It’s Always Something

Gilda and ovarian cancer

The only experience I’ve had with ovarian cancer was thirty years ago when I read Gilda Radnor’s book It’s Always Something. Gilda, one of Saturday Night Lives founding funny ladies was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and wrote about her journey. Not a lot was known about the disease in 1989, and, like it was yesterday, I remember closing the book with the thought, Wow! Ovarian cancer. That’s something you never want to get. That’s a killer! And here I was.

I thought of Gilda.

My surgery was in two weeks, and although I didn’t yet know it was stage 4, I knew the tumor was so large it pressed on an artery. The doctor informed me when removed it could throw a fatal blood clot. What to do? How do you prepare for such a thing?

My mind circled around the same thoughts, day after day. The same thoughts I wrote about in Be Careful Who You Listen To. Do I clean out my closets? Give away my jewelry? Write letters to my kids, grandkids, and friends? Forget about a Bucket List; I didn’t even have time to find the bucket!

This is too much to grapple with because the grief is so overwhelming. I’m not supposed to check out early! I’ve been counting on the long and satisfying life mentioned in Psalm 91. My mother, 83 at the time, is a shining example of the female genealogy on both her and my dad’s side. Almost every female in both families live to be well into their nineties. I found this turn of events to be, well… surprising to say the least. What? I don’t get to be an old lady?

The thought of my (then) six grandkids not remembering me was painful. The oldest, Emma was ten and the youngest, Erin under a year. My youngest daughter Rachel and her husband hadn’t started their family yet. I wanted, no I NEEDED to be around to pour into all their lives as my mom did for my kids, and my grandmothers did for me. We were also excitedly awaiting the arrival of a family from Sri Lanka. Christine and three children were expecting visa’s any day now after a seven-year wait to join Shelton and become a family again. They needed me too.

The feeling of helplessness was overwhelming. When I thought of all I would miss… family holidays, picnics, baseball and soccer games, kids concerts, plays, hugs, conversations, card games, proms, weddings… the list went on and on.

From those swirling thoughts and emotions came the seed of an idea.

How about if I wrote Open When Letters?  Open When… you are sad. Open When… you fall in love for the first time. Open When…you miss me. Open When…you hit your first home run. The idea began to build, and I could see possibility. I could be part of their changing lives in a tangible way. Yes, I could, and probably should spend time cleaning out my closets, but the thought of leaving a bit of advice, a loving word of encouragement to be opened at the right time or a funny story to be shared about dating was way more intriguing. Someone else can clean out my closets!

The idea of each one of them opening letters at the appropriate time gave me pleasure and a purpose. I started thinking about what surprise I could put in some of the letters as I thought about each child. It was sad and happy at the same time.

And here’s the thing.

You, like me, may never use them. But the intention gave me purpose and even joy because I knew it was a good thing to do. I wanted to leave a legacy of love behind.

It’s been eleven years since I wrote about that morning in my journal.

My mom is soon-to-be 94 (still drives and lives in her house). Mike and I have eleven grandkids and thankfully, I spend time with all of them. Emma is 22, Erin, 11, and our youngest grandson, Aidan, whom I never would have met, is 7. Our three Sri Lanken grandkids, Shenalee, Shehanee and Shevindu are all in college. Rebecca, Brett and Conor are in high school, Michael is in 6th and Avery is in 4th grade. I stand amazed, because at this time they will all remember me.

My heart’s desire all along.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m in no hurry to go anywhere. I’ve got lots of memory-making ideas inside of me, and God willing, I get to carry them out.

The point here is to never think we have our future figured out. Or think we don’t have a future. That would be like putting God in a box and limiting his ability to work in our lives. Faith requires we put one foot in front of the other, take just one tiny baby step in his direction, not one determined by another.

I did not follow in Gilda’s footsteps.

And even if I don’t have tomorrow, I’m thankful for today.

P.S. Need ideas to boost your attitude? I’ve got some!

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