About 7 years ago, my grandfather was diagnosed with lung cancer and given about 6 months to live. Since he was in Arizona and I was in California, I flew back to AZ each month to take advantage of his limited time. As Christmas grew near, the doctor let us know that his time could now be counted in weeks. When I traveled home for Christmas, I struggled with what sort of gift to give someone who was dying. And then I decided to write a letter. The idea stemmed from the typewritten letters he sent to me while I was away at college, but mostly the letter would give me the opportunity to tell him everything I needed him to know. My gift to my grandfather that Christmas was a love letter - a letter full of respect, of understanding and of finding a common ground. It was the best gift I have ever given. And even though he died a short two and a half weeks later, I drew immense comfort from the fact that he knew everything that my heart needed to say.
Last week, my sister forwarded me a rather discouraging email. My favorite teacher from junior high school, Mrs. Perry, was recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer and given 6-9 months to live. Her thoughtful acceptance of her prognosis is a heartbreaking case of taking lemons and making lemonade. She has already started to tackle her bucket list and hopes "to go out celebrating life...surrounded by love and laughter." And now I am preparing to write another love letter. This woman had such a profound impact on my life though that I just don't know how successful I will be.
When I was in the 8th grade, my home life was far from perfect. Mrs. Perry required us to write in a journal each week for her to review. From this, she saw a need in me for compassion without judgment. She invited me to join a group of students to meet each week to discuss the trials and tribulations of our adolescent lives. Her intuition was eerily accurate as my father died unexpectedly later that year. To this day, I know that her support and the support of that group allowed me to move beyond that tragedy.
It makes me incredibly sad to need to write a letter like this, but I also feel extremely grateful that I'm able to say what I need to say. After a day like today where we have all witnessed such an unexpected loss, I realize that sometimes there is comfort in the knowing. I was never able to write my dad this sort of love letter, but at least I'll be able to write one to the woman who helped me deal with that loss.