The following post is (approximately) what I said at my mother’s memorial on Saturday night. The kernel for many of these ideas already existed in a draft article that I had titled cancer is an asshole. As I am presently short of imagination, that title remains.
Also, cancer is an asshole.
A couple of days ago, somebody made a comment to me about how my mother had battled cancer.
I disagree. While many of my mother’s treatments may have deserved the war-like analogy, there was never anything war-like about her demeanor. I never saw her so much as grit her teeth, nevermind dig the metaphorical ditch that the term brings to mind. Instead, she threw herself into projects that embraced those she loved: Knitting sweaters for her grandsons, Mischa and Johan; making a stained glass window for Maggie.
Another common expression often used regarding those who have died of cancer is “suffered”. “She suffered from cancer.”
Did my mother suffer from cancer?
There were certainly hard times over the past ten years, but suffered does not describe my mother any more than battled does. She taught herself to ski backwards, to better teach disabled children to ski. This does not seem like an action a suffering person would take.
When her hair fell out, she used it as an excuse to build what was, perhaps, the largest wig collection in Waterloo.
Faced with cancer, she did not isolate herself or lean on others. She taught herself new skills, gave herself new experiences, and helped others.
No. Rather than battle or suffer, my mother lived with cancer. She traveled the world with her husband, Tom. She doted on her grandchildren.
I have heard her give several different reasons for her early retirement, but don’t believe any of them. I think she was simply too busy living her life to spend any more time in an office. After her cancer diagnosis, she became more involved, more engaged, and more giving. All this despite already possessing all these characteristics in abundance.
My mother never allowed the focus to rest on her, or on her cancer. Her life shone brightly for her community, her friends, and her family. Today, we are carrying on that tradition.
Marcia did not want today — a time when friends and family come together — to be about her, but about you; about the people she loved.
And I hope that a little bit of her has rubbed off on each of us. That when we experience our own hard times, we can look to her example, and rather than battle or suffer, we too can live.