Cancerland Departures

A blizzard of literary proportions blanketed Manhattan with snow the Sunday after Christmas, wind playing the city in whirls and eddies, like yarn at the paws of my cat.  Subway service was suspended, and the city’s three airports closed to flights while they chipped away at the drifts around the planes.  But your scribe – and my father – had already departed Cancerland.  He did not travel back to these “robust and healthy United States.”   Barely a year from his removal to the provinces, this leavetaking came sooner than family and friends expected; his writings indicate an intention to stay a while longer himself.   No doubt there were missives in mind, still to be shared with you who have traveled with him through these dispatches at Esoph’s Fables.

Cancerland felt far away in some respects, to me, the elder child of one of its most brilliant and eloquent abductees. But in the early months of Peter’s travels, it cost him little to keep in touch, with us and with you: broadband internet passed for postage. He hopped in the car to visit me on the glorious coast of Maine, and gladly traded sleep for talks with my brother, long into the night, again and again. He tinkered and tampered. He put things on wheels, and what wouldn’t take wheels got hung on the walls. E.B. White saw “nothing in space as promising as the view from a Ferris wheel,” and I imagine my father felt himself to be at the top.

Then in September, there was the relocation from Chemoville to Radiation City.   This latter proved to be a province more remote, and it became difficult for him to keep us apprised of things.   Postage costs were exorbitant from the backcountry: an hour or three awake at the keys, seatbones stark against a chair, and all with scant provisions to fortify for the journey. His wit was agile as ever, but physically speaking, the man had no reserves – through the progressively narrow, rugged Passage of Esophagus, little could get by near the end.  Still, at least while Peter dwelt there, my brother and I knew his contact information. It was possible to sit beside him in the flesh, even if his flesh was dramatically reduced; to share a meal, even if swallowing had become a trial. Although it was never the same after the tumor staked a partial claim to his vocal chords, we could hear his voice.

So, where to next? Would that we could track Peter’s flight, but the last I saw, the snow had done a far better job of burying our father than we ever could.   Still half expecting to be notified of another dispatch, awaiting a hoarse phone call — we’ve been fumbling around for scraps of comfort, and finding a few here and there.   The very book on Kierkegaard my brother wrote about half a world away in Copenhagen this December had been pulled from the ranks of Dad’s bookshelves, and laid on top.  Nick never mentioned he was reading it.   A silver-clad Hebrew prayer book sat nestled in a stack of files on the windowsill in Dad’s bedroom; the laminate card poking out marked the prayer for the passing of a father.

Another shard of solace bears a little explanation: perhaps you’ll remember reading this summer of the lengths Peter went to keep his cat Tigerlily safely off the patio.   He wrote, “I have been through six iterations of the screen curtain already, and even when I myself have trouble opening it, Houdini does not. I can be sitting outside working on something or another, and there she is, at my feet, with the screen curtain taut, lovely, and apparently undisturbed in the distance behind her.” Well, my father died at home, in the custom comforts of his apartment; we like to think these were his own terms. He was alone, which we care much less to think about.   The door to the pavement garden was wide open when he died, no screen or anything.  And the cat stayed in with him – his face taut, lovely, and apparently undisturbed in the distance behind her.

Don’t unsubscribe yourselves from Esoph’s Fables just yet. We’ll let you know when next we hear from him.


Published in: on January 19, 2011 at 12:02 am  Comments (18)  

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18 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I have followed this blog for some time, but this post has been the most poignant. Such a shame… But this blog will be always remembered. If we always remember them then they are never gone.

  2. Your father will be missed. His guidance through this land of cancer, was a help to those of us on the outskirts, and I’m sure to those in the inner provinces. I have been hoping he would find a secret, little used path back to the States, but alas, it’s not to be.
    I have little doubt you (we) will hear from Peter again; if only to let you know he’s made it somewhere new and fabulous. You have done your father proud with this post; your writing is eloquent as well.
    Peace will come.

  3. What a surprise to see a message of a post! Thank you so much for writing to us all.
    I miss your Dad even though I never met him.

  4. Peter’s dispatches will be greatly missed.
    My condolences.
    Peter, hope to meet you in person on day and hear of your adventures in your adventures in the new neighborhood.
    Sleep well.

  5. Tears came to my eyes to hear the departure of a man I did not know but whose words have kept me inspired and giggling through my and my baby daughter’s joint cancer journey . One day when I felt a lone and in need of humour i goggled “Funny Cancer”–I discovered your Father’s amazing words that has become soul food. My response to cancer has been to write song and make silly dance videos-a singalongacancer. Your fathers response was truly inspiring. Thank you for the lovely way in which we were informed–please keep going –it makes a big difference .

  6. Thank you.
    It was a privilege to share any part of this journey, and I am very sorry for your loss.

  7. It has been a pleasure and a privilege following the musings of a Cancerland visitor. To the many who tour this land, all of whom are known by many family and friends, we extend our love and support. May the doors to this land one day be shut permanently.

  8. Oh…I’m so saddened and extend my deepest sympathies to his family and loved ones. Thank you for this dispatch on his behalf. The loss of a great writer compounds the loss of his life. I will miss his writings.

  9. It is sad to hear of your father’s passing, but I guess that is just what it is. He has passed onto someplace new, someplace better than Cancerland. I think you are right that you will hear from him again. In some mysterious way perhaps, like my niece’s message she received from her mother (who passed 11 years ago). On her mother’s birthday, January 11th of this year, my niece was at sea on a cruise. For the new year she had gotten a new phone and turned it on to see if it was roaming. The date on the phone read – October 15, 1999, the date of her mother’s passing. Mysterious indeed, or just wishful thinking!

  10. I learned of your father’s departure from an eloquent Anderson Cooper one night during his show. I had wondered why the missives had stopped, but did not want to speculate on the negative. However, Anderson, whose wonderful Tweet back when these letters started introduced me to Esoph’s Fables, gave such a heartfelt and perfectly fitting eulogy that I felt it had come full circle. But there is no question that I missed these letters and held out no hope of ever having another. So when this latest letter came I was so pleased to hear from the children that Peter referred to and about his passing as the snow fell and made his city magical. Please do let us – the faithful for whom these letters have such meaning – hear from you again. He was a treasure. He is missed.

  11. Jenny you’ve done your Father proud and I’m certain there’s a big smile on his face.
    I do hope that you’ll keep the blog open it brings me a certain peace.
    Love Andy

  12. Oh this is so beautifully written. Oh but it makes me weep for the loss of Peter. Thank you for this post. love love love

  13. lovely Jenny. thanks. m

  14. I’m deeply saddened to lose an unmet friend. But encouraged to see continuity, too, as the power of persuasive language lives on in Peter’s progeny.

  15. Thank you so much for this. I’ve missed your father’s writings, having followed his journey since the beginning when it corresponded with my own stay in Cancerland. Your writing is as eloquent as his and I’m sure he would have been pleased.

  16. thank you

  17. I began reading your father’s blog after my partner had passed from cancer of the esophagus. I enjoyed his posts immensly. Last May I was diagnosed with lung cancer and thinking of this blog, I started my own so my friends, family and anyone else could follow my progress.I continued to follow this blog and enjoyed his insight into Cancerland as I have landed there my self. Thank you for your lovely post and please know that I was grateful that I wasn’t in Cancerland alone.

  18. I haven’t visited for awhile so I was quite surprised and saddened to see the latest post. I’ve had a rough year having lost my dear mum to cancer less than a year ago. I’m so sorry to see that it claimed another wonderful person.

    Sleep well, Peter. Your beautiful prose will never be forgotten by this reader.

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