When my close friend Dana was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in her mid forties, her three boys were all younger than 10. The youngest -- Max -- was still a toddler at 2 1/2. The doctor gave her 5-7 months to live, but she fought back with everything she had because she "didn't want to leave Max too soon." She lived to see his 5th birthday and passed away just after the holidays on the morning of January 2, 2003.
I've written about my experiences saying goodbye to Dana, but I still don't know how or what she said to her sons as she broke the news that she was going to die. Just writing that makes me tear up because I too was diagnosed with cancer when my daughters were very young. Em was just 9 months old and Jaye had just turned 3. Today they're 18 and almost 21. I never had to have "the talk" about the end of my life.
I'm still here. Dana isn't.
So it hit home for me when I heard about another pair of friends in their mid-40s, another diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, another family with children close in age to Dana's kids. Like Dana, Lisa Hayes told her close friend Jody Becker about her cancer. Unlike Dana, Hayes didn't have long to live; she died four months later.
Unlike me, Becker didn't just sit around and mourn the loss of her friend. As my colleague Tony Rogers tells it at the About.com Journalism site:
Becker...found that wasn't enough. She had trained as a reporter; she knew how to write and gather information. She'd worked in radio and helped produce documentaries. She had to do something. So she did.
She set about interviewing people who could offer comfort and counsel in such a situation - apriest, a rabbi and a Christian counselor. There was an early childhood expert, a teen grief specialist and even a zen hospice worker.
And then, with help from a web designer, Becker created Mom, Always, a website dedicated to helping terminally ill mothers.
"When you get this kind of diagnosis, you want immediate access to ideas about how to talk to your kids," Becker says in an e-mail. "Very basic advice about how much to say; should I tell them everything at once? As in, 'I am sick and I am going to die?' Or do I tell them only that I am sick now, and later explain that I can't be cured?
"And," she adds, "you may be seeking advice about questions that may not be totally answerable, but are very profound: Why this is happening?"
While there may never be adequate answers for that final question, Mom, Always is a site I wish had existed for Dana when she was first diagnosed in 2000. It offers comfort, guidance and support for women who know they will be leaving their children too soon. As Becker wrote in a Mother's Day column published in the New York Times:
One thing I learned: the relationship remains, and no matter what happens next, the mother is always the Mom. Mom, Always. That was something Lisa really wanted to hear, and that is why I chose that name for the site. Also, to me, Mom, Always sounds like Love, Always. Which is all any of us can hope to leave behind.
Related articles about love, loss and family:
- Journalist Creates Website for Mothers Who are Terminally Ill
- Remembering Dana and Saying Goodbye to Elizabeth Edwards
- "Just Hang Out With Me...on Mother's Day"
- The Language of Grief: A Mother on the Loss of Her Son Owen
- Reflections on the One Year Anniversary of Owen's Death