In Defiance of the Night

Chapter 4
The Making of
Nita’s Support Team

Being diagnosed with cancer affects more than your body. It also plays havoc on your thoughts. Before my diagnosis, I awakened each morning with a fresh and exciting idea: to compose a song or paint a new canvass or write a few pages for the new novel. Each morning was bursting  with anticipation and possibilities.

Then, knowing my body was filled with cells gone rogue, my thoughts darkened. I cursed the cancer and railed against the injustice.

Injustice. Heifer dust!

Every year, there are over eighty-one million new cases of cancer around the globe. To humanize that number, with every breath we take, two new cases are diagnosed. There is nothing special about me—and certainly nothing heroic. I am one among millions who drew a bad card. Moreover, when I look at the entirety of my life, my luck has been extraordinary. I was born white and male in a developed country—and therefore privileged. I’ve had it easy. I was graced with adequate intelligence, curiosity, and ambition. And none of that is just; it’s just good fortune. So, what do I have to whine about? Absolutely nothing.

After sulking for a day, I reshuffled my brain and yanked myself from the grip of self-pity.I had a new mantra: who can I serve today?

Of course, the first person on my list was Nita. Unlike me, my bride is by nature calm and unassuming. If she were ever enraged—something I’ve never seen—she might say, “Oh my.” In other words, she is the most grounded, the most serene person I have ever known. Why she ever chose me is both a blessing and a bewilderment.

Parkinson’s Disease has been a cruel master. Although Nita never complains, she has fallen under the spell of the affliction. She sleeps most of the day; and when she’s not sleeping, she worries—behavior that is contrary to her character.

Given my precarious future, I decided to organize what I’ve called Nita’s Support Team. I considered all the people I’ve known over the years. Only the best would do. First, they needed to be people of integrity, meaning people who do what they say. Second, they would have to be compassionate, able to gently serve when the situation seemed overwhelming to Nita. Third, they must be totally trustworthy by being both discreet and focused on the task.

I chose seven people—Alan, Josie, Josh, Bob, Nancy, Duane, and Elaine—all of whom easily met my criteria. Each member had specific skills that created a dynamic group synergy. Alan has deep medical experience. Josie is our power of attorney and personal representative. Josh is our financial consultant. Bob has extensive management and organizational skills. Nancy is an educator and peacemaker. Duane is a lawyer who is professionally astute and principle-centered. And Elaine is celebrated for her humanism and compassion. Altogether, they are a fortress.

I held a Saturday morning organizational meeting at my home.

In her gentle way, Nita explained what she was up against. “I often feel anxious,” she admitted. “I don’t like it, but it floods over me without invitation. I worry about what will happen—to Allen, to me. And often I worry about the most insignificant things. It’s dumb, I know, but there you have it.”

The team was riveted to Nita. I looked into their eyes. There was no judgment—only compassion. Nita felt safe, and so did I.

Let me be clear. It was not that I planned to make a quick departure—I did not—but if we’re honest, none of us really know when our time is up. Consequently, I thought it prudent—and loving—to have a team in the wings.

I outlined the help Nita would need if I were gone. The broad categories were finances, home management, health care, transition to assisted living, disposition of possessions, and the operation of computer and smart devices. Each team member volunteered to become the go-to expert in one or more domains.

After the meeting, Alan and Josh pulled me off to the side. “Allen,” Josh said, “you’ve accomplished what so few have done. You’ve prepared for the end of days—especially for the one you love the most.”

“How could I not?” I asked.

“That’s easily said, but that’s not the norm. Most do nothing, expecting their children to take care of them. And, sadly, all too often the children fall short. What you’re doing is rare—and powerful.”

“You’ve inspired me,” Alan said. “I’m way behind you. I need to prepare my family for our end of days.”

I pondered Alan’s words. “It’s a strange thing,” I said. “Too often we think we’re alone in the world—that no one gives a tinker’s damn. When in reality, all you have to do is ask, and the love flows.”

When everyone had left, Nita stepped into my arms. Her voice swelled with emotion. “Thank you, honey,” she said. “I feel so much safer now. I’m so lucky.”

“We’re both lucky,” I said. “I’m lucky to have you. And we’re both lucky to have friends who are so powerful.”

“And so caring,” Nita added.

With that, Nita folded her arms around my neck, drew me in, and sobbed. “I love you so much.”

I choked back my tears. “I love you more.”

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