Now, let me be clear, that was not a preface. There's no "but" to follow all of that happiness. There is, however, an "and."
* * *
When Scott Herr died tragically on January 1, 2010, Brian and I, like the rest of our town and so many others, were crushed. His death was so unexplainable, so cruel, so unjust. It was so sudden and honestly, so truly incomprehensible. Really, Brian and I both said several times after his passing that we honestly couldn't comprehend it. Maybe we were just in the middle of a bad dream. But we weren't.
The spring after Scott's death, some of the most generous people in town decided to organize an alumni hockey game to raise money for the scholarship fund created in Scott's memory. Annabel didn't exist yet, but I remember taking Teddy to the game. I remember the rock-sized lump in my throat when they played the national anthem, and how I tried so hard not to cry whenever I thought of how his mother must be feeling. I remember seeing Linda at that alumni game, and I remember exactly what she said to me after I hugged her and remarked at how great the fundraiser was.
"I just want Scott to be here," she explained. I will never, ever forget that.
I think of the Herr family often, especially as I watch, from a long distance, Ashley's family grieve. I see so many similarities between Ashley's mother and Scott's. Both of these mothers are as kind and as selfless as they come, and both had life's most precious gift stolen away from them.
I do not claim that my situation is like their's because in so many ways, it is not. But I have come to see one way that our experiences, and those of so many others, are similar. Tonight, that explanation begged to pour onto my keyboard with the force of a flood.
What I've realized through my own cancer battle and through watching brave women like Joy and Linda, is that people, including myself, generally like linear stories; straight lines that move forward. We dread tragedy and the best of the best communities, like mine, unite when it happens. But then, so many of us want things to go up from there. We want to believe that every day is easier than the one before. But as anyone knows who's been through something tragic or really scary, life can be so very un-linear. Often, it feels like a spiral, and we are forced to wonder if things will ever stop spinning.
For me, all of this comes by the fact that lately, I think I feel cancer. If you just thought something along the lines of, OK, I've already read a blog about this; Isn't she over that phase already? then you prove my point exactly. Truthfully, I am even writing this thinking, I've already written four blogs on this topic. Hence, the spiral.
Joy's most recent Air for Ashley blog began:
Obviously Joy's blog is tragic beyond words. I'm not trying to acknowledge that tragedy tonight. What I am trying to acknowledge, however, is the significance, at least for me, of Joy's honesty last week and of Linda's honesty back in April of 2010. Because while our situations are all so very different, I understand so wholeheartedly the truth that often there is no "neat little package" at the end of a story; often, closure is impossible.
I have come to realize that I may fear cancer for the rest of my life; that I will have moments at my desk or at the dinner table when I think I feel something -- a lump or a backache or some other pain or sensation I can't explain. Like I do now, I will keep my mouth shut because that's old news and no one needs to hear it. Of course, like Joy, I am blessed to be surrounded by family and friends who do not try to hurry me through any stage so that they can feel more comfortable. But sometimes I want to hurry myself, especially in those moments when I feel that cancer once again could be lurking inside me.
Here's where honesty becomes a precious gift. Joy's blog and Linda's comment years ago remind me that while there's nothing anyone can say to make me less scared that what I feel is a vengeful tumor, I don't need to feel the pressure of moving towards closure.
I am sure there are people who, without a single ounce of malice, will think that our family's trip to Disney or us adopting a baby or publishing a book are all evidence of closure -- all parts of a neat little cancer package. Trust me, I know how lucky I am for the chance at just one of those things and I will soak up every ounce of joy and victory that will come with them. I'd be silly to think that they mark an end to the torture that is cancer, however.
I don't mean this post to sound redundant, another blog about how my hypochondria is haunting me. Or better yet, I guess I do mean it that way. Because I'm pretty sure that some of life's worst pain is so hard to bear because of its redundant nature; because it will never really go away. I'm pretty sure that straight lines exist only in geometry and that neat little packages exist only under Christmas trees. In real life, there are a lot more spirals than we allow ourselves to openly admit. And yet I believe that admitting they exist make them a bit easier for all of us to bear.