What a force they were, those two daughters of ours: that little nine-year-old kid Valerie, gone from bone cancer and the more grown-up 37-year-old Stacy, cut off by breast cancer. When we talk of them, however, it is often with a slight grin.
As their parents, Ed and I feel the constant pain that sits in the very marrow of our bones. When we talk of them, however, it is often with a slight grin.
Our stories are wry and usually told with a shake of the head, “She was something, wasn’t she?” or “Remember when she …?”
Years ago, I spoke to cousin Allison at her folks’ pool party and, years later, we spoke again at a small get-together in Wellington, Florida—by then, Allison was a psychologist.
I had asked her what kind of psychology she practiced. “Well,” Allison responded, “I treat children with cancer. Do you remember that pool party at our house? You, Ed and your girls were there. And Sue, Valerie was my motivation for psychology: I remembered how she swam in the pool after the amputation of her right leg. Valerie was about seven years old, right? She laughed and played with abandon and was having such fun. I wanted to help other children like Valerie, so I decided to be a psychologist who specialized in childhood cancer.”
“I’m so glad to hear that,” I said, “Valerie may have had bone cancer but that didn’t stop her from doing whatever she wanted. She swam, she ran and she played kickball with such gusto.”
There would have been more Valerie stories to write about but . . . there wasn’t time.
Her older sister, Stacy, lived much longer. Not long enough for us but it was a good life, for the most part, replete with husband, son, friends and neighborhood parties that were held in her home every Friday night. Ed and I were always invited. Stacy and the other young mothers would stand around her kitchen and chat while the dads huddled close to the TV watching ball games.
I remember one Mother’s Day in particular when we were in Stacy and Robert’s backyard. Ed and I were playing with her son Jonah and Robert was fiddling with the grill. Stacy had just come out of the house. She called us all together and we watched our daughter, startled, as she read a poem. Stacy had written a poem for Mother’s Day! Who knew she was a poet?
Stacy never mentioned a word about writing of any kind. But, toward the end of her life, she also wrote a story that she sent off to the New York Times. Stacy never mentioned that either: that is, until she asked me to edit it.
Most of all, though, I remember the time I took Stacy to Overlook Hospital for her chemotherapy. I had gotten my car out of the parking lot and as I drove up to the Cancer Center, I saw her sitting on a bench with an older woman. Once Stacy was back in the car I asked if she knew her. Stacy said, “No, Mom. She was sitting in front of the Center and looked so forlorn I had to see if there was something I could do for her. She said no but at least I could sit with my arm around her. She was crying.”
That was then: a memorable then.
Our two girls—Stacy and Valerie. We had them for a time, a wonderful time, and now . . . we have our memories.