March SOLC–Day 22
I don’t know my cousin well, so I don’t know his wife well either. But I’ve followed the Facebook photos through the years and watched their family grow and I’ve visited with them at rare family events. Over time the two of them became three, then four, then five with three beautiful daughters who are just now beginning to make their way into the world.
In the past few months, since I’ve learned of her illness, I’ve been watching her, my cousin’s wife, through pictures on Facebook. I’ve seen her enjoying various family events. I’ve seen her gradually lose her hair. I’ve seen her smiling on a trip to NYC, surrounded by family, Christmas trees and neon lights. Always smiling broadly, no wig to cover her balding head, cancer’s beacon. I don’t know her, but I’ve seen her strength, her determination and the signs of battle on her body.
Last week her daughter posted a new picture. In it my cousin’s wife sits in a hospital gown in a hospital chair in a hospital room with this daughter sitting on the edge of the chair. My cousin’s wife seems folded in upon herself. Her daughter sits slightly behind her, leaning toward her with her arm about her, sheltering her. The contrast between vibrant youthful health and debilitating illness is striking. Heartbreaking. The broad smile is now tentative and there’s a look in her eyes…Oh, that look in her eyes. I think it was then that I realized. But still I hoped. There was talk of eligibility for an experimental treatment. Hope.
The message arrived yesterday. “Cancer all over her body. In her lungs. Not good at all.” So the cancer has spread. Her body is “riddled” with it–that suggests something to be puzzled over and solved. In this case there is no solution; her options, apparently, are at an end.
Though I don’t know them well, I ache with sadness. I ache for her, facing the ultimate lonely inevitability of it all. For her, as a mother, unimaginably leaving her girls, and for her girls who will soon be left behind, motherless. I look at the photographs of the past few months–those digital battle flags of determined cheer and sweet moments from daily life. I ache for my cousin, fixedly smiling at her side. I look into the eyes of her vivacious, smiling daughters and I ache for them. I know some of what awaits them. I know what it’s like to be a motherless daughter. Some of my pain now echoes from my own lingering grief. I weep for this shattering family, reeling in the face of this impending loss that will reshape the bedrock of their lives.
And I wonder. How do you wrap a lifetime, a world of love into words? How do you comfort the one who is departing and those who will be left behind? How do you say goodbye?