November Elegy: Thanksgiving 2013

November is a time of mixed emotions, and this year never more so.

November is when, particularly after the switch from Daylight Savings Time, the sun disappears for more than 14 hours each day in the Pacific Northwest. The hours of darkness are felt as much as observed. The Winter Solstice, which starts the hours of increasing daylight (however slowly at first) is a month away.

For now it is about increasing darkness and the stark reminder of death as the last leaves have fallen.

In childhood, November is the month of Thanksgiving and the big family dinner with lots of food – especially the dressing – and football. It was the necessary holiday that opened the door to the month of Christmas. It was only later, when nostalgia mixed with maturity as well as a growing fatigue at the commercial orgy that Christmas had become, that it was recalled for what it was: the best holiday of the year – focused only on the delight of a great meal and family and friends (however trying some of the latter typically may be).

And with that maturity came another realization. Thanksgiving became a marker for the empty seats of family, lovers, and friends who have departed from our lives (whatever the reason for that departure). And as much as all of the above, Thanksgiving is a time for reflection for the successes and failures of the last year.

Much is made of the Auld Lang Syne and resolutions at the time of the New Year. But for me, it is Thanksgiving that provides the context for those reflections and promises. The year is mostly gone, but there is still an opportunity to make amends or progress…for time is still left.

And now, Thanksgiving 2013. This year’s holiday has elements of all of the above and more.

There is much to be thankful for.

Thanksgiving 2013 finds us living in our beloved Gig Harbor. A year ago, a move to somewhere was as much dream as active in either planning or action. And now we are here. It is better than we had ever hoped. Living here now, it is difficult to remember living our life in our former house.

I am still employed and my wife’s business continues to grow in both her former clinic and the one she’s establishing in Gig Harbor. Those are not small things in a year and a country that continues to see so much suffering and unemployment irrespective of what self-serving elites and boorish politicians say.

And still this is a time of the reminders of death.

My father-in-law died a bit more than one week ago. He had been diagnosed two months ago with pancreatic cancer that had metastasized into his liver. The progression was such that the chemotherapy treatment was more than his ravaged body could withstand.

And yet even in this there is a measure for which to give thanks.

Two years ago he had suffered kidney failure with some of it attributed to a long-term use of statin drugs. And yet he had recovered after a series of dialysis treatments and his kidneys had begun to function again. He had the the gift of life for two more years.

These last two years allowed him to see his first great-grandchild. They had given him an opportunity to see another grandchild get engaged to be married. They had given him time to repair the hurts and injuries of damaged relationships with his children.

And there was one final blessed moment. In the last few minutes of life, he and his wife of more than 50 years were able to express their love for one another and say goodbye.

And for me, this November gave me my own sense of mortality – if even for a brief moment. But it served as a reminder of the season and the a reminder of however long life is, it is much too short.

Since a few bouts with skin cancer (one each of basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas), I have been doing annual visits to my dermatologist. Last year about this time she noticed a pinkish looking mole near by left elbow. She recommended getting it check within a couple of months.

Life, including house hunting and the move to Gig Harbor, intervened, and it got put off. Finally, in late summer I figured it was time to get it looked at. I made my appointment and got in to see her in late October.

A biopsy was taken and I walked out, assuming (as she did, as she told me later) that it would be a basal cell.

Two weeks ago, her nurse called and told me they had the results – and it was a malignant melanoma.

In that second, I was numbed.

The nurse asked if I had any questions. The shock was such that I wasn’t prepared to ask questions. So, and thank you Angela for your kindness, the nurse said it was a very early stage and I’d need an excision. I made the appointment for the following Monday.

After she hung up, I realized there was no mention of a lymph node biopsy or a visit to an oncologist so I was probably okay (if relatively okay).

At my appointment, my dermatologist told me it was a surface (Stage 0) melanoma that was 0.44 mm thick. There was no growth underway and that was a good thing. I got my wide local excision and now have 12 stitches in my elbow.

I’ll be doing more frequent visual exams for a time to ensure there are no other suspect moles and to ensure there’s no reoccurrence in the same area.

But for feeling the cold breath of death – if only for an irrational second – I’ve gotten through this fine.

So on this Thanksgiving, treasure those in your life – even those who can be a pain in the ass.

And if you’ve not done so lately, visit your dermatologist.

Happy Thanksgiving.



Author: TomR

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