End Game

Photo by Elizabeth LaStaiti

Yesterday my oncologist told me I have only a few months to live — six months to a year was his estimate. This is news that at once alters nothing and changes everything. I’m still the same man today that I was yesterday: I’m feeling pretty good and functioning fairly well. What has changed, big time, however, is my perspective. Life’s horizon is suddenly delimited and  two big questions now emerge, ‘What shall I do in the days I have left?’ How shall I live before I die?

It’s a matter of the value I must now place on things. I no longer have time to waste in avoidance or denial. Every moment is precious. Precious, that is, but not pressured. As to pressure, certainly, the doctor’s prognosis has the effect of speeding some things up. It does come with a fairly robust ‘things to do  before I’m done’ list. But it also opens up a precious time to experience things richly and to savor them deeply. Already I find myself thinking, ‘That could well be the last time I’ll see this beautiful thing: pay attention.’ I shall think of these days as a privileged moment to spend time on the important things; this must not become a period for wallowing in fear, melancholia or self-pity. 

Now it’s a matter of shifting the emphasis from asking, ‘How do I live well?’ to ‘How do I die well?’ Easily asked, of course, but tough questions to answer. I never was very good at mastering the final third of a game of chess, the end game. I’m tempted to hide behind the fact that I’ve really never done this before, but that’s just an excuse. It’s time to face this moment and carry through with it as humbly and faithfully as I can. One way or another I’m destined to play out this last act, so why not carry it off as well as I can  before I myself am carried off altogether?

Admittedly, the news that I’m approaching life’s end stage shocked me at first. I’ve always been a ‘can do, we’ll get through this’ kind of guy. But now I’ve become that once-resilient fellow who’s coping with a time of inevitably diminishing resources. The secret to it all, I think, is acceptance— accepting the fact that there is still much that I can accomplish and take care of in the days I have left. Accepting, too, that my powers are on the wane and there is much I will probably have to leave undone. I intend to cultivate what really matters and to let go of what’s not worth caring about anymore. I’ll be grateful for the gifts I’ve been given and can still exercise and I’ll try to let go of things that I really can’t control. I want to embrace the love that’s all around me and to trust deeply that, in the end, all will be well. 

My plan is simply this: to live with joy and die in hope.

7 Thoughts on “End Game

  1. Rick Neu on December 16, 2019 at 1:46 pm said:

    Ed, what a beautiful and timely reflection. I am reminded of a conversation you and I had a long time ago as I was struggling with my issues as a second-year seminary student. You said a similar thing to me then, “Live with joy and rely on hope.” I appreciated those words then and rely on them to this day.

    You and Elizabeth are in my prayers. All will be well.

  2. Christian Holleck on December 17, 2019 at 11:45 am said:

    Beautifully written, “to live with joy and die in hope.”
    Many of my most beautiful childhood memories are sailing from Buzzards Bay, up to Maine and around Penobscot Bay (one year as far as Grand Manan).
    I am a Lutheran pastor at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, in Harwich, on Cape Cod.
    When you speak of wanting to die well, I am reminded of a book by Henri Nouwen, “Our Greatest Gift: A Meditation on Dying and Caring.”
    wishing you a blessed Advent with peace, and hope.
    Christian Holleck

  3. Mary Hansen-Joyce on January 7, 2020 at 11:57 am said:

    Dear Ed, thank you for what you share here and all that you’ve offered (and continue to offer) in your life. I wonder where you are as I write this on January 7th. Your published schedule would have you just back from a cruise – I hope that is the case; that you enjoyed another cruise. I am an ELCA pastor in Massachusetts – until recently serving as a hospital Chaplain on Cape Cod, where I have had the sacred privilege of sharing conversations with people actually facing their mortality or now more willing to face it in the throws of serious illness (sometimes but not always at the actual point of receiving a dire prognosis of a year or less). I am grateful for your post and wish you much joy as you live more fully into the blessed hope in which you desire to die. May it ever be so. Mary

  4. Kevin Fox on January 14, 2020 at 10:40 am said:

    Pat and I were so sad to hear this news from John Foraste as we exchanged belated Christmas and New Years greetings. I had contacted John to get your contacts and Elizabeth’s before more time passed and he told us the news. I had been thinking about our time together in Paris in 65-66 and again in ’16 and was wondering how you were doing. Now that we’ve read End Game, we know. Beautifully written as I would expect.
    My email is my old street in Paris.
    Be strong. Love to Elizabeth.

  5. Jacqueline leo on January 15, 2020 at 10:18 am said:

    Hello Edward.
    This truly brought tears to my eyes. All I can say is I wish you nothing but peace!

  6. Odette Alves on April 30, 2020 at 9:41 pm said:

    Hello Pastor Ed,
    So wonderful to see you and so sorry for what you are going through. My son asked me today , “Mom do you still cut that man hair that brought the dog into the salon.” I was trying to think who he was talking about when he said Molly. It gave me a chill because I had seem your email and did know if it was really you. So I opened it and saw your picture ,and you letter so beautiful . My son is now 17. Sending hugs and prayers. Thank you for thinking of me. When ever I think of you , I miss our talks. Peace

  7. Juli J Engel on October 16, 2020 at 4:11 pm said:

    Pastor Dufresne,
    After many searches over the years, I finally found you on your website. It’s been over forty years, but you officiated at my first marriage back in 1977 at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Moorestown, NJ. At that time, we were encouraged to attend pre-marriage meetings with you. As a very young woman with little “real life” experience, your words of wisdom that you shared then have both stayed and resonated with me ever since. Often a person is unaware of the impact they can have on someone’s life, and I wanted to thank you for the lessons you imparted to me so long ago. I will never forget you, and am grateful for your wisdom and caring. Peace be with you, Juli (Minnich) Engel

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