On Life, Death and Motorcycle Riding


“I’m thinking about selling the bike”, Dad somewhat casually expressed on the way home from a Naturopathic Doctor appointment.

I’d become his daily chauffeur since losing his license after a seizure that came as a result of cancer spreading to his brain.  He had chosen to pursue natural healing as well as chemotherapy and other drugs, but when nine more tumours were located in the brain, other dramatic changes followed as things became increasingly difficult.

The chemo had initially provided such a shock to these unwanted cells that Dad said he felt a major, positive difference afterward.  A Homeopathic Doctor we had seen insisted “no more of this chemo now, Jim.”  And he took it under advisement, continuing to balance both medical and holistic practices (including chemotherapy, vitamins, drugs, herbs and other helpful stuff) as he felt was right for him.  It was a tricky dance and he lost his balance many times.  But a laser surgery called Gamma Knife was the only real way to “seek and destroy” this newfound brain cancer, so bravely he forged ahead.


With a brace screwed to his skull, he spent hours in the Gamma Knife at HSC.  I still can’t believe I didn’t bring an iPod or other device for him to listen to music while his head was being meticulously tossed around in that strange machine.  I prayed with his wife in the hospital bathroom when there was nothing we could do but wait.  Then she mended socks while I wrote out my feelings. But when it was all said and done, another MRI brought the unfortunate news on Dad’s birthday of “cerebral metastases”.  The Gamma Knife had shrunk some of the tumours, but they had multiplied and others were growing.

We went to the Pain Clinic, who offered only grave looks and slight medication alterations but no real hope.  So it made sense to see this Naturopathic Doctor to see what other options might exist.  The ND asked Dad to walk to and from the clinic entrance a few times and said he would then test his heart rate.  With Dad out of the room, I begged the Doc, “please tell him not to have any more chemo.”  I explained that it might have made Dad feel better in the beginning, but now it seemed to suck the very life out of him.  And he looked at me with sympathetic eyes and a great deal of understanding, but said nothing.  It was not his place to tell Dad what to do.  But he made a few suggestions to help him sleep and eat and be more comfortable (all of which had become increasingly difficult).  He recommended that Dad stop working, as had every other medical professional, to no avail.  In fact he fully intended to go straight back to work, right after having brain surgery – the very same day!

Dad kept living life the way he wanted and never indicated he felt he was losing the fight… until he mentioned selling his motorcycle that day on the way home.

Dad - eyes closed

I’d been asking about what else we could do.  Desperation and common sense don’t often work well together; while driving, I went through a litany of options that might possibly make things (even remotely) better.

“Are you still taking the super juice?  … and how about those other vitamins?  Do you still say those positive daily affirmations?  How about these new natural supplements – could they help you to keep the Essiac tea down?”  (The latter is an herbal combination known to kill cancer cells, but has a strong smell and taste that kept Dad from digesting it completely.  Like the smell of the hospital, it often made him feel all the more ill.)

Sensing my desperation, Dad said he wasn’t riding the bike anymore and that it might be a long time before there was no more cancer in his brain and he could re-take his driving  test for his van… and even longer before he could once again go for his motorcycle license.

We had been taking online motorcycle quizzes together and planned to take the qualifying test at the same time.  I was shocked that he was backing out.

“Really, you just don’t want to do that anymore?  You’re… you are going to give up?”

That hit a nerve and I unintentionally tripped over his attempt to get real with me about dying and somehow insulted his willingness to fight.

He quickly adjusted.  “I’m not going to give up” he said, almost laughing it off.  “But I don’t see it happening any time soon.”

And his gaze from the passenger seat cut right through my heart to my brain, which still couldn’t grasp the idea of this long battle being over.

“One more ride” I insisted.  “Don’t sell Betty” (the bike) “until we’ve had one more ride together… please?”

He realized my inability to swallow the harsh truth about what was happening and what was to come.  Accepting this, he agreed to one more ride and with a smile, thanked me again for driving him not only to this appointment, but to many other difficult places.

My response was a consistent, “there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”

And as difficult as these moments were, we both felt the complete truth of that statement.

After that, there was the Jazz Festival (where I dedicated the song “Renegade” to him), a 48 hour chemo treatment, a downward spiral of decline and a near 48 hour hospital visit that included a host of meds, Dad pulling the oxygen off his face and drip lines from his arms in Emerg, yelling “stop”, gathering the rest of the family and his slow exit from a very, very tired body.  It took me a year to write out all that went down in those final hours and another to bury the words I’d written in a hole with his ashes.  Now eight years after his death, I still miss his voice and courage and embrace.

Would I have been more prepared for it all if I had understood and agreed to his suggestion that he sell his motorcycle?  No.  Is there anything that could have made it easier?  I don’t think so.  But looking back, it comforted me greatly to understand that he understood.  And he accepted me, despite my lack of understanding.  He lived each of his last days as though there would be no more and I have great appreciation for all of the loose ends he was able to tie up before it was too late… though some were easier than others.

Betty, the bike is a 1982 Honda 900 that Dad often had to use a screwdriver to start, but now is in much better shape.  He had always intended to decal the gas tank with a “Betty Boop” graphic; so my intention as I’ve learned to ride this beast is to eventually fulfill his wishes and make that happen.

But learning to ride has been the real journey, as was the process of learning to love myself and my Dad while he was living and dying at the same time.  I feel close to him when I ride and remember the first time he let me drive.

It was a long stretch of paved country road just outside of town, with no other life in sight.  After I shimmied up the tank and let him bring Betty up to speed, he put my hand on the throttle and backed off so that I could steer.  It was thrilling and dangerous, but one of my most valued memories.  I pushed left and right slightly, as he had taught me and felt the weight of the bike shift slightly left and right as we leaned with it.  After a few minutes, he took back the controls and brought us to a stop.  I was in shock and disbelief at what had happened, but he laughed and said I’d done very well for a first timer.

I think he was right.


~ by lindseywhitemusic on July 11, 2017.

One Response to “On Life, Death and Motorcycle Riding”

  1. Love the voicemail and allllll of this 🙂

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