The mother of my daughter's friend and schoolmate died on Labor Day weekend. She was 39. I didn't know her well, but here's a rundown of her last few months of life:
June 2010 - Pregnant with their 4th child. Preterm labor while on a family vacation. Baby in NICU, and mom's deteriorating. Doctors discover that she has endocarditis (look it up) and will need open heart surgery. Mom and baby flown back home and installed in same hospital.
July 2010 - Baby recovering. Mom getting worse. It is discovered that mom has colon cancer that's metastasized to her liver. Mom's open heart surgery is canceled, and she begins chemo. Family's 3 other children living with their aunt while dad stays with mom and baby.
August 2010 - Family's home is burglarized. Thieves steal car, computers, jewelry, basically anything not nailed down. Baby recovering nicely. Mom not responding to chemo. After 6 rounds of chemo and genetic testing, it is determined that mom's cancer is some weird genetic mutated variety that is untreatable.
September 2010 - Mom succumbs to liver failure secondary to metastasized colon cancer. She is survived by husband and 4 children, ages 2 months to 6 yrs. Children undergo genetic testing to determine if they carry the same cancer gene as their mother.
So there that is.
There's been a tremendous outpouring of support from the community, and everyone has rallied around this family. There was a spaghetti feed that raised over $70,000, not including the donation fund set up at a local bank. One of mom's former coworkers (now retired) has moved in with the family to care for the children. Apparently mom stepped up to help this woman after she had a stroke years ago, and now she is returning the favor. Angels are everywhere.
I could go on about how those children will never know their mother. Or about their widower father raising 4 small children. Or about the blinding speed of their downhill slide from family vacation to funeral. But everyone's already written that. It's the obvious story. It's heartbreaking.
What's utterly ordinary is that this kind of gut-wrenching drama (and much, much worse) plays itself out all over the world, day in and day out, everywhere, all the time, and it just is. There's nothing remarkable about this woman or this family that makes them any different from you, your neighbor, your coworker, or me. Nothing. And that is the truly horrifying part. It could have been me. It could have been my husband. Or my mom. Or my kid. I am not special. There's no protective shield around me that reflects and redirects the bad juju to someone else. To "them." When bad things happen, it always happens to "them." I realize now that I am them. I just haven't taken my turn yet.
Almost four years ago (can it be 4 yrs already?) my friend Penny got cancer and died. Her son was 11. I have a photo of the two of them on the day she died. She was divorced and worked at a bank. Her son lives with his dad now.
Three years ago my buddy's girlfriend was killed in a murder-suicide at the department store where she worked. My buddy already had the ring and was going to propose on Christmas. We had gotten together with them a week before she was killed.
Last year a good friend of my husband's died. I knew her casually. She had just become engaged and bought a house. She was found dead at home (undiagnosed health condition). She was a political activist and had a bright future ahead of her.
Three good people, to be sure, but I only tell their stories to illustrate a point.
It can be anyone, anywhere, anytime. They were all ordinary, regular people like you and me.
Them. We are them.
Part II to follow...