It is now the evening of Memorial Day, and the dusk's golden light is falling across the garden and through the windows. Such a gorgeous time of day, and especially so when it is the first sun we have seen in days. It was a disappointment to have pouring rain all over the Northeast through this long first of the summer weekend, but we do all know that having picnics is not the real meaning of Memorial Day. I come from a multigenerational military family; both my grandfathers and a few earlier ancestors and my father and brother and first husband were all West Pointers. It is in my blood, and I grew up knowing that Memorial Day was almost sacred.
I have been thinking about this today and reading some of the usual media stories about honoring our military and remembering our past, and I have been thinking especially about the women whom I have known and loved and lost, this year and every other year, to breast cancer. Personally, I hate the military similies that are often used in cancer conversations, and especially in cancer obituaries. If anyone writes that I "fought cancer for X years" or "lost the battle", I promise to come back and haunt them. The "War on Cancer" has not been a victory by any measure, and I think we should change the vocabulary. Aren't there enough other words related to science or illness or grit that would suffice?
Anyway, among others, today I am remembering Janet who loved life in an often larger than life way, who had mostly raised two sons alone, and recently married for the second time, so happily, when she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. Throughout her illness, she struggled to maintain a positive outlook and was terrible at denial and terrific at expressing her fury with the fates in general and the cancer in particular. And she loved and laughed and danced and was beloved and funny and smart and tender and is very greatly missed. I am remembering Carole, an academic, who worked right up until a week of so before her death, and insisted on teaching her classes and attending a conference in Italy and chairing her share of tedious meetings and discovering the joys of Down East Maine and discussing books and food and trips whenever we met. She, too, had two sons and a loving husband and so many devoted friends and colleagues who miss her. And I am remembering Mary, who came to my group for women with advanced cancer, but who came intermittently, so, when she didn't come for a month or so, we did not realize she had gotten very sick and died--until her partner called to tell me so. Only after her death did I learn the extent of her contributions to the world, to Boston and housing issues in particular, and of her many honors and accomplishments. I had already known how much she loved her nieces and Vermont and biking to work and her dog and going to the gym even when she was quite will and trying not to ever talk about cancer at work. I miss her, too. There are others. There are too many.
Barbara Brenner, a breast cancer activist who died of ALS a few weeks ago, wrote an extraordinary blog called Healthy Barbs: http://www.barbarabrenner.net/
Each of her entries was thoughtful and wise, but her final posting was breath-taking in its tender honesty. She knew she was dying, and she wanted to say thank you and good-bye:
Thanks and Blessings
Posted on May 7, 2013 by bbzinger
As my life comes to an end, I want to thank readers of this blog (and our Caring Bridge site for reading all that I have written while I deal with ALS. I’m sure some of what I wrote was difficult to read, some of what I wrote helped others, while other pieces just made you think. This blog will be up awhile — and some ambitious person might turn it into a book. If you think of others who might benefit from anything I’ve written, please send it along to them.
I have been blessed to lead a rich life, full of love and culture and travel and work that had meaning for me. I have no regrets except that I got ALS in the first place.
I have met amazing people both in person and on-line. Everyone I have come in contact with has had something unique to offer the world. The world is a better place because these people are or were in it. Some of these people I have mentored (and you know who you are), others have taught me. What I know about all of these people is that I have been blessed to know them, and that they will succeed at what they set their hearts and minds to do.
In the Jewish tradition there is a Priestly Blessing. I copy below it because it is what I wish for all readers of these words:
May the Lord bless you
and keep you;
May the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
May the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.