I can usually be counted on to announce when one of my columns appears in the Minnesota Women’s Press. I like the gig, I want to keep it, and I’m proud of the work that I’ve done for the magazine. But the column that appeared in last October’s issue was different. It felt too raw, too emotional, too vulnerable to link to on Twitter with the usual “HEY EVERYBODY CHECK THIS OUT!”
How could I be happy to publicize a column I wrote about a loved one who is dead?
My friend and neighbor Pam Taylor was diagnosed with an aggressive and virtually untreatable brain tumor in November 2011. In one week Pam went from being just another mama at the school bus stop to a semi-paralyzed terminally ill hospital patient.
This was nothing at all like other times cancer has touched my life. My friend Liz’s colon cancer treatment, though eventually futile, allowed her at least some time with mobility, hair, and most importantly, hope. A family member with lung cancer has been trucking along for six and a half years, switching out medications in search of whatever works. Not Pam. Once her cancer was diagnosed it was too late for anything but goodbye.
A new mother I know told me recently that she was surprised to see the parents in her neighborhood linger at the bus stop long after the children had been whisked away to school. It seemed odd to her that busy people, commuter mugs in hand, would yak at the corner for up to a half hour in the mornings, longer on warm afternoons. I told her that I might have thought that was silly, too, if I hadn’t lingered at my own bus stop and gotten to know some incredibly funny, thoughtful and supportive parents who I’m happy to say became dear friends. Including Pam.
Pam’s diagnosis was shattering for me. In late 2011 I was already in a pretty crappy headspace, dealing with professional rejection, interpersonal drama, and a long-festering depression that required more attention than I cared to give it. I used to write a couple blogs a week, but in 2012 and 2013, I wrote a couple blogs a month. I say this just to be honest, not to make you think that my own pain in any way compares to the suffering endured by Pam and her family. And what a family! Pam loved her two daughters so fiercely that she defied the odds and lived 14 months after her diagnosis, more than a year than any fancypants oncologist expected. She was stubborn like that.
Pam passed away on January 30, 2013, in the house just up the street from where I type one year later. I still miss her. As I wrote in that October 2013 column:
I could pretend, in my worst days, that Pam was merely behind schedule and was seconds away from opening the kitchen window to ask me if I’d seen the school bus cresting the top of the hill. All of that pretending failed to make her materialize; on my very worst days, I blamed myself for not trying harder.
The bus is scheduled to drop my daughter and Pam’s youngest off in ten minutes, but will likely be delayed due to last night’s heavy snow that has yet to be fully plowed. With the windchill factored in, it feels like three above zero, not the ideal conditions for hanging out on a street corner, gabbing.
But I’ll do it anyway, and if you have the opportunity, I hope you can too. Who knows? Taking the time to linger at the bus stop could change your life.
It changed mine, for the better.