When Breath Becomes Air

25614898My favorite times at Erin’s…

6:20 AM    They shuffle down to the family room in silence and promptly curl up on the couch and floor for a few minutes more rest while Erin gets their breakfasts on the table.  A few minutes later they’re awake enough to eat breakfast and pack their lunches and feed the dog and brush their teeth and get dressed and get their hair brushed and head out the door.

7;20 AM   They hop on their bikes with backpacks and lunches and ride off to school shouting goodbye. Declan is grinning from ear to ear.  He got a bigger bike for his birthday and finally can ride it safely.

3:00 PM  We wait at the end of the street while bikers and scooter riders whiz by until three little people come skidding to a stop in front of us for a quick hug and then ride on ahead to get home for a snack.

7:30 PM  Bedtime stories…Lana is getting big.  She’s off in her room reading Harry Potter or Percy Jackson.  Every once in awhile she joins us for stories but not often.  Declan and Calli are in bed with me.  Henry and Mudge are Declan’s favorites.  We went to the library and brought back every one they had.  And Choose Your Own Adventure.  They’re a bit more complex than the ones I remember reading with Sean but the kids like them….even when they make the wrong choice and end up in a black hole never to be seen again!

And now we’re home in Florida. The first couple days were crazy.  I’m too old to go nonstop from dawn to dusk (or later!)  We got home Tuesday night.  Kate arrived on Wednesday and I was so glad I could go to the airport with her sister, Frani, to get her.  She looks better than I expected and was managing better than I expected too.  Glioblastoma is no walk in the park, that’s for sure. It’s not going to be easy for her or for her sisters who are here to help her but I have great faith in the Sullivan girls.  They’ll make it work.

Since then there’s been Dining for Women(all those wonderful women), yoga (ahh, good to be back), mentoring my kid at the high school, learning to take care of Kate’s Optune device (new way of fighting glioblastoma) Costco, Trader Joe’s, and a quick visit to Mary Anne who, even with a hip replacement and lung cancer, is full of energy and laughter (how does that woman do that?) Finally tonight I can catch my breath, get caught up on emails and relax.  Tomorrow I’ll tackle laundry (thrilling, huh?)

The title of this blog piece comes from a book I just finished by Paul Kalanithi.  I absolutely loved it.  Paul was a neurosurgeon who was diagnosed with lung cancer when he was 36.  His book is a memoir, reflecting on his life, his choices before and after his diagnosis, his coming to terms with how short his life would be.

He doesn’t whine.  He doesn’t wonder “Why me?”  He doesn’t get angry.  He does what he can to live and for awhile it actually looks like he’s getting better.  But he’s well aware that his time is limited.  He just wishes he knew HOW limited…a few weeks?  a few months?  a year?  He wants to know because it will affect what he chooses to do with the rest of his life.  Makes sense to me.   He says if he’s got a LONG time, he’ll continue to practice neurosurgery and then later, he’ll stay home and write a book, which has always been his dream.  If he has little time, he’ll retire from surgery immediately and go home and write.  His long range plan had always been to practice as a neurosurgeon for a long time and then retire and write.  He just always figured he’d be writing in his sixties.  And do they start a family or not?  They had always planned to have a family.  But now, he will be leaving his wife to raise a child alone.  Good idea?  Bad idea?  Are there places they want to go?  Things they still want to do?

The book was wonderful.  Made me laugh, made me cry, made me think.  What more could a book do?  His wife, who finished the book for him after he died, is also amazingly strong and lovely.  There are some good interviews with her on the Internet.

Oh my, life is good, even when it’s not easy.  My life is easy but so many have so much to carry.  I’m just one of the lucky ones.

Be well, my friends.




3 thoughts on “When Breath Becomes Air

  1. I think all of us who have shared your journey have come to value each day in a more meaningful way. Thank you, Mary.

  2. Deirdre Christman

    Love reading your posts! If you knew you were going to die soon, you probably couldn’t pack any more into your life than you’re doing now. Did the neurosurgeon have a child? Maybe you should recommend this book for book club instead of the more depressing one you’ve been planning to recommend. (Maybe depressing only to me.)

  3. Wendie Highsmith

    Mary-Always fun to hear about your adventures with the Littles. How lucky you and they are to see one another as often as you do.

    I will be coming to Venice from Punta Gorda Monday morning, Feb. 22. What time is yoga these days? My plans are pretty fluid except for lunch with a friend at Bird Bay.

    Do you think you will be in town?

    Will return to Tampa that afternoon or the next morning.

    Take good care!


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