By Bruce Stambaugh
The five of us men sat around the breakfast table enjoying the tasty food and each other’s company. As much as I cherished knowing these friends, and the nutritious breakfast, it was the conversation that captured my attention.
Half way through the hour-long gathering, I realized I was smiling, grateful to be included in this forthright discussion about what really matters in life. The hard, direct questions about life and death enthralled me. The frank, honest, heartfelt answers fueled the no-frills banter.
This was a Thursday morning, the usual bi-weekly get-together of our cancer support group, affectionately known as the Bluemen. Blue is the color for prostate cancer, and that was a common denominator of the group, save for one member.
Our host, normally a reserved, contemplative man, was passionately engaged in the meaningful discussion. By early Monday morning, he had died.
When I learned of his death, I wasn’t shocked. Deeply saddened yes, but not surprised given that intense interaction I had witnessed regarding life and preparing to die.
That precious morning, I sat and listened mostly, participating only when absolutely necessary. I was too absorbed to interrupt the flow of the dialogue’s stream.
Our friend, Bill, had joined our cancer support group for just that kind of interaction. This diminutive but gentile giant of a man wanted our companionship in his journey with prostate cancer. We gladly welcomed him.
Bill immediately felt at home with us. One of the most humble individuals I had ever met, Bill easily joined in the group’s chitchat. He, like the rest of us, shared intimate details that only those with prostate cancer unashamedly reveal, even over breakfast.
At times, this quiet, simple man talked our ears off. Once he even tried to introduce politics, a violation of our unwritten protocol. We all laughed.
Though not a prostate cancer victim, Kurt joined our group because there are no living members to offer comfort for his kind of cancer. Just like Bill, Kurt held nothing back either.
Our table talk revolved around what it’s like to die, are we afraid to die, what will we miss, what will we look forward to in the afterlife? And so it went, at first monthly, then every other week when Bill had a set back a few months ago.
Bill wanted to continue to meet, so this affable man and his amazing wife invited us into their home. We ate, talked, and laughed some more. Sometimes we even shed a few tears.
Besides cancer, the group members were bound as one by two other mutual traits. Our common faith, and our gratitude for the life opportunities we had had, and would have made us brothers.
We had no idea of what was about to play out with Bill following that marvelous Thursday morning gathering. I was glad for the multitude of thanks expressed then for all that had come our way in life. The good far outweighed the bad, even including cancer.
Each in our close-knit group was appreciative of life, to live, to love, to be loved. That was enough, more than any of us could ever have desired.
The turkey and all the trimmings of Thanksgiving are nice. Our group’s regular sharing affirmed that being grateful means so much more than a holiday spread. The Bluemen were most thankful for the immeasurable joy, love and fellowship of devoted families and friends.
Isn’t that what Thanksgiving is really all about?
© Bruce Stambaugh 2014
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