A YEAR TO LIVE Esther McNeil Griffin
We needed a new phone installation for a dictating device in the word processing center under my supervision as Central Services Coordinator in our combined school districts. But an old, heavy wooden desk was in the way, and the serviceman refused to move it. With disgust, I muttered, "I am woman, hear me roar," as I shoved the massive obstacle out of the way. I covered up the wince in my 56-year-old back until he left. It soon increased from pain to agony when I had to leave work and go home to bed. After a few days, when I could hobble to the car, I had it X-rayed.
The call from my doctor was unnerving. "Your back is not seriously injured, but there seems to be a dark spot on your kidney, which requires further investigation." A CAT scan revealed a cancerous kidney, which had to be removed. Fortunately, the cancer did not appear to have spread, but unfortunately, it was a type of cancer that would not respond to chemo or radiation.
"Either we got it all ... or we didn't," the nephrologist intoned. "I would recommend that you take that cruise you told me about, and do anything else this year that you have been putting off."
"My God," I pleaded. "The doctor expects this to spread and take my life within a year! I won't even get to claim any of the Social Security money I have contributed all these years. It isn't FAIR! Please help me!"
I hadn't intended to take an early retirement; my last child was still in college. But if I had only a year, I was going to make it count. A plea for volunteers at our local zoo appeared in the newspaper. I signed up for the 23-week course to learn all about animals and how to handle them. The newsletter for my genealogy society arrived, hand printed, with "genealogy" misspelled and a plea for a volunteer editor. I had only a year, but I could surely do better than that! So I became an editor. I used the blessings of the new computers to resume writing and sold a few pieces.
I gave away many of my possessions, all my art supplies, and waited. As the year raced by and I was still around, I figured I still only had a few more years, maybe five. I marked off the years, filling them with everything I had procrastinated doing all my life. I took courses, Spanish and Russian; I taught night-school courses in genealogy and family history. I savored every minute, soaking up visions of my new grandchildren I didn't expect to see grow up.
Now I've not only seen the first of the grandchildren grow up, but all 10 of them and the first four great-grandchildren. I have been a zoo volunteer for more than 25 years. After 18 years as a genealogy society editor, I turned it over to another person and then walked into the editorship of a local historical society newsletter. I have had more articles and a couple of children's picture books published.
My "last year" of life continues to delight me, after a quarter-century of making sure every moment counts.
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