For a while after Steve passed away, I sort of felt like nothing bad could happen ever again to anyone we know and love. As if somehow Steve's illness, suffering and death would fulfill some unspoken quota.
It's not logical or theologically sound, I realize. And certainly reality hit soon after.
Every few months in the past five years, someone we know, someone we love has been diagnosed with a grave illness or died unexpectedly or suffered severe trauma or experienced an enormous loss (of a loved one or a job or a relationship).
Life and death go on.
Jason Dugger, a former colleague at the Dallas Morning News, died unexpectedly last week, leaving behind his wife and two young sons.
Alex Podeszwa, teenage son of one of Steve's fraternity brothers, passed away last week, after living with neuroblastoma for nine years. (Alex's dad, Dave, introduced Cooper and Katie to the fine art of hospital bed rides way back in 2007, when Steve was first hospitalized. The Podeszwas were instrumental in helping us navigate the cancer world.)
Maureen McClendon, mom of three children including my high school friend Angela, died last week, four months after first showing signs of what would be identified as a glioblastoma. She was 76 and still working full time as senior research analyst at the time of her diagnosis.
On Saturday, Sept. 6, my dear friend Melissa and I spent an evening with Maureen and her children.
Maureen and I held hands, and she asked me questions about Steve. She wanted to know about his course of treatment, how long he lived after diagnosis. They were difficult questions to answer, not because I have trouble talking about Steve but because I wanted to protect Maureen, whose health was so quickly demolished by one of the very worst tumors.
I shared some of his experience. I listened as she talked about her recent travels to Europe and Hawaii, about her role in a national insurance organization, about photos and cards on the kitchen table.
Later in the evening, she looked at me and told me she was sorry for my loss. All my strength dissipated. We held each other and sobbed. I cried for Steve and Maureen and for everyone in between who has suffered brain cancer, neuroblastoma, aneurism, stroke. This list is too long.
Maureen sent me home with a gift. A pair of bedazzled eyeglasses, slightly broken but fixable, in case I wanted to switch out her lenses for my own.
For now, her frames sit on my dresser, a small reminder of our fragility and our connectedness, of the importance of holding hands and sharing stories while we can.