Death encroaches on our secret selves’ maybe right from the beginning. As children the concept is so abstract as to be meaningless for most. However I do remember some innocent childhood rumination about the possible last thoughts of crash victims or kamikaze pilots. It was a puzzle I couldn’t grasp.

For me death first became palpable when, as a parent, I became emotionally tortured when the evil fantasy of the loss of my son crept into my head. To this day it remains the most haunting of fears in my life. Even later it was the possible death of others – parents, spouse, and friends – not my own that triggered deep foreboding. Only in recent years has my own eventually come to color my daily life. Strangely I am grateful for this new stage of awareness

Focus has often been a challenge for me. It often seemed too easy to slide away from any matter at hand and instead move on to a topic more juicy, more sexy, more easy. Many considered me a master of procrastination. Then, back in the seventies, I learned of a book and a philosophy; Be Here Now. The author is Ram Dass. In classic Tom fashion I never, even to this moment, read the thing. Instead I carried the phrase like a trinket, a worry bead, an unopened fortune cookie in my pocket for years. I still have no clue what it all means but more and more frequently I find it percolating up through my brain and out past my lips. I think it’s being chased about by death.

Fran, like many cancer fighters, wrestles with death. Frequently I visit her with the intent to help with the mundane; set up the Roku box; shop for a snow bush for the car; pack up the Christmas tree. Usually these simplicities are merely prelude to sitting together on the sofa. Sometimes we explore our histories, sometimes gossip conspiratorially, sometimes we pause and consider and reflect inwardly. For me it’s those pauses that represent the essence of my kind of Be Here Now.

On day 2 of the Emergency Room visit my friend is packed up along with a plastic bag of belongings and wheeled – it seemed forever – to the cancer floor. It became a surreal journey with the bed, loaded with out-of-control beeping equipment turning and twisting down the back halls of this medical rabbit’s warren. Me walking at the rear of the short procession providing the occasional loopy commentary to my unseen bed riding pal. Alternatively my mind (?) shifting to consideration of the stretch scrubs of the young and shapely aide muscling the rig. Is this also Be Here Now or merely Be Lecherous Now?

Her new room is really, really new. Like just built new and, compared to the hospital wards I remember of the last century, hers is more akin to a luxury hotel room… if the hotel had side rails on the beds. Best of all the room has a sofa next to a panoramic window looking out on the winter cityscape with the low hills far beyond. It’s the perfect spot to pick up our extended thread of topics big and small. Perhaps, in a fit of morose speculation, I am pondering what secrets she and I will never share.