Monday, March 7, 2011

The Day After

Irene. Krista. Judy. Kevin. Joanne. These are people I loved who died of cancer.

They had so much still to live, to give. And they died with too much pain.

The reason I'm writing about this today is this weekend I attended a memorial for Jo--a funny, vibrant, compassionate woman who loved her family and her animals fiercely. She did not want to give in to cancer. She fought hard.

One of her sons swallowed his grief to talk about her loving heart. Another son made a touching slide show of her life. As we watched, we saw the joy and love that had filled so many years. We laughed at the German Shepherd trying to curl into her lap. We cried at her last visits to the stables.

As painful as memorial services are they give us the chance to reflect on the lives of those we love, to remember how they touched us or made us better. That is an honor, not a burden.


When my friend Kevin was struggling to stay alive, I was shocked to be diagnosed with the same cancer he had. Normally, I wouldn't share much about this on a blog about writers and stories, but what is dying but the final bookend of life and what is writing except about life?

I still remember his reaction when I told him I had been struck with the same cancer. He let loose an expletive of the strongest kind, and I actually liked that a friend would loudly voice that anger and not give me pity or platitudes. I am one of the lucky ones, having survived several surgeries and treatment. I'm still here after a dozen years. *knocks on wood*

Kevin was an artist, curator, writer, musician--a true creative soul. But he told me he had come to accept that his life might end long before he'd anticipated. I wrote this simple poem as I struggled in the early days of my own diagnosis. It's just a reminder to me to live each day as if it were the last, to be clear in my goals, compassionate in my interactions to the best of my ability.

"I’ve accepted an
abbreviated version
of my life,"
he said.

An elegant,
gritty turn of phrase.
Wish I’d imagined it,
not inherited it.

But it’s time
to edit,
clarify the essence.

And be prepared
for an abbreviated
of my life


This morning I wandered the sea shore, thinking of Jo and her family. Some words came to me in haiku form, so I'll share them.

sluggish clouds lift from

the green back of coastal hills.

sun melts the tightness

swarm of pelicans,

trailed by two stragglers, skims the

ruffled edge of waves.


wailing, scolding gulls

circle, land; unquestioning

their role or place


a surfer glistens

ocean-wet, grinning, teeth white

as the crashing waves.


clear, salt breeze fills my

lungs, makes me part of the sea

and completely me


Godspeed, Jo. And love always Irene, Krista, Kevin, Judy. And, belatedly, I add my dear Aunt Doris, who I just found out died of cancer, as well.


Anne Gallagher said...

At the end of a service where I have come to pay my respects to friends I have lost, I cry. Get it all out at it were. Not for their life that was cut short, but for the time I have to wait until I see them again. And I know that I shall.

They leave behind a legacy of love, for us to find the strength to go on without them.

Thank you for sharing your lovely words today.

Bish Denham said...

Your poems are beautiful. Unfortunately all of life is about its impremanence. I think a lot of our anguish/suffering comes in not facing into that hard truth and thus living life to its fullest. I am guilty.

Constantly I remind myself....Breathe in, breathe out. Every moment is a gift.

Lydia Kang said...

Impermanence is a hard thing to swallow. I think I fight that idea every day, which is silly. I'll lose that fight.

I love your first poem, in particular. It really struck a chord with me.

As much as there is limited time for all of us, we sometimes have to remember to enjoy the eternity that resides within a single moment. The good moments, that is.


Lisa Gail Green said...

I am sorry for your losses. I've lost a very dear friend to cancer and seen many others suffer with it. Your talent with words shows that beauty can come from adversity and pain, and that is something to cherish.

VR Barkowski said...

I don't deal well with cancer. I lost both my parents within a year of one another when I was in my 20s. I hated that they had to suffer, which they didn't deserve. I hated having to watch, which I didn't deserve.

I truly believe in living each day to the, fullest because it may be my last. But when it comes to cancer, all I feel is anger. With cancer, it's not about the ending, it's about the agony that precedes it.

Donna said...

A fine tribute to life and to those who lived abbreviated versions.

J.B. Chicoine said...

I don't really know what to say except I'm so sorry for your loss...for the first time, it was hard to read your poetry...

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Anne: Thank you for the lovely words. I think grieving needs to be embraced in order to move on.

Bish: Life is an incredible gift, really. When I think of the vastness of the universe and what exists here, I wonder that we ever treat that gift without respect. But I'm guilty of it, too.

Lydia: I love what you said about eternity residing in a single moment. That awareness would make each moment too important to squander.

Lisa: Thank you so much. I know pain causes words to pour out of me as if of their own accord.

Viva: I'm so sorry that you lost your parents that way. I'm angry, too, with cancer and the agony it's caused. I hope someday it can be vanquished.

Donna: Thank you. And, hugs.

Bridget: Thank you, but I'm sorry to have caused any anguish. I'm unable to hold it back right now.

Char said...

my heart goes out to you and theirs in their loss. my father didn't fight at all, and i was angry because i couldn't accept him leaving us willingly, satisfied with his life. it wasn't until much later when my mother fought so hard and it cost so much to still to have lost her that i understand the quality of the life my father gave us, even if abbreviated. the message from both i got is love like this is all there is....and not to take anything for granted.

Wen Baragrey said...

I've sat here trying to express what I think of cancer, and gotten nowhere. It has taken so many of the best and brightest, randomly and cruelly. It's as senseless as an earthquake dropping a building on a baby. There is no reason good enough. There is no reason, period.

We try so hard to find meaning, but sometimes, there isn't any. There is being human and persisting for no other reason than this is the one life we get and we have to.

I am so very glad you're still here, Tricia, and long, long, LONG may it continue.

storyqueen said...

Lovely, lovely poems. Horrible, horrible illness.

Most of the time, I don't even try to understand how a world that has hummingbirds and ocean waves can have something as terrible as cancer. But sometimes, it hits hard. The good and the bad in the world.....


Liza said...

You honor your friends with this post. And you honor us, by reminding of the brevity of every life.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Char: I'm sorry that it took your parents and the suffering it caused no matter which path was chosen. Never take anything for granted is so important to living life to the fullest.

Wen: Oh, thank you so much. You made me teary.
And, yes, there is no reasoning about this, just finding a way to go on and not waste whatever we've got.

Shelley: Thank you, my dear. I just had to let it pour out this time.

Liza: That is so lovely of you to say. Thank you so much.

MG Higgins said...

Thank you for this, Tricia. Death has been so much on my mind lately and I appreciate your willingness to share such intimate thoughts and experiences. Your words have helped me.

Talli Roland said...

Tricia, I can't say it any better than people have already. But I felt the emotion in this post. No-one deserves to suffer -- or to watch those we love suffer.

Catherine Denton said...

Oh Tricia, what a tribute. I love your poem and haikus. SO beautiful! I'll add Ray to your list. I'm thankful you're still with us.
My Blog

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Mel: I'm glad I could. Another thing that's helpful in coming together to grieve is that sharing and supporting of one another.

Talli: Thanks, my dear. As I just said to Melissa, grieving is actually relieved by expressing it and accepting support.

Catherine: Oh, thank you so much. It means a lot to have comments like these.

Phoenix said...

Your grief is so tangible, and yet there is so much strength in it. Thank you so much for sharing such beautiful words to help us understand and come to peace with why cancer is such a plague these days.

My heart is full of gratitude that you beat cancer and that your heart remains open enough to talk about it with us.

Thank you.

Golden Eagle said...

These are beautiful poems. I am so sorry for your loss--cancer is so horrible for the people who suffer from it and for those around them.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Tracy: Your words are fortifying to me--I'm glad I imparted more than just grief. Thank you.

Eagle: Thank you so much.

Jemi Fraser said...

Cancer is so cruel. I'm so sorry you've lost so many people. I have as well. I love your poetry - you express so well all the emotions of the situation. Thank you. Tack care.

LynNerdKelley said...

I'm so glad you're a cancer survivor. Thank God you're one of the more fortunate. I'm sorry for your losses, and I unfortunately know too well how you feel about losing so many friends and loved ones to cancer. It's such an ugly disease. I love your outlook, Tricia, and you deal with death in such a healthy way. Your haikus are beautiful. Being a writer is truly a blessing when it comes to dealing with our feelings. Like you, I feel that every day is a gift. We just need to keep reminding ourselves of that and focus on what's truly important in our lives.
God bless.

Carolina M. Valdez Schneider said...

I'm so glad you're still here. Your words are so touching, so moving. And I've never even known someone who has died of cancer. But I've known loss, and that, I suppose, is universal. But your poetry, your grief, your images--all of it beautiful and sad, and a good reminder to treasure every single moment.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Hi Jemi: I'm sorry to hear that you've lost people, too. I so wish a cure would be found.

Lynn: I guess sometimes we just have to be survivors, pick ourselves up and go on. Writing does give me an outlet and solace.

Carolina: Thank you for these words. It does mean a lot.

Linda Kage said...

You do a great honor for the ones you loved.

Sherrie Petersen said...

I've lost more than a few friends to cancer as well. Your poetry is a lovely tribute to them.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Linda: Thank you. I hope to.

Sherrie: I'm sorry for your loss, too, and thank you so much.

Sarah Laurence said...

I’m so sorry to hear about your losses. It’s good that you are in remission and that you’ve funneled your worries into beautiful poetry and posts.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Hi Sarah and thank you.

taio said...


Sarah Wylie said...

What an incredible post. I'm so sorry for your losses, but grateful that I get to read your words and that you're here. Thank you for sharing.

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

What a beautiful post and beautiful poems. I am so sorry for your losses. This is my first visit to your blog, but I will certainly be back. Your words and emotions are so touching and true. My heart goes out to you.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Hi, my other lovely Sarah. Thank you so much.

Welcome, Cynthia. It's so nice to meet you and read this wonderful comment.

Angela Ackerman said...

What a touching post. It's hard to lose loved ones, and hard to go through what you did. I know that all those who you have lost would be proud of your strength, perspective and appreciation for life.

Thanks for sharing your story and poetry, Tricia!

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

Unknown said...

I'm so so sorry. What a sad day! I love the line: I’ve accepted an
abbreviated version
of my life.
I'm not sure I've done that yet but we just never know the future so we better make our days count. Thank you for your kind words.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Angela: I'd like to make them proud, so I hope so. And thank you.

Clarissa: I am so sorry for the stress and worry you are going through today and I hope your relatives and friends are okay in Japan. I feel so grief-striken for the many who hit so hard there.

Maria Cisneros Toth Blog said...

I'm so sorry for your losses, Pat...sigh. Over the years, I've lost so many family and friends to cancer, including my dad. And I lost one of my dearest Barbie pals last November to lung cancer. A year ago, she seemed so healthy, bubbly, and full of life. I still find myself wondering, "How could this be?" And then I remember something I heard a long time ago. The best way to honor the memory of our loved ones, who have passed on, is to live our lives the best we can and make them proud. So, I try... Your haiku is beautiful and so heartfelt. I know you love the ocean. There is something healing about the sound of its surf. I hope you will find peace there...

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Thanks, Maria. Good words.

Robyn Campbell said...

Lovely haiku, Pat. I did not know about this. Came by to add my tears to yours. I'm very sorry about your friends and your aunt. Please know you WILL see them again. And I could NEVER ENVISION my last visit down to our stables. The thought makes me sick, yet I know I will have to walk that path someday. We all will. I love you. The ocean, the sand, the sky. They bring renewed hope when I look at them. I hope they do to you, too.