On Tuesday morning, I did as I usually do: went to the bathroom, swallowed some Wellbutrin, and grabbed my phone to check my email and Facebook. I don’t expect to find anything earth shattering when doing either of these things. Mostly, my mailbox is filled with Gap discount codes, the latest issue of Lenny and reminders from my child’s school. Facebook is even less eventful–people sharing articles that rage against Donald Trump and parents worrying about over scheduling their kids while simultaneously complaining about the city’s swimming lesson registration system. My Facebook page is pretty benign and for the most part, pretty boring, although there are lots of cute baby pictures at the moment. (Thanks M & T!)
Tuesday was different. As I was scrolling down, I saw the notice “C.H. was mentioned in a post.” Someone that I didn’t know, and who I wasn’t friends with (Facebook or otherwise) had written: You will be in our hearts forever Carole. You left us way too early. This made absolutely no sense to me. C.H. was around my age and had kids my age.
That’s actually how I met her: She was one of the first people I met at a mom’s group I went to for first time moms. Her daughter was about three weeks older than my son. I remember Carole as being kind, loving to laugh, and full of life. Could this be the same woman?
It was. Googling her name brought me to the page with her obituary. She was just shy of 43, had a seven year-old daughter and a six year-old son. Her daughter was in Grade 2, her son in Grade 1. I hadn’t seen Carole in a few years–we had both moved out of the old neighbourhood where we had met, and life got busy. The last time I saw her was just before our kids started Kindergarten. We stayed in touch via Facebook through likes and comments, but I’m not sure I would have used the term “friends” to describe us, more like “good acquaintances.”
When I scrolled through Carole’s Facebook page looking for clues, I found none. She had kept her illness private, away from the public eye of Facebook. I reached out to another mutual friend who told me that Carole had been diagnosed with a tumour in the fall and that the doctors were confident following the removal of it. Unfortunately, the cancer had spread to her liver and she went into palliative care at the beginning of February, but was able to return home for her last weeks.
This death has hit me really hard. I’ve been crying on and off for the past few days. Although we had drifted apart, I was still interested in Carole’s Facebook anecdotes about her son’s allergies and the pictures of the cakes she had made for her children’s birthdays. Facebook filled me in on Carole’s life when she was alive and this time it filled me in on Carole’s death.
I cried because in many ways it took Carole’s death to remind me that I am alive. I am alive with my children. She is not. And that’s a really hard thing to come to terms with, regardless of how close we had been.
Having children the same age is what makes it the hardest. I remember sitting beside Carole at the Mom’s Group, holding our brand new babies and learning how to keep them safe, when and how to feed them healthy foods, and how to deal with teething. I remember one time feeling extremely overwhelmed and discouraged. Carole was so reassuring that we could do this–be good mothers to our children. And then immediately after, telling me that she was expecting again, wanting her children to be close in age. I was still struggling being a mom to one, and I admired her confidence and strength to do it all over again so soon. But Carole knew what she wanted and she was ready to love another.
Today I sat with my oldest, who brought me into Carole’s life and held him tightly when he asked me if I had been crying. Yes, I said. Because I love you so very much. I thought of Carole’s oldest child, who used to play with my oldest. Carole is no longer there to hold her or her brother tightly. Carole is not with her children that she loved so much. And I am. And my tears return. And that’s okay. Strindberg wrote: Why do people cry when they’re sad?” I continued . . . “Well,” he said, “because sometimes you have to wash the windows of your eyes to see more clearly!”
I see clearly now how very fortunate I am to be alive.
P.S. Cancer sucks. If you feel so inclined, here’s a link to honour Carole: http://www.cancercare.mb.ca
March 19 Addendum: Today’s Facebook Memory from 5 years ago was a note from Carole saying: Hey thanks for the great visit yesterday! It was nice to catch up. C. spent most of the afternoon asking ” where MooMoos” aka Harris…. Bittersweet. They say only the good die young. In Carole’s case, this is 100% true.
Strindberg, A., & Carlson, H.G. (1983) Strindberg: Five Plays. Berkeley: University of California Press.
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