Merriott column: Cancer and kindness
A Friday night experience interrupted my intended column pontification to come. I ran into some folks who had recently lost their daughter to cancer.
It all came back to me!
How long it takes for that raw pain to fade. How it never really goes away. Birthdays and Christmas are the worst, but other special times you shared with a child or sibling as well. They all seem to bring back the pain of the loss. The what ifs, hows, whys, could I have done anything different?, the second guessing.
You never really get over that loss and emptiness inside you; just learn to live with it and be grateful for the time you had. Good memories will flood back if you permit them.
Two years ago, I had the opportunity to tour St. Jude’s Hospital in Memphis. Heather, my oldest daughter, helped develop St. Jude’s outreach website, “Together — Your Home Base to Face Pediatric Cancer.”
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For a reason known only to God (he moves in mysterious ways) I am being led to write this column about cancer. It may be to help someone in the Valley, or it may be to just help me.
I do know childhood cancer touched me and my family, and I have been a St. Jude contributor since 1965. Today, there are so many support systems in place for those with cancer, but that can’t replace the gift we can all give as friends. When we know someone is hurting, we have a responsibility. As Ellen is so fond of saying, “Be kind to someone.”
It is up to us to be situationally aware. Life does go on, but sometimes walking in someone elses shoes just for one minute gives you fresh perspective on just how much one has to be grateful for. Did I miss an opportunity to look in their eyes and just ask “How are you doing?” Yes, I did, so I will really try not to do that anymore. And I will try to add a big hug as well.
Cancer does not just make children sick. One of my childhood Baton Rouge friend’s wife died from liver cancer last year. She was 50 and had just run the NY Marathon when it was discovered. My best friend from college just had bile duct cancer. He was gone in six months. I gave his eulogy. Another good friend in the Valley now has been undergoing treatments for two years for skin cancer.
My point is, it’s not just parents of children who need the hugs and compassion. It’s all of us.
We were leaving Lincoln General Hospital for the umpteenth time, just me and my dad, and he turned off on a small dirt side road. As I sat in the ’61 Buick Skylark just off the highway, my dad was crying uncontrollably. This big, strong silent type man, who had navigated B-29s from Guam to Japan in July 1945 (WWII), was overcome by emotion.
I had never seen anything but steady as a rock. You see, my sister Sarah had what was then fatal Hodgkin disease. We had just left the hospital for the last time that she would be alive. If I had been more mature (which I wasn’t), I would have thrown my arms around his neck and hugged him tight. Instead, I was dumbfounded. How could this be?
What did it mean to a 15-year-old boy who was just discovering girls, but mainly only thought about baseball and the New York Yankees. After Daddy quit crying, we drove home where family was gathered. Mother was in bed and Aunt Happy, Katie and Mammy were in the kitchen. I rushed right by them to my bedroom and did just what Daddy had done. I broke down and sobbed into my pillow.
You see, my sister Sarah had somehow managed to get out of the hospital bed and give me a big hug. Her frail little body was ravaged by this cancer. I was totally shocked as I had not seen her, except under the covers, for the last month or so.
But she looked over at the attending nurse and said, “My Mother was right, it really does feel wonderful to hug a good-looking boy’s neck!”
Sarah Frances was 13 years old when she passed on that night. Sarah has been my guardian angel for a long time now.
Be kind to someone today.
Frosty Merriott is a CPA in Carbondale and former Carbondale Town Council member. He is a registered independent and considers himself a fiscal conservative but an original tree hugger from Louisiana. His column appears monthly in the Post Independent. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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