To My Family, After I’m Gone

A cousin of mine passed away yesterday. She was a few years younger than I, in her late 30s, with a loving husband and three small children – two tweenage boys and a girl, just turned six.

It was pancreatic cancer, which is a pretty evil thing. No known risk factors, can strike at any age. Very few symptoms, the kind that can just be brushed aside, until it moves into other organs. The vast majority of patients aren’t diagnosed until it’s already stage 4 – giving them less than a year to live. My cousin got just six months out of the deal.

I live pretty far away and so it was easy to pretend that nothing was wrong. She was cheerful about it, and had a strong faith in God that meant that her Facebook posts were upbeat, showing her feeling like everything would work out according to the world’s intended plan. She never complained, only cherished those around her; she didn’t look sick because she didn’t undergo any major treatments – there wasn’t any point.

So it’s been a bit of a shock. I am sad. I am angry. It doesn’t seem right to be eating or sleeping or reading a book when there is such a wrong that has been done.

When the kids were still a twinkle in our eyes, I used to think the worst possible thing would be losing a child. And don’t get me wrong – that’s still completely unthinkable. But after they were born I gained a new top fear: the fear of something happening to me. The fear that I wouldn’t be there to hold their hands, wipe their noses, help them figure out this crazy thing called life. The fear that they’d be sad, or lonely, or sick, and they’d call out for me, only I wouldn’t be there to make it all go away. It made me be extra careful every time I walked down the stairs or crossed the road. I started eating more vegetables.

It seems like some sort of hubris to think that I’m irreplaceable. That no one could ever make them a cheese sandwich in exactly the right way, that no one else could ever keep the names of all their stuffed animals straight, that no one else will remember what brand of underwear is the only acceptable brand (different for each kid, of course). It even seems conceited to think that no one could ever love them like I do.

And yet, I do think that. Recently Gal Smiley told me that when I die, she plans to take my brain and put it in a robot version of myself so I can be with her always. That’s just about the most awesome thing I’ve ever heard. I want that too, honey.

I want that for my cousin as well. She has a strong church community and loving relatives and I know her family is going to be okay. But they’re never going to be the same.

Stories like this are the kind of thing that make you feel like you should be spending every moment, every day, cherishing the time you have with your kids. You should be thankful for the chance to be together, grateful for this life. But you just can’t be like that every single second, just like you can’t not complain about the food because people are starving in the world, or not feel frustrated at traffic because some people don’t have a car. Kids are frustrating sometimes, and sometimes you have a bad day, and sometimes these things collide to mean you’re not quite as thankful and grateful as you should be. That’s okay. But today, for just today, I will value them. I will feel joy that I am their mother and wife, that I am here and they are here and we are all healthy.

People sometimes ask a fun party question – what would you do if you found out you only had a few months left to live? I know my answer. I would write. Write through the sadness and the anger until my hands were too sore to continue. I’d try to pour everything I am and everything I think and everything I value onto the paper. I’d try to give my children a lifetime of my advice and caring and love in page after page of words. Words they could come back to time and again, words that kept me alive in a little way, a small way. Words that showed them that I didn’t want to leave them; words that would help them tell their own children about who I was.

And so: this blog. May this little diary keep me alive long past my assigned years. May these words tell my family, over and over again: I love you.

15 thoughts on “To My Family, After I’m Gone

  1. My sincere condolences Lynn. What a powerful post… A good friend of mine lost her 15 year old daughter in January to cancer. Her only child… Your words spoke to me, expressing similar thoughts and state of mind. The power of words: the ability to reach out unexpectedly. Blessings sent your way.

  2. I’m so sad to hear your miserable news – it’s so difficult when anyone dies, let alone someone so young and stoic and loved and loving. Your writing is so powerful – and filled with love. I know you would write and write and write – and it would be a treasure to your family for generations. Sending all the best.

  3. Zhu

    I’m so very sorry, I can understand the shock. Situations like these make us reconsider what we have, what we live for and put everything in perspective.

  4. Shed a few tears here. Of sadness for her family’s loss but also joy for the perspective you brought to your readers… I for one am looking forward to that 2am cry for a cuddle, when many nights I just wish I could sleep uninterrupted.

  5. I’m so sorry Lynn. Having gone through it myself, it just crushes me when kids lose a parent. I would do the same, just write until I couldn’t anymore because I know what a gift it would be and I too would want them to know how much I loved them. I often call my blog one big love letter to my family. Hugs.

  6. smothermother

    My deepest condolences Lynn. Pancreatic cancer is an evil thing, having lost an aunt to it. But she was older and her kids grown and her grand kids knew her well. I love your idea of writing. it is a wonderful gift to give.

  7. Lynn, it’s so important to talk about this. Of course how we feel about our children, but also pancreatic cancer in YOUNG people. One of my best friends from university lost his wife to pancreatic cancer eighteen months ago, when their kids were ten and twelve. This cancer happens, and it’s not sexy, and it doesn’t get funding like other cancers.

    Each year my friend’s family runs the Purple Stride to raise money for pancreatic cancer. We don’t have one in Ottawa, but my son and I are running his first 5K in the Ottawa Race Weekend. You writing this story makes me think we should ask friends and family who want to sponsor us to direct their money to the Purple Stride.

  8. Ah, Lynn… I am so sad about this terrible loss. Such a vicious disease… Thank you for this post – so eloquent in a situation where most of us don’t know what to say. Showing the power that writers and words have to offer: clarity, reflection, condolence, strength. A beautiful gift to give your family and the world! XO

  9. So sorry for your family’s loss, Lynn.

    This has been on my mind a lot lately, too. I just learned recently that a woman in my social circle has been diagnosed with a really awful form of cancer and the diagnosis is not good. I’m not close to her (a very close friend of mine is a very close friend of hers) but I’ve met her quite a few times and I like her a lot. Plus she has two children even younger than my own. I feel so upset and angry about the unfairness of it all. I can’t even begin to imagine how she and her husband feel.

  10. I’m so sorry for your loss, Lynn. Your post, and your blog for that matter, is a great tribute to your family and a testament of your love for them. Be blessed.

  11. spydergrrl

    So sorry for your loss, Lynn.

    (Btw, I love love love Gal Smiley’s robot plan. That’s one smart cookie! 🙂

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