Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Days of rain

Date: Oct. 28
Mileage: 34.3
October mileage: 479.5

I didn't think I was going to ride today, but then I read Elden's blog.

Most people who browse this site also read fatcyclist.com, so I don't need to rehash the details. But any entry with the title "Getting the ending right," in regards to cancer, casts a heartbreaking mood over the morning.

I had been sitting at my computer, downing cups of coffee and trying to pull myself out of poor-sleep fatigue. I had already decided I was due for a "reward day." Reward days are the days that I let myself skip the waterlogged rides and/or hikes, put on something comfortable and cotton, grab a New Yorker magazine, and spend a relaxing and dry hour or two at the gym. Most of the time I love to go outside, but the rain and wind does start to wear on me, so every week or 10 days, regardless of what I had planned to do for training, I'll give myself what is essentially a rain day and hunker down inside.

That was going to be today. But after I read Elden's post, something just felt empty about going to the gym. There were thoughts I wanted to process and memories I wanted to confront. I changed out of my gym clothes, put on several layers of fleece, pulled on my neoprene socks and gloves, and headed out the door.

Hard rain fell from dark clouds and flowed around the decimated snow pack. The melt allowed me to ride my road bike, and I went out strong and fast, pedaling hard while squinting at the wet pavement. I was fixated on the movement and flow. My lungs burned and my legs ached. It's a tough place to ride, and a quiet place to think.

I lost my great-grandmother to brain cancer about four years ago. She had lived a full life. She was about 80 years old. But the disease cut her down shockingly fast. I was busy with whatever silly things I was busy with in 2004, and I was only able to visit her twice. The first was in the hospital, when she was still laughing and joking. The second was after the family had already moved her home in the care of hospice. I sat down next to her bed and she contorted her face as she looked at me. Cancer had stolen her ability to string thoughts into words, and she spoke in incoherent babble. Her eyes were filled with terror, and my mom told me that she probably no longer remembered who I was, and that she probably no longer even remembered who she was.

The look in my great-grandmother's eyes said everything, and I was devastated. Here was this vibrant woman, the woman who let me eat grapes out of her back yard and who peppered me with great stories when I was doing my seventh-grade report on the Great Depression, a woman who I had known and loved all my life, robbed of her memories, her personality, her mind. I was in my mid-20s and thought I had long accepted mortality and the realities of cancer. But my great-grandmother's eyes, with their emptiness and fear, brought that reality into sharp focus - cancer is a disease so frightening it can make death seem kind.

Death came mercifully fast for my great-grandmother. She was only with us a few more days beyond my final visit. I listened to distant family members, part of her enormous progeny, speak at her funeral. Their stories of happiness and love helped me realize that even if my great-grandmother left the world remembering nothing about her life, her family remembered and loved her for it. And that was important.

For all of the people in our lives, whatever distant connections we have, it's important to learn, and to live, and to remember.

Sometimes that's all we can do.


  1. " For all of the people in our lives, whatever distant connections we have, it's important to learn, and to live, and to remember.

    Sometimes that's all we can do. "

    I'm sure I'm the thousandth person to say this, but you should write a book.

    Ride hard, think deep.

  2. Very evocative post. I found out recently that a friend of mine is confronting something similar. We have to appreciate the time we have on this earth, every day of out lives. We have to tell those we love that we do, indeed, love them every chance we can. More than anything, we must live our lives as if tomorrow will NOT be another day.



  3. Jill,

    Thanks for expressing in words what I believe most of us are feeling. Not just about Elden and his fight, but about something that I believe has touched all of our lives or will touch all of our lives to some extent at some point in time. We really do take for granted the time we have on this earth. I also agree with Christy, you should write a book. Much peace and love to all.

  4. Some deep thoughts today.

    When I saw the title of Eldon's blog it took me more than an hour to screw up the courage to read it. Like most of his readers, I don't know him, but I know him. The heart breaks.

    I lost my dad to cancer suddenly back in 2000. We all thought he was in remission. That the weakness was from his lack of eating due to his salavary glands being cooked by radiation. The doctors either didn't know or were under orders not to tell us, but it had spread to his bones and lungs. One day he was my dad. Hours later he was gone. I still needed to know how to be a man, I needed him to teach me.

    Cancer sucks. It robs everything from everyone. On Tuesday we elect the next future direction of our country. Vote for science. Vote for medical research. All the rest is just background noise while you are dieing.

  5. Very nice post Jill. I too was affected yesterday with the latest Fatty blog. My heart is with him.

  6. Thanks for the thoughts. I appreciate your openness to share (something you share with Eldon). Ditto on writing a book.

  7. Thank you for a very emotional and thought provoking post. I enjoy your writing and hope your ride went well.

  8. Now I'll be sad for 2 days. Elden and your posts always bring about some sort of emotion with me. Some days it's happy, others very sad. Either way, you both find a way to touch many people's lives in a very personal way. I applaud your post in which we can all share something with. Well done.

  9. Quiet applause from me too Jill, for writing of Susan's struggle, Elden's never ending courage and your own grandmothers horrific fight with cancer. Those stories are all sad but very much a part of life itself.
    In the end, we must make each day our own yet reach out to loved ones and tell them how we feel, as Elden suggests in his latest post.
    It's still a wonderful world.

  10. My grandfather has dimentia. I saw him about a month ago, and it broke my heart. He's just not the same.

    I sometimes wish death would take him faster too.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  11. It's easy to feel the feelings in the moment.The real trick, that forgetful humans find hard, is to hold onto those feelings as time, the great healer, passes by.
    Do that, and your neighbors start to bestow titles on you...

  12. Jill, thanks for this. Our lives are changed by the experiences of those we love as they struggle with terrible illnesses and die. It contributes to our own learning in knowing how to die (a growing issue as I get older...and how to live. Thank you for continuing to explore this part of life even while the joyful, fun part is what is so enjoyable. We must experience it all in our lives. Thanks for grappling with it so eloquently.

  13. Cancer, Dementia, Alzheimers. They are all devestating diseases. I really feel for Elden and his family. I remember how affected Grandma Great was as well as Aunt Diane and Chris's father. I think everyone to some degree has been affected by cancer. It really does make you realize how precious life really is!

  14. Cancer, Dementia, Alzheimers. They are all devestating diseases. I really feel for Elden and his family. I remember how affected Grandma Great was as well as Aunt Diane and Chris's father. I think everyone to some degree has been affected by cancer. It really does make you realize how precious life really is!

  15. God bless his wife and all others who suffer so much . . .

  16. girl, i used to live juneau. and man, i was glad when all that rain froze and i could go out on mendenhall lake and boulder with my ice tools and crampons that calved off and froze in place on the ice.

    everyone's been dying all around, their dropping like flies. i like growing stuff to keep me sane. somethings dying, somethings coming up.

    you know how to keep on keepin on.

  17. Elden's post was tough, yeah. I'm visiting family at the moment, halfway through a visit and the "family" time is starting to wear on me. Now I feel guilty and know I should count my blessings. I'll be the thousand and first person to agree about the book.

  18. Wonderful sentiments Jill. I've decided that I need to see my family more often (Mother and Father).

    Life is just too short. I'm 50 and I still tell my parents how much I love them when we chat.

  19. Hi, my name is Dan (www.danbuell.com) and I just want you to know how much I enjoy your posts and your photographs. I'm on your blog almost every day and share the links with everyone. You're really inspirational and have a wonderful eye for beauty. Thank you for sharing!

  20. Thanks for a very touching and thought provoking post. It certainly puts lifes trivialities into perspective.

  21. Very good post Jill. We know there is that book rattling around in your computer, when it comes out everyone will experience the excellent writer that you are. Some of the things you write continue to find a place for me to pass on to my high school basketball team. Thank you for that.

    Eldon......I am humbled and in awe of his courage and humanity.

  22. I am celebrating two years free and clear, and it makes me love my family and friends more deeply every single day. Thanks for this post...

  23. Thanks for sharing. The bottom line is that cancer just plain stinks. I've lost a freind to it and had another beat it. Terrible path to have to take. As someone else said, it certainly puts life in perspective.

  24. I'm glad I stumbled on this today. I needed to read these words and see these tranquil picts. A better perspective on life today.

  25. Friend with Cancer and in-law with Alzheimer's. The diseases we all hate or should hate. Pastor talked about hating Cancer yesterday. Anyway, thank you for sharing.


Feedback is always appreciated!