Tuesday, September 6, 2011

One Last Letter

This has never happened to me before.
       I just sat down to write what I know will be the last letter to a fabulous woman who has entered the last few weeks (days?) of her life. Her breast cancer recently returned with a vengenace in her lungs, her liver. In no short order it was apparent that treatment was not helping, and now she sleeps, I'm told, more than 98% of the time. She rests without pain. She is without anxiety. She is my age, 57.
       This is not about fight, or attitude, or last chances, or resilience. It is about acceptance.
       I stare at the blank sheet of paper. There's the moment of crossing a river, into the unfamiliar before the first words begin.
       Start with the obvious.
       My dearest friend,
This morning ____ told us the news about your illness and that you made the wise, and merciful, decision to stop treatment. He tells us that you are resting without pain, and without anxiety. This is as it should be, dear lady.

The cursor continues to prompt me, egging me on, and it has no understanding that my mind has come to a complete standstill.  Tears have given way to shock. Ink dries on the nib of my fountain pen. I remember reading letters like this that arrived for my father during the short three-weeks he lived after his diagnosis and before his death from lung cancer in l978. Some were typed. Some were scribbled on notebook paper or cards. We loved them. We -- my brothers, sister, mother and I - passed them around and read them; folded them up and read them again.  So in remembering, I'm reminded that I'm not just speaking to my friend but to those who are there with her now.

Continue to talk about your day as it happened.  Think. Think. Think.

So I took thoughts of you with me while Katie and I went for our morning walk.  It's one of those stellar days when a hint of smoke in the air brings in happy memories of fall. The dog sensed it, and ran off like a bat from hell. You would laugh yourself silly -- like we do - just watching her. Her nickname? Hot Rod.  She's another chapter in our mutual story of "dogs we've loved."

Just trust and still your mind.  Trust that the words will lead the way.

I can't presume to know what you've been through and the byways you've had to navigate these past few months. I am sure you've done this with your usual grace and honesty.  What I know with certainty is that the love you've brought to everyone you've touched lasts forever.  I know it will for me.

Stay on course. Return everything she so generously gave without thought, as easily as breathing.

It stunned me to realize that we were only together twice, yet, like all who have met you, I can feel the light you radiate to this day. Mutual friends have said the same. I still laugh out loud when I remember walking through an Army Surplus store with you, and the stunned look on your face as you tried to imagine winters where you'd actually need eight layers of long underwear?  And hip-length boots? What? Who knew!  At the time you didn't - though you'd come to encounter them-- but on that afternoon it was all just another great adventure.  Another great adventure.  You brought equal amounts of love and adventure to every moment. Later that day you laughed and waved a powder blue bra in the air, amazed that you'd finally become an adult with bras and underpants that MATCHED.  It was all WOW for you. That's because you are the wow.

You brought everything into every moment, an abundance of love, of light, of adventure. You showed me that is impossible to live well without all of them.

You need to go, now.  And release her.

You are surrounded by love, you are returning to the light. It dawns on me you've known this your entire life. You knew so in a natural way. You showed us by the way you lived.  I am forever grateful for all that you are and the love you brought to all of us.

Love never fails.
        I Corinthians 13:8

Yours.  Always.
*   *    *

In honor of EM, and the 150,000 plus women with metastatic breast cancer, I will host a blog "rounds" on metastatic breast cancer in October and weekly discussions on "pink" during breast cancer awareness month on #BCSM.  More details to come.  I thank Katherine O'Brian (@ihatebreastcancer) for suggesting this, and Gayle Sulik (@pinkribbonblues), Rachel Cheetam (@ccchronicles), Dr. Susan Niebur (@whymommy), and Debbie Thomas, (@debmthomas) who are scheduled guests for some of October's chats. 


chari olmedo said...

I'm so sorry, Jody. I hope she has known Hapiness in her 57 years. On my birthday I learned that a work colleague of one of my dearest friends has now stopped treatment for metastasized colorectal cancer. Radiation couldn't stop cancer's accelerated pace. Her youth worked against her. She's barely 24 years old. Her name is Genevieve and she's spent most of last year with the 'indignity' of a colostomy bag attached to her young body. From last week, she's looking into her bucket list. I can only hope she has time to do a good few of them

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing such a moving letter and post. My thoughts are with you and with your friend and all who loved her.

Debbie said...

This is such a hard letter to write, yet you have done it so beautifully and eloquently. I am so sorry that you had to write it but you have taught me what it means to be a good, dear friend. You and your friend and family are in my prayers.
Love, Deb

The Accidental Amazon said...

Beautiful, moving, poignant. Your letter to her is perfect. I'm just so sad now. In a few brief paragraphs, you made her real to someone who's never even met her.

Thank you for sharing this, Jody. My heart goes out to you & to her family.

BreastCancerSisterhood.com said...

It's so hard to lose a friend. I'm sorry. Thank you for giving us a loving and brave example of how to write a last letter and how important it will later be for their family.

As we know, so many people avoid someone who has a serious illness or is dying, because they're uncomfortable and don't know what to say. I've had the privilege of saying goodbye to three of my friends in person. They were all on different levels of consciousness.

One died moments later, but I got to tell her what she'd meant to me and say, "I love you." Her last words were, "I love you, too, sweet girl." Another friend I sat and talked with for two hours. He didn't want me to go because no one else was comfortable around him. He laughed and said, "So, I'm exerting myself! What's it going to do? Kill me?" We both cracked up, and it was a great moment. Even my former boyfriend, who everyone else thought couldn't hear anyone, heard me. He squeezed my hand at all the right moments when I'd ask if he remembered such and such. I sat with him for hours and sometimes was quiet and stroked his hand, and other times I would reminisce.

What a gift you've given us, your readers. Thank you.


itsthebunk said...

Dear Jody,

I read your post while I was on the bus and sat there with tears running down my cheek. I'm home again and keep thinking of it, you, your friend, and her loved ones.

So many things about your beautiful letter moved me. The facts, of course, and like the previous comment said, the way you brought your friend and the nature of your friendship to life. What the letter revealed about your compassionate heart. How you shared your courageous way of moving through the difficult writing process with us by revealing your inner dialogue--I'm sure so many of us can identify with that. There's more, but I'll leave it at that.

Sending love and support to you, your friend and her loved ones,

ps: I took note of your remarks about upcoming chats about Metastatic disease and look forward to all of them. I learned so much from the last one. You are bringing all of us closer, regardless of our "stage," no small feat.

Jody said...

I am comforted by your comments, as my friend's family will be. Remember: love is immense. We do need each other. We need each other to define and bear witness to everything we hold dear.

Please keep my friend dear; hold her and all who love her in your hearts. Thank you:)

Sally Church said...

A truly beautiful and captivating letter, Jody, thank you for sharing it with us all. I'm sorry for the loss on both sides, but it is a brave and sensible decision of your friend to go gracefully and with her dignity intact. You have done your friend proud with such elegantly moving thoughts.

These kind of letters are exceptionally difficult to write - how can one convey some lucid thoughts without sounding trite or maudlin? I know this, as I too, sadly have one sitting and waiting for some inspiration that has miserably failed me. If it turns out a tenth of your incredible prose, I will be a happy lady.

May the force be with you, dear Jody.

carmen2u said...

Damn, girl. You have got the gift of compassion and moving words to match. If I ever received a letter like that so close to departure, I would now for sure that I was loved. What a beautiful gift.

Anonymous said...

What an amazing letter, Jody. I hope you have no more letters to write this month, and this year. Wouldn't that be amazing?

Please do tweet and email me when it's time to do the #bcsm. I'm overwhelmed a little right now but want to do this more than anything.

Love to you,

Anonymous said...


Such a hard letter to write.
Thinking positive thoughts for you and your family.
Stay safe.
Stay strong.


Anonymous said...

Jody - what a beautiful, moving letter and post. It is so unfortunate that these situations seem to be coming more and more frequently. All my best to you and to your friend's family.

Wendy Sue Swanson said...

Thanks for writing this and for sharing with all of us. I echo what others have sai,--such a hard letter to write. My thoughts are with you all.

katie ford hall said...

You are surrounded by love, you are returning to the light. It dawns on me you've known this your entire life.



Anonymous said...

Oh Jody. So beautiful. I am so sorry. I could feel the emotion in this lovely sad post. I am glad your friend is not in pain.
You reminded me about the things people sent when my father was dying (also of lung cancer). Precious, precious words. And I'm sure yours will be received with a lot of gratitude and read and reread.
Love to you. Sarah

Beth L. Gainer said...

Oh my gosh, Jody. Your posting brought me to tears. What a beautiful, heartfelt letter. And what a gift to both you and your friend.

That's how a final letter ought to be written. Thank you for sharing something so deeply personal.

Anonymous said...

Stunning. I'm at a loss for words. Jody, you have an incredibly powerful way about you. You are an inspiration to me and so many others. I can't begin to imagine how you were able to write that letter. It's beautiful...truly a happiness that aches.

Ann said...

Jody, thank you for sharing this. The words you've chosen with such care are so very beautiful. You continue to show us how it should be done.

Nancy's Point said...

This is very powerful. I'm back to reread it today as yesterday it literally left me quite speechless. I still have no words that are adequate, but just wish to express my sadness and deep appreciation for the words you have so eloquently written for someone you care about in your private life and chosen to share with all of us. Thank you for that.

Jody said...

I'm so grateful for all your comments and thoughts. What I'm hearing, not just here, but from emails I've received as well, is many of you have struggled having to write letters like this.

Sometimes we can't be there in person because of the distance involved and what can you do, how do you say goodby? This was a start.

Today, the awesome @maverickNY, a brilliant consultant who translates science into English for the rest of us, pick up on this post to add some wonderful thoughts of her own. You can read her post at: http://icar.us/qNKswg

Thank you all,

Jody said...

I'm so grateful for all your comments and thoughts. What I'm hearing, not just here, but from emails I've received as well, is many of you have struggled having to write letters like this.

Sometimes we can't be there in person because of the distance involved and what can you do, how do you say goodby? This was a start.

Today, the awesome @maverickNY, a brilliant consultant who translates science into English for the rest of us, pick up on this post to add some wonderful thoughts of her own. You can read her post at: http://icar.us/qNKswg

Thank you all,

Stacey said...

Jody, I'm so very sorry for your loss, and so touched by the love you share in your letter. I think we all know someone like that. They are a gift we keep for a short while. Love to you.

Annemieke said...

Dear Jody,

Your post brought tears to my eyes as you managed to write a letter that no-one ever wants to write so eloquently. You said goodbye and thank you in a way that must have ment the world to your sister in law and your brother. I'm just so sad this horrible disease struck your family again, with all the grieve and sorrow that comes with it. Thank you for sharing this with us, know that I will keep you, your sister in law and brother in my hearts and prayers. By now we know she passed away and I can only hope she want peacefully. Dedicated the spinning class to her, all I can do from over here. Thanks again, love and big hugs from this side of the pond.

Jody said...

What a wonderful thought: yes, she was a gift. That is exactly the right perspective. Thanks so much.

The image of your spinning class today dedicated to Betsy was such a beautiful gesture ....and she would just loved it:)
thank you,

Renn said...

The pen is indeed mightier than all! That was beautiful. Written as you say not just for your friend, but for those she leaves behind. What a gift.

Unknown said...

The work you put into this site is bar non the best work I've never seen.

jeremy said...

It was indeed touching. She will be fine.

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