In the past couple of months, I’ve received many phone calls and e-mails from readers wanting to know more about Jim Chastain.
How is he doing? Has he gotten worse? When are you going to run another chapter of his story?
The good news first: Jim is still alive, and as long as he lives, there is hope.
The bad news: There won’t be any more stories about him.
For those of you new to all this, Jim Chastain is a Norman attorney, writer and poet who has terminal cancer. He’s a fairly young guy — 45 — and he has a wife and two teenage children. The Oklahoman
launched a series of stories about Jim in January, hoping that his experiences would shed light on end-of-life concerns and encourage conversations about the big issues: life, death and all the good and bad stuff in between.
As journalism goes, this was fairly invasive. Photographer/videographer John Clanton and I followed Jim and his family, questioned them about things most folks would consider none of our business and recorded conversation after conversation. We traveled with the Chastains. We interrupted their family Christmas celebration.
And we told some good stories, some of the best of my career.
Living under that scrutiny is tough. Imagine telling one stranger your life story, only to have that stranger retell it to hundreds of thousands of people. "I don’t act like that,” you might think. "That’s not what I meant at all.” It’s weird to look into a mirror and see someone who looks like you but isn’t you — at least not the way you see yourself.
After the last chapter that I wrote, the Chastains decided they didn’t want to subject themselves to that scrutiny anymore. The last story talked about displaced anger. When people are upset about something they can’t control, such as a dying spouse or father, they tend to direct their anger and helplessness at other targets, ones that are easier to hit. It happened in my family twice: first when my Dad died of pancreatic cancer and second when my Mom died, years later, of breast and lung cancer. It didn’t do any good to yell at the cancer, so we yelled at each other.
It’s true stuff. It’s real. But it’s not very pretty.
So there’s the news, good and bad.
My part of the "Life is real: writing the final chapters” project is over. No more stories, no more blog entries, at least not until the worst happens and Jim’s clock runs out.
But Jim has a heart like a Timex watch, and I hope it keeps ticking for a very long time. He’s taken some bad licks from life, but he’s still going strong and shows no sign of stopping. He’s got too much to say.
Jim will continue to blog about his life, his cancer, his family and his thoughts on ... well, just about everything. If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll check out his blog at NewsOK.com/jimchastain. You can also find my old stories there and the photos and videos that John shot.
This isn’t how we planned to end the project, but I guess it’s a reminder that what we expect to happen rarely does.
Thanks for the calls and letters. Thanks for the compassion and concern you’ve shown Jim.
Most of all, thanks for reading.
-- Ken Raymond, Senior Staff Writer