Thursday, June 29, 2006

What's Important to You?

On Monday someone I loved very much died after a valiant fight against colon cancer. Rene was only forty years old and she left a husband who adored her, a thirteen-year-old son (my grandson) who also adored her, parents who are heartbroken over her loss, a sister equally heartbroken, and so many other friends and family members who will miss her every day of their lives. She was a special person--someone who always puts others' well-being and needs ahead of her own, someone who was not only kind and generous and giving but also lots of fun. My daughter, who considered Rene another sister, said the thing she'll remember most about her is her sense of fun and most especially, her smile. She had a smile for everyone, even when she might not have felt like smiling.

Early in May, the doctors at M. D. Anderson Cancer Hospital here in Houston, gave her the bad news that there was nothing more they could do for her. She was released from the hospital with a tube in her stomach and went on hospice care at home. She was no longer able to eat any solid food -- her colon was entirely blocked -- and went on a complete liquid diet that was eliminated through the tube. She'd already begun to lose weight and that sweet face had started to change, but through it all, she continued to worry about how we were doing rather than how she was doing.

I drove down to Pearland (small town south of Houston) at least once a week to spend the day with her and, although I know she was scared and sometimes really sad, she always had a smile for me, her former mother-in-law and her son's grandmother. She actually apologized for being exhausted or not being able to stay awake when I was there, as if the visit was about me and not about her. That was Rene, always putting others first.

She taught me a lot. She taught me about courage and she taught me about unselfishness. But mostly, she taught me about priorities. I have a book due July 15th and it's iffy whether or not I can make the deadline, but I don't regret one moment of the time I spent with her over the past months. There will always be another book, another deadline, another appointment, another demand on my time, but there will never be another Rene.

It's easy for us to get so bogged down with work and all the demands on our time that we neglect the people we care about the most. But those people won't always be with us. Life is fragile. In the next minute, something can happen that will change your life or a loved one's life forever.

So seize the day. Tell the people you love that you love them . . . all the time. Don't let work become more important than they are. If your husband wants to take you to a movie or to the beach or for a romantic weekend somewhere, don't let that deadline stop you from going. You can always work a little harder tomorrow, but there's no guarantee that he'll be there tomorrow.

Goodbye, Rene. And thank you. Having you in my life was a privilege.


Cheryl Bolen said...

Oh, Pat, I couldn't read your post with a dry eye. In fact, the tears are rolling as I write this. Such a horrible thing to lose a young mother.
I remember how fondly you spoke of her long before she became sick.
This is just utterly heartbreaking.
Will your grandson now live with your son? I know he's always been so close to his son.
And, honey, you've got your priorities straight. There will never be a Rene. said...

Thank you, Cheryl. Yes, Ryan will now live with Sandy. Sandy bought a house just a few blocks from Rene's and close to Ryan's other grandparents, so Ryan's life will at least have that continuity.

JoAnn Ross said...

Oh, Pat. . . That is so tragic. And as Cheryl said, heartbreaking. Like Cheryl, I remember how fondly you spoke of Rene. Blessings and white soothing light to you and all her family and friends. And especially to Ryan. What a tough age to lose your mom.

And yes, you're so right about priorities. I've often said that I doubt any writer, on her deathbed, said, "Gee, I wish I'd written one more book."

K said...


You are so right-that deadline could wait, while your former daughter-in-law could not.

In under two years, I have lost a favorite uncle and my father to the same cancer. They both lived on the opposite end of the East Coast, so daily visits were not possible. But 24 hour car trips with my family during school breaks were. And so were my solo flights to visit when I could find the time and money (and sometimes when I didn't have either).

I don't regret the two pushed off revision deadlines (one made last year, eventually, one still to be dealt with). I only regret I couldn't be there more.

It is easy to use work to avoid the hard parts of life. You didn't take the easy way, and your ex-daughter-in-law knew how much she was loved by you, because of it.


EC Sheedy said...

Pat, I am deeply sorry to hear about your family's loss. She was too young--far, far too young--to leave all of you.

Cancer is a terrifying disease and utterly impartial in touching and taking the lives it intrudes on. My thoughts are with you--and with two dear friends of mine currently battling this unrelenting disease.


Nancy Morse said...

Pat, I'm so sorry to hear of your loss. I lost my best friend Jimmy to colon cancer 3 years ago. He was diagnosed in Feb. and was gone by May. Swift and vicious. Everything that could go wrong did. Jimmy was very special to me. He was a soft-spoken, gentle soul who turned me on to the best books I've ever read. We shared more than a common taste in reading material. We shared a 36 year friendship that touched on all aspects of life, and I miss him terribly. You're right about priorities. A book can't put its arms around you and tell you it loves you.

Nancy B said...

Thank you for sharing your wonderful thoughts of Rene. I am a very close friend of Renes. She spoke of the Kay family often. She loved goig to the Comets with her "sister" in law. Rene was a light in my life. Alaway happy and full of energy. Flashing that beautiful smile. I have never in all my years have met someone so genuine. Someone that was totally non judgemntal of others. There is so much good to say about Rene. She was wonderful and will be missed dearly. She was the best friend I have ever had and I cannot picture my life without her. Her sister told my daughter last night that Rene is watching over all the children in heavean until ther mom and dads come home to heavan. I can picture Rene doing just that.

Karin Tabke said...

Pat , such a touching post. I'm going in to hug hubby and my kids now. Thank you for sharing with us.

Colleen Thompson said...

Every now and then, life makes us reexamine our priorities. It's often a bittersweet gift, but it makes every moment so much more precious.

Renee sounds like an incredibly special person. I'm sorry I never had the chance to know her. Thank you, though, for taking the time to write such a heartfelt tribute.

Your family's in my thoughts and prayers.

Kate Douglas said...

Thank you. Your post made me think of all the friends I've lost, and more importantly, all the friends I still have. There is a life beyond deadlines and work, something that's all too easy to forget.

Jamie said...


Thank you for those kind words about Rene' and very elequently stated. As you know she was the love of my life, my soul mate.

If I may indulge your readers a bit, Rene' always spoke highly of you and your daughters, as I've said before, ya'll were her other family and with Rene' family didn't mean bloodline or legality, it was state of mind and more importantly state of heart. As far as Rene' was concerned, you would always be her family and your daughters as well.

When Rene' and I first started dating she told me how she kept in touch with you and your daughters and how Kim and Shelley were like sisters to her. Of course Rene' asked me if I had a problem with that, that she still kept in touch with her "other sisters". Pat I think you know my answer to Rene's question, because there was not one moment that I ever had a problem with that.

Its in tough times like these, passing of a loved one, that you learn alot about a person's character. My only regret is that I didn't make more of an effort to get to know you like Rene' knew you.