Sunday, January 27, 2013

The End Approaches

Well, it is not like I didn’t know it was coming.  I had another CT scan last week.  That is a routine test designed to see if tumor or tumors can be observed on my liver.  For the first time two malignant, cancerous lesions showed up.  My cancer marker has gone from 500 to 1500 in the last month.  The pain is worsening, requiring more morphine.  Sleep is fleeting at night when the pain increases and I am even more fatigued, which is to be expected.  None of this is good news.  Frankly, it is my death warrant.

My oncologist, the lovely and talented Dr. Moore, tells me that I might make May, so I might be able to enjoy part of another lake season, which is good.  When I asked if she thought I could make it to September for the fifth annual “I’m not dead yet” party at the lake, she was not optimistic.  Of course, I had three doctors tell me almost four years ago that I had ninety days to live, so I’ve heard this before.  But not coupled with these latest medical setbacks.  This time it is different and I can feel it.

The human psyche is really quite remarkable.  Sometimes I think that none of what is happening to me is real.  It is almost like a dream.  That lasts for about one minute and then reality reasserts itself.  I suppose it is like the soldier who cannot comprehend the possibility of his own death, being sure it is going to be the guy next to him.  Or maybe it is an outgrowth of what my grandfather, a surgeon, told me about dying people.  He said they were pretty much all the same.  Every patient wanted just one more day.  I am different.  I do not want another day.  I want another year, but then I have had four, I am quick to remind myself.  98% of people with gall bladder cancer do not make even one year, let alone four.  

Most people do not know that from as far back in my life as I can remember my dad told me, “Son, you are a short-timer.  Whatever you need to get done in your life, get it done before you are 62.”  My dad’s dad and his grandfather died of heart attacks at sixty-two.  Dad fully expected to die at 62, but made 72.  I will be dead before 62, since I am now 61.  Pretty accurate prediction, don’t you think?  I know I believed my dad.  There was never any doubt in my mind that I would not get my allotted time.  Maybe that accounts for some of the things I have done and how I’ve lived my too short life.  I have always been in a hurry, because time waits for no one.

Dr. Moore said it is too early to discuss hospice care, but I should begin doing my homework on that.  I will not lack for nursing care.  My sister, Lisa, is a nurse practitioner, who lives on Winona Lake.  Lisa’s daughter, Lydia, is an RN living at the lake and worked hospice for seven years.  Lynne’s mom, who would be here with one phone call, is a nurse, as is Lynne’s sister, Janis.  I think I’ve got that covered.  Dr. Moore said she is going to make an exception and make house calls in my case.  I am impressed.

My oncologist says my death will likely be peaceful and pain free.  I cannot imagine that, but she has never lied to me. I will likely be surrounded by family and friends.  That is probably as good as it gets, if you can’t bore in in an airplane from 10,000 feet. I just do not want my Lynne to have to deal with a mess.  She will have enough on her mind. 

 I have spent a substantial part of the last four years going over in my mind and with Lynne about life without Mike.  I have lined up a plumber, an electrician, a realtor, car mechanic, CPA, lawyer, financial counselor, painter, roofer, and a host of other people who I know to be trustworthy to help her with the problems one encounters in day-to-day life.  I have gone over our finances with her and warned her about the sharks that lurk in these local waters seeking to take advantage of new widows. The funeral is planned and she has already written my obituary (and done a really good job).  All this information has been stored in what we call the “dead file.”  I know of no widow who has been so well prepared.  She has always been a pretty smart girl.  Armed with this information and protected by good men and women, she should do fine.

I had someone ask me if I had any regrets.  Of course I do.  But few from the last four years, which I regard as nothing less than a God-given gift.  Perhaps, even a modern day miracle. 
I should have been more family oriented.  I should have spent more time with the kids and taken more family vacations.  I should have gone to their games.  I didn’t.  What was I thinking?
 As the actor Rutger Hauer said, as his character is dying in my favorite movie Blade Runner, “I have done questionable things.” I have.  Nothing illegal.  Nothing unethical in my lawyering.  But I have used poor judgment occasionally.  I have made mistakes, personally and professionally.  All of us have.  I could have done better in a lot of things.  All of us could.  I have on countless occasions said hurtful things intentionally to both clients and loved ones.  Shame on me. 
 If I could take the words back I would. I have been blessed with an inordinate number of friends and people who care about me. I often wonder why, since I am not a lovable person.  As God said of the Jewish people, “You are a difficult and unruly people.”  Although I am not Jewish, the description fits.  I am often difficult and unruly for no good reason at all.  Even my dog, the Iverson, does not like me sometimes.  Despite my orneriness, these people still seem to like to hang out with me.  I feel so fortunate, for I am rich in friends, who constantly remind me that they are only a phone call away and stand ready to help in any way they are able.  Most of them drop by the house once a week or more just to check on me (and Lynne).  They care.

If I had known four years ago that I would last four more years, would I have done things different?  Yes, but not much.  I have tried to clean up my act with people who are important to me and care about me.  I have tried to be a better friend and husband.  To a small degree I have made progress, but I still have a long way to go and I am almost out of time. I made it a point to try to spend more time with these people, to be helpful and not so negative.  I am not sure I made any progress in this area, but I am trying.

I would have taken the time to hike the Appalachian Trail, which is completely impractical, of course.  I have wanted to do that since I was 14.  I never got it done. 

 I would have spent more time flying aerobatics.  I was not any good at it, but on occasion I danced that airplane with the indescribable, sheer delight of flying.  I know first-hand what John Gillispie McGee felt when he wrote “Oh I have slipped the surly bonds of earth and danced the sky on laughter silvered wings.” (He died in a midair in his Spitfire over England.  This most famous of flying poems was found in his pocket and is on display in the Tangmere  RAF museum I visited in England,  just to see the poem.)  There were a few times when I was inverted coming down the backside of a Cuban 8, when I literally laughed out loud with joy.  Countless times I smiled when doing a slow roll, just for the fun of it.  Likewise, a simple loop was an unequaled pleasure.  I should have flown more.  I am pretty sure that I will fly again.

 I would have spent more time playing music, which is truly one of the greatest gifts God has given to man.  Playing music brings joy and peace to one’s soul.  I have sat for hours in my guitar room playing “old, dead black guy music,” as my children used to say, while rolling their eyes at their silly father.  Mississippi John Hurt, Robert Johnson and Blind Blake are musical masters, whose music is timeless.  The sounds created by these men have haunted me for years.  You can get to the place you can play their music (after many, many hours) note perfect and even sing it, yet, there is something missing.  I think it is the soul of these musicians, all long dead now, that permeated their unique music.  

I know what it is like to stand on a stage in front of a thousand people and play.  Sometimes, when the music is good and the mix is right and I am playing with talented people, the music literally soars and the wall of sound blows by you and lifts you off the stage.  Musicians know what I am talking about. 

There have been several books published recently wherein the authors describe dying and going to Heaven.  People have asked me if I have read these books.  I have.  All of them.  It is like people think that I have some special knowledge or wisdom, because I am terminally ill.  Pretty silly, isn’t it?  But I have thought about what each of the authors describes.  Interestingly, all describe the music which swept them up.  Glorious music never before heard coming from some central place that called to them.  I want to hear that sound.  All describe a supernatural light coming from a single source with the light bathing them in a warm, loving embrace.  How can different people have the same experience with no connection?  I do not know.  But I am going to find out.

Lastly, and it always comes back to this.  There is my Lynne, the joy and rock of my life.  I met her when we were freshman at Wheaton College in 1969.  I will not tell you that it was love at first sight, but I never had another date in my life that was not with her.  Same for her as to me.  What was there about her that attracted me?  Apart from that purple miniskirt, legs nine feet long, that tight, turtle necked sweater and those three inch platform heels with a ribbon in her hair?  Or maybe it was that pair of bell bottom jeans with a butterfly sewn on the back and that white peasant blouse with ribbon ties in front that tantalized me.  Or the other night when she wore a black silk wrap around dress with a patent leather belt and her heels with a gold necklace, ring and watch.  40 years later and contrary to what B. B. King says, the thrill is not gone. 

No matter how much of a jerk I have been, which is a lot, trust me, she always forgives me and takes me back with no grudges.  She is always there with encouragement.  She never wants anything.  I swear she is the cheapest date I know.  Sure, she likes nice things, who doesn’t?  But she never asks for anything.  Unbelieveable.  Maybe it is because I have never, ever allowed anything I wanted or wanted to do to take priority over her and her needs and wants.  I have done a lot of things wrong, but not that.  She (and the kids) always came first…always.  I frequently asked her if I made a buck if there was anything she wanted or needed.  Her consistent answer is “just you.”  I do not deserve such love, but then none of us men do.

I walked through a courtroom several years ago on my way to try a case, when I overheard one of the court reporters say something to the effect that “all men are alike and that they all cheat on their wives or girlfriends.” 

I do not know why that comment rankled me, but as I walked to the door I turned and said, “Most are like you described, but not me.  I have never cheated on my wife and we have been together 35 years.”   

This person then said, “You mean to tell me with all those divorces you have done, you never cheated, even one time, on her?” 

 “That is exactly what I am telling you.  Never one time.” 

“I don’t believe you,” she said. 

 “May be,” I responded, “but it is the truth nonetheless.” 

Her attitude, probably colored by a recent unpleasant personal experience, will infect all of her future relationships negatively.   I understand that the mutual faithfulness Lynne and I have enjoyed is unusual in this day.  Too bad.  People that cheat are squandering a priceless gift.

The Bible says that God knew each of us before we were even conceived.  That is quite a statement, isn’t it?  It is not my intent to discuss theological matters in this blog, nor is it my intent to present certain Christian tenets of faith.  But I am here to say that if He knew Lynne and I would exist, I think He knew we would be a good team and put us together, which is exactly what my wife says we have been all these years.  A team.  We have always worked well together, maybe because we have the same goals and priorities.  We rarely argued over money, kids, disciplining the kids, or religion (all marriage killers).  Mostly, we just agreed, oftentimes without even discussing the problem.  We just saw things the same.

These days I think that we are not so much a team, although Lynne disagrees with that statement.  She says we are even more of a team now that I am on the final lap. I often feel I am not pulling my weight.  Many days I feel like I am letting her down.  I feel so awful.  I am so sick.  Yet, she never seems to let it bother her. Not that I can see. I swear she is made of steel. 

We both think that the best part of the day is at night when we curl up in bed together, both exhausted.  Me from being sick.  And Lynne from working all day. She promises me that the last thing I will see on this earth is her face as I drift into eternity, cradled in her arms. She always smiles when she assures me that she will be with me “until I hear the music” and that death will separate us for only a blink of an eye.  What man could ask for more?

Last week we took a short trip to our favorite place in Ft. Lauderdale.  In a local bar on the beach over a cosmopolitan and a glass of wine, I asked her, “Would you do it all over again?”  “In a minute”, she said.  “So would I,” I replied.  So be it.

Mike out.


  1. I have been following your blog for about 2 years. I grew up at BBC in Kokomo, my maiden name is Getz and your mother was my SS teacher in HS. She was such a classy lady and I had a lot of respect for her. Your Aunt Abby was my homeroom teacher in HS and your Uncle Homer was my Dr. So I feel some connection to your family. I am sorry that you are going thru this trial, but so glad for the change in your life. Spending time with family and friends and growing closer to the Lord. Nothing is more important than that. Maybe you will meet my dear husband, Gary Candlish, when you get to heaven. He passed away at 64 yrs. while on a ministry trip and I miss him everyday. But the Lord has carried me and I know he will do the same for Lynne. God bless you until you see Him face to face.

  2. i will give him your message. mike out.

  3. My prayer for you and your family…..
    Dear Jesus one of your servants is suffering but at the same time Lord he is praising you and placing his trust in You.
    Jesus, as you did for me, 37 years ago, spare him to continue his praise and love for you in our community so that by his loving examples Mike will lead more souls to your Father. But Dear Jesus as you taught us to Pray to The Father: "...Thy Will Be Done On Earth As It Is In Heaven..." Praise Be Jesus, The Christ! Now and Forever - Amen!

  4. I have been following your blog for quite some time. I am originally from Kokomo, but now live in Westfield and practice law in Indy. I just lost my father on January 7 of this year. He had lung cancer (as well as a host of lung-related issues) and was only 63. My mom, sisters, nieces and I were with him as he passed away, but for the few hours prior to his passing, he was not only speaking to us, but loved ones in Heaven (my niece, grandparents and uncle). It made my heart ease a bit knowing where he was going. Please know that our entire family is praying for you.

    Take care and God Bless,
    Jamie (Myers) Maddox

  5. Thank you for sharing your life journey with us! I used to live in Kokomo, but now live in Palm Harbor, FL. My husband & I decided to sell our house & move to FL in 2011. My mom had been diagnosed with bone cancer & I felt the Lord leading me to be closer to my parents to help with their care. Mom passed away November 25, 2012. I am so thankful I obeyed the Lord & spent so much time with her during her last months on this earth. Your blog postings gave me such insight into what she was going through. Thank you again for sharing. See you in heaven someday!

  6. Mike, Kevin Butcher here. Your dad gave my dad his first real lawyering opportunity. Your sister granted me my first kiss at age 14. Your family was always, always gracious to mine in my childhood years. In terms of where you find yourself at this point in time, my brother...I really have no words. Except I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe in His resurrection. I believe in your resurrection. I believe He meant it when He said, "I will never leave you. I will never forsake you." And I believe that is true not just for you in your final "this side" moments...but for your wife and kids until you meet again. And even though I don't know you well...hardly at all...I love you. You are my brother in Christ. And I really, really look forward to some face time in eternity. May our Father's presence be deeply, richly, and even profoundly palpable in the days ahead. And may His presence help you to not be afraid.

  7. Mr. Bolinger,
    I just want to thank you for your open and honest writing. I have learned so much about you, much more than I ever knew all those years I lived down the street and babysat your children. However, more than learning about you, I have learned a lot about me through your writing. You have allowed me to view this crazy world and the people in it differently. You have opened my eyes and my heart, and I truly appreciate it. Your love story is so wonderfully sweet and inspiring. You have done all that you can to prepare Mrs. Bolinger for life without you, but I know she will be fine. She is a strong woman. Thanks again, and I hope you have peaceful days ahead.
    Betsy (Burgan) Wenz

  8. Hello Mike and Lynne.I started following your blog years ago when my beloved friend Janelle Hayes (may her soul rest in peace) mentioned you in her blog. I think now is the time to thank you for the honesty and strength of yours.Really the way you are dealing with this is a paragon of virtue for me and a great lesson.My prayers will be with you through this last journey of yours. I hope you get to see my Janelle...
    Take care
    Eleftheria from Greece