The past few months have been some of the hardest of my life, which is saying a lot since I’ve faced colon cancer twice. My health’s been great, and my family’s still in-tact. But we’ve faced a lot of other stuff, hard stuff, and I’ve got very few words to show for it.
This blog is “dusty,” as I like to say—it sounds better than inactive. I’ve not written much on my Cure column this year, and even my journals feel bare in comparison to what I’ve poured out in years past.
Sometimes when I’m facing hard things, the words flow out of me like a soothing ointment for a hurting soul. This was my experience when I was diagnosed with my second cancer—it’s when I actually started my blog. This was also my experience as I wrote my book Blush. Writing a coming-of-age memoir and revisiting old memories to detail hard life experiences was powerfully transformative.
In writing workshops, I encourage people to write and journal every day not only because it makes us better writers but because it’s a helpful mental health exercise.
But this year, I’ve not followed my own advice. I’ve been in a word desert and written very little. It’s not writer’s block; it’s something completely different. The only way I can explain it is that I’ve gone to deep places and felt things where there simply were no words.
Looking back, I think this started with losing my Grandpa Dorman last December. He was hospitalized for COVID-19 and ended up passing away in the hospital bed. Hearing that my dad and his siblings huddled inside an SUV in the parking lot instead of drinking cheap hospital coffee in the waiting room days before my grandpa’s passing was hard. The isolation from the pandemic has been tough on all of us, but I think it’s utterly awful for those saying final goodbyes virtually. Death and dying are lonely to begin with, and not having those closest to you by your side is just the worst.
Months later, my Grandma Rose Mary passed away (not from COVID-19). At her funeral, the priest mentioned that she was lonely. I could resonate, although my life circumstances look drastically different from hers. But loneliness is a good word to put on the past year.
Backtracking a bit—in January, I received a text notifying me that Mae would have a new biological half-sibling this year. The text changed our entire lives because tucked inside of the news was also an inquiry about if we were open to adopting again. Mike and I found ourselves facing the *only* scenario that led us to say yes.
It was a long few months as I dove in to offer support for mom and unborn baby. In the end, the process didn’t go as we planned or hoped, and I still don’t have a lot of words for it. Baby boy did end up in our home, but it’s through foster care. The details are confidential and my words about it are purposefully few. For the first time in my life, I’ve had more feelings and emotions than words to write. This is very new.
These are just a few of the things that have led to my lack of words this year. But lately I’ve been reflecting over it all and words have risen up once again. This is partly because I still stand by my advice to writers: Writing heals. Also—words leave tributes and I’ve got a few I need to share.
My friend Jill passed away in June. At the time of her death, I couldn’t bring myself to post about it. It was an uncanny situation—we knew each other through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). I became the editor of their magazine after I left my full-time role at Fight Colorectal Cancer, and a few years later, Jill rejoined the FCA staff and we began working side-by-side on the publication.
In March 2020, she was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer in her early 40s. I couldn’t believe it—it was like colorectal cancer followed me to FCA. For the 15 months that followed, Jill and I balanced our Zoom calls with discussions about magazine stuff and then cancer stuff. We talked about facing bad news and leaving a legacy. She so badly wanted to live so she could raise her 2-year-old son.
I could empathize with her when I saw the exhaustion of treatment on her face, the downcast lines near her eyes despite her attempts to smile. When she went to be with Jesus, it was heartbreaking—especially because she wanted more time. Her funeral was beautiful and healing though, the messages and eulogies were a true outpouring of love and a sign of her strong faith.
I left Jill’s funeral and came home to my cousins Kristi and Nikki. They had driven to Kansas City from Nebraska and stayed the night with us. Nikki was also fighting cancer—breast cancer—and she was in KC to get some mistletoe treatments. I embraced them both with big hugs and welcomed them to my porch. For the rest of the afternoon, we talked about life and what was happening.
Nikki was aware that “ignorance is bliss,” and she said, “I know I’m in denial” a few times. Yet as much as she tried to push away her end-of-life thoughts and plans, she talked about how important it was for her kids to attend Christian school so they’d have a loving community when she passed. She was also very concerned for her hubby and wanted to do everything she could to remind him that he was loved.
I didn’t realize it at the time, nor did she really, but her conversations did carry her final wishes—although she would have never seen it that way. She didn’t want to give any space to the idea that she may not survive cancer, so we didn’t talk like that. She was a fighter to the core.
She passed away last week leaving three littles and an adoring husband. Her funeral, like Jill's, was a powerful tribute to her strength and faith. I'm so glad she liked to take pictures because there were many to share. To say Nikki's death leaves a hole in the hearts of all who knew her is an understatement. We miss her like crazy.
So yeah, this is what’s been happening this year. I thought 2020 was tough, but 2021 has certainly challenged it.
This is the fodder for the blog posts I haven’t written, the journal entries that live in my mind but haven't yet made their way to the page. It's hard stuff. Painful stuff. And, we're not promised it will ease up tomorrow.
But I am finding comfort in texts with friends and good food. In funny TV shows and lots of rest and slow moments. Despite the heartbreak and setbacks of our year, words are starting to come to me again. The desire to write is returning. Like never before, I realize that my plans and hopes may not come to pass, and that my life, one day, will end.
But the words I write—these could live on forever.