Yesterday Mike took Annie out for some daddy/daughter time, leaving me at home to do laundry, watch grown-up TV, and eat Popsicles. Right when I sat down on the couch my phone beeped; Jackie’s dad had updated her Caring Bridge site. After Jackie’s diagnosis in 2008 her family started a journal there to keep everyone updated on her. Her oldest sister updated it at first. After Jackie recovered from her first brain surgery, she took over the updates. At the end, her dad updated it. Since she passed away, her parents have updated it a few times, mostly with letters they’ve written for Jackie. Yesterday her dad made good on a promise to start posting the speeches that were given at Jackie’s service; he began with his own.
I’d been anxiously awaiting his because part of his speech included the reading of a letter they’d found written by Jackie. I obviously heard it the day of the service, but I was a bit distracted and nervous for my own speech. I was in survival mode, and I couldn’t really let myself feel anything because I just wanted to get up there and do well and make Jackie proud. I really wanted to read Jackie’s words and let them wash over me. With Mike and Annie being gone, I was able to read them over and over. I could imagine the words written in her handwriting – her sloppiest scribble was always neater than my best efforts.
Her letter was divided into two parts: “What I Am Feeling,” and “What Will Help Me.” The latter is what struck me, because it’s something that she and I had spoken about at length. She had correctly predicted the majority of the things people would say to me after Maddie died because similar things had been said to her – well-intended words that didn’t exactly comfort. People ask me all the time what they should say to the parents of a deceased child (I’ve written about it here), but people also asked Jackie for advice on how to talk to someone with cancer. In the second part of the letter her father read, she spoke to this.
“Be kind to one another. Do nice things for friends, family and strangers. Ultimately make the world a better place.
Don’t do things that will hurt yourself or other people. The number one example is smoking. Please don’t intentionally give yourself or others cancer. It’s not as fun as it sounds. Please quit smoking today.
Continue to support me and give me hugs. Your love and attention are what has kept me going. Thank you for loving me in that way. I am very lucky.
Love and support my family and friends when I’m gone. They’ll need the love and hugs I can’t give anymore. And maybe tell an occasional joke at their expense.
Be sensitive to people with cancer. Don’t tell them that you knew so-and-so who died; or that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle (sometimes He does, He did with me). Don’t tell them that miracles happen every day. They don’t, or they wouldn’t be called miracles. Don’t tell them that they’ll be okay. A lot of them won’t be. Don’t try to convert them or tell them that God just wants them back in heaven, that it’s their time. That is not comforting.
Lastly, try to remember me as Jackie, not the girl who fought and died of brain cancer. My greatest fear is that I’ll be reduced to my cancer. I’m not just cancer. I had a good life before this.”
Her family isn’t sure when she wrote this letter, or if she ever intended for anyone to see it. What is most remarkable is that it was written so gracefully. She could have been so bitter and angry, but instead she was eloquent, thoughtful, and kind. Her wishes and advice will help change how I conduct my life and the way I treat others. I hope they help everyone. I know she would have liked that.