The Shortest Day of the Longest Year

Yesterday was the Winter Solstice. The shortest day of arguably the longest year. This year has been a monstrous beast, intent on testing humanity’s resolve to survive. I thought 2019 was a bit tough, beginning as it did with my chemo and radiation treatment following my November 2018 lung cancer surgery. But that year improved as time crept by; in hindsight, time sped by like a bullet, but it felt slow and laborious for awhile. This year, though, started slow and ugly and seemed to get worse with every passing moment. My wife’s weakness got worse and worse and, finally, her fall in mid-July triggered an awful degradation. This longest year is ending with a sense of crushing defeat and ruin. I know it will get better, with time.

I’ve contemplated time so many times on this blog. Even recently, I’ve mused about the seemingly molasses-like speed of time in youth and the blazing speed of time in latter years. But time has both crept and sped by this year, in fits and starts. Now, I wish I could accelerate time so it could hasten the softening of the pain of loss.


It took almost all day, but around 4 pm I finally showered and shaved, just in time to don my evening apparel of sweatshirt and sweats. I spent my time until darkness fell sitting outside on the deck, sipping a Dogfish Head 90, a first-rate imperial IPA. I thank my sister-in-law for giving me the beer.

Bleached orange and brown streaks, accented by pale pink and white wisps of clouds against a darkening sky made for a peaceful sunset. While I love arrays of brilliant orange and red and purple and blue and black—swirling and stretching in stunning layers—yesterday’s more placid display better suited my mood. I watched until all the light in the sky disappeared, replaced by darkness. Some days, light from the setting sun seems to last for a very long time. Yesterday, though, it disappeared quickly, as if an opaque curtain hid the dim glow of the sun below the horizon.

I had eaten more for lunch than normal and snacked on cheese cookies a friend dropped off (and who gave me a much-needed hug), so I opted to snack for dinner. Almost an entire bag of corn chips and a jar of Pace Picante Sauce disappeared while I was watching the final episode of Mindhunters. That last episode was a disappointment in some respects; but it disappointed not in execution but in the reality reflected by the events upon which the series was based.

Someone I knew from my business in Dallas called and later stopped by with muffins and a couple of books, one of which she had written. The books are based on Christian philosophies. I was grateful for the thoughts that prompted her and her husband, who I also knew from my business, to stop by to offer condolences and support.

Another friend stopped by to give me some goodies and a much-appreciated hug. I haven’t had many hugs during the past five months. I appreciate them, both getting and giving. That’s such an enormous change in me. Until just a few short years ago, hugging and being hugged felt awkward to me. Now, I thrive on them. People change, long after change is expected.

Yesterday’s errands included returning a borrowed wheelchair to the Village Loan Closet and going to the post office to mail a check to the crematorium. I could have handled the crematorium matters online, including credit card payment, but my wife would have been disappointed in me if I had agreed to pay a $28 “convenience fee” for the privilege of paying by credit card. I asked whether they would accept a check; the response was that credit cards were the preferred method of payment, but they would accept a check. So I paid by check; my wife would have been proud of my principled frugality.

After the post office, I sat in line at the car wash. When I had finally gone through the high-pressure spray and soap-soaked brushes, the exterior of the car was moderately cleaner, though the back window needed, and still needs, to receive special care.


As I read what I’ve just written, I realize I am thinking and writing in something like circular reverse order. I suppose that is how my mind is functioning at the moment. I told my wife’s sister this morning that my wife would have been proud of something else I did, aside from refuse to pay the credit card “convenience fee,” but I don’t recall what it was that would have made her proud. I need to write those things down so I will not forget them. The idea that I could possibly forget anything about her or about us is upsetting.


My family and friends, both face-to-face and virtual, are scattered around North America and, indeed, the world. I am so grateful for their expressions of condolence and support. I hope I will say it enough, at the right times, and to the right people, so that they all really understand how important their words are to me.


I just got a notice that my groceries are ready for pickup. So, off I go.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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One Response to The Shortest Day of the Longest Year

  1. robin andrea says:

    Thinking of you, John, and sending long distance hugs.

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