We’ve all heard and uttered the same clichés – life is short, only the good die young, better to have loved and lost than to not have loved at all, etc – yet in the face of death, what consolation do they provide? What purpose do they serve?
Have you ever faced your own mortality? Has something so profound and life-altering ever happened to you where you thought to yourself “I could actually die of something other than old age”? It happened for me in 2003. Up until that point, while I had been to more funerals than weddings (sadly) and was no stranger to loss, I was not one to contemplate, or agonize over, death. I was too busy living a very blessed life. In 2003, my then-boyfriend (now ex-husband, Mitch) was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma…”the good cancer”. Does that sound oxymoronic to anyone else? “Cancer” and “good” used in the same sentence? It just didn’t seem right, yet that’s what the oncologists had coined it. We later learned that his cancer was very advanced – Stage III as the doctors referred to it. Only a Stage IV diagnosis would have been more severe. Nothing about his situation seemed “good” to us, despite the oncologists being hopeful (it turns out, with good reason).
After six months of aggressive chemotherapy and a month of radiation the cancer seemed to have been beat, and I am happy to share that he continues to be in remission to this day. Those days were some of the darkest I’ve ever had to endure and my whole perspective and outlook on life are different because of them.
At that time, it was not common for “young” people to have to deal with cancer. So you may be surprised to hear how many times people would say to me (or behind my back) how wonderful I was for standing by Mitch and that it takes a “special kind of person” to do what I was doing. This never ceased to disappoint me. I felt anything but heroic. I felt heartbroken, discouraged, optimistic, pessimistic, scared, numb, helpless, hopeful, scared, exhausted, defeated and – did I mention scared? – depending on the day. A few people even said to me – with what I’m sure were my best interests in mind – that it wasn’t too late and would be perfectly understandable if I were to walk away. This was never an option for me and what they were suggesting was unfathomable. I was in love with this person. Although we weren’t married at that time, I felt very committed to “in sickness and in health, for better or for worse…”
I remember bouts of self-pity. It seemed really unfair that it had taken me so long to meet a man who I wanted to marry and spend the rest of my life with, and then – in an instant – it could all be taken away. In his remission, for the time we were together (which included our engagement and marriage) I remember feeling intensely grateful for a second chance at life. I felt that this second chance was as much mine as it was his and I continue to be guided by this gratitude every day.
My own painful memories come back naturally from time to time but are triggered most when I hear of those who aren’t so lucky and it’s always most difficult when I know the people involved. Since 2005 I have lost more than five people who I love – to cancer – and I know too many others who are affected by it every day. Unfortunately, cancer does not discriminate.
On April 16th, I got devastatingly sad news. An old high school and camp friend, Brett, had died that morning. I knew that he had been battling brain cancer and had overcome several major surgeries. Although I hadn’t seen Brett or his wife (Amy) since high school – thanks to Facebook, I was able to follow their journey and let them know I was thinking about them. They recently welcomed their new son to the world and I can only imagine how magical that must have been for Brett and Amy and what a bright light he will continue to cast for Amy in this time of mourning.
I now understand a little better why people made the comments they did about my commitment to Mitch through his illness. I have admired Amy’s strength and courage, poise and grace, from afar and while I cannot profess to know what she is feeling and experiencing, I do have a great deal of sympathy and think her love for Brett is a beautiful thing.
Without having spent time with Brett and Amy as a couple it was evident through the stories I heard, the pictures I saw, the updates I read and the few messages that we exchanged that they were “the real deal”. Two people deeply in love and committed to each other. I know love when I see it and, really, I should. I’m the sappy, hopeful (not hopeless), incurable romantic who has decided that creating love for others is her life’s work.
The depth of sadness that I feel, and the intensity with which I can remember and picture Brett, are testament to the person he was. It is impossible to speak about Brett without referencing his million-dollar smile. As you can see from the picture below, his smile radiates with goodness and warmth and kindness. He was, by far, one of the nicest, most genuine, and most likeable people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing and I’m certain that I’m not alone in my thinking. His and Amy’s Facebook walls are plastered with sentiments from friends and family – near and far – honouring Brett’s joyful spirit and sharing memories to be forever cherished. Brett is someone who will never be forgotten – regardless of how long it’s been since you’ve seen him or how long your friendship with him was. He has clearly touched all those who knew him, me included.
My thoughts, condolences and sympathy go out to Brett’s and Amy’s families (including Brett’s sister and son), their friends and their acquaintances. The world was definitely a much better place because of him.
I have chosen to share a little bit of my story and to honour Brett’s memory because of what I experience every day. Too many single people who are living exasperated lives…fatigued, disenchanted, frustrated, bored, lonely and, sometimes, angry…as they search for their “perfect” mate. Married couples settling into frenetic lives of routine, schedule coordination and over-programmed children. It seems that it’s only when we’re confronted with immense loss or hardship that we refocus our attention toward what really matters.
I challenge you to stop and think – right now – about the people you love and of those who love you. All of them. What if – God forbid – one of them was not here tomorrow, or the next time you went to phone them? Would you have any regrets? Now think about where you spend most of your time, money and energy. How much of it is being spent on the people you love and who love you and – whatever the amount/ratio/percentage – are you OK with it?
My hope for you – regardless of your romantic status – is that you love, and are loved, every day. Please don’t wait for a tomorrow that may never come. When you are given the gift of love – as so many are not – please cherish it and nurture it, every day, in every way you know how, with every ounce of your being.