Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Memento mori (the big C)

Remember death. In Catholic tradition, the phrase memento mori is a call for us to contemplate our mortality. It's both a call to fully embrace the good, the true, and the beautiful in life while we may, but to be aware that life ends and we'll eventually—or suddenly—be facing the four last things: death, judgement, heaven, hell.

My apprehension of death has always focused on having a heart attack, there's family history. I had always ruled out cancer as a concern because there's no family history of that. I had a colonoscopy two years ago that showed a perfectly healthy colon. My PSA levels for prostate cancer are near nil. I don't smoke, I drink only in moderation. I am, however, a bit on the fat side. Both my parents are long lived. My father turned 97 in April, my mother will be 97 in November. My greatest fears as of last month were outliving my money or a long period of decline in my old, old age. My father has been in assisted living for years and I would never wish that for myself, though I'd be resigned to it if it came years hence.

In the past few weeks, my abstract thoughts of aging, death, and dying became very real. On May 21, I was told that I had cancer of the pancreas. On May 26, it was confirmed to be metastatic, i.e., stage 4, inoperable and terminal. With treatment, I can hope for another year or two; without treatment, I can expect only three to six months. 

As a Catholic Christian, I long to go to God. I'm not afraid of what lies ahead. I have held to my hope that after enjoying a full life I may, in Yeats' phrase, be gathered "into the artifice of eternity." I am at peace with knowing that the full life I expected will be shorter and a part of me longs for that denouement. With the outpouring of love and support from family and friends, I am also aware that my sickness and death affects those around me as well. No man is an island, as Donne wrote. For love of them, I will fight to be with them as long as I can. As St. Paul wrote to the Philippians (1:21-24), 

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If it is to be life in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.

I'm no apostle, but there is with all of us an obligation to keep ties to life and all the relationships it entails while we may. 

I assume that treatment will be no picnic. I only came to choose that path after a long call with the nurse navigator for my treatment. I feared it would be painful, unpleasant, tiring—and futile. But if treatment provides a few more months or years with quality of life, I will be grateful for every moment. I will savour the time spent with family and friends, time spent with my parish and being involved where I can be: teaching RCIA, leading a Bible study group, serving as an extraordinary minister of holy communion.

I'm encouraged by Dave Schueler's example as well. While he struggled with cancer, I was too sanguine in my hope that he had years of life left. He didn't and he likely knew that better than we did. Still, he kept us together and hosted games on his lawn during the COVID isolation and later in his house. I hope to get a lot of gaming in during the time I have left and I will plan for Enfilade! 2025, even though I wound up missing Enfilade! this year except for a brief visit on the second day.

I'll continue to work on current projects, maybe even backlogged projects (there are many). I completed several 28mm buildings in May to use for general Medieval through 18th c. skirmish gaming. The impending release of One Hour Skirmish Wargames ancient and Medieval edition will be a great inspiration too.

In the time I have, I will have plenty to do.

I'm also still working for as long as I can. My employer is very supportive.

Overall, then, I don't know what more to say now. I've had friends offer to be a sounding board for any venting I feel a need to express, but it's never been like that for me. Of the five stages of grief, I started at acceptance and remain there. "Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will." (Mt 26:39)

I won't stop praying or hoping or fighting. If, or rather when, the fight becomes impossible, I will not despair. I can only echo the words of St. Paul:

We do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 

(2 Corinthians 4:16-18)


  1. David, I am one of those silent visitors to your blog which I have enjoyed reading. Thank you and thank you for this post as well. I hope you get yet more time to be with those that matter to you.

  2. Dude, I am heartsick to hear this news. While we do not know each other personally, I’ve always loved your writings on this blog. My Wife is a cancer survivor and had chemotherapy, radiation, a major operation, and then more Chemotherapy. Through God’s grace she is still here with me. I won’t sugar coat it, it’s brutal and a marathon, not a sprint. I will pray for God to show his grace to you. Thank you for sharing, you hang tough sir.


  3. God be with you through-out all this journey.

  4. Oh, dang it, David. I'm so sad to hear this. It's just terrible. I will also continue to pray for you - who knows what God's will is - we know anything is possible for Him. I look forward to spending some time with you up in Auburn for your Tribal game in a few weeks. See you then.

  5. David, a most moving and thought provoking post. As a fellow Catholic Christian and wargamer I admire greatly your resolve and faith, wondering if I would be as you were l in your shoes.
    Be assured of my ongoing prayers for you .
    I have enjoyed your blog greatly over the years and will continue to drop by and read of your projects .
    Alan Tradgardland

  6. Dave, I am glad that you have your faith to support you in the battle you are undertaking. My thoughts go out to you and you will be in my prayers.

  7. I'm so sorry to hear your bad news David. I wish you all the very best.

  8. I enjoy reading your blog although not a great contributor and found your post today very sad reading, I wish you all the best in your battle and my best wishes are with you in these hard times for you.

  9. I'm so sorry to hear of your bad news, having such a strong faith must be a comfort , I wish you all the best and will be thinking of you and your family, Tony

  10. David, I am very sad to read this news. As a fellow Yeats enthusiast I picked up my Collected Poems to see if there was a verse for you, but they all mean too much as you know and you will have your own. I lost my uncle and step-father to pancreatic cancer. I am glad you have your faith. My step-father did too, and it was a humbling thing to see his resolution and his joy in the certainty of life eternal. But he also had human frailties and fears, which we all do. Wishing you every good thing, and will continue to look forward to your next post, as I always do. All the very best, Aaron.