An hour ago, it was four in the morning. It’s five o’clock as I write this. During the time between the two moments, nothing of consequence happened in my life. At least nothing I know about. It is possible, of course, that deterioration took place in my brain or my heart or various other of the organs crucial to my survival, but I remain blissfully unaware of those changes.  I go blithely about my business, ignorant of what might be taking place in my body. I am semi-conscious of changes in my mental state as I wade through the moments available to me, but I do not know what transformations might be occurring in my physical form. My ignorance is not unique, of course. Few of us have even an inkling of how biology is changing us, second by second. Only when the changes present themselves in unmistakable ways do we pay sufficient attention to them. By then, we may or may not be able to stop or reverse those adjustments—if, indeed, they suggest a need or desire to do so. In those cases in which the changes have passed the tipping point, we truly are powerless. We simply must adjust to what may be a deeply undesirable reality. But in making adjustments, we may not actually be powerless; we may respond in ways that recognize certain routes are closed to us, but we may seek alternatives.

My lung cancer diagnosis four years ago is a case in point. I could not prevent the cancer from growing and spreading, but the surgeon and oncologist and radiologist could—with my cooperation. The alternative was to live without the lobe of my lung that had been quietly attempting to kill me. My post-surgery experience is different from my life before the diagnosis. I have less stamina. I have various other physical symptoms related to the absence of a piece of me. But I have adjusted—sometimes quite begrudgingly—to “a deeply undesirable reality.” Before I accepted that adjustment, I briefly considered letting nature take its course. I decided, though, I could not do that to my wife.

Two years later, though, no matter how many adjustments she might have been willing to make, the deterioration of her heart left her unable to make adjustments to save her life. But I still wonder whether I could have done something different in my care for her; something that would have spared her five months of lonely “rehabilitation” that ultimately let to her death. I tell myself there was nothing more I could do. I try to acknowledge that I cannot change the past and that second-guessing myself has no valid purpose. That attempt at self-salvation falls flat. Some days the grey cloud of depression makes me struggle to breathe. Sometimes I would rather just stop. But I cannot do that to mi novia or to anyone to whom I matter. I  overcome the urge to quit; I move on. I shove the anger and depression into a hidden compartment in my brain where I want it to dissolve into an innocuous mist of memory.

Maybe it is the Christmas season that causes my depression to surface. It was during this season two years ago that my wife died, six days before Christmas. That season was dark and painful. But I am determined that this Christmas season will be brighter and better. Mi novia has decorated the house with lights and candles and seasonal decorations that lift my spirits. I want this season to bring her cheer and pleasure. It’s odd, though, the competition between joy and sorrow; between happiness and mourning. Regardless, I will keep the greyness at bay.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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