Life is like a patchwork quilt. As each event in our life unfolds, as every swath of colored cloth is sewn together, one touching the other, our lives and the quilt begin to take shape. The overall theme and picture becomes clearer. I do believe that as I look back on that afternoon some years ago spent on the white sandy Florida beach it was one of those patches; a pink colored scrap of cloth at that.
The cancer that grew within my son, David had been discovered quite by accident some fourteen months ago. David, who lived in St. Louis, Missouri hadn’t been feeling well but couldn’t really put his finger on how the new feelings affected him. He didn’t have a cold or the flu but the absence of energy his thirty-six-year-old body usually possessed was cause for concern.
A Physician’s examination left only more questions yet to be answered. There were blood tests, CT scans and MRI’s followed by a week or so of uneasy anticipation waiting for the results. Then there came a call from the doctor’s office asking that David see the physician the following day when the results of all the prodding and probing would be revealed.
David and his wife Kim left the house and, although they tried to avoid talking about the purpose of the drive, it was on both of their minds. As the pair tried to push the thoughts of doom from their minds they talked about work, their two children and the hot August day.
The time seated in the waiting room was much less than normal and every action taken by the nurse who took David’s blood pressure, temperature and pulse was scrutinized by David and Kim. They were looking for some unspoken clue which would indicate the seriousness of the illness.
The couple sat on uncomfortable chairs in an inhospitable room and listened as the doctor spoke. “You have stage 4 colon cancer. It has spread to your liver and the treatment options are somewhat limited. I suggest that you have surgery as soon as possible followed by radiation and chemotherapy.” Through Kim’s tears and soft murmuring cries, David responded as only he could, “OK, let’s get started.”
The next fourteen months found David in hospital surgery rooms and treatment rooms with comfortable chairs with televisions hung on the walls where needles punctured the skin on his arms. Through it all David remained, at least outwardly, the same person he had always been. There were few, if any, complaints and he was often overheard saying, “it is what it is.”
My wife Robin and I lived in the Tampa, Florida area during the time of David’s treatments. Robin became very ill during our stay there and most of my time was spent either at work or caring for her but I did manage to make numerous trips to St. Louis to be with David before and after his surgical procedures. I could see the changes in him as the treatments took their toll on his mind and body.
Then there came the day in August of 2006. The telephone in my Tampa home rang and the call was from David. No more than a few words were spoken when David stated the reason for the call. “I’d like to see you and mom and spend a few days with the two of you; would that be OK?” “Yeah, that would be great,” I answered.
David and his teenaged daughter, Samantha arrived the next day and spent four days with Robin and me. Three days passed and not one word regarding the cancer was mentioned. On the morning of the fourth and last day of the visit, David asked if the four of us could go to the beach. That afternoon was spent on the white sands of a Florida beach.
David sat in a folding chair and didn’t say much. He occasionally walked to the water’s edge and seemed to enjoy the feeling of the salty waves as they crawled up his feet and legs. As the sun began to set I walked with David in the gulf coast waters when suddenly he stopped and stared off to the west.
“You see that pink sky. I’d like to walk out into the water and into that pink sky and never come back but I can’t. I need to go home tomorrow and finish this.” I knew what he meant and I knew he was right but I could find no words of comfort to offer so I tightly hugged him and said, “I love you and I have always loved you.” “I know,” he said, “I know.”
David left the following morning. Robin and I went to St. Louis a month later and spent the next and last few weeks of David’s life with him. With his family near his side, David died in the early morning hours of the 29th day of September in the year 2006.
That morning and the ensuing afternoon hours were parts of a sad day; A day when family members and friends cried and talked about memories of David. I think that everyone coming in and out of the house found it hard to imagine that he was gone.
That evening, and all alone, I sat on the back porch chair that David had rested on so very many times before. I guess I wanted to somehow believe that I was a part of him.
There the most quiet and serene sensation came over me. It was as if something or someone was asking me to look out over the treetops and beyond the small pond. There, in the western part of the world I could see the Sun dying on the horizon; and yes, the sky was painted pink. The soft white and pink clouds merged into the pastel-colored pink and blue sky with little reminder of the once mournful day that had passed before its coming.
Many memories came to mind as I watched that western sky and there, and for only a moment, I could have sworn that I saw a shape. It was a shape reminiscent of a face that I could clearly recall. It was the face of David. Maybe, and I hoped so very much, he had gone to live in the pink sky.
I’m certain there had been many pink skies prior to that evening spent on that sandy Florida beach but that was the first one I recall paying much notice of. Since then I find that as the evening Sun begins to die in the western sky I give a look in that direction hoping that the painted sky will be pink.
When I am fortunate enough to find that pink sky it invariably brings a sense of calmness into my life. I imagine that David is free of pain and no longer has a fear of dying as he may have found peace there in the pink sky.
Much like a book containing a collection of short essays I believe my life has been a compilation of stories; at first glance a random grouping of unrelated events. But when the selections are examined in their entirety; well they compose what can best be thought of as my life. I now consider the story of David’s pink sky to be one of the saddest yet one of the most often remembered stories.
As the previous year recently slipped away and on the eve of a new one I listened to words that Scottish poet Robert Burns first penned to parchment in the year 1788.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld Lang Syne?
There will never come a time when I will forget old acquaintances.
After David left my Florida home I discovered a note left by him and addressed to Robin and I. “I love you both. Thank you for everything. I had a great life.” The note was signed using David’s old soccer team number, “#9.”
That note is now encased in a metal frame and rests inconspicuously on my fireplace mantle.