Sunday, April 11, 2010

When I Leave the World Behind

Work is underway on a book I promised several years ago to write. It’s extracts from my cancer journal on CaringBridge - the cancer story itself, and how I used everything at my disposal to help my cause: the internet, great medical care, and the power of attitude. Woven throughout are observations on how e-patient principles are changing the process of disease (and health). At the time I’d never heard of an “e-patient,” but what my support community and I were doing exemplified it.

The book's work is being driven by my long-time associate George Alexander, who is also the publisher.

It’s been emotionally hard to dig back through those journal posts, because those were scary times. The chapter I’m working on now is about hope, so yesterday I read Jerome Groopman’s book The Anatomy of Hope. It's filled with stories of being with patients as they faced probable death, and the physician’s journey of learning to help them deal with it.

I cried as I recalled facing my own death. It was accentuated by recent events:

  • Fellow kidney cancer patient Rick Schleider died last month.
  • My classmate Don Levinstone lost his fight with pervasive lung cancer last month.
  • Last week my dear singer-sister Suede's longtime companion dog Angel died. Angel was a miracle dog, an abused stray who lived on a highway median for months before being rescued. Suede adopted her and gave her a life she never would have known. The loss is hard on her.
  • Today’s CBS Sunday Morning had a segment on children who lose a parent. (5% do, before age 15.) The family photos and the footage of the children’s words, their loss, brought me back to the thought of leaving my family behind.
And that brought me back to my own father’s death in 2005, when I lived a thousand miles away. Traveling to see him wasn’t easy. The last time I left him in the care facility I said I’d be back soon and kissed his forehead. His last words to me were “That will be nice.” All signs were that the end was near, and it was.

That night I attended the annual concert of my sister Amy’s excellent Sweet Adelines chorus The Pride of Baltimore. The headline act was Wheelhouse, a champion quartet whose signature song is When I Leave the World Behind. Irving Berlin's beautiful lyrics flooded me; I sat there with tears running down my face, thinking of my dad's departure from this world.

Today that song came back to me as I heard the children talk. I found Wheelhouse's performance on YouTube, and found myself sobbing with feelings I hadn’t touched in three years, a much needed catharsis.

Here it is; the lyrics are below. (This handheld video is shaky at first but it settles down.)



When I Leave the World Behind
Irving Berlin, 1915
I know a millionaire
Who's burdened down with care
A load is on his mind
He's thinking of the day
When he must pass away
And leave his wealth behind
I haven't any gold
To leave when I grow old
Somehow it passed me by
I'm very poor but still
I'll leave a precious will
When I must say good-bye

[Refrain:]
I'll leave the sunshine to the flowers
I'll leave the springtime to the trees

And to the old folks, I'll leave the mem'ries
Of a baby upon their knees

I'll leave the night time to the dreamers
I'll leave the songbirds to the blind

I'll leave the moon above
To those in love
When I leave the world behind

[2nd verse:]
To every wrinkled face
I'll leave a fireplace
To paint their fav'rite scene
Within the golden rays
Scenes of their childhood days
When they were sweet sixteen
I'll leave them each a song
To sing the whole day long
As toward the end they plod
To ev'ry broken heart
With sorrow torn apart
I'll leave the love of God

[Refrain:]
I'll leave the sunshine to the flowers
I'll leave the springtime to the trees

And to the old folks, I'll leave the mem'ries
Of a baby upon their knees

I'll leave the night time to the dreamers
I'll leave the songbirds to the blind

I'll leave the moon above
To those in love
When I leave
the world
behind
I’m so glad to still be alive, alive to keep loving those things for a few more years. Thanks to all of you who were with me then, and thanks to all of you who work today to make a world of better healthcare.

6 comments:

  1. You're a great and courageous human being!

    Lodewijk

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  2. Is that going to be the title of your book? It would be excellent.

    nonlocal

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  3. Thanks for sharing your experience and this clip. I am also a Sweet Adeline (and a fan of Wheelhouse). I love singing, but REALLY love when the music affects others in ways I cannot even begin to understand. Best wishes for continued good health.
    Dana Dunlevy

    ReplyDelete
  4. Nonlocal,

    "When I Leave the World Behind" as a book title??

    Wow - that's not the overall impression of the book (as described at top), but I've certainly thought about writing one about facing death.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Oh sorry; I guess I misunderstood when you said it included extracts from your cancer journal. Never MIND. (:

    However, we all "leave the world behind" don't we. It implies we go on to something better.

    nonlocal

    ReplyDelete
  6. Great Post Dave. It made me cry a bit.- Regina

    ReplyDelete

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