If I go before you

Dispensing with the proverbial (pink) elephant in the room, Olivia Newton-John’s passing is more than just sad. It’s not just another celebrity death. It’s the nightmare ending that every breast cancer survivor tries to push out of her mind when thoughts of recurrence crop up.

And they do – often.

Family of four smiling with golf course in background

For me, at least, it’s not in this debilitating, can’t fully enjoy my life sort of way. It feels more like a sneaky little whisper (from the Enemy, no doubt) that shakes me when I least expect it.

There is the comfort of knowing that I am doing my self-exams, that I am taking my estrogen blockers, and that I’m following an aggressive check-in schedule, with an annual mammogram for the one OEM boob that remains, along with alternating breast ultrasound (so there is a clinical assessment every six months). That, and twice a year blood work (which stinks, because even after cancer and two pregnancies, and hell even giving blood the one time I was brave enough to do it, I am still a baby and I detest needles).

But then there is the little voice of doubt. I was also “doing all the right things” before this inexplicable diagnosis came out of nowhere and demanded nearly two years of my undivided attention.

Then again, the whole “why this if that” is a rabbit hole best left unexplored.

I certainly won’t be able to overanalyze my way out of recurrence. All I can do is pray and monitor and trust the Lord with it while I make the most of the many joys that are part and parcel of this season of life.

Just so my people are clear, though, and for posterity’s sake, when the time does come (hope, hope, hoping for a peaceful farewell – think Old Lady Rose dying warm in her bed just as Jack foretold in James Cameron’s Titanic), these are the things I want you to do.

Celebrate what made me, me.

By God, make it a Celebration for the ages! Why shouldn’t a visitation be filled with that person’s favorite things?

Break open the Willamette Valley Pinot (good to the last drop, especially with Symphony Bar brownies – while we’re at it, feel free to serve those – you can even call them “Crack Brownies” as you used to say to me because you found them so addictive).

Share stories (not just the ones that make me look like a saint, because Lawdy mercy that’s some B.S.,) over the charcuterie board (manchego + stinky Stilton + marcona almonds + proscuitto + marinated olives + dried apricots + ok, now I’m drooling…don’t forget a good herbed goat cheese and those artisan crackers with cranberries baked in).

As for the service, be bop in the pews to the songs that move me when I think about the Great Next Chapter.

Spirit in the Sky by Norman Greenbaum is just fun and hopeful. I’ll Fly Away by Alabama because #obvi. A Place in the Sun by Stevie Wonder because it’s so beautiful it makes me cry in a good way.

And for the pièce de résistance, blast out the Kygo and Whitney Houston version of Higher Love with a soulful gospel choir bringing it home.

Take my ashes and have them stuffed into Heavenly Stars Fireworks; send me off from a sunset sailboat into the sea over Destin and know I’m there in spirit, eating a DQ Butterscotch Dipped Cone and thinking “Damn, that’s a beautiful sight.”

Take however much (or little) time as you need to feel all feels.

People get really weird about death. Like there is some unspoken set of rules you’re supposed to follow as you make your way through The First Year Without.

You do you, boo.

Don’t feel like you have to bend to society’s grieving norms.

Take good care of yourself and of each other, but don’t feel like you have to play the role of grieving martyr when you feel yourself starting to heal. And if it takes longer than you think it ought to, follow the advice I learned the hard way and get thyself to a grief counselor stat.

You three are the greatest masterpieces of my life. My prayer is that all of us learn how to live fruitfully, even in seasons of impossible loss.

Should anyone say anything thoughtless or judgy or condescendingly to you, grace them with the synonymous phrase that Deep South brethren have been using for ages in place of a good old-fashioned eff you:

Bless your heart.

Without pretense or guilt, fear or apology, live your life!

For goodness sake, go forth and make your awesome, healing mark on this hurting world! Each of you have the most beautiful Spiritual Gifts – they are core to the purpose for which God created you, and engrained in everything you do.

Your pain is never to be used as a crutch. Deal with it proactively and whole-heartedly, and then get the hell on with pursuing the life you want for yourself.

I’ll be watching over you, cheering you on, and waiting for you somewhere in The Great Up There, where (I hope) the Yacht Rock is plentiful and the hot fudge sundaes have no calories.

Important P.S. to the Mister – Find yourself a wonderful companion. I promise I won’t haunt her (unless of course, she turns out to be all bait and switch. So much as a whiff of that Meredith Blake nonsense (The Parent Trap, Lindsey Lohan version), and I’ll go full on Roy Kent Chant before she can say boo.)

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Maressa Travis says:

    I have always read your articles and blogs and worried and rejoiced along with you. This post, though, seemed to hit me harder—your concerns post-passing are all the things I’ve thought about simply because I’m an aging mother and grandmother. Thank you, dear Rebecca, for putting into words the things I’ve thought about after every time I get some random, worrisome test results or my lupus flares are particularly painful. And I’ve chosen Norman Greenbaum to sing my spirit to the sky as well! Love you and miss you.

    1. I am so glad that this spoke to you! It’s just the heart thoughts of the moment :). Our musical tastes have always been SO in sync! Lupus is just cruel. Love you lots and miss you more!

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