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.