Wake Me Up When September Ends

Here comes the rain again, Falling from the stars

Drenched in my pain again, Becoming who we are

The lightning bolt this time came from the radio.  I thought I took only upbeat songs for my long morning drive to Akron that started well before dawn – I need to stay awake and focus on my upcoming presentations.  Figured Green Day was a safe bet, but here I am alongside the road, tears flowing as hard as the pelting rain in the dark night.  Forgot about this song, and it hit me like a ton of bricks…

It was a beautiful September day four years ago, a Friday evening, not a cloud in the bright blue sky, a crispness in the air hinting of fall.  Normally we’d be enjoying the end of another work and school week with the excited release of two days to do what we want.  But I remember that day spinning at the treetops, spiraling, not quite out of control, but certainly this couldn’t be reality.  We held on to each other, the four of us, two not even up to my chest, way too small to be experiencing this, all of us scared, devastated by the news delievered coldly, over the phone, to Deb – yes, you have cancer.  Stunned and stoic at first, the fear built in my head until it couldn’t be contained; I cried out loud in anguish, outside on this beautiful day, and held on to my family, my wife, knowing all too well that this wasn’t good, and for a brief moment my tears grew to unrestrained wails.  I’m sure I scared the shit out of all of us, especially my two boys, because I was scared shitless, so composure was quickly demanded.  But all four of us are shaken to the core…

I don’t know what Deb felt that day; I don’t know how she thought of that day looking back, either.  But certainly it scarred her.  Maybe the first time it was an anomaly, and certainly the odds were in her favor that she could beat this.  A round of surgery, radiation and chemo; certainly things will be looking up.  But two Septembers later, and it is a repeat, again another Friday, again another cold conversation with a rushed doctor heading out on vacation while we are left devastated, this September the news worse – it’s spread to the lymph nodes.

I didn’t notice it at first.  Jake and I had tickets to an upcoming Green Day concert; it would be his first concert.  We were listening to as much Green Day as we could to get psyched for the show.  Deb would always disappear without a word when this song came on.  I didn’t make the connection until later, when I caught her hiding her tears and I finally put two and two together.  We didn’t listen to this song again from then on…

But of course the cancer got worse.  The next round, it couldn’t even wait until September; we received the Stage IV news on a hot steamy summer August day, by far the most devastating and ominous of the three bell tolls.  By far the hardest body blow…

As my memory rests, But never forgets what I lost

Wake me up when September ends

This September, Debbie is no longer in pain, she is freed of her nightmares and the fears that accompany this disease; for that I am grateful.  But this September has been horrible for me.

The boys and I, we are still here, still trying to understand this, still trying to come to grips that life still goes on when there is no way it seems it should.  Look, there are people on their way to work, people smiling and laughing and carrying on as if nothing is wrong – but everything is wrong, everything has changed, and there is nothing good at all about this September, either.

The entire month is hell for me.  I can count on one hand the nights I have slept since late June.  I am learning all new jobs, packing lunches and doing homework and getting the kids to baseball and football and CCD and to school.  Most days I haven’t even 15 minutes to myself, or if I do, the to-do list screaming at me guilts me into cutting short any rest.  Worst, am I back to work, and the deadlines and pressures have not changed an iota; in fact they feel that much worse because I no longer have the time to do my job to the level of quality I have for the past 25 years.  I feel like I am failing at everything, my nose just a millimeter above the water, just one big wave away from drowning.  The culmination of this month from hell is September 26th, when I have two big presentations in Akron.  My sanity is held together this morning by shoestrings, and they snap when this song comes on…

Summer has come and passed, The innocent can never last

Wake me up when September ends

Where did the summer go?  Where did the spring go, or this whole year for that matter, easily the worst year of my life.  What has happened, why am I being tested like this, how much can I bear?  Wake me up when this entire year ends…

But somehow we soldier through the month, somehow I’m surviving still employed, the boys are doing well in school, and baseball season has ended and I have a week off in October.  At the vague edges of my consciousness I also aware of a growing understanding of the questions I have been asking, and recognizing that we are not the only ones going through hell, and that maybe you have to go through hell for reasons that won’t be clear for a long, long time.  It doesn’t make it any easier when you’re reduced to an emotional puddle and stretched bare to the universe, but you begin to feel that you will make it one more day, and that that’s an accomplishment to be proud of…


One thought on “Wake Me Up When September Ends

  1. Joe, I read this post several times and I can’t let it go. I’m not sure if Debbie told you that her and I were diagnosed approximately 2 weeks apart. I know what I did when I found out I had cancer but I never did ask Deb what she did. We just talked about what we were going to do to now! This is where my grief comes in. And may I say my guilt! I talked to Diane about my guilt and a little bit to my Mom. First of all, I wanted so bad to be there with all of you for Deb’s farewell but my guilt was overwhelming! Deb did everything the doctor’s told her to do and I did just the opposite. I did agree to radiation but when they found cancer behind my cancer, that was no longer an option, a mascestomy was the only option. Prior to my lumpectomoy, my surgeon and onconolgist begged me to have chemo and I refused. My family didn’t say anything but my friends let me know how they felt and not all of it was good but I talked to my oncologist and the survival rate of those that had chemo versus those that didn’t was less than 35% so I decided against it. Deb and I talked about our fears but basically turned to humor to cover our fears. We would rather talk about the present than anything else. Breast cancer has plagued our family and we were both determined to show this disease that it picked the wrong generation to mess with. I don’t understand why I have survived instead of Deb. Yes, we are alike in so many ways(especially our love for for life) but she had you, T, and Jake! I have my dog. Don’t get me wrong, I have my family and a great circle of friends but no kids or a husband. She loved all of you more than anything! She gleemed when she spoke of all of you! When I see the pictures of you guys, I still Deb there with you! So I hope someday you and the kids will understand why I was not there to send Deb home. So, I too, go through hell the month of September. I am sorry to take up so much of your blog, but I had to let you know.

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