Monday, August 17, 2009


I went running with Merrily on Saturday morning and she made me cry.

She told me about her friend M.K. who is dying of lung cancer.

She has two kinds of lung cancer, though she isn’t, nor has she ever been, a smoker.

The doctors predict that she will only live a few more months.

M.K. is 41, she’s the mother of a six year old daughter and she is furious.

Every time she looks at her daughter, she wants to cry.

“Even if I lived six more years, or eight more years, it wouldn’t be enough. I still won’t be here when she graduates, when she gets’s married or when she has her own child... I shouldn’t be burdening you with all this,” she cried to Merrily.

“This is what I can give you,” Merrily said. “I can listen. I can do that for you.”

On our final lap around the neighborhood, I found myself unable to speak.

My voice kept cracking and breaking.

“She’s in the anger stage of her grief,” Merrily said, “and who wouldn’t be? She’s had the rug ripped right out from under her.”

“You think you’ve got things under control, even though you know in the deepest part of yourself that there isn’t any such thing, but you find comfort in the path you imagine you’re walking along and then WHAM.”

The path M.K. meant to walk is denied to her now.

“She has to find a new path,” Merrily said.

I thought about how hard it would be to figure out how to live the last days of your life if you knew that’s what they were.

It would be fantastic if you found out that you were dying and you could simply make sure you lived each day to the fullest - if for no other reason than to be present and joyful in your children's final memories of you.

I know that is unrealistic though.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could learn that you were dying and skip the angry part?

Of course M.K. is angry.

I would be angry too.

As we talked about M.K.'s situation, I found myself wishing.

I wished that if something similar ever happens to me that I would find a way to write letters to my children.

I thought about writing letters to them that could be handed over at all of the big life moments to come in their lives like birthdays, graduations and weddings…

That led me to think that maybe my discipline around journaling should shift.

Maybe I should write to them.

Maybe I should write even about ordinary days and bind up a journal of letters that reflect on the events of any average Tuesday.

I imagined writing to them as adults, the age they would be when they eventually read the letters.

I pictured my children finding the journal at the time of my death.

Some part of me says, “you should do that,” and urges me on.

Another part of me calls it “tempting fate” and warns against it like a shaman trying to ward of a bad omen.


WILLIAM said...

Every time I get on a plane I think to myself I should have written my boys a letter in case the plane goes down. Then I think...if I don't write the letter than I am not tempting fate.

Mary G said...

I believe that my blog is, overall, my letter to, in my case, my grandchildren, but my children too because even though they are adult and we talk, we don't talk about everything.
Poor lady! She will need to be very strong.

Merrily Down the Stream said...


Kim said...

I think that your blog gives your children a peek into your life and at times, a peek into theirs.

Although this isn't a 'daily journal' blog, it is still a gift that your children will one day enjoy!

meno said...

I have a friend who was recently diagnosed w/liver cancer. Reading that Merrily listened as her gift to her friend was helpful to me. Thanks.

Heather, Queen of Shake Shake said...

Jess, I hope you bathed today because your butt is about to be kissed.

I love your writing because it always makes me see the bigger picture. If it's inspiring for me, imagine what your letters would be to your children.

Omaha Mama said...

I started a little journal that's "To" my kids. I tried to write in it when we took a trip this past year. I've only written in it a handful of times, but figure if I do that every year for the next 18 years, they'll have a nice journal that tells them about this time.
Then there's the blog. Hopefully that would be around for them too.

Lottifish said...

This makes me so sad...and angry too. I don't know M.K. but I'm angry for her...and scared for my own future.

Jessica said...

You articulated this so well. I, too, have been fearful of 'tempting fate' or whatever you want to call it.

All I can do is *sigh*.

Sayre said...

That is actually the reason I began blogging. So my son would know, decades from now when he'll actually care, who I was, who we were, what we did - and how much I love him.

I plan to have my blog bound by year so he can just pick it up sometimes.

Amy said...

Saturday was the one year aniversary of my friend Trisha's sister's death of breast cancer. Jen was 34 and left 5 children ages 7, 5 yr old twins, 3 and 1.

Jen wrote letters and bought cards for each of them for birthdays, graduations, weddings, babies...

She was amazing in her energy around having something to say to her children through the years. Absolutely heartbreaking for everyone to watch.

Fairly Odd Mother said...

First, my heart goes out to MK.

Also, I once saw a story about a mom who was dying of breast cancer and before she died, she made hundreds of videos to her daughter---talked about her life and gave her little girl all kinds of advice for the years ahead, including her wedding day. It was beautiful and heartbreaking, but all I know is: I would do that.

Anonymous said...

It's a good idea and no, you're not tempting fate.

Don Mills Diva said...

But you are writing to them - right here in this space. They will treasure this space on day - I guarantee it!

BOSSY said...

Bossy agrees with Don Mills Diva. You already journal your average days, and you do it so smartly and hilariously that it will one day be appreciated by your ideal target audience: your smart, hilarious children.

Kyla said...

This is why I've never filled Josh in on the ins and outs of KayTar care before I leave for a trip. If I do, its tempting fate. We're odd creatures, aren't we?

Caroline said...

My mom wrote us letters throughout our lives, telling us what we were like at any given time. She didn't do it on any regular schedule, just every few years. She would start by saying "you're 6 years old right now..." and she would mention some stuff that was going on in the world, and then talk about our personalities, our activities, what we liked doing as a family, what my parents found particularly cute, etc. Last Christmas when I was 27 and my brother was 22, she gave us books with all of the letters typed up, as well as pictures from our childhood. It was an amazing gift and had pretty much our entire extended family in (happy) tears.

Cynthia said...

we have no control over the big stuff, and yet we spend so much time trying to control everything we can. human nature. funny.

because I've yet to achieve Buddha nature, I will say you can control if your house has Radon. It's a 10$ test you can get on line or at home depot. If you do have Radon, it's easily remedied - and I believe it is the #1 cause of lung cancer in non smokers.

Vodka Mom said...

this is one of my greatest fears............and I hide it in the corner of my heart.

Above Average Joe said...

Losing both my parents early, it is on my mind more. I think my blog is similar to writing to them but with nobody knowing I write it how will they find out? I guess I'd have to write at least one letter.

katy said...

My cousin died from breast cancer when her children were young. She wrote letters and bought gifts for their graduations, weddings and other big events in their lives. I don't konw that I would be able to do all of that, but I would hope I could try.

thatgirlblogs said...

a good friend just started radiation for breast cancer. are we all really coming to that age where our friends get mortally sick? such russian roulette.

Moon Mommy said...

I write a letter to my son every year on his birthday, just because. After reading this post, now I'm so glad I do.
I have a two-year step-granddaughter who is battling kidney cancer. I understand the anger thing.
Great post.

Scientific Lutheran said...

I don't have children, and one of my greatest fears is that I will die before I ever get to have them.

I won't know if they are girls or boys, funny or smart of athletic. I won't know the color of their hair or eyes.

If I had cancer now, that would be my anger, anger at what never was.

Angella said...

I've thought the same, about writing the letters and such...but for now they get the blog.

Which really, is a pretty sweet way to give your kids glimpses into both the every day, and glimpses into who their Mom is.

Twisted Cinderella said...

In some ways, my blogs and my scrapbook layouts are that. I write and scrap about every day things, about my children, and about how much they mean to me. These little bits of life and love will be here after I am so that they will never have to guess at how much they were wanted and loved. and about how much I love being their mommy.