For The Record… (4 years later)

You may have seen this photo before.  I’ve used it in the past.  It’s a photo taken of my stepmom, Karen, in the last year of her life.  I don’t even remember taking the photo.  I barely saw her before she passed.

It’s four years to the day that Karen fell to the aggressive form of breast cancer she was diagnosed with a year prior.  I’ve written about it here twice before.  Two years ago, and then again in January of last year.  How much has changed?  I’m still pressing on.  My family is still pressing on.  We’re adapting better, but everything is completely different.  Tonight, we’re going out to Maine for a nice family dinner.

I want to share with you, which will make this post lengthier, what I wrote 4 months after Karen passed.  It was published as the staff editorial for my college newspaper, The Record.


During a Record night in the beginning of October, I received a devastating phone call that has since changed my life in ways that I am still discovering. Looking down at the caller ID on my cell phone, my heart sank as I saw my grandmother’s name appear on the screen. Grandma only calls, especially in the late evenings, when there’s something very important. Trembling, I answered the phone.

Immediately after hanging up I went into shock. Still shaking, I walked up to my friend and placed my hand on her shoulder. There is no doubt that she could sense the fear and distress in my eyes. Trying to contain myself, I spilled out the words, “she only has hours to live.”

In my heart, I knew this day would come. The previous fall, while I was on China SST, I received a similarly frightening phone call. My stepmom had been diagnosed with a very aggressive form of breast cancer. Being a world a way I did not know what to do or how to react. But my father reassured me that everything was going to be all right.

I have experienced a whirlwind of emotions during the past year. I became angry with my stepmom for not choosing chemotherapy or radiation treatment options. I was angry with my friends, whose family has also known breast cancer but survived. I was beyond confused and listless. I could not rationalize the reality that my stepmom was really gone. As hard as it has been for me to “cope” with this, I cannot imagine what life has been like for my four younger half-sisters (who are ages 3 to 11).

I have spent a lot of days and many nights crying. I’ve questioned myself, my family, God and even the campus minister. Most of all, I attempted to never truly isolate myself. The last thing that I needed was to do was become an island of distress.

Somehow, I managed to continue on and reach this point in my life. I wanted life to be normal again, but when it was I would feel guilty. I wanted to throw myself completely into mourning but would be wrenched with shame because I wasn’t honoring my actual mother who is still very much a part of my life. There are so many things that I have wanted to do, but the only thing I could do was move forward. Whether the events in our lives are good or bad, joyful or sorrowful we have to keep going. While we can remember and hold memories in our hearts, life demands that we progress.

So basically, that is what I am doing. It’s what I hope my family is doing, especially my sisters and even more so my father. In a few months I’ll be graduating – something I wish my stepmom could experience with me. Regardless of what happens in my post-Goshen life, the reality is that my stepmom has passed away and I still have to continue on with my life. There are still things to look forward too. We can’t let tragedies in our past consume our futures, but let the lives of those who leave us (for whatever reason) continue along with us in our hearts.

For The Record… – February 22, 2007