It sits idly. The letter. My heart beats another day. I feel the sunshine on my face. I listen to the doves nestled on my backyard fence. I envelop the smells of my daughters. I think about the letter, and what I need to do.
What I have to do.
Hundreds of miles away a woman lies on a cold exam room table. She holds her breath while the black marker tip lines her breasts and under her armpits. She tries to think of her daughter who is starting college, and her son’s football game.
But she can’t force out the thoughts that she could die of breast cancer. She could lose it all.
I pulled out the buried letter, and I was reminded of that brave friend. I was also reminded of my Aunt Diane, who underwent a double mastectomy.
I can’t wait any longer. It wouldn’t be right. Staring at the letter, I pinpoint why I am delaying the inevitable mammogram appointment.
The answer is pure and simple – fear.
So, I do this for my brave friend on the exam table. I also do it for my Aunt Diane – and for the countless number of families who lost the battle. I also make the appointment for those who are fighting breast cancer at this very moment.
Most importantly, I am doing it for the two little girls who call me “mom,” and my husband and best friend of the last 20-plus years.
As my husband encouraged me the past months: “Do it to live another day.”
I plan to do just that.
At this time last year, I wrote about my first mammogram, and my family’s history of breast cancer in a post “A Letter Like No Other.” If you haven’t made your mammogram appointment, call today. If you don’t do it for yourself, do it for someone else.
I stood in the dark on the porch. I felt the summer breeze against my face while the crickets sang their nightly melody. Our neighbors had long retreated for the night as evidenced by the rows of dimly lit cottage windows. I gazed at the evening sky with its scattered, twinkling stars. I could feel the tears filling my eyes. It was then I realized that life goes on – even after death.
I also thought: The sun will shine again tomorrow. People will hit the alarm clock, hug their loved ones, eat breakfast, drive in traffic, and go about their day. And yet, somewhere in the universe there has been a death. Someone has lost a mother, a father, a daughter, a son, a sister, a brother – and they are aching. They are wondering how to move on from this tragedy.
I remember my first brush with a family death at the age of 14 when my grandfather died of lung cancer. Being the know-it-all-teenager, I thought this ‘death’ thing is just part of life. Let’s go through the commotion and traditions, and move on.
However, some of that insensitive misperception chipped away when I saw my father return from his dad’s bedside at the hospital that evening. Peering out the front window, I saw him stumbling and falling on our suburban front lawn. He held an open bottle of whiskey in one hand and fell to his knees.
This was a type of pain I had never seen before.
My grandmother (his third wife) had insisted we wear bright colors to the funeral as grandpa would have not wanted the darkness, but the light. My grandfather, a tough German blue-collar worker participated and witnessed the ugly side of people. He finally deserved a bit of light.
I remember my Mom buying me a gray silk jacket with large pink roses on it. The day of the funeral came, and we sat in the pews while people spoke about my grandfather’s life. This was an open casket ceremony.
At the end of the ceremony, the chaplain announced that attendees had the option to approach the body. My parents motioned us to stand and pay our respects. I thought to throw up at the moment, but I finally stood and slowly walked with my two younger sisters towards the casket. I took a quick glance at his face, but then quickly turned away. That looked like my grandfather in a dark suit with his eyes closed. “But that wasn’t him at all,” I thought to myself.
This is also not how I wanted to remember him. I wanted to fall back into our memories of me bouncing on his knee, and how he’d hand us a big bag of store bought Brach’s candy.
And then, life moved on.
Now, I returned to the safety of my home with its warmth and lingering traces of dinner and bubble baths. I slipped in next to my husband on the couch and nuzzled his chest while quietly sobbing.
“Why the crying?” he asked, peering down.
“I realized that my parents are going to die,” I said.
The thought of my parents not being with me in this life had been brewing in my heart and mind for quite some time. Like a pot of hot water, it reached a boiling point. I have been thinking about them lately – a lot. I wrote about it in this post Acts of Love a few months ago when they came to visit and help me with a garage makeover.
However, as friends and colleagues around me are losing their parents, I feel like it’s a waiting game. Most recently, a good blogging friend, Molly Field lost her mother to Heaven. Prior to that, we had “talked” briefly about this inevitable part of life. But how are you ever ready? How can you ever prepare?
Even though Molly is a virtual friend, I could sense her pain and deep loss from across the country. It was too much of a reminder of the inevitable. And in some sense of cowardice, I am avoiding fully interacting and reading about this part of her journey. (Sidenote: Molly is an amazingly beautiful, talented and strong woman. I am honored to “know” her. She has forever altered my life – for the better). Meanwhile, I hope she’ll understand I’m just not ready to face this right now. It’s too close to my heart.
So, for now, life goes on.
“In three words I can sum up everything I have learned about life: It goes on.” – Robert Frost
Editor’s Note: Last year, around this same time, I posted about my own bus rides to school (below). I thought it only timely and appropriate to repost “No Bus Rides Here” in honor of my two young daughters starting school this last week. So much has changed in one year…
My oldest daughter lost her round baby face while demanding I turn off the “baby” music when pulling up to school drop off. While, my youngest daughter went from a preschooler who held my hand, to a big kindergartner with a backpack.
Time fleeting. But I’m holding on.
I am pleased to announce: still no bus rides here.
At one time or another we’ve all done it – ridden in the infamous big yellow school bus. The driver is typically an older lady or man that usually greets kids with a nod of the head and a curt hello (code for “just get on the bus kid.”). For many kids riding on the school bus is one of anticipation and excitement. Not for me. As a kid, the school bus was more like someone telling me they had a big present, and it ended up being a sweater my great aunt knitted.
Last year, the school that my daughters attend launched a school bus program. My older daughter, when hearing about the bus program jumped up and down yelling, “Mom, mom, when can I ride the bus to school?” I responded with the standard “we’ll see” line. The notion of the school bus filled me with a mix of emotions from my past as a former rider.
Living in a small communal farm house outside the city during the 1970s, my mom tried to explain how fun it would be to take a “cool” bus to kindergarten. Then the big day came. I wore my new navy rose-printed pant jumper with flared bottoms.
My mom walked me to the top of our long driveway. I remember the hissing sound of the bus’s double doors opening as if I were being sent to the chamber of death. I was greeted by the driver – a friendly man – in his thirties with 70s-style, shaggy dark brown hair and a thick handle-bar mustache.
My bus driver was the only good part of having to be shipped off to the big house (school that is). He was nice, but best of all he could do a spot-on voice impersonation of “Donald Duck.” I recall nervously laughing and thinking that maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all.
Of course, this would be the first time I would experience my first feelings of true loneliness. As I sunk down in the black springy bus seat I looked around and I was totally, utterly alone. Then I thought to myself, they sent this big bus just for me. Am I that important? Where are all the other kids? This made my first-day jitters probably worse. As I slowly exited the bus, my driver did one last “Donald Duck” impression, which made me smile, but didn’t ease my fear of the big school as I stepped off the bus alone.
Angie, the Bully
The drop-off area was adjacent to the school on a hillside covered with patches of yellow daisies, long sloping hills and a winding pathway leading to the school. I stared blankly at the sterile looking school buildings and could hear the sounds of balls bouncing and children playing. With a mix of fear, excitement and curiosity, I was escorted to the kindergarten classroom.
During my first week of kindergarten in my 1970′s jean dress.
I enjoyed playing and all the fun arts and crafts activities in kindergarten. The days of kindergarten and the bus rides to school blurred one into the next, but then I had the experience of encountering my first bully – Angie Magnella. Angie was a bigger, older kid, who decided the blonde-haired little kindergartner needed to be picked on. I remember getting off the school bus and Angie grabbing me and pushing me right into the bee-covered hillside with a few choice bully words. I cried and I wanted my mom, but no one was there to help protect or defend me.
So here is it is: The symbolic nature of the school bus is yet another sign of our children breaking away – flying the coop and building their own sense of independence. But I want to hold on longer. Even though driving and getting them to school can be so stressful (did I say so stressful?), I still love our chats, and how we sing songs together and listen to their favorite music. I cherish the fact that they still allow me to hold their hand as we walk to class. I’m just not ready for them to get on that bus – at least not yet.