Monday, June 11, 2012


I started reading Jai Pausch's book last night.

Remember The Last Lecture?

I remember Dave getting word of Randy's talk. He was so moved by it and showed it to me on YouTube. Randy Pausch was battling pancreatic cancer while he wrote and performed his speech for the Last Lecture series at Carnegie Mellon where he taught.

The idea behind the talks was a theoretical "if this were your last lecture" format. For Randy, though, who'd been given 3 to 6 months, this actually was his last lecture.

Dream New Dreams is Randy's wife's book about their journey through Randy's illness and her journey after his death.

Jai and Randy had 3 young kids when he was diagnosed. The first few chapters had me hooked, but last night as I wolfed it down in bed, I felt anxiety growing like a yawning hole in my belly.

The obstacles this family faced as Randy got sick and then died terrified me.

I tried to put myself in her place, and my mind balked. It was too hard to imagine.

She was still nursing her youngest when she had to leave all the kids with family to move to Houston with Randy to be his caregiver. She was there all week with him, and then flew back to be with the kids on the weekends. She'd have to pump breast milk and dump it down the sink during the week. She couldn't nurse the youngest, Chloe, when she was home for the weekends, because then the baby wouldn't take formula during the week.

For some reason, this particular aspect of the phase of their lives when Randy began treatment, rattled me so much that I couldn't sleep. I had to stop reading last night just to calm down enough to drift off.

Today, I'm trying to analyze my reaction a little because it seems curious that I'm so rattled by her situation. So, why would Jai's situation have me so distraught?

Of course, it's partly empathy. I ached for that woman and the pain they all went through, but there was something more to it. Something that made it all feel too personal to detach enough to sleep.

A part of me wondered if there might be a chance for a family in my future. I admit it. I didn't ponder motherhood that much when Dave was alive. Once he died, though, I mourned a lost marriage, but also the loss of a family we'd never had the chance to have.

We CHOSE not to have a family, and yet I still mourned that chance being taken away from me. I mourned not having a small genetic piece of Dave to love. I never once wished I had even one child to raise while grieving, I just simply grieved the fact that there was no mini-Dave in my life and never could be.

I'm probably past child rearing years, especially considering that if I did want to try to have kids the old fashioned way, I'd have to start meeting the right man, marrying him and trying to get pregnant VERY VERY SOON. These are not things you can rush through, I hear. It doesn't work to put out a Craigslist ad or canvas for baby daddies on the streets. Not to mention the slightly important fact that I've never really had a strong maternal instinct.

Somehow though, this really got to me. There's societal pressure to be a part of a nuclear family. Hearing people talk about their husband and kids makes me feel like an alien visiting another planet. What point is there to this life if not to form families? says society.

I mentally run through a litany of well-known people who never formed a family and still seem vibrant and successful. George Clooney. Helen Mirren. Condoleeza. Jon Hamm. Kristen Wigg. Cameron Diaz.
Whatever. It makes me feel better.

There are other things to do with my life that don't necessarily involve having a family and anyway "family" can be interpreted in many ways. I'm forming the most amazing "friend-family", for example.

I can have adventures of another kind. Travel, for example. Or joining a circus, writing a book, sailing around the world. I can do whatever I want now. I don't have to wait until the kids are out of the house and the husband agrees to my crazy plans.

But, there's a part of me that will grieve that other life I can only faintly imagine. A life with a full house. A life with ballet recitals, soccer games, first dates, homework, and read aloud time every night after baths.

Okay, after I typed that I kind of shuttered a little. I guess maybe I don't have a maternal instinct. Good to know!

I only partly kid. It's not true that you can't miss what you never had. You can. I do. I work each day at not feeling left out. It's a choice. I can get wrapped up in missing what I never had or I can get busy living this life.

As Randy said in his Last Lecture, "We cannot change the cards we were dealt, just how how we play the hand".

All of my fear is also probably wrapped up in the idea that if I did ever find deep, lasting love again, I could lose it all, just like I did this time around. I could possibly watch my new love deteriorate well before old age. I could usher him out of this world and be faced with widowhood once more. Or, sometimes I think an even worse proposition is being the one who leaves the other behind. Having experienced it, I don't want my partner to ever go through that.

But none of that matters. Whatever will happen will happen. If I'm married and then widowed again, then that's the hand I'm dealt. Doesn't matter. All that matters is how I play the hand.

At a year out, though, my heart is still encased in a protective shell. Almost daily I ask the universe for just a couple of years of death-free peace and quiet. Just long enough to really get my feet underneath me.

No pets, friends or family dying on me please, just for a while. Please. I just can't imagine watching someone I love so deeply so sick and being so helpless in the face of it again.

Thinking about Jai seeing Randy so sick and trying to help. Imagining her desperately trying to find a way to get him to eat and keep weight on. Cleaning his port. Never knowing for sure how much time they had left on the cancer timeline. It all just makes me want to keep my heart safe and sheltered.

Gotta pull out CS Lewis' quote about love and vulnerability again.

Closing myself off to love to avoid pain is not an option, I tell myself.

A part of me is listening.

Another part of me is carefully holding my heart in a fragile, breakable shell, trying desperately to protect it from shattering again.


  1. Yes, I do remember "The Last Lecture", it was heart breaking to imagine. I also was touched by "Tuesdays With Morrie" by Mitch Albom. Morrie Schwartz gives us his lessons in how to live, and the meaning of life, while he is dying. For someone who's death is imminent (which is really all of us), to write their personal journey or that of a loved one, takes great courage.

    I found 3/4 of a bird shell the other day, it fell a long distance from the nest. As fragile as it was, it was still mostly intact. I think we are like that, we have fallen, and are broken, but not totally shattered.

    And Cassie, you are NOT an alien for not having children. I do have 2 by adoption (still an option for you) but you can't define yourself by your kids. We all are ultimately alone, so no matter what society says, you make the choice for "you", and not based on what others say is right.

    Take care of your heart, give it more time to heal. Keep writing.

  2. I'm a 29 year old widow and I don't have any kids either. My husband and I were expecting a sweet baby in 2010 but I had a miscarriage. In addition to working on getting out of the bed missing him every day, I also struggle with feeling left out of all the pregnancies and babies that go along with being and having friends in your 20s. So, right now I'm working on not dwelling on missing what I never had. Thank you for sharing this.

  3. is like you took the words right out of my brain, heart and mouth.

    As a childless widow, I go through these same inner struggles every day. The choice we made to not be parents (really he was ready but I was not ready because I was a few years younger than him and my career was a top priority the pre cancer years).

    I'm not sure if I ever want to be a mother but the anxiety of racing against time just in case I DO want a child and the dread i feel about having to go through the dating pool in hopes of finding someone I can fall in love with and want to marry, marry him and then have children before I am too old and tired. That scares me.

    Never knowing what it would be like to tell Felix I am having his baby, seeing what our baby would look like, watching him raise his child like the proud day I know he would have been but never had a chance to be...

    Its so heartwrenching.

  4. In the early years of widowhood, I thought that I would marry quickly and have more children. Now, past the age of 35 and not dating, it doesn't seem I'll have any more children. But you never know if you'll have some wonderful step children one day...a thought I look forward to now.