I woke up this morning to the news that our dear friend, Jimmy, 23 years old, died last night as a result of Ewing’s Sarcoma, a nasty cancer that takes 50% of those who get it. Why did Jimmy have to be on the wrong side of the 50%? What is the sense in a life lost at 23? How does one survive the loss of a son? A brother?
I ask these questions in my head to try to make sense of it all…where there is no sense to be made. I am all questions and no answers. My heart aches for his family as I cannot even imagine what they are going through realizing the worst fear of any parent. I wonder if there is any coming back from such pain and loss and sadness.
And the first thing I do by reflex is search for books, articles, blogs, and information out there that might provide some sense of understanding or solace. Would it help to read about others who have experienced what they are going through? Are there articles or poetry that I can send along to help? Is there anything I can read to help me wrap my head around something that is so unbelievable?
And then I write. I write to friends, my sister, my family. I text, I e-mail and then I open up my word processor and begin to process. Everything I think about seems so trite…it has been said before. And yet I continue to read and write to attempt to make sense out of the senseless.
And then I get a quick FB message from another mutual friend saying that Jimmy’s story of strength and positivity has to be written. It is so true. It does need to be written. He was amazing. And before I go and see my friend Karen, Jimmy’s Mom, I run into the bookstore desperate to find something to hand to her, something with words that might help. Words on a page that one can respond to without having to consider any other person’s reactions. A place to safely feel and respond as only you need to respond.
My daughter Emma got close to Jimmy in this past year. He reached out to her and at first she just didn’t know what she could offer Jimmy until she read a book by John Green called, The Fault in Our Stars. It is a book about kids with cancer in a support group who work together to figure out the meaning of life and death through love and friendship.
After reading this book, Emma told me that never before had she understood why other people with cancer would reach out to her. It always made her feel uncomfortable and as if she had nothing to offer. Emma had leukemia when she was three. Four and half years later, 6 months from being declared cured, she relapsed. Cancer was part of her life for much of her childhood. And not until she read that book did she even begin to understand how she might help others.
“He gets me”, she exclaimed of author John Green. “He understands the language of cancer and what it feels like to be different”. This book changed her life and encouraged her to reach back to Jimmy, realizing that she had understanding to offer and just how powerful that is. They became fast friends, having “crazy cancer” in common and wrote to each other frequently on Facebook. She awaited his Care Page updates with great anticipation and tried to visit him whenever she was home from school. He gave her the gift of understanding right back. They connected and for her that connection, although too brief, meant the world to her.
Reading and writing are essential tools to function in this life.
Books are places to go to find others who are feeling what you are feeling; a place to engage in empathy and sympathy, grief, anger, happiness, joy, success, failure, triumphs, beauty, sorrow, loss, laughter, inspiration, motivation, creativity, and to attempt to make sense of what it means to be a human being and what it means to live this life in a way that matters, that has meaning; an attempt to find words where there are none. A place where we belong in a world that often seems so disconnected. A place to grow.
Because ultimately I believe we all want to be a part of something bigger in this life, be it an idea, a community, a philosophy, a friendship and books and words help us into those larger spaces and beyond ourselves.
Be Peaceful Jimmy.
You are missed and loved by so many.