11/18/14  I often think about a patient I served in hospice who was dying from cancer.

Once a week we would go to a place he chose—usually somewhere he knew he’d never see again. Once it was to his favorite beach. Another time we sat on a secluded bench in Golden Gate Park looking at the Golden Gate Bridge; him smoking his medical marijuana, me looking over my shoulder for park rangers. On other days, he would shop for outrageous clothes he knew he would never wear.

And then there were the quiet days when he would sit with me in the kitchen of the Zen Hospice Guest House and I would watch him eat a quart of ice cream—vanilla if you please, with a look of pleasure. One of our favorite outings was the incredibly beautiful drive down the California coast on US 1. We would go to Bean Hollow State Park, a small stretch of beach with rocky outcroppings and waves ascending thirty feel when water and rocks collided.


It was a place where he felt comfortable enough to reveal his thoughts. On this day he confided in me that he was afraid he would outlast the compassion people were showing him. He couldn’t believe anyone wanted to serve him without getting something in return.

“The staff are great, but they’re getting paid to care for me. What I don’t understand is why you and the other volunteers are doing it.”

It didn’t take me long to respond. “I’m getting lessons from you on how to live and die.”

My cancer is still in check, but I know if it outsmarts the drugs I’m taking, I can rely on the lessons he taught me.

You might be interested in my article What Makes You Think You’ll Live Forever?

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