Today I learned of the passing of a friend. Our sons went to elementary and middle school together. I wasn't expecting it; it happened almost out of the blue. There was a time when it wouldn't have been such a surprise. A tragedy, of course, but not a surprise. In 2017 she was diagnosed with lymphoma. She underwent eight rounds of chemo, radiation, and topped it off with an autologous stem cell transplant. Her descriptions of the treatment were that it was brutal - especially the stem cell transplant. In her words, "This treatment pushed me physically and mentally in a way that none of the chemo or radiation of the previous 10 months had come close to." But there was light at the end of that tunnel, and she was declared cancer free in March of 2018.
Our boys were in fifth grade at the time. Her son chose my son, Andres, and another friend to be a part of his support group at school. They had some lunch time sessions with their teacher where they formed a safe space for him to share what was going on at home and how he felt with just a few people he trusted to share it with. I was honored that he chose my son to be one of his confidants. My son said "We are both sensitive in a good way so I think that's why he chose me". It's true. Andres was the smallest kid in his class at the time but probably had the biggest heart. I always told him that I didn't know how that big heart of his fit into that little tiny body. Apart from those lunch time sessions, Andres and Nicholas got together outside of school on multiple occasions and formed a nice bond.
We were happy and relieved that at the end of her arduous treatment path, it looked like there was a happy ending. She was back, and life continued on like normal. The boys moved on to the same middle school and always had at least a class or two together. Whenever there were partners assigned for group projects, Andres and Nicholas always worked together. We started to see Susan again at school events and around town, and she started to accompany the boys on some of their adventures. First with a hat and a cane, and eventually without either. Strong, healthy, and happy - enjoying her second chance at being present with and for her family.
She also has two older girls. I remember her telling me that one of them was angry at her for getting sick. I think that eventually worked itself out, but as anger is one of the phases of grief, I am left wondering how she is feeling today. Especially the timing of it all, not to mention the shock. After all, they made it through Covid - and then this.
Three years later they learned that the cancer is back. They received that news on a Saturday. She passed away on Monday, just two days later. A shock. To everybody. You did all of the things. You fought through the trenches - the deep, treacherous, muddy, dark, rainy, with bullets flying everywhere trenches. You made it through to the other side. You stood up, soaked in the sunshine, took a deep breath, and felt victorious. Then suddenly - so suddenly - a bullet comes out of nowhere and hits you squarely between the eyes. You didn't even have a chance.
I am so sorry.
All I can do is pray.
Today I prayed for you. I prayed for your safe passing. I prayed that you have made it to a better place where there is no suffering and no cancer. I prayed that you have reconnected with your loved ones who passed before you. I prayed that you will remain connected with your family here on earth, and that you will continue to be a part of their lives. I prayed that you are watching them now and that you forever will be with them.
I prayed for your family, for your children more than anything. I prayed that they would find grace and be patient with themselves and the grieving process. I prayed that they would be supported by friends and family. I prayed for them because I know that there will be moments when nobody other than their mother will be sufficient. I prayed that in those moments they will talk to you and call on you for guidance. I prayed that they will always keep your memory alive. I prayed that they would live their very best lives, if nothing else than to show you that you raised three amazing humans.
I prayed for all who benefited from knowing you, and I prayed that that would be enough for them.
In these moments nothing seems important except our loved ones. I am holding my children closer today. I am relishing every moment. I can't imagine leaving them at this moment, with almost no notice. When talking about this at the dinner table my daughter said "Who would pick me up from school?" She couldn't imagine how the day would work. After all, mom does everything, right? Of course the day to day stuff would get worked out. The kids would learn how to do some stuff on their own. Dad would step in and take over some of the tasks. Other family members and friends would step in to do the rest.
There are some things, though, that can't get taken over by anybody. The loving smile. The hugs. The knowing. The consoling. The wisdom. The always knowing how to make you feel better. My daughter and I used to call it "Mama juice". The laughs you shared. The memories. The memories you were still going to make. The guidance. The fights (I mean come on, it's not all pretty). It's all priceless. Nobody else sees you like your mom does. She sees the whole you and loves you for your uniqueness in a way that we can only strive to love ourselves.
And it's all that matters. Not that other stuff. Not whether we eat organic or not. Not how much screen time the kids get. Not whether or not they got any exercise that day, or whether or not they read at all. Not whether we are a size six or a size twelve (ok I struggle with this one). But really, in the end it does not matter.
That's it. That's all that matters.
Hold them tight. Hold your babies. Hold your mamas. Hold your papas. Hold your sisters, your brothers, your friends. Tell them you love them.
Seriously, now. If you're not in the same place, pick up the phone. If you are in the same place, put down the phone and interact. Today will be gone in a heartbeat.
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