I know he was joking. Matt's got a sense of humor, and about half of what he and I exchange is jokey. (Take a look at his blog Urkat's Revenge, and you'll see some of his humor: http://urkatsrevenge.blogspot.com/.)
But the question got me to thinking that I should tell people what's going on.
My wife Linda's Uncle Charlie is dying of pancreatic cancer, and we've been down to Coconut Creek, Florida, to help him and Linda's dad Tony Calendrillo a couple three times in the last month. Linda's dad is doing a terrific job, but it's hard to help someone die all by yourself. Hillary Clinton would probably say you need a village, and she's probably right.
Charlie's a fighter. When he was younger, he was a serious student of karate, a guy who believed that discipline and foresight were the tickets in this life. Dying, he appears to feel the same way. He's thought through his dying and he's decided to do it at home, living the way he has always lived with as little interference from others as possible.
It's not easy.
The cancer has spread to most of his body, and he's a dark yellow from jaundice. He hasn't been able to eat much more than a little watermelon each day for the last two months, and so he's weighing in at about 90 pounds more or less. We can't really tell how much he weighs because moving him even a little is so painful to him.
Last week, he finally agreed to allow hospice into his home, and that's helped him a lot.
He spent a good portion of the 1950s as a performer, a trumpet player and band leader in LA and Phoenix and Las Vegas. He performed with Sarah Vaughn and Jimmy Durante and Ida Lupino and Rhonda Fleming. On stage, he played and sang and danced and told jokes.
Dying, he can't do much, but he can still tell jokes, and the hospice nurses who come to his house are a fresh audience.
He loves it.
When she was dying, my mom once looked around her busy hospital room at the nurses and patients rushing here and there, and she heard the voices in loud talk or laughter, and she turned to me and said, "Some of us are dying and the rest of you are going to a party."
What she said seemed profound to me. It seemed to get at something essential about what's going on around us -- always.
Yesterday, the last time Uncle Charlie was able to sit in a chair, before the pain of sitting made it impossible, he whispered to Tony and Linda and me, "Before I die, let's have a party ."