Archives for posts with tag: cancer

Can it be five years already? Is it only five years? I’m trying to process the death of my younger brother last month and the anniversary of my son’s death is here. Too much death means I’ve shared so much life. That’s how I’m choosing to look at it this time around.

I look through photos and my mind tries to latch on to my favorite or how I remember Clayton. Do I remember him at two, a grubby little boy of already legendary impishness and imagination? Scan 13Do I remember him at five, already well into his Star Wars obsession?ScanDo I remember him with his buddies in grade school? 9025_273731980146_544045146_8769282_6837187_nOr as the latest style setter?Scan 1Is my best memory of him as teenager? Crazy, silly, exasperating as all get out?Scan 45Do his friends remember him as the funniest guy around? Possibly the most dedicated and goofy class 9th grade president and 10th grade vice-president they could ever hope for?CLAYTON 1993Do I remember him dancing at his sister’s wedding?Scan 5Do I remember him with his father without a tearful smile for both of them?Scan 1Or times with his cousins and sisters?Cousins 1990Were his college years his best?006_6Or the times with his sisters?ScanDo I remember his battle with cancer? His courage and his ability to bring us all through it with his incredible humor?Clayton's maskDo I remember the friends who were there through all those difficult years?Scan 1Scan 11Scan 11Do I remember most when he told me he was smitten?86838-PH-Box 01-060Or their magical wedding?Clay___Whitney_s_Wedding_004And their joy at becoming parents?


Was he the best uncle ever?photoOr the best son, brother, friend, husband, father? He was all that and a kind, generous, loving, cantankerous, hilarious man to boot. Ultimately, he was uniquely Clayton.

It’s been a journey through his life today. Five years later…I miss him more, I appreciate him more, I love him even more.


Forty years ago today, our son was born. Forty years ago. Five years ago today, he texted me:

IMG_1227Two months later, he was gone, his 6’2″ frame weakened by the residual effects of intense radiation ten years previously. At least we had those ten years.

Normally, I’m pretty stoic about all of this, able to process his life and keep it in perspective with the ways of nature and the universe. I understand life and death pretty well, knowing we all aren’t given long lives or easy lives. I don’t cry much anymore, having cried myself out with the death of my husband first and then my son. I talk about it, write about it, keep myself surrounded with the people  who make me happy. I do ok.

This year has been different, especially the last few months. I’m in a new zone of the grief process, a new layer that I wasn’t expecting.  I can’t pinpoint the exact reason for this feeling because I can pinpoint a whole bunch of reasons. Whatever is causing it is real and painful, but I know it will pass. The song, “Forever Young,” goes through my head. Yes, he will be forever young, although I’d like to have watched him get older along with his sisters and all my grandchildren. Not to be.

I try to be angry but it takes so much energy that I need for the living. I should be madder than hell that he isn’t here to watch his daughter grow up. He is missing such fun things with her and her mother. I should be livid that he isn’t here with his wife and daughter and his sisters and their families at our family gatherings. I hate that he’s not here for his 40th birthday, celebrating with his friends. Damn it! That would be easy, I think, to rail against the universe. I don’t really do that too much, although today I will shake my fist once for good measure. I’m not mad at God or nature or any person or event. I’d get mad at cancer, but there are so many diseases equally devastating. It’s part of being a human being, this living and dying.

Mostly, I miss him. I miss him all the time. It creeps up on me at odd moments, as these things tend to do. It’s not the big events in life where the loss is felt the most. It’s the day to day flashes of what was and what might have been.

I defy anyone to think this won’t happen to them if they have enough faith or understanding or people around them or therapy or support groups or exercise or alcohol or drugs or whatever it takes each person to survive loss. It still waits around each corner, ready to disrupt your thoughts or sleep or activities. It can stop you in mid-sentence or mid-thought. If you let it, I guess it can paralyze you. You keep moving, keep moving along.

Don’t feel sorry for me or anyone else grieving. It is what it is and mostly we get through it, some better than others. There are no rules, no timeline, and no way to escape. Maybe that’s ok. Maybe that’s how we measure how much impact our loved one’s life had on us and others. So, don’t feel sorry, just appreciate the power of the love we have lost.

I have a feeling that his birthday will help release me from the pain I’ve felt this year. I hope so. My memories will still make me smile and laugh, his daughter will still do things that remind me of her daddy, my family will remember together. He was part of us from the beginning, forty years ago today, and he will be part of us for eternity. That’s how these things work.

Sharing all of this emotion is debatable but probably a good thing for me and for any of you who ever have to go through this. My heart is with you, whoever and wherever you are. It’s a feeling that you don’t really share with those around you who are going through their own ways of dealing with grief. Even married couples who share the same loss can’t grieve the same way. It’s personal and very very lonely.

I can feel it beginning to shake off because I’m looking forward to being with my family, sharing hugs and laughs. This grief comes and goes, but it will go back into hiding for sure. The sun shines, the seasons pass, the world moves on, and we who feel loss step out and join in the joy that is life, carrying the memories with us all the way.

Images of my son’s forty years pass before me. I don’t have a favorite because each is precious. Today, I can’t summarize his crazy, funny adventure of a life for you, but I can share him, dirty faced in his favorite cowboy hat, at 2 1/2 years old. I can’t help but smile thinking of this baby/boy/man of mine and how much a part of our hearts he will be as long as we can



We make friends throughout our lives, friends from childhood, school, sports, work, volunteer work, church, through our children, through other friends, while traveling, wherever we find them. They are there to share our joys, our triumphs, our ups and our downs. We build our friendships through conversations and shared memories. Some are casual, some are deep. All have a place in our lives and in our hearts.

I keep hearing Dionne Warwick singing in my head, the lyrics repeating themselves over and over. . .

Keep smiling, keep shining
Knowing you can always count on me, for sure
That’s what friends are for
For good times and bad times
I’ll be on your side forever more
That’s what friends are for

In a week full of personal memories, I think of all the friends who were there for me when I faced the hardest challenges in my life, for all the friends who did things I never would have thought I needed but did, and I’m grateful, feeling blessed. I was thinking that it’s sometimes easier to help strangers, to give a contribution to someone you will never see, than really deal with the heartbreak of someone, family or friend, close to you, known to you.

Earlier this week, I asked my young friend who is facing brain cancer with strength beyond my capability what I could do for her or for her mother. She has moved out of her mother’s apartment into the home of friends, a couple with a young child, who are taking care of her in ways her mother cannot. They are sitting with her 24 hours a day, giving her medicine every two hours for seizures, heart medicines, the husband pounding on her back as the doctors showed him when her breathing is difficult, helping her stay alive until the day she may need hospice. They write songs and sing together, which helps her lungs. I took her some things they needed and watched in awe the gentleness and love in that home. Her mother is helping care for her five year old during the times she is not strong enough to deal with being a mother as she fights for every day, knowing that helps her mother, too. It was total unselfishness on every level.

There are friends in our lives who are sometimes more like family, or like family should be. We can’t all do everything every time because there are other things in our lives, other circumstances, and that doesn’t make us less of a friend. But, let’s hope we all rise to the need of our friends, even when it’s not fun or we don’t have time or it’s not economically practical or makes us way too sad or is frightening to deal with, as often as we can. Because that’s what friends are for.

Here is my friend surrounded by her angels. . .


There are some ugly words out there, some of them mean and cruel, racist epithets, hateful terms.  But there are a couple that I find the ugliest of all.

The first one is Cancer.  If you hear this word, no matter what you know or who it’s about, you immediately think DEATH.  Tell me you don’t automatically go there, no matter how many people you know who have beat it or are in remission.  In those first shocking seconds, that’s what makes you gasp!  From what I’ve read, it’s always there and it just gets a foothold on us when our immune system is down or we suffer a trauma or many other reasons.  And it never really goes away, even if you’re in remission for years.  You may never have another occurrence, but it is always hanging there.  If it’s active or recent, you live from scan to scan.  Even after the all clear, there has got to be a gulp before a doctor’s visit or every time you feel a twinge or ache.  It’s not a death sentence for all, thank goodness, but it’s still pretty devastating to hear it said.  I’ve lived through it with my husband and son, both of them gone because of the disease & the treatments, and with friends, some who lived through it, some who are still dealing with it and some who are now gone.  It’s just an ugly word.

The second ugliest word to me is Widow.  I looked it up and it’s been used since before the 12th century.  That’s what it feels like…archaic.  It comes from Middle English, Old English, Old High German and Latin variations of the word.  The Latin word, videre, means to separate.  I learned that widowhood is also called viduity.  That’s an obscure, strange term that sounds like…what does that sound like?  Anyway, widower doesn’t seem to have the same ugly sound to me.  Widowers are men, sad and lonely, who most often will find another woman as quickly as they can.  That’s kind of cold, but it’s very often, not always, true.  This doesn’t mean they didn’t love their wives, but it’s just a male thing.  I’m not making a blanket statement, just an observation.  There are always exceptions.

I don’t know what the label Widow does to most women, but I didn’t like it.  It’s a strange word to check on forms, an ugly word for a strange club you never wanted to join (as another widow friend of mine said).  Here’s what the word conjures up to me.


Now, tell me the truth.  Isn’t that the image that jumps to mind?  Some variation of this, at least.  Especially the wringing the handkerchief part.  At least this one isn’t wearing a black veil.  I’m not trying to be flip about it, because it is a painful, painful state of being at first.  Your heart is ripped apart, if you loved your husband, and you feel like you’ve been torn in two.  It’s not an easy thing and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.  I know people who have suffered through this at all ages, although I guess at some point as you get older, you suspect it will happen to you or your spouse.  Even then, it’s not easy and can still be a shock.  My parents were married over 50 years and my mother was devastated.  She was a strong woman, but this was her life.  Like all of life, everyone handles it differently, hence, the merry widow, the black widow, etc.

I don’t know where I’m going with this but it was on my mind since I’m marking 15 years of living with this label.  I still think of him every day, I still miss him, I can still hear his voice.  Mostly, I remember with love and humor and I’m lucky to see him in our children and grandchildren.  My life isn’t like I pictured it when I was young and in love.  It’s not even how I pictured it when I was turning 50, but it’s pretty darn good.  Maybe because I know how loved I’ve been all my life.  But, that crappy word.  What can we do about that?  Or would any word be just as bad?  Just ugly, ugly, ugly!





My first instinct is to ignore the fact that my son died two years ago today, but people keep telling me they’re thinking of me and I feel obligated to share.  I wasn’t dreading this day, wasn’t even thinking about it, but here it is.  You know the things people say when they don’t know what to say…it’s not natural to lose your child, he was too young, he had so much more to do.  We all say them, but living them is a little different.

I was a little less in shock when Clay died because I had already lost my husband.  I guess I can thank him for giving me experience in the loss of a loved one to help me through.  It’s still a shock and it hurts.  It’s another splintering of your heart, another mending with scars growing to keep your heart functioning.  But, we keep on going.  Or not.  Those are the choices.  Last night I saw a character on a tv show ask another one how she was able to smile when she had lost several members of her family.  The one with the losses said she chooses to smile.  So do I.

One of my wisdoms of life is that we are never ready to lose those we love.  It doesn’t matter if it is a sudden death or after a long illness or a long life…we’re never ready.  We can be told that the person will die in the next five minutes and we’re still totally unprepared for the shock of them being here and then they’re not.  Where are they?  They were just here…where did they go?  Your beliefs may help you, but it’s still a shock.  I know this for sure!

Every person deals with loss differently.  Here’s what I do.  First, when you lose a loved one, you feel like the whole world has gone on while your world has stopped.  When you crawl out of your immediate grief, you find that you aren’t alone.  At my son’s service, I was struck by how many people I know who have lost a child.  For a bit, it seemed like everyone I saw had lost a child and all I could think was how ill prepared I was to relate to them at the time of their loss.  There were children lost to accidents, murder, disease, car wrecks, suicides…all manner of horrible losses, all the same pain for the parents.  We all have loss in our lives…death is part of life.  With children, we are always lucky to have them for as long as we do.  I’m amazed that we don’t lose more of them when they’re little because we can’t watch them every minute, no matter how hard we try.  It doesn’t matter if we lose a child as a baby, toddler, child, teen or adult…we don’t want to lose them ever.  They grow within us or we bring them into our lives in another way and they attach themselves to our hearts.  It seems like every day is a challenge to keep them here with us as we struggle with our parental responsibilities.  We grieve when our children die for what we will miss with them and for what others will miss.  We wanted them to live longer than we will because they were the way that our selves would continue after we are gone.  It doesn’t always work that way even if we want to believe it.

Life is a cycle.  I’ve learned to contemplate this truth, helped by the fact that the deaths I’ve endured have been balanced by the joy of life.  When my husband died, we had three brand new grandsons to help me through.  It was hard to grieve the loss of one life when you needed to rejoice at the new ones.  When my son died, we had his 15 month old daughter to keep us balanced.  She didn’t understand the enormity of her loss and her joy of life keeps a smile on our faces even when we think of all he and she will miss together.  Who knows anyway…she seems to know he’s with her in ways we can’t even comprehend.

None of us know how long our life will be or how long anyone we know will live.  I just saw a statistic that there are now 7 billion people on the earth, up a billion from not too long ago.  Even with people dying, we have more people.  We can’t all live to be old – we’re just like other animals and plants and everything else on the planet.  We have a life cycle of our own and our only job is to try and make the best of the time we have, however long that may be.  I know that I’ve had loss and will have other losses, which I dread, but I will try to keep them all in the universal perspective.

I’m a photo nut and have been since I was a little girl.  I like any kind of photo and love that they capture a moment, a look, a thought, a place.  When my husband died, I remember looking for photos, knowing that there would be no more.  I gathered all I could, getting a picture of his life and it was comforting to know it had been a complete one, even if it ended before I wanted it to – or before he wanted it to.  With my son, I have an album of pictures of his life on my computer – I’ve shared it before.  It’s my screen saver, so I see a slide show of pieces of his life every time my computer is winding down.  It’s comforting for me because the images bring back memories of a sweet impish funny caring little boy who was always uniquely himself and carried those traits throughout his life, enriching the lives of those who knew him.  And new pictures surface here and there, little surprises, that add another moment to the hours I wasn’t with him or teach me something new about him.  I smile a lot.

A couple of months after Clay died, a friend lost her son in a car wreck.  She gave me a book that she was given, a little book, “Healing After Loss” by Martha Whitmore Hickman.  It’s a book of daily devotions written by an author who lost her 12 year old daughter years ago.  I say she is Christian, but it’s a book I would give to anyone because she uses quotes from all religions and thoughts that anyone can relate to.  She writes to people, not based on your beliefs or lack of them.  A page a day.  I read it just about every day and go back to read the ones I missed if I’ve forgotten.  I’m on my second or third round.  It’s amazingly relevant for life in general.  I’ve been given and read lots of poems, books, etc on loss and grief.  This one is my favorite.  I have it on my iPad and iPhone – I’ve given away several copies of the paperback.  It’s not for everyone, but it might help someone.

So another anniversary has come and they’re never as bad for me as just some random memory.  I still flinch at the sound of ambulances and jump when the phone rings and have flashbacks at odd times that I have to push away from.  Holidays aren’t so bad because I’m surrounded by family and we laugh and share funny stories.  I’m lucky that my loss of my son is softened by having his daughter near.  I feel the huge responsibility to her and my other grandchildren to keep on living as healthy a life as I can so I can share stories with them and give them a sense of the family they won’t get to know.  For my son’s daughter, I have a box of stories about her father, copies of photos and videos for her to understand a little bit about who he was and what his life meant to all of us.  I collect the funny things his friends write about him and the things I find.  Someday, she can go through and read them all.  At three, she is beginning to look at stories of “baby Daddy” and relate to the fact that he was once little like she is.  I gave her a necklace with a picture of them together and she told me it is “bootiful.”  My heart melts.

I had a memory of Clay a couple of weeks ago that came out of nowhere.  He had just gotten back home after his treatment for cancer in Seattle.  The radiation hadn’t begun to change his ability to talk and eat yet and he was feeling grateful for having been able to have this new treatment.  When we were at the hospital in Seattle, he told me how much seeing the little children with cancer affected him.  One of the first things he did when he got home was go to the hospital and volunteer to help by visiting other cancer patients.  They loved him there as he was one of their youngest volunteers.  Even as a volunteer myself, I thought it was remarkable that he could give back in that way.  I’m not sure I would have wanted to go near the hospital, but he didn’t think about himself.  The internet was somewhat new in 2001, at least in our home.  He went online and found a community of people with the same rare cancer he had and reached out to them.  I thought he was finding out more for himself, but I happened to see some of his exchanges since we shared the computer.  He was comforting them, helping them through it.

I don’t know why that memory popped into my mind, but it’s one of the things that helps.  This boy of mine lived a complete life for the time he had on this earth.  He lived and laughed and loved for all his days.  May we all do so well with the time we are given.