, aughhh!), and I graduated to the packaging department and eventually becoming a baker while in college. Since that time, I have never baked a single loaf of bread. I still enjoy the aromas and variety of flavors in bread. But I was done with baking at a young age.

The occasion for this announcement was that my job administrator at PG&E where I consult asked when I would finish my current project and when I would be ready for my next assignment. I said that I'd be finishing up my current task shortly after Labor Day, and no, I would not be looking for more work. Typing those words: "no more assignments," raised some fear. After working all my life, employment has become a big part of my identity over time. Now, I'm setting aside that identity. I sat looking at my computer screen, thinking for a few moments: maybe I ought to consider this for a day or two. Then, I hit the button. My mind isn't going to change in the next few days.

This is a particularly fine time to leave. I will have completed my greatest and most accomplished effort. I will have written the book, as they say. So, what's the book? In this case, it's the "How To Guide" for Project Managers at PG&E. When I started consulting this time at PG&E, they were just recovering from bankruptcy and related confusion. They had agreed to play by industry rules of software development. They had adaped a new methodology of how to develop software. Also, they'd customized software for managing individual projects. The new development process and new management software had been dovetailed so that if a part of the project had not been completed, you couldn't move forward. This meant that each project became responsible for actually completing the many required tasks. I wrote the book that explained how to set up a project, assemble the team, use the project plan software to manage the effort and move forward through the life cycle into installation. Except. Except the financial management portion could not be written because it hadn't been clarified. Hard to manage a project without tight financial guidelines. Nevertheless, I finished the work I could do and went off into other regions for over a year.

Happily, a few months ago, I suddenly had a lot of time at work so I contacted my old boss on the Project Manager's Handbook and asked him if there was any work that could be done. He immediately replied that he had just been given the green light to finish the financial section, and if I was available.... So now I am writing up this rather complicated capitalization and expense arcana. It will go into the very center of the Handbook and the entire effort will be complete from pre-project speculation to post implementation maintenance.

During almost 30 years in data processing, a huge piece of work for me was to overcome my fear of being stupid, not smart enough, less useful than others. Especially in the beginning, much of information processing focused on coding. Programming. And that's something that I have never learned how to do. I have sat for hundreds of hours in meetings trying to understand what people are talking about. Of course, I learned much over time. I came to appreciate my role in a very complex dance of talent. I contributed clearly written prose. I translated from technical-ese into English. Whether I was tech writing, developing training, testing, or doing business analysis, my tasks involved writing. And I love to write. So I've had many years of doing work that I could appreciate, with a growing sense of worth. And a lessening sense of no worth.

In the next few weeks, I'll complete the heart of the "How To" manual for the business I've worked in for three decades. It's a lovely completion, and I am very glad to go out on this high. And then? What will I do with the time that's about to open for me? At this point, I'm not sure. My body willing, there's still the opportunity and time to travel. If I feel as good then as I do now, then a trip to Italy or China is definitely allowable. Right now, tonight, I am also content to not know what I'll do next. I have tomorrow to go to work and enjoy crafting of the last big project in my career. It's nice to have some huge unknowns to face. In my case, it's also very realistic. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

July 28th, 2009:

Every other Tuesday mid-afternoon, I call a number in Scottsdale AZ, and speak with Richelle, who teaches me about the body's chakras. She has a lesson plan that takes two weeks per chakra. The first week she identifies the characteristics of the chakra, what parts of the body it manages and its contribution to the rest of the body's psychic systems. Using guided imagery, she illustrates the functions of the chakra. This session ends with a request for a healing to re-balance and repair any damage to that part of the body. In the second week she talks about the gland in the chakra that sends its particular fluids into the rest of the organism. It's fascinating to be collecting this information at the end of my life. Never too late. We started with the first chakra several weeks ago, and today our work focused on the adrenal glands; the second session relating to the third chakra.

The cleansing for today involved understanding how I use and abuse stress with my body. Eyes closed, I heard her ask, "Getting started, is there anything that your body would like? Anything it isn't getting right now?" The immediate answer was: massage. I want more massage. Easy to do since I know and have worked with body workers over the years. For several months, I have been feeling untouched and haven't answered that request for attention. OK, line up massage.

Moving forward, she asked, "When you were born, what was the commitment of your spirit to your body?" Again the immediate knowing: 100%. I know that one of my most important tasks in this life was to learn as much as possible about the wisdom of my body. After many lives where I've turned away from respecting and learning from my flesh, this time it's been top of the list to figure out how to hear and support the knowledge of my physical self. I took some difficult turns in this path, including early childhood depression and physical molestation as ways to shut down my connection with my corporeal self. Once I was shut down, I had to figure out how to wake up.

It's taken decades of effort to feel comfortable, joyous, even ecstatic in my body. Thanks to my lovers, my erotic teachers, body work, dance, breath work, yoga, hours in the gym where all I had to do was move, stretch and let my suppleness lead the way. Smoking for thirty five years was another severe blow to my body; ten times a day I'd light up and pollute my home. I believe that one of my most important birthrights to nurture in this life is to deepen my appreciation of my physical self. Happily, there have been times when I sensed beyond knowing that my body (and all living organisms) is a cosmic gift. I have gotten to that place and hung out there for a while. Whew! Doesn't get better.

"And today?" she asked. "What is your spirit's commitment to your body today?" This time the answer is 70%, no longer the full 100%. Hummmm, has my spirit has grown weary over the past sixty years of unflagging effort? Why did I start at full commitment and drop my intention by 30%? I don't know the answer. I have this percentage to mull as I wish. "No judgement," Richelle reminded me. Still, this shift of intention has makes me curious. Am I giving more attention to other parts of the self?

I'm convinced that much of the important work I do between now and the end of my life will focus on how much I can be in my body. By "be" I mean be conscious. All my life I've flipping my ON / OFF switch. This is accelerating these days. I'm awake, numb, sensitive, unaware. I recall the work I did in therapy last week where I drew my pink happy body assaulted by thick black cancer color. In that session, the important breakthrough was to feel fear. I let myself open to the terror of being consumed by the cancer that lives in me. How could I not feel that? Answer: a lifetime of well-honed practice at compartmentalizing scary feelings. And now, in my final months, I have time and intention to bring some of these compartment walls down so that I can have the experience of living in a body that has the courage and support to express itself. What a fine and exciting aspiration!

Monday, July 27, 2009

July 27, 2009:

Last Friday, my friend Betsy and I had our monthly Zuni restaurant lunch. Afterward, as I was about to get out of the car and head up to my apartment for a mid-afternoon nap, I gave Betsy a hug, told her that I loved her and started crying, saying, "I want more. I want more time with you. I don't want this to be over." A couple of days later, we were talking on the phone, and I told her how important it was for me to get in touch with those feelings of ending and loss. "It's not just you," she reminded me. "We feel that too. All of your friends are having to cope with losing you too." Whew, I needed to hear that. One of the murkier aspects of this cancer is that it can narrow me into narcissism. This must be all about me. Well, no. On the feeling level my terminal illness is happening for all of us. I was so grateful that Betsy was there to remind me of this collective fact.

Which caused me to start thinking about anticipatory grief. It's a term that was used a lot, and with good reason, during the height of dying during the AIDS epidemic. All of us had friends who were ill and not getting better, and all of us, PWAs and their friends, were in prolonged states of ongoing anticipatory grief. To refresh my memory about this topic, I googled it and found the following definition:

Anticipatory Grief: The normal mourning that occurs when a patient or family is expecting death. Anticipatory grief has many of the same symptoms as those experienced after a death has occurred. It includes all of the thinking, feeling, cultural, and social reactions to an expected death that are felt by by the patient and family.

Anticipatory grief includes depression, extreme concern for the dying person, preparing for the death, and adjusting to changes caused by the death. It gives the family and friends more time to slowly get used to the reality of the loss. People are able to complete unfinished business with the dying person (for example, saying "Goodbye," "I love you," or "I forgive you."

Anticipatory grief may not always occur. Also, it does not mean that the person feels the same kind of grief before the death as after the death. The grief experienced before a death does not make the grief after the death last a shorter amount of time.

The definition goes on to talk about the difference between anticipatory and unexpected grief. In the latter, dying is not expected and the mourner has to deal with levels of overwhelm and severed connection that are far more radical than the measured, interactive continuity of life with a person dying over time.

What Betsy reminded me of was that this is a communal event. Because there's time for process, reflection, conflict and resolution there's time to undo old patterns of behavior and find new ways to relate. That will certainly be the case with me. And as I hear from more of you about how you are coping, the feelings of stunned numbness, confusion about why I am approaching my illness in this way, fear, replaying other deaths, anger, etc. the group creates a field of feeling. At this point tonight, I'm most aware of how anticipation allows for an easing into more of this illness without clobbering me senseless. It's a stepping in and out. A trying on. Testing. The luxury of being tentative. Nothing final yet. But the need to start facing final.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

July 26th, 2009:

How to summarize and express what I've learned over the course of my life? In the past weeks, this question has emerged in a couple of ways. First, I decided that I wanted to create a video for my memorial service where I would have a chance to speak to everyone present. This impulse told me that I want a memorial service. You can be sure that will be organized and presented in due time. Also, I realized that I am aware of what some of my core life work has been, and I'd like to talk about that. I'm not saying that I have a total wrap on all my life's purpose, but there are major themes that I certainly haven't been conscious of for most of my life. Now I can see those themes clearly, and I'm moved by their intentions and their results. This has been a lifetime of considerable growth for me. I say that with humility and gratitude.

So tomorrow afternoon, my friend Beth who is a filmmaker will come over to my apartment and look around for places to shoot the video. I'd like the resulting CD to include a tour through this apartment that has been such a supportive home for the past 16 years of my life. It's a beautiful place, and I have loved nurturing the energy here. There will be a stroll through the rooms and leading to the living room overlooking the park. Plan is to sit somewhere close to the window and deliver what I want to say. After the CD is played at my memorial service there will be copies available; a final giving and taking.

For the past three weeks, I've been drafting the script. Typically, I write narrative text, and that's very different from the spoken word. The first time I took an early draft out of the printer and tried to read it aloud, it was laughable. The words did not sound spoken, they were written words on the page for the page. Back to the draft. But underlying getting the sound right for a spoken recording, there was the more important matter of content. How do I express what I've learned in this life? Which events best carry the weight of how I learned my lessons? What were the pivots that made change possible? How did my heart crack open so that I could love? What's so exciting about these questions is that now I know many of the answers. I've lived them. I can remember them. So I've written out the basic architecture of my transformations. Now I'm refining the details of how my life's learnings have altered me. This information is simply available. What a gift!

The other direction of expression involves my godson Willem. In conversation with his Mom, Kris, she asked me to consider putting together something for Willem to have, some guide, some thoughts from me to him about...well, that's still an open question. What do I want to say to my godson who I won't be present for in mortal form? What can I say now that will have value in his future? In the second week of August, I plan to travel to Portland to see Willem. At that time I'll be with him, his parents and his godmother Christine. My plan is to do astrological readings that focus on Willem, but include input from the chart energy of his parents and godparents. Still, as much as I love reading astrological charts, the request to develop something for Willem remains just below the surface of my conscious mind. I feel like it's not time to go there yet. Might be my inner job manager wanting me to finish one project--the memorial service video--before starting off in another direction. I accept that.

What's fascinating to me is the clarity of these projects. The memorial service CD is simply writing itself. True, I take time to weigh in with considerations about sound, presentation and using the medium of delivery. But the content is quite available. We'll see if it's the same with the gift that emerges for Willem. In the time that I have in the immediate future, it's fascinating to feel this need for legacy emerge. Over the ages, people have taken such extraordinary flights with the legacy urge: monuments both grotesque and grand, eye contact at a time after speech has failed, a decision to withhold stories because they are too painful to relate. Many, many responses to the yearning to summarize and say, "This happened to me. This is what I've learned." For all of my life, I have received the gifts from the candy store of personal wisdom. I've absorbed what others have learned with some context of why and how they learned it. Now, it's my turn to add to this repository.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

July 23rd, 2009:

During the past several months, my relationship with my Dad has undergone a profound and unexpected change. For most of my life, we were stuck in power struggle and unhappiness. I spent a great deal of effort trying to grow away from him, yet our force field held both of us in serious bondage. My dreams of moving away from home, my pleasure at living in San Francisco and creating life on my terms was done knowing that I'd get little if any support from him. He didn't like my gayness, didn't appreciate that I had avoided getting drafted, and it seemed from my perspective that he seriously didn't like me.

In the past couple of years, as my Dad's mental acuity has softened and shortened, he's become sweeter and more loving. I now think that his childhood and adulthood were very hard for him. The responsibility of maintaining a family was not only challenging, it was often terrifying. He felt fear and resentment. Having an effete son traipsing off to Europe and grand dining and the opera wasn't part of his life plan. But now, with deep retirement and old age, his sense of responsibility has evaporated. He is taken care of. His job is to get to his meals, visit with his neighbors, grieve the death of my mom. So that prickly edge and trigger-happy anger has given way to a much more relaxed guy. His inner sweetness is out and functional. His new contract with the world is, "I'll be nice and you'll love me." And it works.

I would say that my Dad has called me on the phone maybe eight or nine times in my life. Half of those times have been in the past couple of months. Clearly, I do most of the initiating when it comes to telephoning. And no matter. I now enjoy reaching for the phone to check in with him. As soon as he recognizes my voice, he says with heartfelt warmth, "It is so GOOD to hear you!" Followed by his questions about how I am and his concern for my health, my job, my daily life. I am still getting used to his concern and empathy after a lifetime of blame and not good enough. It is a very healing shift. Very healing. As I listen to his voice, I can feel the father that was always there, but eclipsed by anger and confusion. Now, he's completely exposed as someone who loves his family. It's his greatest joy to talk about my sister, myself, and my departed mom.

After decades of struggling in this most troubled and unhappy relationship of my life, I am enjoying a totally different experience. "I am so proud of you," my Dad will say. "You've been such a wonderful son," he claims. "It means so much to me that you call." Loving, caring warmth that I have been waiting for all my life. Now it's happening. And yes, it was worth waiting for.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

July 22, 2009:

Last week, my friends Goel and Philp brought dinner to my house so that we could visit over food. Since these guys enjoy wine, I decided to open up one of my four bottles, a Syrah from a vineyard that doesn't commercially market its products and has a great reputation. I thought that I might even have a glass myself for the first time in a long time. As I twisted the corkscrew, the cork pulverized. But being determined, I got a screwdriver and pried out the remaining cork. For the final removal, I tapped the cork into the bottle and was suddenly sprayed with red wine, all over my mint green shirt, my face, my glasses, my hair. Loud expletives as I reached for a towel, wiped it across my face and saw that my microfiber shirt had absorbed the wine and could not be cleaned. I hurled the towel into the sink and in a reasonably controlled voice said to my guests, "Back in a flash. Costume change." Going into my bedroom closet to get a new shirt, I furiously ripped the stained shirt off my body, buttons flying, fabric shredding. And then, as if everything was somewhat normal, I put on a new shirt and rejoined Philip and Goel for dinner. "Wow, you were pissed," said Philip. "You bet," I muttered. "That wine in my face really startled me." Then, I strained the rest of the cork from the Syrah, poured two glasses and served it. "I'll pass tonight," I explained. "My attitude is really bad toward this wine. You enjoy" Which they did.

Today in therapy, my counselor was asking me about how I was dealing with the ambiguity of not knowing what would happen next with my health. I gave a few explanations and she directed my attention toward the anger I'd felt a few weeks ago when I bashed the cancer cells into bloody bits. "Anger?" I asked. Then I remembered and narrated the incident from dinner the prior week. "Why did you get so angry?" she asked. Slowly, I replayed the scene of opening the wine, feeling the corkscrew break the cork, gently tapping the remaining cork into the pressurized bottle and my alarm at being sprayed suddenly. That was it, I realized, the unexpected wine in my face; that's what infuriated me. "Why were you infuriated?" she asked. "Well," I replied, I felt like I was being attacked." It sounded odd to confess that a bottle of wine could attack me, but there was something tugging under that strange perception. So I said it again. "I felt like I was being attacked." Then I associated the sudden wine in the face with having a big, growing tumor in my pelvis, "I feel like I'm being attacked. I'm being attacked. I'm being attacked."

"So what's it like to be attacked?" she asked. I probably gave her the deer-in-the-headlights look, because reached over and pulled out a pad of art paper and a big basket of crayons. Draw, George. Sure, I can do that. And I did, reaching for the pink crayon and easily looping circles that became healthy zones of organs and connective tissue, vital and smooth and integrated in a whole architecture of related shapes. I looked at the pink health resting on the paper. Putting the pink crayon back, I found a thick waxy black crayon. I held the crayon without thinking. And then, faster than my mind, like a Japanese calligrapher, I pushed the black color hard against the paper, jerking the crayon back and forth in an attack of dark jagged black against healthy pink. It was a furious assault and when a knot of black was packed against the pink tissue, I stopped just as suddenly.

I looked at my picture, at both the supporting pink home and the thick black invasion. After many months of living with this pelvic tumor and other "spots" and "sites" and "places" that I've seen on CT and MRI scans, I finally felt the terror and fear of having this cancer growing in my body. I feel like I am under attack, and I don't know how to ward off the attack. Of course, I have done many things: chemo, diet, meditation, therapy, some study, lots of talk. But in all of this, my body has been under siege without being directly acknowledged. It's been months since I've talked to the tumors. I have never set up a formal dialog with my body to give it comfort or care. My most direct contact with my body happens via food. I give my body great food. But like a well fed child that is otherwise neglected, I realized today that my body has been unspeakably lonely and deserted. I don't hear it. I let it know that I don't want to hear it. And meantime, it is feeling attacked. Many tears to let these feelings pass through me.

Then as therapists will do, my counselor asked, "Have you felt your body being neglected before?" I angled my head as if tilting it would shake loose a memory. "Well," she wondered, "What about when you were being molested and your Mother did nothing. Perhaps that's when you learned how to neglect your body?" That suggestion opened major floodgates.

There I was in my therapist's office overlooking Castro St., realizing that I had spent much of my life using a template for neglect with my body. And such a fine body, so undeserving of being ignored and dismissed. I really felt flattened. I had been given this beautiful home to live in, and I had proceeded to ignore it's needs and yearnings. I had told it what I wanted it to do. I had judged it harshly if it got too fat or tired or wrinkled. But I had not listened to it. I had taught myself not to listen. When I was a young child being molested, I had told my body to shut up. And to stay shut up. And, having accomplished that bit of harsh parenting, I'd moved forward into my life. Ouch. Ouch.

"So," my therapist wondered, "How do you care for someone who needs to be heard and is in pain and fear?" "How do I do that?" I asked. "Yes, how do you care for someone who's hurting?" she repeated. "Well, I tell them that I love them. Sometimes I hold them. I tell them that they are more than their pain. But mostly I give them love."

"Good," she nodded. "You can do that for your body too. You can tell it that you love it. And you may not be able to overcome the attack of the tumors, but you can overcome the neglect of not listening to your body. You can definitely overcome neglect. Especially you." End of session.

Friday, July 17, 2009

July 17, 2009:

Gaetano and I got into his car yesterday morning and drove with my Mom's ashes across the Bay Bridge to Piedmont. When we reached Mountain View Cemetery, we stopped and got out of the car. It was a lovely day, warm and more humid than most, a light steamy edge to the air. I kept thinking that my Mom would have loved yesterday. She would have smiled and looked around and taken full breaths. It would have pleased her to be home.

Although I've done end-of-life care for going on thirty years, I haven't been to a cemetery for decades. I simply don't go. But my Mom's family has slowly been filling up a niche in the Mountain view columbarium for some eighty years. As far as I know, it is the last material task to be done for my Mom, and I was glad to have the honor. During her dying and at the time of her memorial service, my sister stepped forth and did a splendid job of caring, delegating, signing off, making good choices and taking responsibility.

My role at the end had a finality that didn't occur to me until the night before interment. I lurched through strange sensations that didn't resolve into images or information. I felt preoccupied, testy, sorrowful, zoned. In the three months that my Mom's ashes had been resident in my apartment, I can't say that we had dialog. I don't associate my Mom with her ashes. When I did communicate with her, it was spur of the moment. I didn't create ritual with her ashes, didn't sit holding them in my lap. But, I was aware that I wanted to move them on in good time. That good time was set for the day a week prior when I suddenly had to cancel since the tumor on my rib had just erupted, causing a lot of pain and drama. This Thursday was the second appointment.

The procedure was quite simple. Her ashes were transferred from one plastic bag to another, then placed into a square bronze urn. The urn was sealed. Then, we walked across the cemetery to the columbarium and entered into a world of watery marble walls, long hallways with side chapels full of ascending niches, indirect lighting, a great silence pervading. Hallway turn left, hallway turn right. Stop. A ladder next to the wall. My family's niche on the top row. Impulsively, I kissed the bronze urn just before handing it over to the fellow who would carry it upward to the final resting place. The decision to kiss the metal box was my first deliberate choice in several minutes; I realized that I was in a light trace. And then, the metal box was put in its place. Goodbye.

The cemetery attendant motioned behind Gaetano and myself. "Would you like to sit for a minute?" he asked. What a concept! I hadn't thought into the next moment. The ashes were gone, what else was there to do? So we both sat. The attendant left. It was very quiet. Then, slowly, the uneven breath, the heat inside the eyelids and finally the arrival of the tears. They were wonderful tears: crystalline, effortless, heated. In my many years of knowing Gaetano, this was one of our closest times together. There was no need to go anywhere else, so we didn't. And then, just as simply, it was time to go.

Outside in the car as we were leaving Mountain View, I asked Gaetano, "When we were sitting in those chairs, were you crying for your Mom?" "I was crying for all of us," he answered. That felt like a memorable answer.

My Mom would have been thrilled by the next stop: lunch at Olivetto's. A table next to the window overlooking College Avenue where she'd been a child and a teenager. Ordering a remarkable sequence of Italian summer food; a crostatto with freshly sliced pancetta and buttery avocado with just a drizzle of vinaigrette. My Mom would have started talking about her trips to Italy, recalling lunches in Rome. Then--which is one of the reasons she was special--she would have put aside her own experiences and asked us about our memories of Italy. So we sat and enjoyed the aromas, the skillful play of textures, the mezzogiorno warmth, two people ordering food for three.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

July 14, 2009:

A few weeks ago, I was up at my home in Sonoma and retrieved a book to bring home and read. A few days later, I opened the book and out fell the finalized floor plan that I hoped to use for remodeling that same home. Since then, I've kept the plans on my desk here in the City. I haven't opened them until this evening. It has felt too painful to look at those carefully evolved blueprints that will never happen.

For a variety of reasons, some of them family legacy and some more personal, I've never owned property until the last four years. Then, when I went into land partnership with Ann, I suddenly had a new creative venture in my life. It was a scruffy in-law apartment tacked onto a horse barn, a fixer-upper crying out for help. In the beginning the two halves of the building were separated by solid walls. To get from one side to the other, you had to literally go outside and into the door at the other end of the building. Particularly inconvenient when I woke up on one side on a wet, cold winter morning and wanted to get breakfast in the kitchen located on the other side. Inconvenient, but it's what I started with.

The dialog that ensued began in my living room, warmed by oak flames in the Franklin stove. I'd sit in a chair, close my eyes and ask the house, "What do you want to become?" What walls go? What new rooms are waiting to be framed? How many bedrooms? It took many months of sifting and playing with architectural software to configure the plans that are open in front of me this evening. One of the things I learned was that I not only have the decorator gene of a gay man--that was already common knowledge--but also an interest in shaping room spaces. A feature of this house was that it sat flat on flat ground. When you looked out the french doors and windows you didn't see into a panorama of countryside, rather you looked right out at the meadow at ground level. You faced into the big trunks of the old oak trees as they rose out of the soil. I'd always lived up high and looked out over a view. This house was different, it was about being literally grounded.

As the house started to answer my questions about it's hopes for becoming, I discovered things both unexpected and revealing in myself. While staying within the footprint of the foundation, I wanted to create spaces that held a surprising amount of Chinese furniture. There was even a wall devoted to a Chinese lattice window that let in a patterned amount of light and background. This was in homage to a wonderful courtyard-based home where I remembered living during the Southern Song dynasty. Hey, why not? The floor plan retrieved a memory of a very happy time. I could create a home for my feelings by arranging walls. I had never known this before.

Some of the excitement of being a homeowner was about reconfiguring rooms for the future. Other gifts were available immediately. In Sonoma, I returned to my childhood in the country. I grew up splitting firewood, doing heavy maintenance gardening and knowing about native plants. From college forward almost forty years, I moved further away from soil and the seasonal efforts of cultivating. Now, in Sonoma, I was back on a complex piece of property that varied from hard pack earth in the meadow to deep loam in the upper garden. There were open spaces and sequestered zones inside old hedges. Really the variety was astonishing.

My approach to the property was slow, even tentative. It took me a year to rearrange my schedule so that I had most weekends available to drive up to Sonoma. Then, two years of settling in with my evolving plans for the house and a learning curve of how the weather would define how time was spent. If rain, forget gardening. If Spring, get busy. If Fall, the oak leaves don't really cascade en masse until late November. So many interesting lessons worth learning from the here and now.

The center of the property was not only the house and the land, but also my friendship with Ann which was a key part of my connection to the place. We discovered early that we meshed well. She had formal training as a landscape designer, and my background was in heavy lifting. Both were needed. But my favorite times were when we simply visited and enjoyed out time together. At my house we sat in front of the fire place and enjoyed the warmth from the stove. At her house up the hill, we sat on the deck for hours in the afternoon and into long summer evenings. Talking, talking, talking. What fun!

When the plans for remodeling my house fell out of the book, I realized how much I have retreated from Sonoma during the past year. Even before my cancer diagnosis when I thought my only problem was a hip that needed to be replaced, it was harder for me to work in the yard so I did less. After the cancer gave rise to the chemo, my visits dramatically dropped to once every six weeks, once every two months. I was no longer on the property. And by renting my home, I gave up my home. It's true that I have always been welcome to stay in the extra bedroom or at Ann's. The truth is that it was too painful for me to be on the land. Another of my excuses was that it physically hurt to drive in the car up to Sonoma. True, true. The deeper truth is that is was too painful for me to be on the land.

So, this weekend, I'm going up to Sonoma to divide up my remaining goods. Some pieces will stay with the house. Some family furniture will be shipped to my sister. It's been good this evening to look at the house plans and to write this farewell. Curiously, it's much less painful to face the loss of the property than I feared. It has been a wonderful vision to live in for the past four years. The land in Sonoma has built new rooms inside of me and restored my connection to the earth. For a long time, I have known that not everything that gets planned gets built.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

July 11th, 2009:

What an accelerated week! The past few days looped into a neat circle yesterday evening, as I was sitting in the dress circle at Herbst Theatre, waiting for the first Merola concert of the summer to begin. This would be my first opportunity to hear this year's crop of apprentice singers from all around the world as they sang excerpts from five operas--Dutchman, Orfeo ed Eurydice, The Medium, L'Italiana in Algeri and the last act of Boheme. I love the Merola Program and have been attending the Finale in mid-August for several years. Hearing the new talent that is being polished for world stages thrills me. There's a future, and I am hearing it early.

As I was waiting, who should come down to my aisle to say hi, but Lisa Capaldini, my primary care physician! One of our connections along with an interest in my health is opera. Of course she would be there as well. She was really startled to see me. "You look so great!" she kept repeating. And she had good reason to wonder. When I crawled into her office on Tuesday morning, I was in deep pain, fearful that my right arm would be incapacitated forever. And here, some four days later after starting her adept treatment, I am sitting with my friends and catching up on opera chat before a concert. To other eyes, there was no hint of the desperate times earlier in the week. What a fine end to a difficult passage. Presently, the concert hall lights dimmed and the next generation of singers took to the stage and began to command our attention.

Friday, July 10, 2009

July 10th, 2009:

Before my new tumor and fractured rib captured my attention earlier this week, I was planning to post a correspondence with a close friend of the past 35 years. Originally, I met her as the younger sister of a friend and then, as a student in one of my classes. We quickly got over the younger/older issue and became friends, peers interested in astrology and alternative healing as well as basically liking each other very much. Our friendship has endured as she married, became a mom, moved from the Coast to Hawaii and then to the Rockies. In the past several years our talks on the phone have slowed, but we often connected at the time of our Scorpio birthdays. Recently, our friendship has renewed as my health has declined. The blog has kept her informed, and she sent the following email three weeks ago in response to my posting about getting angry at my tumor and bashing the critter with a hammer.

Hi George:
I just read your blog of 6/17 and felt literally compelled to compile and send you some samples of alternatives available that either you or the nutritionist I spoke of might look into. Again, please take this as an offering and know that I completely respect your autonomy in this. I just felt a strong desire to support your antagonism toward and rejection of the tumor cells, and if I can support you in any way, I want to. Some things are as simple as seaweed and including seaweed extracts in the diet that have been shown to support apoptosis in cancer cells. Foods can be powerful medicinal allies in ridding the body of abnormal processes as I know you experienced at OHI (Optimum Health Institute) although I don't know what they shared with you in the way of natural ingredients. (the letter continues to respect my response whatever that response may be).

This letter prompted a deep questioning of what to answer. Believe me, I gave it some thought, which resulted in my reply.

My Friend:
I have sat with the contents of your letter for a couple of weeks to clarify my response. I respect you as a healer, and I believe that there are strong body, diet, mind connections that can promote healing. For the past several months, my body has been telling me that I am going in the direction intended. This means that I am not going to be cured from my tumors and that I will die from the cancer I currently have. This information deeply shocked me. I experienced a lot of sadness and anger because I had big plans for the rest of my life. So, the rest of my life is what I have now and over the next few months. It will have to be enough.

Rather than start swimming upstream against this information, I have been working to accept it. My current efforts are directed to completing what's needed before I can't function so well any more. I have a home in the country to sell. Possessions to give away. Work to wrap up. Perhaps a final trip or two to take. Also, I am planning to buy a television set with a DVD player to start watching a lifetime of missed programs, especially operas and dance. I've been able to coordinate moving into the end-of-life facility where I've volunteered for the past twenty two years. Although I'm not happy about this all the time, I am feeling cared for and held.

Rather than give you the green light to start sending information my way, it is more honest for me to say that I am OK with my destiny. It has been a wonderful life, and I plan to have a wonderful death. By wonderful death, I mean, I would like to have a clear space to just BE in. Part of that means stepping aside from working and energizing to cure myself. I have cured myself in the past. This time will be different. I see my dying as a healing but not a curing.

I thank you for reading this letter with the understanding that you will bring to it. I ask you to witness me. That will be plenty. I intend to keep people informed about how my health and my life intertwine until I am no longer able to do that. After that, there will be other ways you'll be kept informed so that there won't be an abrupt shut off of connection. I don't expect to traverse that change for several more months. In the meantime, I am very grateful that we're back in touch again, and I look forward to more communication in the time I have left. Thank you for being such a caring and loving friend for many years. I cherish and admire your depth of feeling and healing abilities. I love you. I love you.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

July 9th, 2009:

Today, I walked into Dr. Capaldini's office some 48 hours after my last dreadful appearance, and this time I felt reasonably radiant. The prednisone has taken away the intense pain from my fractured rib. And, as Lisa predicted, I needed a day to be really stupified while my body absorbed the doubled dose of my pain management medication. It felt so wonderful to say Hi! to all the staff in Lisa's office; I had been in such agony just two days prior.

I delivered the CD of my CT scan to Dr. Jahan so that he can take a look and pass it on to his pals in radiology. If the prednisone works for more than short term, then I may not need radiation. If the prednisone only works short term, then I am out of pain for now and can have the tumor radiated. It may seem odd, but I am positively ebullient about both of these possibilites because they mean that the pain is banished. That was wicked pain. Also, Dr. Jahan has talked about having a general bone scan done to see what the cancer involvement is throughout the bones in my body.

On Wednesday during the nadir of my transition from acute pain in my shoulder and dizziness from all the new opiates, I had a most unexpected realization which was that I am deeply taken care of. I have a fine medical team. I could move into Maitri very quickly. I've organized my give away of furniture, rugs, photographs, glass and even some of my more outstanding clothes. I could call on my Very Organized Virgo (VOV) team of friends to dispense everything with skill and haste. I could move from my apartment into high-maintenace care very quickly. That's what I mean by taken care of. I lay on my bed and felt miserably physically, but held within the deeper comfort of knowing that I am not heading into chaos. I could feel overwhelmed without being overwhelmed.

Today I happily returned to work. The fellow who coordinates my output stopped by to say Hi. I told him that I'd had a bit of a health crisis earlier in the week, but felt much better. "Are you OK?" he asked. I haven't advertised my health status at work. I have co-workers who regularly read my blog and comment on the posts as they appear. Most of my other team members just assume that I'm getting better since I look good. My hair is back in full vigor, and I appear daily in brightly colored shirts. Who would guess? "Definitely. Much better, " I replied.

I sat with that prevarication for about ten minutes, and was increasingly unhappy with sidestepping the truth. Time to come out. I went to his desk and asked, "Can we talk?" I could tell that he was in project mode and totally unprepared for the direction we were about to traverse. We sat down in a closed room. "Dave," I began, "I don't know how much you know about my health, but I am terminally ill and expect to be able to stay at work for another six weeks or so. That should get me through the basic work on documenting Cost Management." He was clearly stunned. "It must seem surreal to hear this, but I want to let you know. I have excellent doctors and support from friends. I'll move into an end-of-life care facility when the time comes. I've worked at this hospice for over twenty years, so it's a really comforting place for me." The rest of the conversation was a fine example of how someone who is basically caring and empathetic can take in unexpected and fearful information yet stay connected. Dave stayed connected by expressing his sorrow, which was very moving to me. Then, back to work.

Feeling on a something of a roll, I decided that I'd better talk to my boss as well. He has been very supportive of my health ups and downs, but when I see him, he usually tells me how good I look. My hunch is that he has not read my blog for some time. I pulled him into another available office and closed the door. I delivered a similar summary about my declining health, my pleasure at coming to work and being effective, and my need to leave in several weeks. My boss teared up and said, "I am so sorry......we all love you here." Whew, that took me by surprise. And then he treated me to a very succinct dharma talk. "When my old Chinese grandmother was dying we didn't tell her. But she had several months during the Spring and Summer when we visited with her a lot. We loved her and held her and laughed with her, and she loved all of us. That's what you can do for your friends. You can let them love you. They want to do that. Let them love you." Now that's a boss that I cherish. What a wonderful gift.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

July 7, 2009:
Bad news. For the past four weeks or so, I've felt an uncomfortable strain in my right shoulder as if I had pulled a muscle. On Monday evening, the pain became so intense that I walked over to the Emergency Room at Davies Hospital. After an X-ray and a CT scan and a wait of five hours, I was told that the reason for my distress was that there is a tumor in one of my ribs which has fractured the bone. Until that moment, I had no idea that there was any bone involvement other than the metastasis from my pelvic sarcoma into my pubic bone. So this is a whole new, and scary, development. The pain was severe, I gave it an 8 on a scale of 10. Most difficult was that to ease the pain, I had to hold my right arm straight up, then bend it at the elbow so that the palm of my hand rested along my spine. I was told by a little old lady at the hospital that I had great range of motion. I growled back that I was in a great deal of pain.

Yesterday morning, Lisa Capaldini, my primary care physician saw me on an emergency basis. When I told her what was going on she smiled and said, "Oh, we'll get you through this." Note: this is superb bedside manner!! I was so distressed that I was worried about holding my arm over my head for the rest of my life; that's how much the pain had taken over. But my pain did not take over Lisa. No, no. First, a prescription of anti-inflammatories to calm down the inflammation around the fracture (that's what hurts the most). Then, double my pain patches from 150 mg of Fentanyl to 300 mg. She said it would take about three hours for the anti-inflammatory to kick in and about two days for the Fentanyl to take charge. During the time that the Fentanyl is ramping up, I am woozy, but lucid enough to type this blog. Also, as a right-handed typist (and right-handed everything else), the effort to make these keystrokes is uncomfortable but nothing like the agony I felt yesterday.

Many short-term changes to my life plans. I will not be able to take my trip to Portland this weekend due to the uncertainty of getting my pain under control. Driving with my right arm not fully functional is not something I want to try. Nor lugging a suitcase. Etc. I have to say, this is the biggest shock at the moment because I was really stoked about seeing many close friends on this trip. This shock helps to eclipse the larger shock of having bone cancer. That is a very large shock indeed. Lisa said that this tumor might be treated with radiation if it gets too difficult. And there are other options. I am just a day and a half into the diagnosis at this point, and Dr. Jahan my oncologist hasn't had time to weigh in on what to do. We'll see.

In the meantime, I am going to ask all of you to please not call and ask me how I am. I've just done my best to tell you that in this entry. As new info unfolds, I'll let you know and I will also let you know when it's OK to call me. I know that I need a couple of days to be stupified by double my pain management. You can always send me an email to express your thoughts. But for right now, please, no phone calls. I love all of you and I know that you love me. That connection is full and in place.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

July 2, 2009: I visited with my oncologist , Dr. Jahan, on Monday of this week. I had a short list of aches and pains to relate as well as catching him up about my hope to move into Maitri. I showed him my project plan with the tasks I wanted to complete arranged in categories. He raised his eyebrows, "You are really organized. This is good."

Then he asked, "What's are your days like? What do you do? " I told him, "I get up between 7:30 and 8:30. I reach for a peach or an apricot and decide which striped shirt to wear. Then I'm out the door. I get work done in the morning, and I usually have lunch with a friend. I like to visit over good food for an an hour and a half. Back to work and home for a nap by mid-afternoon. I wake up in an hour or so, then read until dinner. I enjoy cooking my own food. Sometimes I go out in the evening. I have dinner with a friend or hear an opera. Usually I stay home and after dinner more reading and emailing until bed time."

"You haven't mentioned pain or fatigue," he said. I agreed, "I haven't had fatigue for a couple of weeks. If I start to become uncomfortable I take a morphine pill or two. That stops the pain in about twenty minutes. But I don't need pain breakthough very often. Maybe once or twice a week."

"You have a a lot of quality of life," Dr. Jahan concluded, then continued. "If I offer you chemo, it's going to diminish this quality you have." I nodded my head. "Right. I do have a good life right now." Dr. Jahan closed with, "Plan to come back in two months. If anything happens between now and then, call me immediately." As I mentioned in my Monday blog, we then proceeded to talk for another forty minutes about restaurants both French and domestic. And recipes....

So that's my strategy. Currently, I have a very functional life where I have a lot of choices and not too many limits. It will not always be this way. But it is this way for now. As the week has progressed, I have lived through more basic days like the one I summarized for Dr. Jahan. I've gotten a lot done at work. I've had fine connections with friends over lunch. I've had some meals and tasted flavors that were memorable. I sat in Zuni this afternoon with my friend Betsy as we strolled our way through a small pizza, half portions of pork tenderloin with heated Bing cherries. A dessert of three tiers of meringue wafers layered with creme chantilly with golden raspberries and a Santa Rosa plum sauce. We enjoyed two hours of sunlit bliss. It will not always be thus, but it is this way right now.