When I was pregnant with Olive, I went online a lot. It was mostly to ask silly questions I was too embarrassed to ask in person to my midwife or any other human being, for that matter. Things like, “Can I dent my baby from poking it too much?” or “How much bigger are my boobs really going to get?”
You know, normal pregnant-woman concerns.
In my travels around cyberspace I found, and then joined, a birth group on BabyCentre.ca. The group was made up of women from all across Canada who were expecting in October 2012. Over time the group migrated to Facebook, became and remained a constant source of encouragement and support as my pregnancy progressed with each new obstacle (placenta previa! gestational diabetes! c-section!).
This group of strangers served as my community, my village. They were there for me when I was exhausted and rootless and trying to write my book with a newborn. They were there for me when we moved and moved and moved again.
We still write daily. Babies have become toddlers, many are pregnant again. I have always been blown away by how close I have become with these women – most of whom I’ve never met.
We lost one today.
That sounds so ridiculous. We didn’t lose her, she died.
She was a fabulous woman. A wife and a mother.
She had a daughter the same age as Olive.
She had been battling cancer since midway through her pregnancy. I still remember when she first posted about it. Her hand was bothering her, she couldn’t use her fingers correctly. She had no idea. Neither did we.
We have walked the road alongside her for the last two years. We couldn’t do much, this group, and I know that many of us wished we could do more. I have wished it almost every single day.
I thought of her often, trying to send hope and strength her way. I thought of her especially during tough days with Olive, days where exhaustion chased my heels and frustration flew from my lips. I would think of her, doing everything that I was with one hand and trying to fight a fatal disease with the other.
It was incomparable.
We did what women do. We did what little we could. We sent care packages filled with tea and magazines for her hospital stays, which became more frequent as time went on. We sent photo books. We chipped in for a photo session for her family.
I felt angry about it often. It felt so futile. “You have cancer. Here’s a basket of tea and licorice and warm socks.”
But what else can you do? What else could we do? So we sent these small gifts, tokens, and hoped that they could stand in for what we couldn’t do and say what we couldn’t bear to. That we were scared, and worried and wished we could be there to hold her hand and make her laugh with bad jokes.
She didn’t dwell or wallow, as I think I would have. We tried to follow her lead, and we didn’t either. We spoke words of encouragement and told her we were fighting for her, right there alongside her. We cheered every shred of progress and rallied behind her with each small setback. We ran races and donated blood in her name.
We knew she’d kick it, beat it. We knew she’d win. It happens all the time!
It was impossible that she wouldn’t. She had a daughter the same age as Olive.
It was incomprehensible.
It was always there though, as much as we tried our best to ignore it.
That cold undercurrent.
The tests that didn’t come back with good news. Each new bout of cancer walloping her harder and harder. The pictures.
The reality was that it didn’t look good. She wasn’t beating it – but jesus christ, not for lack of trying. The strength, the sheer stubborn will of this woman! If it was a matter of grit, of determination. If cancer could be killed with character alone-
The photo session was for her, yes. We wanted her to get dressed up and feel beautiful – but it went unspoken that it was also for her daughter. To remember. We so desperately want to help her remember that her mother was gorgeous and vibrant and full of personality – something that was readily apparent even to us, this handful of strangers behind computer screens.
The tokens we sent felt so small. What we wanted to do was be a real community for her. We wanted to take care of her daughter so she could rest. We wanted to bring her nourishing food and do her laundry and hold her so she could fall apart instead of being so fucking strong all the time.
We wanted to shoulder some of the weight she was carrying, take on the pain of the treatments, and absorb the shock of her bald head staring back in the mirror (even though she seriously rocked that bald head.)
We wished we could take her fight and diffuse it among us, we wished we could band together and give her our strength, but of course, we couldn’t. We were so limited.
I don’t know how she did it.
As a mother, I don’t know how she got up each day and faced down the very real possibility that her daughter would grow up without her. More than anything, that’s what leaves me shattered. I look at Olive, and can’t imagine not being here for her tomorrow. That takes a kind of courage I can’t even begin to summon close.
It’s beyond devastating.
That’s what shatters me and makes me tight with rage and incomprehension. I don’t understand how this could happen. I feel petulant and angry. I feel like throwing things and crying and screaming “It’s not FAIR”.
It’s not fair.
I didn’t understand, until this morning, that I was expecting a miracle. Not hoping for one, but fully expecting it. It had to happen. She was too strong, too tough, to determined for it not to.
It was too cruel for it not to.
We’re in pieces, this group of women with no real-life ties to her. We don’t know what to do, so we are doing what women do. We are doing what we can do. We are talking about how to help her daughter, her husband.
We are banding together in our shared grief and incomprehension.
We are coming together to remember this incredible woman who died too soon, who shouldn’t be remembered as losing a fight to cancer because this woman didn’t lose a fight in her life before this.
And I am writing, because it’s all I know how to do.
I’m so sorry, Dana. My heart breaks for you and even more for M.
I don’t understand how this happened, I don’t understand how this was allowed to happen to you. I wish we could have done more. I always wished we could have done more.
I’m sorry. I’m sorry we didn’t have more than tea and pictures. I’m sorry I don’t have more than words.
I’m so sorry. We will miss you so much, and we will make sure you are remembered.