This I Believe

Iris-Marie - Lopez Island, Washington
Entered on November 9, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65
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You’re Welcome, David

From the time we say our first words, we’re told to say “please” and “thank you.” My friend, David, taught me, when I was 52, how to say, “You’re welcome.”

Nearly two years earlier, David had had a seizure. Then the terrifying diagnosis: glioblastoma, an aggressive, invasive brain cancer. I was in shock. Despite the gray sprinkled in his blonde hair and beard, David, at 55, was an avid skier and mountain-climber. Sometimes he paddled his kayak a couple hours to work, spent the day doing carpentry, then paddled home.

David, his wife, and two sons brought similar strength and endurance to the treatment plan for David’s cancer. They moved with grace and courage through brain surgery, chemotherapy, radiation implants, intensive yoga practice, gamma knife surgery, diet changes, prayer, and singing.

As is typical in our rural community, dozens of us prepared meals, washed laundry, and did grocery shopping so David could die at home. We also built a peace garden and took shifts at David’s bedside around-the-clock.

Caring for David was hard work. His legs and torso remained strong, but they didn’t always move the way he wanted when we helped him from the couch to his wheelchair, then to the commode, and back to the wheelchair and couch. As his left side weakened, we dueled with gravity to prop him up so he could eat.

I never knew what to expect when I visited David. Sometimes he dozed and said little more than hello. Other times, when he had slept well, he asked about my kids or talked about travels and skiing.

“You know what one of my pet peeves is?” he asked me on one of those good days. “When someone says ‘thank you,’ and the other person says ‘thank you’ back. ” He went on, his typically hoarse voice getting stronger with each word. “Don’t people know when someone says ‘thank you,’ you should respond with ‘you’re welcome?’”

I shared David’s annoyance. However, I was as guilty as many of answering someone’s “thank you” with “thank YOU.”

That day as I was leaving, David, as he always did, said, “Thank you, Iris.”

“Thank… er, you’re welcome,” I said back. We both smiled.

Every visit after that conversation, David and I went through a ritual of saying “thank you” and “you’re welcome” amidst chuckles. Once I tried to convince him people were really trying to express their pleasure in doing or giving something that someone else appreciated. He didn’t buy it. He remained peeved.

As David became less responsive, I missed our “thank yous” and “you’re welcomes.” Despite the weariness in my back and the ache in my heart when I left his house, I felt deep gratitude to be with him and his family during one of life’s most intimate experiences.

Caring for David was a gift, and despite his insistence on proper grammar, I came to believe “thank you” was the accurate response to his appreciation.

You’re welcome, David. And thank you.