{in memoriam} Goodbye, finally, to my childhood

A friend of mine from high school died yesterday. I heard last night, via the Facebook IM tree, and it was like the breath just flew out of me.

Kirsten fought off leukemia as a child, but liver cancer would end her. And with her death, so ended my foolish belief that we were eternal.

In my mind, she is forever a junior and I’m a sophomore. We traveled in the same group of friends, who partied on the weekends with music and Monty Python, who dated each other shamelessly and intertwined our lives and dramas for three years of my life.

I always knew she was brave, because you can’t be a kid dealing with cancer and not be brave. I also knew her to be kind, smart, funny, and sweet. I have distant, fading Polaroids in my mind of moments from parties at her house. These were the truly formative moments of my life, when my heart was built to be broken.

She wasn’t the first person I know from high school to have died; that honor goes to Dylan – one year behind me – who died while still in high school. Foolish escapades on a jet ski ended him, and his may have been the first wake I attended. But it’s K’s death that reminds me that even my band of friends, who I see really only online these days, is not forever.

We live in different cities and, in some cases, on different coasts. Many stayed in the DC area, and she was one of several of us to migrate to New England. I probably last saw K when she graduated; her being in Maine made her no closer to me than anything else. I rarely head that far north.

But she was never fully out of my thoughts, and hearing of her death from liver cancer gave me sad pause, adding another name to the “In Memory Of” list I wear as I walk my marathon for The Jimmy Fund/Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

My childhood is gone, more so than any other single event, because now I’m reminded of the fragility of it all. I may not see all of these people online, or talk to them on a daily basis, but my love for my friends of that time will outlast us all.

RIP K. I miss you and I love you.

{interlude} In Memoriam – I hate cancer (again)

I lost a friend yesterday, the husband of one of my close friends. I haven’t been able to figure out what words to put together on this. I want to scream and shout every obscenity there is until whatever divine justice there is reverses this insane decision and brings him back to us, but there’s just no point.

Similar to my aunt, it was a cancer of the lung that took my friend – although this was mesothelioma, most likely caused by exposure to asbestos-laden insulation when he was a lot younger.

I’m having trouble reaching for words. I want to write about how special he was, how he was always ready with a laugh or a hug, how he was a husband, a father, a sailor, a mailman, a skiier…a person who you instantly felt at ease with. I want to write about how I’ll always treasure memories of being out on their boat – where they showed me and my then-boyfriend the windmill out on Hull, where that same boyfriend would later propose marriage to me. I want to write about how much I appreciated the two of them coming to our wedding, and how they opened their house to us every summer for an annual get-together of friends and kids.

I want to write about how I wanted to come visit over the last few weeks, but how I had a bad cold that turned into some kind of insane post-nasal drip and kennel cough that made me worry I’d get him sick if I came within 20 feet of him. And so I didn’t visit. I want to write about how crappy I feel about not getting the chance to give him one more hug.

But I can’t. Because words aren’t coming very easily to me right now.

I got word of his passing while I was in a meeting, and it was like all the air got sucked out of the room. I was asked a question and, as I fumbled for an answer, I realized I’d run out of words. It took me a few seconds, a stutter…a pause that, to anyone who doesn’t know me well, probably looked like I was just trying to think of just the right, politically-correct terminology. Anyone who knows me very well would’ve seen that I just had my heart punched.

And this is nothing compared to my close friend, who just lost her husband, the father of her children, and the partner she’s had for more than half of her life. I want to give her all the space she needs while suffocating her with all the kindness I can muster…but I can’t find a clever, witty way to write that. So I’ll use what words I have.


My marathon walk in support of The Jimmy Fund was supposed to be in honor of Tim and in memory of Jackie. Recently, I had to add Rosette to my “in honor of” list, as she was recently diagnosed with lymphoma of the brain. I now have to move Tim to the “in memory of” list, and that just hurts. I hate cancer so much that I want to scream. And yell. And throw things.

But it won’t help.

So, I’ll remember him in my own way, and I’ll walk in memory of him because he was, like my aunt, so incredibly special and taken too damn soon. I suspect I’ll cry quite a bit as I walk my marathon. It’s easier than coming up with words. I can’t raise enough money to support the fight against cancer, not when it’s so incredibly skilled at taking away people I love. I want to make cancer hurt the way it makes me hurt. I’ll hope each step I’ll take along the 26.2mi route will be another nail in cancer’s coffin. They need to be.


RIP Tim.

{interlude} In Memoriam – why smoking sucks

I hate cancer so much I can’t put it into words without cussing so much you’d think I just got off a naval warship. I was considering breaking my longstanding streak of not really cussing on this blog, but then I decided against it. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how many f-bombs I drop. She’s not coming back.

Whether or not you believe in reincarnation, heaven, hell, nirvana, some other plane of existence or just damn nothingness at all, I think it’s fairly safe to say that there are few people out there who really truly want to die, much less die having been in pain for months on end. Nobody wants that. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy, much less a member of my family.

So, here’s the deal: my aunt died yesterday. She was the only aunt I had related to me by blood; she and my mom were it for my maternal grandparents, and my father was an only child. When I was a little kid and we’d drive to New Jersey to visit with her and her husband (and later the family, after they had a daughter), I remember just marveling at how cool their house was. They had this great place, which I guess you’d label as a contemporary house (pointy angles and fun staircases), filled with books and niches where you could lose a day just reading. They had cable TV well before we ever did, which made their house infinitely cooler than mine in Suburban Maryland, and the open plan on the main floor made for an easy convergence of all traffic into the kitchen, the nerve center of the house.

You’d often find my aunt in the kitchen, smoking. I don’t remember her smoking constantly, and I really don’t remember the house smelling of cigarette smoke, but I have distinct memories of her smoking in the kitchen and this not being an infrequent scene.

My mom gave up smoking before I was born, and my dad quit sometime not long after I was born, although he still smokes cigars – a habit I find so utterly repellent that I can’t be anywhere near him when he lights up. My aunt continued smoking for some time, quitting more than a decade ago but obviously not soon enough.

The woman who I knew as a strong, intelligent, funny, sweet person, this teacher of Latin and mythos (primarily Roman and Greek), was first diagnosed with cancer when she was in her thirties. This was breast cancer, and a diagnosis that early is never a good thing. Still, she managed to beat it back and it wouldn’t return for several decades, when she would beat it back again.

Then there was the first diagnosis of lung cancer. We all held our collective breath. Lung cancer. Smoking. Of course. When it’s breast cancer, prostate cancer, or some other random but common cancer, you can’t necessarily trace it to any one behavior. But lung cancer and smoking go hand in hand like old enemies. But unlike Holmes and Moriarty or the Doctor and the Master, there’s no real love or potential fantasy component here. Whenever cancer’s in the mix, it’s just Atropos standing over you, waiting to cut the strand of yarn that defines the time you have left to live.

She fought off the lung cancer, losing part of a lung in the process, and we all hoped that would be the end of it. Of course, we were wrong. Sadly, we were just being hopeful.

When the cancer returned, within only a few years, it came back as Stage IV. She was given a meager prognosis and the doctors did what they could. What was toughest to watch was her withdrawal from it all. Much like how animals often curl up and hide when they’re sick, trying to preserve their strength and separate themselves from the rest of society, so she too tried to hide from the diagnosis and the reality that it dictated. She left us in little bits, day by day, wreaking probably the most damage on my mother, who was completely powerless to hang onto her sister. And that’s heart-wrenching for me on so many levels, not the least of which is that there’s only so much you can do when you’re 500mi away from the subjects of the conversation.

It wasn’t much of a surprise when we heard a few weeks ago that she was being put into hospice, that the doctors felt there wasn’t much more that could be done for her other than to make her comfortable. And, after a long battle that sometimes seemed endless and other times felt like time flying by, she closed her eyes for the last time.

I got the e-mail from my mother as I was on my way between meetings and I collapsed against the hallway wall. It takes the wind out of you to lose someone that you loved, whether or not you saw them recently, whether or not you could make it all better. I kept working for the rest of the day because that’s what I felt I had to do, but I put Radiohead on my iPod and mourned in my own fashion.

It’s impossible for me to express just how much I hate cigarettes right now. Having been a smoker for a while when I was much younger (albeit a very light smoker), I understand the draw. Really, I do. But I also see the consequences, and I can only hope that I escape the fate she had to endure. If even one person within the reach of my electronic voice can read this and put down their next cigarette, and the one after that, and the one after that…

Don’t lose yourself. If you’re smoking, please stop. Please please pretty please. If you won’t do it for others, then at least do it for yourself.

Rest in Peace, Jackie. I miss you and love you very much.