Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

New Year’s Eve, Cancer and a Silent Night…by Robert M. Katzman

© December 30, 2015

I often say to my friends or people who ask me about the origins of my stories, that I never write fiction. I am regretting that commitment to the truth right now. But to change my conviction that some stories ought to be written down, doesn’t necessarily mean they are happy stories. But I believe that difficult stories can give a person who reads my story—this story—a greater appreciation of how they might choose to spend their time.

I am married to Joyce, my blond bombshell from Chicago’s southern suburbs, for near forty years. We met when we were both twenty-four and now we are both sixty-five. I adored her then. I adore her now.

In July of this year after an examination by a specialist, it was recommended that I get this particular operation, which would close my Skokie, Illinois store for five or six weeks. The doctor, a busy man, wanted to make arrangements to do it after Thanksgiving, but I said no.

Like a million small business people who treasure their independence, or the illusion of it, but who also accept the reality that to be closed for Christmas business may mean closing permanently. It is bad enough that a myriad of surrounding shopping centers and the deadly internet already leave people like me and our small stores in the dust.

So, I said to the doctor that the first week in January 2016 would have to be the soonest. He wasn’t pleased. That was ok. His profession and mine didn’t intersect, so there was no point in attempting to explain anything. An appointment was made and I left with Joyce who usually came with me at too many times like this when I had to see yet another doctor about some defect in my construction.

Joy and I never go out on New Year’s Eve. Too many people clogging the restaurants, too many drunks weaving around dark icy streets and so long ago we agreed that December 30th, the day I am writing this story, in fact, would be our special day for New Year’s Eve.

Either alone or with some close friends, we’d go to a very nice quiet restaurant with no crowds in it, then a movie or play depending on our finances. Then generally, romance. For four decades, a simple routine and a safe one.

We decided to contact five friends and have an intimate dinner comprised with my wife’s famous brisket of beef, onion soup, chopped liver, a couple of pounds of icy shrimp, one of our friend’s really great homemade cake and some good wine. Then, assuming we could all still stand up, we’d all go to a movie together. At our advanced age, sleep would probably trump romance. Can’t have everything, and funny to say, but as the years pass, sleeping cuddled up with the woman I loved was also a wonderful experience.

But in early December after a complete physical exam, Joy was found to have two, possibly three different cancers distributed around her body. Two of them could, hopefully, be cured by chemotherapy and radiation. The third one was incurable. We held each other’s hand squeezing tightly to hear this shocking news, a story as yet without an end. The doctor would know for certain within two weeks, a very, very long time to wait. Einstein was correct. Time and the passing of it were relative things. In this situation, time became frozen.

We met with her doctor who informed us that Joy had the two cancers which were curable and not the third one. Our impossible to comprehend, then and now, relief at hearing that she only had two out of three cancers was a Twilight Zone sort of experience. For the first time in our lives together, both of us would be home together recuperating from our separate illnesses. Who would be able to care for whom?

I am writing this story six days before my surgery, so, I don’t yet know the answer to that question. We have wonderful friends, but they won’t be living with us twenty-four hours a day. Joy and I are tough, resolute and experienced people far more used to caring for others then ourselves. But this situation reminded both of us that after all this time together we were also both…old.

We called our friends and cancelled the New year’s Eve party. Joyce has already begun her daily radiation treatments with the chemotherapy parts at the beginning and end of the five weeks. I bring her to the hospital in the morning, wait for her to finish, then drive her to a nearby old friend of ours to sleep and wait for me to close my Skokie store five hours later, pick her up and drive home to Wisconsin. Day after day after day, but not on Christmas.

Cancer celebrates holidays? I was wondering, with my obscure sense of humor, whether cancer also celebrates Passover and Chanukah, but I didn’t ask anyone in the hospital about that.

Joyce can’t walk very well or very far. I bought one of those metal canes with four little feet for stability to help her when we walk from the car to the house. Snow and ice make all this worse. If she falls, I am unable to pick her up, with my existing frailties. But I can still securely hold her arm, steady her, try to get her from A to B without falling.

She can’t sit. She can’t lie down and find any comfort. I can’t sleep next to her in bed. She can’t bear it. Pain is constant. The radiation and the (useless) pain medication she takes have the side effect of ruining the taste of food. Any food. Though this pain is supposed to decline as her treatment goes on, even when the five weeks go by, no one knows what the state of her cancer will be at the end of it.

I can watch her. I can talk to her. I can accompany her, at least for the next few days. But I can’t do a thing to ease her pain, make her life more tolerable. We are experiencing different kinds of agony. Younger people won’t really understand this. Older people reading these sad words will.

Love may have degrees of intensity for different couples. Not something that anyone can measure. In our case, when my loving her first zoomed from zero to one hundred, it seems to have remained there, untouched by time. At the moment, the intensity of my feelings for her are a curse. She cannot escape her pain. I cannot escape being her witness.

A few days ago we agreed to try to have a tiny little New Year’s Eve time together, tonight, December 30, 2015. A little bit of chopped liver on some good crusty Italian bread. A pound of big shrimp with icy seafood sauce. She requested macaroni with cheese, a luxury food in Chicago’s southern suburbs. Grape juice with fiber, as required.

I lit some candles. She sat on the softest pillow we have, which she has named “The Squishy Pillow,” in our pretty wooden kitchen. I prepared everything and served her. We sat together and said very little. A few minutes passed.

Then she stopped eating, grimaced, said everything tasted terrible, she was in too much pain to sit with me and she went into the bedroom to lie down. I sat there for a while, the few plates of food sitting around me untouched. The yellow flames of the two candles kept flickering. Some silences are so loud they make even thinking impossible. I stared at her empty chair.

After a time, I thought to myself,

 “This will end. Joyce will be fine. We’ll celebrate New Year’s Eve with our friends next year.

Joyce will be fine. Joyce will be fine. Joyce will be fine…”

I stared at the candles, the small flames dying.









Comment by Stephen Veenker

December 30, 2015 @ 9:00 pm

Bob, I have known you 42 years. Joyce nearly as long. I know you are both survivors. But I also know you two are not alone. All of us who know you are pulling for you both. We are shouldering as much of your burden as we can. We will all face and handle this together. Best for your New Year, which I believe can be hopeful. = sv

Comment by Herb Berman

December 30, 2015 @ 9:08 pm

An awful, beautiful story, Bob.

Comment by Don Larson

December 30, 2015 @ 10:54 pm


May God bless both of you, my friend.

Your chronicles through the years are an important insight into the essence of human nature in modern times fortified by deep traditional values.

My sincere prayers are for you and Joyce’s comfort. Your words indicate that is your paramount consideration right now.

Sincerest regards,


Comment by bruce

December 31, 2015 @ 1:21 am

i love you guys and your wonderful family. i think of you all the time.

Comment by eileen schroeder

December 31, 2015 @ 3:53 am

sadness and love friendship and beauty

Comment by Brad Dechter

December 31, 2015 @ 4:58 am

Sitting at my desk in my office crying . My heart goes out to you both. I sincerely hope 2016 turns into your best year yet!
Love you Buddy!

Comment by Charlie Newman

December 31, 2015 @ 6:38 am

no words

prayers rise like smoke, Amigo

Comment by Bob

December 31, 2015 @ 10:56 am

Thank you, Eileen

Comment by Bob

December 31, 2015 @ 10:57 am

Stephen, what a lovely thing to say to us. Thank you.

Comment by Bob

December 31, 2015 @ 11:00 am

Herb, writing was all I could do last night. I’m not into drugs, alcohol or destruction, so for me, writing is powerful medicine. Of course I know you understand. I know a lot about your compassion going all the way back to Bruce. Maybe the new year will smile on all of us.

Comment by Bob

December 31, 2015 @ 11:02 am

Don, you are not just a gem but one of my oldest “gems”. Relationships matter and you are a constant. Bless you and your family.

Comment by Bob

December 31, 2015 @ 11:04 am

Maybe because certain people, like you, who get the big picture rub two sticks together to make that happen. Thank you.

Comment by Bob

December 31, 2015 @ 11:05 am

You are not at your desk, Brad. You are right here in Skokie, inside of my heart. Thank you for writing to me.

Comment by Bob

December 31, 2015 @ 11:06 am

Thank you, Eileen. We’ll both see you again, I’m sure.

Comment by Bob

December 31, 2015 @ 11:12 am

Hey, B, I pressed the wrong button to reply to you. Too many damn buttons! Whenever I see one of our type of movies, I imagine you are sitting there next to me, caught up in the blood, bombs, bullets and fantasy. Like “Creed” or “Hateful 8”. Oregon…is that still on of the 50 states or did it break off and float away. Joy and I speak of you frequently. You sister, an angel, is where Joy stays and sleeps after her radiation at the H Park Hospital, until I pick her up on the way home. Rana instantly offered to do that, as you would, as we would and represents your family in a magnificent way. Time and distance don’t dim our friendship, B.

Comment by Ruth Heymann Baker

December 31, 2015 @ 1:25 pm

Bob – as we struggle with our medical issues we too wish you the best for 2016 and we hope the future will be less painful and uplifting. Mental spirit plays a big role with Cancer – keep your spirits up and hope for the best.

Comment by Christine Bonner

December 31, 2015 @ 7:42 pm

I am saddened, although I am aware of the power of love and the miracles associated with it. Thank you for sharing. My prayers are with you both.

Comment by David Griesemer

December 31, 2015 @ 8:52 pm


Comment by Judy

January 2, 2016 @ 12:44 pm

Thinking about you and Joyce with prayers in my heart. May 2016 bring better and better news as the year progresses.

Comment by Astri Lindberg

January 2, 2016 @ 4:48 pm

Dear Bob and Joyce,
I remember sitting with you both and Stephanie in that wonderful Afghan restaurant in Skokie. Would that we could do it again! Good memories, good stories, good company.
May 2016 bring comfort to you both. I send much love.

Comment by Denise Scott

January 4, 2016 @ 9:23 pm

I am originally from Hyde Park (50th & Woodlawn) and also attended the Lab School. I am a few years younger than you and don’t believe I know you, but read the Hyde Park Classics posts frequently. On more than one occasion I have been drawn to your comments as I have been drawn to this story. Your writing is magnetic. I will be praying for you and your lovely wife. A bond like yours is a beautiful thing.

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