A really nice woman died last weekend.
That’s how I remember her. She was nice. She smiled generously, and always seemed happy. She was a mom, a wife, and a genuinely nice person. Nice is such a vague word, but that’s what she was.
I guess would call her a seasonal acquaintance. Like many moms, we became acquainted by default – through our kids’ sports. I met her years ago at Alpine Meadows when our kids were both on the same ski racing team. We chatted in the lodge, alongside the race course, and sometimes I’d see her in the locker room. We didn’t know each other the way you know someone in your hometown – we were brought together as ski moms. I remember thinking how her daughter was her ‘mini-me’ – long blond braid poking out from under a ski helmet, both tall, lean and athletic. Equally full of smiles and life.
I wish I’d taken the time to know her better.
Ski racing moms tend to form friendships because we ‘get’ each other – we understand the commitment our kids feel, the effort it takes to get them on the mountain day after day, the determination it takes to keep going through storms, injuries and disappointment. We make easy friends. We feed each other’s kids when they’re hungry, carry their gear and wet jackets into the lodge, and scream for them as they fly down the racecourse. We mother together. We are the support system for our kids and for each other.
When another ski mom texted me to break the news, I was stunned. She was so nice. So happy. So alive. How could someone like her get sick and die within a month? How could her life be abbreviated when she had so much work to do – so much niceness to share with the world? What did she do when she heard her life would be so tragically interrupted?
I wish I understood.
Alongside this loss is the story of Brittany Maynard, recently diagnosed with Glioblastoma Multiforme. Her story is making the news right now because in response to her diagnosis she chose to move to Oregon, a state in which death with dignity is legal. If you haven’t heard of her yet, click here for more about Brittany.
She is 29 years old, a newlywed, never had children. She is young and beautiful and happy. Full of life. And she wants to die with dignity on November 1.
I wish I could comprehend her bravery.
Two women, two lives not yet completed, two people given the news that they have months to live. One a mother, one longing to cradle a baby. Both with lives reduced to months, both with lives full of promise just a day before.
I can only imagine what would run through my mind. It’s not supposed to happen like this.
I drift back to my day spent in the classroom, struggling to convince twelve and thirteen year olds that they need to learn how to annotate text, search for the main idea, and consider the theme of a novel. I imagine my daughter, far away at college, and wonder what happened in her day – is she packed for her first college adventure trip with her boyfriend? I hear my son’s music through the wall as he studies in his room, occasionally crutching down the hall to ask for food or help with studying for his geography test. I think of my husband, teaching in his studio as sounds of a Beatles tune being plucked on a ukulele drift through the open door. My dog snuggles at my feet, happy to have company after a day alone. I glance at the floor and see tote bags full of papers to grade, notebooks to read. As I gaze to my left, book cases brim with unread stories and words I just know will fill my mind and heart.
What would I do? What would you do?
Didn’t they believe they could create their own destiny, that they were writing the tale of their life?
Searching for answers, for some sort of way to make sense of this all, I escape into solitude, the only place I know to explore those deep, dark places of the human experience. I find Brittany’s video; I’m fascinated with her composure. I weep watching as her mother wipes away tears, sharing her plan to face her own fears and travel to Machu Pichu, comforted that Brittany will ‘meet’ her there. The only greater pain I can imagine would be to watch my children suffer. As the video concludes, I grab my pen and scribble Brittany’s last words to the camera. They are the answer. They tell me what to do.
“The reason to consider life, and what’s of value, is to make sure you’re not missing out,” she reminds me. “Seize the day, what’s important to you, what do you care about, what matters. Pursue that. Forget the rest.”
Thank you, ladies, thank you. I think I kind of understand.