"Merciful one, begotten of woman, understand / how difficult it is to trust that you are kind." -Anya Silver, "Fourth Advent"
One morning just a few weeks ago -- this same month, in fact -- my Facebook feed filled with the news that Dr. Anya Silver, a professor at my alma mater, Mercer University, had passed away after a battle with inflammatory breast cancer. I never took a course with Dr. Silver, but I consider Mercer my first academic love, so I was still saddened to hear the news that our community had lost a remarkable member.
After reading a number of tales about how Dr. Silver had impacted my peers' lives, I took interest in her poetry and ordered Second Bloom, Dr. Silver's fourth book of poetry, and read most of the book the very first time I sat down with it after it delivered to my front door. I was enthralled by her language and quickly ordered I Watched You Disappear, her second book. The way she wrote about cancer was unlike anything I had read before; some of her poems are dedicated to friends she made who also battled cancer, as well as to the people she loved and knew she would leave behind, and even when describing the ugliest changes cancer inflicted upon her body, her words are eloquent.
Reading the books, I thought of my mother-in-law, Kathy, who battled cancer most of 2018. Kathy and I both lost our fathers to cancer, which we talked about sometimes, but she and I never discussed her case. I never wanted to be the one to bring it up, and she never volunteered much information. A few months ago, I gave her a copy of What Cancer Cannot Do, which is filled with positive stories from cancer patients as well as reminders that, no matter what, cancer cannot change the promise of eternal life for those who have accepted Jesus Christ. I don't know if she ever read it. I wanted to share Dr. Silver's poetry with Kathy, but it didn't feel right with Dr. Silver's death being so recent.
The week after Dr. Silver passed away, Kathy and Russ headed to Houston for a post-chemo scan to check on her status. Expecting that we would hear a positive report from the scan, we were all in shock when the news was not good. Richard looked at the scan and said he was not sure Kathy would make it to December. Then, he saw her that weekend, and he was not sure she would make it to October. The horrible, horrible disease was more aggressive than we could have imagined.
Today, only four days after day 87, the day we're gonna remember as a great day, Kathy passed away. I hesitated to share Dr. Silver's poetry with her because I was afraid I would cause Kathy to contemplate or fear her own death, but I wonder now if she was already thinking about those things.
I have lots of things to say about Kathy and many fond memories of our time together, and I am sure much of what I want to write will spill out here at some point in the next eighty-two days. As for the family, I think we can all rest a little easier knowing that Kathy was aware of how much she was loved by so many people. I wish I could take some of the pain from Russ, who has just loss the love of his life, and Richard and his sisters, who have just lost the first woman who ever loved them. The whole situation is unfortunate and unfair, but just like when children cry out, "It's not fair!" and hope for a magical fix, there is not much that can be done to make this go away or make it better. Similarly, we can ask "Why?" over and over like children, but we might never get a satisfactory answer. We have to find comfort in remembering the way she made our lives, the lives of others, and the world a better place as we wait until the next time we see her.
Personally, I like to imagine that when she opened her eyes, my dad was there waiting for her. Maybe she even knew it was him from photos. Everyone talks about how much he would have liked Richard, and I can see him waving her in with a big grin, telling her she'd done a great job on Earth—especially as a mother—and inviting her on a grand tour of her new heavenly home.