Tuesday, September 11, 2007

9/11 Remembrance - for us all and one in particular

Today, a national day of remembrance, is also of particular meaning to me. Today I also mourn the death of a significant friend, Joan Morrissey, last night to inflammatory breast cancer (IBC). I feel the same physical sensation of numbing sadness as I did after the attacks of 9/11, even without the shock. Knowing someone I care about is going to pass on, transition to whatever the next stage is, does not seem to lessen the impact of that loss for me. But I have felt it to this depth only a few times in my life, and knowing that I will feel it more frequently as I look ahead is not comforting.

Being a person disbelieving in coincidence and often vaguely aware of the web of life in which I am, I find myself pondering the juxtaposition of our national tragedy and this small, personal tragedy to one family in Amherst, NY. The loss of thousands of lives on a glorious early fall morning; the loss of a nation's complacent innocence. The terrible loss to a husband of his life companion; that to two small girls, of a mother; and to an astonishly many others, the loss of a friend. Ineffable sadness, in all cases.

I didn't know Joan as well as some others. We worked briefly together, but in that short time we shared an amazing car ride through a driving rainstorm from Savannah to Atlanta. As she drove, white-knuckled on the steering wheel, Joan and I were suspended in time and place, sharing our experiences and ourselves. It was the kind of intense attention and communication that seems to happen so rarely in a life, and I never forgot it -- or her. So, when the notice came from caringbridge.org that Joan had a blog, I followed up on every announcement that she had posted, and posted back. Caringbridge is a website on which ill patients, their families and friends can post to allow 24/7 communication back and forth. It's a great organization.

It was typical of Joan, amazing woman that she was, that she posted it all, including pictures. I've had friends who died in hospital who stopped receiving visitors because they no longer looked healthy. Not Joan! She not only allowed her army of friends to learn about the realities of IBC and cancer on a very individual level, she posted it on the Web!, no matter how unflatteringly it was reflected on her self. She let us support her, even from a distance. The lessons we all learned from her about courage against all odds, and her persistence in staying for her family until they told her she could go, are indelible. From my mother's death, the first to sucker-punch me with grief, I learned how to die with sheer dignity. From Joan, I learned how to fight it both voraciously and with humor.

In the web of life, Joan made an indelible impression. She was a woman of power, actually, cloaked in a quiet intelligence, passion, and wonderful wit. I hope I am remembered and mourned by even a fraction of those now mourning Joan's passage. She was one of a kind.