It was August 7, 2009 ,when the doctor stood at the foot of the hospital bed and with a deliberation that was both efficient and compassionate, looked directly at David Hallman and his partner Bill Conklin and said, “Our diagnosis is pancreatic cancer, stage four.” In his thoughtful and deeply personal memoir, David Hallman narrates the sixteen days after Bill was diagnosed with terminal cancer and intersperses vignettes drawn from their thirty-three years together as a gay couple.
With poignancy, humor, and affection, David describes the excruciating intensity of caring for Bill during those final two weeks while reminiscing about the joys and challenges of their life together. During their lengthy relationship, both were deeply committed to social and environmental justice, loved the arts and traveling, and embraced faith and spirituality—values that were never more important to them than during the final days of Bill’s life. As David sat at Bill’s bedside, he shares how the memories of their great love provided him strength and helped him prepare Bill for the end.
August Farewell offers an intimate portrait of a loving relationship brought to an abrupt end and affirms the power of love in the face of adversity.
After the x-ray is finished and the technician thanks Bill for the new joke, she pages an orderly to deliver us to the next testing site. Bill’s bed is wheeled to a distant wing in the hospital and we are placed in the corridor queue for a CAT scan. There are several patients ahead of us but the line moves pretty expeditiously and within fifteen minutes or so a technician comes into the hall and asks Bill if he is William Conklin. This time I am not allowed to go into the room with him but am directed to a nearby waiting room. I wonder if he is telling her the dead duck joke. For the first time today, Bill and I are separated. I have nothing to do but sit and wait. And think. I replay the day’s activities in my mind. It has been frenetic since Bill’s early morning wake-up call. Because of the pace, I have not digested the implications of the activities. We are here at the hospital because Bill’s doctor was concerned about the most recent tests results. We are now in the medical imaging department because the emergency room doctor was concerned about what we told her about Bill’s recent history and about what she saw when she examined him. Maybe we are finally going to get some solid answers as to what is going on with Bill. But now as I sit here wondering what the CAT scan may show, I find myself having qualms about whether I really want to know after all.
David Hallman worked on environment ethics for most of his career and is the author of five books. Now retired, David continues to live in the home he once shared with his beloved partner, Bill Conklin, in Toronto, Canada.