Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Memorial Day

My aunt Fran passed away last Saturday. It was one of the most horrific days of my entire life. She had been battling Soft Tissue Sarcoma for two years and even though we were aware that it was incurable, we had hope. Because what else is there in life if you don't have hope? My aunt Fran was braver than any human being I have ever known, but I only really saw her bravery when this disease came into our lives. She battled sarcoma with everything she had and she did not lose faith for one minute. She stayed positive and upbeat and didn't let the disease take over.

The hardest part about her battle was what it did to her physically. She lost her hair, her ability to walk and her independence. But she continued living on the sunny side of life. She refused to dwell in the darkness of "Why Me?" She wasn't a victim. Fran remained excited about the little things and allowed them to bring her happiness; a nice dinner, visits with family and friends, a good TV show. That's how she lived her life before the illness and that's how she was determined to live her life after the diagnosis.

I read an article in today's Boston Globe about terminal patients refusal to understand the reality of their own mortality. The article clearly explains that this is something that needs to be addressed by health care professionals. I completely understand the direction of this article, but having seen it from the other side, I think my aunt's determination to not accept her negative prognosis is what allowed her to live, truly live, those last months and days of her life.

Now I'm not saying that we don't need a stronger, more emotionally balanced approach to helping people deal with end-of-life plans. Death is an uncomfortable discussion that people need to have. We need to know the wishes of our loved ones. But we also need to have professionals who can help them deal with the emotional impact their disease is having on their life.

We created a memorial site in her name to record any memories that friends or family wanted to express. Here is what I posted:

My aunt Fran is so much more than the few words I can use to fill up this simple square of a guest book. She was silly and caring and fun. She loved the little things and her enthusiasm was infectious. She was fearless and brave and bossy. She loved her friends and her family and made everyone feel special. She was happy and curious and real. She was so much to so many people. She was my aunt and my friend and my life will never ever be the same without her. I miss her so much that even typing these words makes my heart ache. I can't imagine life without her, but I am thankful for the time we had together. I love you Fran!

Love Jocelyn

As the week following Fran's death passed by in a blur of tears and phone calls from worried friends and family, I found myself constantly looking back, remembering happy times when everyone I loved was healthy and together. I found it completely appropriate that Memorial Day arrived just as I was coming out of my haze of mourning. I spent this Memorial Day weekend packing up my aunt's belongings, flipping through old pictures and trying to grasp the finality of death. I don't understand it. I never will. But I know I will grow stronger every day because that is what we do, as human beings. We break and we get stronger in the broken parts. I will never be the same girl that I saw in those innocent pictures from the past. But I am so much more now. I have experienced tremendous sorrow and I have survived. I am brave and I am strong. Because of Fran I will live in the sunny side of life, as she taught me to do, during the darkest hours of her own short life.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Moments of Clarity

What is it about those moments of clarity? Those moments that come along like tiny bursts of lightning, when, for an instant, you truly believe that everything is alright with the world. Inevitably, this impression of hope and peace will be broken by a sharp edge of reality. You will be thrust back into the ebb and flow of your life. The gritty pieces will be back and in full focus. You will miss your train, lose your job or fight with your mother. Out of nowhere that peaceful moment, like a blast of warm air on a spring day, will be pushed along by a wind you didn't see coming.

But the fleeting beauty of these moments should not diminish the spectacular feeling of contentedness. Consider them gifts from life, rewards for your struggles, glimpses of a perfect world that is within your grasp. They are tiny presents to let you know you have already succeeded.

The more you allow yourself to recognize these moments, the more frequently you will experience them. Open your heart and let the magic of hope, happiness and beauty enter your soul and you will be forever changed, in a moment.

{photo credit: Abby Leigh}

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Like millions of Americans, I was glued to my television during the Oprah interview with Elizabeth Edwards. How did she feel when she found out he had destroyed their family? Did she stay with him? What did she tell her children? Has he been begging for forgiveness since that bleak day in 2006 when he admitted to being unfaithful?

I held my breath as Oprah slipped out of her car in front of the Edwards' beautiful home in North Carolina. The family lined up outside their front door to greet her, the picture of perfection. Oprah warmly greeted John, Elizabeth and their two younger children. I found myself wanting Oprah to refuse John's handshake, to not smile so openly at his welcoming. I'm sure many people were sharing the same thoughts. How could this man cheat on his cancer stricken wife? How could he destroy his family and his career, a career that is built on public perception and honesty.

The mistress in question was wild enough to provide enough material for a character in a Jay McInerney novel, a woman with loose morals and a sexually boisterous life. A woman who saw waiting for the results of an STD test as a good time to take a "short" break from her sexual conquests. A woman who waited outside of a hotel for a married man.

We can all assume he was seduced. But are we to forgive him and excuse his behavior because he was overwhelmed by a woman who felt it appropriate to hit on a married man? Are we to forgive John Edwards because up until then he had been a good father and husband with a good job and shiny hair? Upon meeting him, Oprah asked if she could speak with him later. "We'll see," he replied with a smug smile as he took a step backward. I wanted him to wipe the slimy smile off his face and be accountable. Later on, Oprah asked him if he feared losing Elizabeth when he admitted his infidelity. He paused, and in that moment, I lost any remaining respect I may have had for him. There should have been no pause, no thinking, no subtle gestures to depict a thoughtful answer. He should have answered immediately, without the slightest hesitation, "YES! I was terrified I would lose her!" It should have spilled from his mouth in one fluid breath as though it sits on the tip of his tongue at all times. In that simple, momentary pause, I saw a man who did not regret his indiscretion. I saw a man who regretted getting caught.

We naturally defend and support Elizabeth's decision to stay with her husband. Her battle is already arduous and long. It is a battle against an invisible enemy, a cancer in her bones. She is sick. She is dying. She doesn't want to break apart her family and bring that unhappiness into her life. But John already brought that unhappiness in. He opened the door for it and stood their smiling.

What about Elizabeth? What about her legacy? The memories she will leave her children. Doesn't she want to teach her daughters that staying with a man who cheats is forgiving the unforgivable? Doesn't she want to teach her son that if he betrays the woman he loves he will lose her forever?

There is no question that Elizabeth Edwards is a woman to admire. She is well-educated and strong, conscientious and graceful. She has poise, confidence and a strength of spirit that shines in her eyes. She is also real and therefore vulnerable. She will make mistakes, she will fail, she will suffer and she will triumph over obstacles. She is the definition of resilience. I can't deny that I wished she had "kicked John to the curb," but I can't fault her for making tough decisions in a difficult time.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Weight of Your Heart

I am starting to feel the weight of all that is going on in my life with regards to my aunt's illness. I feel that my emotions are unpredictable and my heart is heavy. I want to buy her presents or bring her ice cream and candy to make the pain go away, but I know that nothing has that kind of power, there isn't a present big enough. Her body is betraying her and yet she has been bravely and stoically fighting a disease that came out of nowhere.

The frustrating thing about worries and fears is that they are pervasive. They seep into your thoughts at unpredictable times and render you useless. They are literally earth-shattering. I keep reading these "self help" books, hoping to gain insight on matters I have no physical control over. They tout having a positive attitude to overcome all hardships, and while I agree with this theory in every day life, it is difficult to possess when facing serious battles. How do you stay positive in the face of sickness and disease? When the lives of those you love are being tested on a constant and daily basis it is hard to stay positive without feeling an overwhelming sense of naivete. It is hard not to have anger residing in your heart.

I am also finding it difficult to do anything but focus on the present; the past held too much hope and the future is far to uncertain. These feeling of sadness, stress, fear and worry hold me hostage, but at this stage it is all I can do. I have to hold on tight to the ones I love because this ride is unpredictable, goes far too fast and often throws me in directions I had never expected.