January 18, 2012

Grief, Condolences, and My Worst Fears

The internet is a many splendored thing.  But for all the good that it does, I believe that none is greater than the incredible connectedness it facilitates between people.

Not just random people, but people you know.

I'm fortunate to have sort of reconnected with most of my old Girl Scout troop, thanks to Facebook.  The girls who were my closest friends when I was in third or fourth grade are amazing women these days, and I know this not because we've kept in touch, but because we have the ability to simply check in on each other.  We don't need to keep track of addresses, or phone numbers... we don't need to even really communicate.

One of those girls, who filmed a short biopic of William Penn with me for an elementary school class, writes a feminist entertainment blog that I find myself referring my "IRL" friends to on a fairly regular basis (she's The Funny Feminist).

It's not just people I know a long time ago, either.  It's friends who have moved away.  Or friends who I have moved away from.  I know all about the illnesses of children of my friends in Michigan, I get to see birth announcements, and nursing pictures from JS and her brand new baby girl.  I can joke with my friend stationed in Texas about Star Trek and Firefly.  I can let friends who just live on the opposite side of the city, which is much harder to get to than it sounds, know when I've seen an episode of Yo Gabba Gabba that reminds me of them.  With minimal effort, I can maintain contact.  Through blogs, through facebook, through twitter, and yes- even through email.

And let's face it, effort is hard to come by a lot of the time.  It's hard to muster up the time and energy to sit down and write a letter, address it, and stick it in the mail.  It's hard to find the time to have a real telephone conversation.  There are a million distractions, between the children and the homework and the housework and keeping up with your family and maintaining the more active friendships you keep with people you get to see on a regular basis.  And there are times when you do have a moment, and you just want to stop and BREATHE and not be inundated with any kind of stimuli for a few blessed seconds.

And so the internet allows you to be a better friend, and a worse friend, by letting you get away with a lot of friendly stalking in lieu of more conventional communication.

And I don't know if it's just my generation, or if it's a new standard... but for the most part it seems that we're very happy with this.  It's great to know that my art school buddy is doing such amazing things with her photography- particularly her food pictures.  It's amazing to hear when a friend I haven't seen in literally a decade finishes a novel.  I'm thrilled to know when my distant friends are pregnant.  I love seeing what their kids dressed as for Halloween.  I feel connected to them, even if I don't let them know every time I think that some development in their lives is fantastic.  Or even interesting.

At any rate, I have been particularly lucky to be connected to my friends in this manner for a very long time.  I was an early adopter of the stalking-instead-of-communicating friendship style, as the majority of my old friends are techies.  System admins, designers, internet entrepreneurs, that's what the bulk of the people I began stalking/keeping distantly in touch with did.

One of those friends, and once upon a time more than a friend, moved to Texas some years ago.  Via the wonders of the internet, we sort of followed up on each other for that whole period.  When he'd come to visit, occasionally he'd crash on my couch.  In fact, it was him that introduced me to almost all of the people I now consider close friends.  Sort of.  He was much braver about making friends from the internet than I was at that time.  He taught me a lot about judging (and not judging) character from a photo and answers to a lot of mundane questions.

I supported him morally, as much as I could, through his custody battles over his son.  I held my own little internal celebrations over his successes.  When he got married, I was so genuinely happy for him.

When his wife got breast cancer, I offered my support.  I knew what that felt like- going through the chemotherapy, the wondering, the fear...  M and I had already moved onto our post-chemo, time-to-start-a-family phase of life.

And she got better.  And they decided to have a baby.
"Lanes," from XKCD

...and then she got worse.

Despite not having ever met her, or exchanged any words- digital or otherwise- with her, I followed her progress as much as I could.  She blogged about it, and I confess I read infrequently.  I just couldn't process all of what I was seeing.

I was reading my own worst fears.

This past weekend, Reesa, my old friend's wife and the wife of their eight month old daughter, lost her battle with cancer.

Even typing it has me in tears.

I imagine what my friend is going through.  What all of their family is going through.  I couldn't help myself vividly imagining that situation over and over throughout my pregnancy with the girls, M finally being through chemo and still... wondering...

And through this pregnancy thus far, it has been a recurring fear again- only for myself.  What if I missed some mole somewhere, and there's melanoma growing unchecked?

I never used to fear death, but these days I do.  Not because of what it holds for me, but because of what I would have to leave behind.  What it would be like for M, raising our children without me.  What it would mean for our girls, to grow up without a mom.

It keeps me up at night sometimes, it truly does.

I'm not so self-absorbed that I believe that they wouldn't function at all, I know that they would find a new normal... but what?  How?

And dear lord, how much pain would it take to reach that?

My heart breaks for my friend, for his children.  I ache to just hug him and tell him how sorry I am and how deeply, how very deeply I wish I could somehow fix it.  Somehow.  I would do almost anything to make it untrue.  Or to make it in any way better.

I remember clearly every single moment that made up M's treatment.  I remember the moment, the day after we had gotten engaged, that his coworker called me to tell me that he'd been taken to the hospital.  I remember the look in his eyes- a combination of terror and pure relief- when I stepped into his little nook at the ER fifteen minutes later, already wearing my pajamas for the night.  I remember five days later, almost six days to the moment after I told him I would marry him, that his surgeon told me he had less than eighteen months to live.  And I remember the day that, confident that he had beaten those odds, and that he was as "cured" as he was going to be, that we decided to have a baby.

It's the most natural thing in the world- this post-cancer family building.  You spend so much of your energy making sure that you have a future... and suddenly, you do.  But you're already an adult, and your dice are mostly cast.  Most of the 20-something-and-cancer-survivor set that I know, and it's a remarkably large group, go directly from news of remission to starting a family.  You've already paired up- you've already made the decision that you WANT to have a family.  And now, every day is a gift.  You get to do what you want to do, and you have the sense that there just might not be very much time.  That it isn't a matter of "some time in the next decade I want to have kids," it's a matter of, "If the cancer comes back, how much time do I want to have SPENT with my kids?"  And the answer is utterly simple.  "Every single moment I can."

You don't know how long you're going to have.  You have this nagging voice in the back of your head that doesn't say "if" the cancer comes back, it says "when."

And as the spouse of the survivor, you are right on board.  You also want to give your spouse everything in life that they want, help them to make the most of each minute.  When that means starting a family, it means that you are one hundred percent invested- committed.  And that is terrifying.  I have spent more hours than I care to count contemplating the life I might lead- widowed, with two (now three) children to support without M.  Maybe without having completed my degree.  And my choice has always been the same- the older my children are, the better.  I want them to have KNOWN their father.  To have meaningful memories to comfort them if he should die.  To carry on in his footsteps, KNOWING that he would be proud.

I understand what my friend must be going through right now.  I don't know, but I completely understand.  I understand the choices that he and his wife made.  I understand their choice to have a child when they did.  I understand the constant second guessing and worry that accompanied a pregnancy.  I understand all of the post-partum choices that they had to start making as soon as their daughter was born.  I understand what the news that while she had been pregnant, the cancer had metastasized in her spine meant to them.

I haven't seen him in about three years.  I had never met Reesa.  But I grieve for her.  I grieve for the months that my friend spent without sharing the news of her progress, that she didn't blog about it.  When I thought all was well and I was wrong.  I grieve for every moment that my friend's family spent in the hospital.  I grieve for every day they have spent since Reesa passed, wondering and blaming themselves and feeling alone.

As much as I want to say otherwise, I know that my friend must feel alone.  Despite the outpouring of support of all of his friends and family, despite no doubt having planned for this awful time before Reesa passed... despite all of that, there is no doubt that there is nobody on this earth who can truly share his pain, because there is nobody else on this earth who could have loved his wife the way that he did, and who shared the deepest parts of his soul.

And all the friendly internet stalking in the world can't convey that.

If temujin9 is reading this, I love you.  I will always love you.  And you will get through this somehow.  And I am so, so, so sorry.  And I wish there was anything I could do.

And I pray that you find peace with what has happened.

And if there was any way to send a shoulder across the interwebs for you to cry on, it would be there for you now.

RIP Reesa Brown


  1. Death has had me freaking out as of late, too. I have a friend who ran to the store, came home and found her husband dead, a week before Christmas. He was not sick, it was completely unexpected. Now I have a long time friend who has a terminal disease and is under hospice care with less than a year to live. This is someone that used to be super active, was in a band, traveled all over the world, and now he can't even walk. Life is so short. We never know when we could lose a loved one, or we ourselves could be gone. Too many of us take life for granted.

  2. I'm so sorry for your friend's loss.

    Every time I hear a story like this, I realize how easily it could be me.

  3. ugh, how horrifically sad. tragic. :(

  4. I'm so sorry for your friend's loss. What a sad story.

  5. My deepest condolences for the passing of your friend's friend.

  6. My heart aches reading your post. I've not gone through what you or your friend have - but I too fear death for the very reason you state - not for death itself, but what I would leave behind - a husband to raise 5 children on his own..

    HUGS to you and to your friend.....

  7. You post had my eyes watering. I am so sorry for you and for your friend.

  8. I had a near-death experience in March of 2008 (well, two actually) and it forever changed me. It put all of those thoughts in my head that you say keep you up at night. I feel emotions greater now. I see things brighter now. And I have stronger fears now as well.

    What if I would have been taken from my son? What if I am now? There are things that only I, as his mother, can give him. There are moments and love that as his mother, he can only get from me. That's one of my biggest fears.

    Even though the odds of this "thing" ever potentially costing me my life again are very slim, the fears remain. And it can be rough.

    I'm so sorry to hear about your wife's friend and to know that you're hurting too. There are really no words that can make anything better. It just plain sucks. Period. And I hate it. I hate it for you. I hate it for him. And I hate it for everyone else. [[hugs]] I'll be thinking about you and them.

    Jackie @

  9. This is beautifully written. We have had a number of scares in my family over the last two years. Many people lost and many with serious issues. I too have that fear at night and like you I am making each day count. I am just glad to have realized this now before it is too late. So sorry for your friend's loss.



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