Shan wrote the following docs, intending them to be the beginning of her blog … but she never published them. I found them as I was going through her computer to preserve pictures and documents for Emmie.
When I logged into her Sunshine and Shadows account to add this document, I found that she had many other partially completed posts. One of Shan’s online groups collected funds to print her blog as a book for Emmie (thanks so much, Porche!). I wanted these unpublished drafts to be included in the book so will be posting them in approximate chronological order. I am posting them just as they were written although I have added some pictures.
These are drafts and some end mid-sentence. But even in draft form, Shan’s writing is memorable and powerful. -With love, Mama Gretch
This was meant to be a memoir
This was meant to be a memoir. A remembrance of a time lived and gone. Memoir needs space, distance for the words to grow between. It cannot be written in the midst of the story.
I’ve come to realize that my story will never be memoir.
I live in the echoes of my story each day, and I cannot outrun the footfalls behind me. I must also recognize that it may catch up to me someday, someday long before I have placed enough distance between me and the darkness to feel as though I am ready to “create art.”
Creation cannot wait. Life—and death—wait for no one.
Intro First Attempt
There are two stories to tell, and one cannot exist without the other.
The first starts in San Francisco, nearly one year before the other story begins. It starts in a hospital room, a hospice room, where countless friends and family members of a young woman keep vigil in a commandeered meeting room. We are there to stand witness to the power of Alicia’s love and her courage, and to be there as she passes from this world.
The week I spend there changes me. I see the overwhelming power of love in action as we surround her with everything that we can (it still doesn’t feel like nearly enough). As a group of twenty-somethings, barely out of school, we have to make decisions kids like us shouldn’t even have to think about. Consulting with doctors on levels of pain medication. Controlling the flow of visitors. Giving whatever joy and comfort we can, while minimizing fatigue or pain.
I have to leave before I am ready to go. As my plane takes off, the sun is setting over the Pacific in streaks of red and glorious gold. I feel as if my heart is still resting in that hospital, next to my Alicia, and my body is being ripped away from it. I cannot stop sobbing. I have a panic attack in the Denver airport. I am not there. I am not there with her. Cancer is taking her from me, much, much too soon, and I am not there.
April 22, Earth Day. I get the call I have been expecting for days. She is gone. She waited until Givey, her beloved teacher and all of our adopted mother, to finish reading To Kill a Mockingbird, Alicia’s favorite book. We will all have to go on. I now understand what it means to feel a light in the world has been extinguished.
The second story begins in Colorado. April 21. One year later. The next day is the first anniversary of Alicia’s passing. All those of us who stood vigil beside her are looking to April 22nd full with the knowledge that it will be hard. It will be Good Friday, something we think Alicia would find fitting. I am 31 weeks pregnant, and feel that this pregnancy was somehow Alicia’s doing, right down to the baby’s being a girl. Her middle names will be May Rose, after my grandmother, Maxine May, and after my sweet Alicia Rose. She does not yet have a first name.
Thursday, April 21. I have come back from a lunch meeting after a busy mornings. I absently touch my forehead, where I have a band-aid over a mole I had removed the week prior. I pick up my phone to see if I’ve missed anything over lunch (I never get any calls, it’s just habit).
Six missed calls. One voicemail.
Who would call me 6 times, every 20 minutes exactly, and only leave me one message? I didn’t recognize the number. A quick listen to the message tells me it’s my doctor, and I need to call him, but nothing more. Anxiety flutters up around me, wrapping me in a haze of dread.
My fingers fumble through the unending numbers I had to enter to navigate through the doctor’s phone tree. I’d never had to call the doctor before. Did he even have a direct line? English. Press one. Reach my doctor. Press two. Enter my ID. Four two oh one two… Shit! No, that was supposed to be a three. Panic floods my brain and I can’t understand what the mechanical woman is telling me to do. I am trapped in a maze, no way out to get to where I need to go to talk to the person who holds the fate of my life in his hands now. I debate hanging up and starting all over.
Beep. Beep…. Beep. Beep.
Incoming call. Thank God, it’s the same number that called me six times before, exactly 20 minutes since his last call. My doctor, saving me from this hellish maze of automated…
He tells me briefly, to the point, no mincing words. The biopsy from that little “nothing” mole came back. It’s melanoma. That’s all we know right now, but a plastic surgeon will be calling me soon to schedule surgery to get anything else there might be.
I manage to get through the call with a moderate degree of composure. I have no questions right now (what could he possibly say? He knows as much as I do at this point). I do not cry. I say only as much as required. “Thank you.” Half of my brain wonders if he is bewildered or impressed by my self-control. (Later I realize he must have known I was in shock, even if I didn’t know it).
Less than 2 minutes, and everything is changed. Nothing is known anymore.
The future that stretched out to June with a baby awaiting me vanished as I ended that call. The future was instantly darkened and unknown; the only landmark ahead was a call from another doctor, “soon.”
What was Alicia’s call like? She was at work too. She went into a bathroom and started to cry, and someone was there…
I have not been alone in my office. I turn to my two coworkers–friends– thinking they must have heard the call, even if they had been pretending not to. “I guess I have cancer.” Cue the tears that hadn’t come before, sobbing into my hands as they try to comfort me in a comfortless place. One of them is a student; I’ve known her only a few months and now I’ve placed her in a terrible position. What does one say to a pregnant woman with cancer?
Even with tears flowing, I didn’t feel as much as I thought I should. I feel kind of fake, even, getting sympathy like I’m putting on a show for attention. How should I be reacting?
Only two things take up space in my mind: Alicia and Nancy. Alicia died from cancer. She was younger than me. And not pregnant. I know it can happen. Cousin Nancy was older than I, in her 70s, but she had melanoma and died from it. Melanoma is the worst skin cancer and I had never heard anything good about it.
How could this end well?
I stared out into the darkness from the brightly lit classroom, desks empty. I knew there were mountains out there, that the view from these massive windows must be spectacular in the light of day, but now, in the darkening evening, all I could see were dull shadows of the street immediately below.
I had cancer.
I had cancer, and my belly was heavy with twenty-eight weeks of growing life.
I knew I should be hopeful, think of the joy of meeting my new little daughter. “Fight for her,” they said. “You need to be here for her,” they said. No shit.
My husband sat at his desk busily preparing his lesson plans for the emergency substitute he called for the next day. He