I watch the sunrise.
“I was born in Turlock California in 1960
and pretty much lived my entire life in the
Central Valley. I think I got married in ‘85,
had a couple of kids. I never felt that we
were poor, never felt that we were rich,
just average middle class folks, you know?
I drove a truck for about 25 years, and I
ended up with this cancer in 2008. You go
through the ups and downs of “why me?”
with someone at night. When you’ve had
someone with you for so long, I mean they
become part of you and then when you
can’t have them, it’s almost like losing a part
of my body. If I had it all over to do again, I
wouldn’t work as much as I did because, in
the end, the money really wasn’t worth it. I
could have spent more time with my family.
When my dad passed away, he was in
and then you come to a point where you
the hospital and I was under the assumption
accepted it by “that’s the cards I was dealt”.
day. Well I went home, because I was going
get over all that and just accept it. And I’ve
My window here stays open 24/7. I do not
close it. I watch the sunrise every morning.
And when I can see the sunrise, I know I’ve
made it another day. I live by a day to day
basis. You know, sometimes when I get out
on the scooter I’ll go way out and about and
sit under the trees and sit in the shade and
you listen to the wind rustle through the
trees and stuff. It’s also a good time to reflect.
It took getting cancer to kind of see
some of the bad choices you make in your
life. I was always trying to make an extra
buck. Worked a lot of overtime, took a lot of
extra loads. She wanted me to be there be-
side her and I do miss that. I miss just laying
that he was going to come home the next
to go to work the next day, I got a phone call
about 11:45 at night, my wife told me my
dad has passed away. And that irritated me
to the point because there were questions
I was going to ask him. My son, he’s only
called me once since I’ve been up here and
I think if my son doesn’t talk to me, I think
he’s going to end up feeling the same way I
did. I tended to show little emotion up until
the time to when I got cancer, but then I
changed. I don’t have time for the small stuff.
I’m not going to argue and bicker over some
minor BS you know? I hope I have time to
say some of the things or ask some of the
questions I want to ask before it’s too late.”
When I met Harlan, he had been a resident at the VA Medical Center in Livermore for
more than three years. Harlan grew up on a farm in Central California where he learned
to hot-rod cars and fix up motorcycles. The tumors consuming his left arm were thought
to be the consequence of decades of driving a truck in the California sun. No longer
able to drive fast cars, Harlan taught himself to build and paint model vehicles with his
non-writing hand. As the boundaries of his world closed in on him, Harlan continually
found new ways to create meaning in his life. Once a self-proclaimed unemotional man,
Harlan opened up his life to me and shared his deepest regrets and fears. Harlan died
on November 2, 2014.
30 | ART OF DYING