I lost a cousin to cancer on April 11, 2005. She was twenty-three years old. Incredibly young. Amanda fought cancer valiantly and we actually thought she had it beat at least once. Sadly, it was not to be the case and the tumours ravaged her body, taking control of her organs and systems.
I’ll always remember the last time I spoke with Amanda. It was a few months before she died, and she knew her prognosis was terminal. She was taking the time to call and say goodbye. I was in complete denial, staying upbeat and cheery “you’ll get better”, continuing to prepare a dinner of rice and steamed veggies for my family. Amanda is my first thought every time I use that rice cooker, the memory of our last conversation replaying in my head. Regret fills me, as all I could talk about was the journal I had sent for her to write in, but not hear her tell me she was too weak and had no desire to write. I burned myself using the rice cooker, the steam scorching my bare hand, making it necessary to cut our conversation short.
Even with such a short life, she left a legacy in our family. Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned from her.
- Find the beauty. My aunt Shelley, Amanda’s mom, has a beautiful recollection of the peace in Amanda’s room as she took her last breaths. The calm in the room offered solace to those who entered, whether in grief or as part of their employment. Nurses, family and friends all felt the solemn grace. Beauty can be found in even the most difficult situations.
- Let go of the baggage – Don’t take it with you. Amanda’s tumour had gotten quite large before she died, even earning itself a name. It was important to her to not be buried with her and her last request was to have it removed after she passed. Whether your tumours are literal masses attached to your body or figurative emotions, hurts and chattels your mind festers upon, they become cancerous to your well-being. The person who cut you off in traffic, your husband’s dirty clothes all over the bedroom, the friend who gossips about you… Let them go.
- Listen to what people are saying. Hear them. You may never have the chance to speak with them again. I would give anything to turn back the years to that last phone call. I would have walked away from the kitchen and spent a few uninterrupted moments with my cousin’s voice. Hear her say goodbye. And talk about anything she wanted to tell me.
- Take time to Remember – after Amanda died and her apartment was being cleaned out, the family kept finding pennies everywhere. Apparently, before she died, she joked that she would continue to visit. The sheer volume of pennies gave birth to the family axiom that every time you find a penny, someone in heaven was thinking about you.
- Life is short. This reflection not only comes from my cousin, but from other young (and older) people lost in my circle. Love, dance, sing… enjoy the time you have. Hug your children, your sister, call your best friend. Visit your grandmother. Sightsee. Laugh. Get the dragonfly tattoo.
While it has been twelve years since she passed, it feels like only minutes have passed. Thank you for your legacy, Amanda.