Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Cancer Letter

Is there anyone who doesn't have cancer? Right now, a husband and wife in my church both diagnosed (early thankfully) at the same time. A choir member whose husband died a few weeks ago of renal cell cancer. My brother-in-law fighting multiple myeloma. An older man at church getting skin cancer removed, all sorts of relatives of church members undergoing treatment for one variety or another. How do we survive it--those who recover, and those who mourn those who succumbed? Without God, where do we find hope?

Another Letter from the Dead

Darling Kathleen,

You amaze me, the way you held up through it all. Still are. Driving the children to school, making beds and lunches, folding laundry. Where do you find it, that inner strength? Or is it simply numbness. Changing the phone number was a bit much, but if that’s what it took to stop your mother from calling every day, why not?

I heard her, the old biddy, and your aunts, reciting their platitudes. “He’s out of his misery.” “He’s gone to a better place.” “He’s with the Lord, now.” Fuck you. That’s what I’d want to say, if I were alive. Sometimes I forget it’s not about me any more. It’s about you. It’s about you because you sat by my bed for months and washed my scalp with a washcloth and clipped my goddamn toenails. You saw the worst happen and now you have to pick up the pieces and reassemble the mess I made of our lives.

Burning the sympathy cards, I liked that. Enough with the Hallmark crap.

There are so many things I am sorry for. I am sorry that the cancer ate away not only at my body, but at your hope, at our dignity, at the security of our children. I wish now that I had been brave enough to leave before everything was depleted. Somewhere, beneath the morphine and oxygen and the fading in and out of consciousness, I couldn’t bear to leave you alone with the children and no job and no money. I was afraid; afraid you’d fall apart after I was gone. I thought the lingering would make it easier.

You must feel so cheated. It was all for worse, with no better. It was all in sickness, with no health. And now all you have is death do us part. I’m sorry for the fear, how it held me back. I wish I could appear like a fairy godmother with a magic wand and wave it over you and Brittany and Josh. Cast a magic spell and you’ll live happily ever after. But there’s nothing I can do.

What can I say? Let it out. Scream and yell; cry all you want. Cry until your pillowcase is soaked. Swear at me; I won’t be offended. Swear at God; God can take it.

When people ask, tell them I was a selfish bastard and you’re glad I’m gone, wish I’d died ten years sooner. Or tell them I left a pit in the center of your life and the only thing that keeps you from jumping in after me, is the rope the kids have tied to your waist. Remember that oncologist at Stanford, the one who went to med school after her baby died of leukemia? We raised our eyebrows when she told us. And when she left the room you said, “If it were me, I’d get as far away from cancer as possible.”

Now it is you. I won’t tell you everything is going to be okay, because I don’t know. Maybe life is terrible. The only thing I can tell you, the only thing I know to be true is this: You are not alone. Even when you wake up terrified in the middle of the night, aching for me, aching for someone to hold you and smooth your hair and kiss your forehead, and find no one there, no one at all. Even then, you are not alone. Maybe that’s eternity. We are threads in a web, invisible, but real nonetheless.

I remain yours,


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