Life is a series of comings and goings, moving on, letting go, graduating, commencing, marrying, separating. If we're not in the act of moving on, we're thinking about the last time we did, or planning on the next one.
They asked nurses if they would prefer to go quickly, or have a few months to prepare for the end. Think about it for a moment, before reading on. I was surprised to learn they would choose to go slowly. They know something many of us don't, that medicine has become good at making the last weeks of life comfortable. I'm sure there are exceptions, and this is mostly an exercise, most of us don't get to make this choice.
The New Yorker has an excellent article in the current issue about the choices we make and how they determine the quality of our last days. Too many people choose to fight, when there's no chance of survival, and as a result spend their last days in agony, and never get to say a proper goodbye to those they are close to. As far away as you might think this is, it's probably a good idea to read this piece. You may be called on to help a friend or family member make this transition. It's better in this one case not to rely on on-the-job training. It's one of the things you don't get to do twice.
When I was 47, being prepared to go for heart surgery, I got a visit from a social worker who wanted to discuss end of life issues with me. About me! I politely told her it wasn't my time yet, although in retrospect, knowing what I know now, it would probably have been smart to have the talk anyway.
All this is prologue to some news I got this weekend about a former colleague, Chris Gulker. We never officially worked together, but in an unofficial capacity we got some amazing stuff done, back in the very early days of blogging, although we didn't know at that time that's what it would turn out to be.
Chris was the systems guy at the San Francisco Examiner, and a user of my Frontier software. For a few years he had used it in prepress work, to automate layouts of the news in Quark XPress. I watched this from a distance, with interest -- but without participating myself. I didn't have any applications for such high quality publishing work. He shared what he learned with the community at Seybold, led by another friend, Craig Cline.
Chris's work led to a project we did together in the fall of 1994, when the San Francisco newspapers went on strike. I saw this as an opportunity to get hands-on experience with the web. I signed up to work on the strike paper. Chris was on the other side of the picket line, he was doing the website for the management paper. Didn't matter that we were opponents, we shared what we were learning, and the pace of learning was, at that time, incredibly rapid.
I wrote about the work we did together in DaveNet, a blog-like website I did before starting Scripting News.
This weekend I got an email pointing to Chris's website where he posted in mid-July that he has been dealing with an incurable form of cancer that has now moved to its final stages. He has, at best, a few months to live.
I read his subsequent posts, and based on what I learned with my father's final struggles, last year at this time, that Chris is, imho, approaching this exactly as I would. And as the New Yorker author recommends. There comes a time when the odds are so stacked against a recovery, your chances are so slim, that it's better to give up on the miracle cure, and instead try to get the most out of the time you have remaining. There's nothing easy about giving up, about preparing for the final move-on. I imagine you feel not ready to give up on living, but you're ready to give up fighting to live. Or almost ready. Or so close to ready you might as well take a deep breath and get ready.
I don't know the answers. And I don't know what I can do to help -- other than tell this little story about a very small slice of Chris's life from my point of view. He did some great work, that yielded great results. He can be proud of that, and I for one am grateful that he was part of my life. There are lots of other people who believe that sharing what you have, as Chris did so easily, is a foolish thing to do, but Chris chose to lead instead and we all benefited.