Saturday, June 5, 2010

Sad News

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”

- Plato

I just returned home. Soon I will catch up with your lives. And before I write about my trip escapades, I needed to write an important post:

I didn’t plan on using the computer much during this vacation. Before I left, I hadn’t even checked to see if the hotels in Dublin and Paris offered Internet. But I’d hoped to look for information about my uncle who had a stroke that impaired his speech last week (no e-mails), make sure there was no change in plans for my get-together with three bloggers from Dublin (no changes), and see if I’d won Tahereh’s Bestie Contest (I didn’t). For the three days in Dublin, I surfed the Internet for only twenty minutes in a special “Business Room” at the hotel. Since I normally use the laptop more often than I care to admit, this was progress. And I didn’t even miss it (mostly).

But on Tuesday night, when we arrived late to our hotel room in Paris, I found out we had Internet access in our apartment. When I opened the my Gmail account, I had an e-mail entitled “Sad News” from the family liaison at my children’s school. Often these types of e-mails are regarding retired teachers, many of whom I didn’t know. I opened it. It may have been the jetlag or the shock of the news that made the words incomprehensible. It was about a student in the other fifth-grade’s class. First I thought it was about his mother’s mother. Then it hit me. This student’s mother had died after a “long battle with cancer”.

Nobody had told me she was sick. I used to know her pretty well. Our sons were best friends from kindergarten to second-grade. They played at one another’s houses every week. Sometimes his mom would stay to chat at my home, and sometimes I’d stay to chat at her home. And we’d talk while the kids played at the playground.

The woman and I had a few things in common. She grew up in Forest Hills, New York where my husband and I lived when we first got married. Her parents still live there. She gave birth to her oldest daughter at the same age I had my youngest daughter, and her and my set of kids were both four years apart. We both have naturally curly hair too, so managing that was always a good topic of conversation!

At the end of the school day when we waited at the entrance of the school, we’d talk. My daughter was little then, and always told her the same stories. While I’d get impatient with my little girl’s chatter, this woman was always patient and sweet with her.

Then when our boys were in third-grade, things changed. My son and his best friend grew apart because their interests no longer intersected. And by fourth-grade, my daughter started kindergarten, so I spent more time in front of her classroom instead of my son’s. And the woman’s son no longer wanted her to come up to his classroom, but to wait downstairs. So we normally just greeted one another in passing.

Her death was, and still is incomprehensible. I’d just seen her at ballroom dancing but we weren’t sitting near one another. And just after that, I’d seen her at the school entrance. She’d seemed tired, but looked like herself. Now I knew her presence meant she’d pushed herself to be there for her son.

All of the times I’d said, “Hi. How are you?” the response had been, “Fine.” After all, what else would she say? “Who me? I’ve got incurable pancreatic cancer. How are the kids?”

The liaison informed me she’d been diagnosed with cancer in October. She’s left her husband, tenth-grade daughter, and fifth-grade son behind. I’d never heard her raise her voice or seen her lose her patience. Her job had been at a senior recreational center in the Fenway area. She always went above and beyond. She often baked huge amounts of sweets for the seniors, even though she wasn’t compensated. At some point, she left her job and trained to help seniors exercise. This was a woman who wanted to help others.

If I collected money for teachers, she’d always put in extra money, knowing that some poorer parents couldn’t contribute. She was nice person with a nice family. It’s just a shame. She could be any of us. It just isn’t fair.

So that night, I lay in bed for a long time, thinking about her and her family and feeling helpless.

The morning after I’d found out the terrible news, I asked my son if he knew the boy’s mother was sick. He did. Students had mentioned it in the cafeteria.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked.

“I don’t think it’s nice to gossip,” was the reply.

“If you’d told me, I could’ve offered to help,” I said.

I didn’t add that now it was too late for me to say goodbye.

I’d miss her funeral, just like the time my husband and I went away in 2007, we missed Papa’s* funeral. He died of lung cancer. I knew he was dying when we’d left, so I made sure my daughter visited him in the hospital so she’d have closure. Before I left, I wished he’d make it until we got back. But just after the wedding ceremony in Serbia, two days after we’d arrived, my sister, who babysat my children, told me the news.

If I’d known she was sick, I could’ve shuttled her children or cooked or something. She had two friends who have girls her daughter’s age and I’m sure they’ve been helping. But I would’ve liked to let her know I cared.

Now I’ll make meals for the family because I don’t know what else to do. A meal is inadequate compensation for the loss. But it’s all I can do.

Lisa Rein-Woisin. Wife, Mother.

* Previous post about Papa:


  1. Theresa - I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend. She sounds like an incredible woman: kind, generous, loving and giving. The world will feel her passing. I'll keep you all in my thoughts. Take care.

  2. Theresa - Your words have brought Lisa to life. I feel so deeply for a family I have never met for the loss of a woman I will never know. I hope you can take comfort in knowing that Lisa's life is being thought about across the seas - all due to your wonderful words.
    Take care xx

  3. I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend, Theresa. That is very sad news, and my heart goes out to that family and those kids. She sounds like a really special person.

  4. So sorry, Theresa. My heart aches for that family. Cancer is a blight and often is no respecter of person (at least with the people I know, like my mom).

    Don't let the guilt of not knowing bother you. She probably wanted it that way. More than the pain, the hair loss, the tiredness, or anything else my mom wants people to treat her normally--not do everything for her or act like she's living her last days. It's a hard balance and I think cancer victims would just as soon nobody know.

    I'm glad you're home safe. Thanks for sharing your heart today!

  5. These kinds of tragic events leave ripples throughout all our lives. I am so sorry for her family and for everyone involved.

  6. I'm sorry for your loss. That is really heart-breaking. My heart goes out to her family. She sounds like a wonderful person, wife, mom.

  7. I can't believe that Lisa's gone. I'm so incredibly sorry. I'm also sorry that you didn't know, so that you could reach out to her the way you would have wanted. Whenever something awful like this happens, we tend to feel helpless and inadequate, but cooking meals for her family in the days & weeks & months ahead DOES matter & does make a difference.

    What a beautiful tribute xxoo

  8. Theresa, that is so sad. It sounds like your friend wanted to finish her life in the midst of life rather than discussing death.
    You might not think preparing meals may bring much compensation to the children, but by the sound of their mother, that is probably exactly what she would have done. So sorry you had to arrive home to such sad news. We will light a candle for your brave friend.

  9. Oh Theresa, I am so very sorry this sad news. What a terrible thing to discover in your email.

    Any act of kindness though we feel it may be inadequate is always greatly appreciated. Especially when it comes later on, when friends and neighbors return to the routines of their lives. When that family are left to fend for themselves as the numbness wears off and the pain and loneliness envelopes them. That is when kindness and thoughtfulness is truly needed.

    My heart goes out to this family and the pain they are enduring. My prayers are with them and you!

  10. Oh Theresa Milstein, I am so so so sorry to hear about Lisa Rein-Woisin - wife, mother and beautiful person.

    You have written a wonderful memorial here for her and have introduced me to a woman who will forever be remembered.

    My deepest and sincerest condolences to her family.

    Take care

  11. Jemi, thank you for the nice words. I'll have to tell my children the sad news today.

    Clutterbug, it is comforting to know people from farther than her family and friend sphere know about her. Thank you.

    Susan, she was a special person. I feel terrible for her family.

    Jackee, I know you are going through a hard time with your mom now that she's facing cancer a second time. I think about your mom quite a big.

    Lisa didn't lose her hair or had an excellent wig. If I'd had a sign like that, I would've asked her.

  12. Bossy Betty, you put it beautifully. Tragic events do leave ripples throughout our lives.

    Sandy Shin, she was a wonderful person. I'm sure a lot of people took it hard at my children's school when it was announced.

    Kathleen, I know cooking is something, and it's what I do when families face sickness or death. I guess because I know about the what's going on so late, it feels even less helpful.

  13. Brigid, what a lovely thought you'd light a candle for her. I can't imagine what her family is going through. Her diagnosis was only seven months ago.

    Ann, you're right. Waiting is a good idea. I'm sure their freezer is already full and they have family and friends over. I'll reach out when some time has passed.

    Old Kitty, thank you. I hope she's remembered long, long after this short life she got to live.

  14. I am really sorry for your Loss. She sounds to be such a special person. I am sad for her family.

  15. Sorry for your loss Theresa, and for the loss of the chance to help out when your friend was ill. Gifts of food are healing, your kindnesses will bring comfort. The act of cooking may also soothe your grief. Take Care.

  16. Theresa,
    Sorry to hear about the loss of your friend. That is very sad news. In times of sadness, doing what you can is certainly appreciated by the family. The thought of bringing over food is a very nice jester. I am sure that the family will be grateful for your kindness.
    Take care.

  17. Mr. Stupid, thank you for the comment.

    Words A Day, I think you're right that cooking helps the grieving family as well as the person cooking.

    Choices, I agree. When we go through tough times, any kind gestures by others means a lot.

  18. I'm sorry to hear about this. Cancer makes me really mad because it's so unfair.

  19. I'm so sorry for your loss. What a wonderful tribute here, the best kind, painting a picture of her in her everyday life, the life that matters.

  20. I've been in this situation and I understand exactly how you feel. But don't spend your energy feeling regretful for things you didn't do for her. Spend your energy feeling the warmth she gave you and others while she was here. That's her legacy to you, and through you, to everyone who didn't know her. Thanks for sharing.

  21. That is so very sad. I would feel the same way. But just think, this wasn't because you were callous and indifferent. It's the opposite. You do care. You still do. You just didn't know.
    Take care of yourself, and I think it's a great idea to offer to bring some food for the family. That is very sweet of you.

  22. What sad news to learn while you're away. Sometimes it feels even worse to get bad news so far from home. I'm so sorry to hear about your friend - she sounds like a wonderful woman.

    Secondly, welcome home. I missed you! :) I hope you had a good trip!

  23. I am so sorry for your loss. She sounds like she was a beautiful person, and you are so kind to feel such compassion for the family and offer to bring them food. I will keep her family in my prayers.

  24. This was a wonderful post that says so much about your friend and you.

    Things like this can be life-changing. Perhaps it will be for you.

    Straight From Hel

  25. Aubrie, thanks. My husband is a scientist who has worked on cancer, which always makes me proud to say. But it's frustrating that there isn't a better cure.

    Joanne, I'm glad you appreciated the tribute.

    Judy, thank you for putting it in perspective.

    Lydia, I wonder if her family thought I'd heard through my son and didn't say anything. That saddens me a little. I appreciate your comment.

  26. Talli, it is worse to hear bad news when I'm away. Then I can't participate or help when everyone gets together.

    Shelley, your words are very kind.

    Helen, if I learn anything from this, it will be to have more patience and be more thoughtful, like her.

  27. Sorry to hear the sad news Theresa. Your post makes Lisa sound like an amazing person. It is awful when good people are taken too soon.

  28. Ugh, that is so so sad. I know what you mean about feeling helpless and angry that you couldn't have been there for her. It's hard to think about those whose deaths make no sense and my heart goes out to that poor family. I'm sorry you got this terrible news!

  29. I'm so sorry, Theresa. I suppose the very fact that people carried on around her gave her consolation...

  30. Lindsay, it is awful when people are taken too soon. A parent should die before their children. And a parent shouldn't die before their children are grown.

    Creepy Query Girl, thank you for the nice words. It doesn't make any sense.

    Hampshireflyer, I hope she found peace at the end. I can't imagine how it must've been for her.

  31. Lydia is right. We cannot beat ourselves up for not being omniscient.

    And I think moments like these are important for us for the exact reason you point out : we pass wounded heroes each day, and we are unaware of both their wounds and their heroic spirits.

    We should tread soft and loving among our fellow strugglers. Plato's dictum long ago became the first of the eight rules I live by :

    You are a special person for caring so. My heart and prayers will be with you as you travel abroad. Glad I know you, Roland

  32. Theresa,
    So sorry to hear of the loss of you friend. She sounded like a lovely woman, mother, and friend. I can't imagine what it must of felt like to receive that news while you were away when you already felt helpless enough. I hope things get better for the family and yours as well. You sound like you have a generous heart!

  33. Roland, "omniscient" - I'm certainly not that. Thanks for putting it in perspective.

    I really appreciated your link. Thanks for sharing it with me. And thank you for your nice words.

    Marie, thank you. It was lousy to get the news that way.

  34. How awful. I feel so bad for her family. I cannot imagine losing my mother... I don't think I'd want to live any longer.

    Making meals for the family sounds like a wonderful way to help! That should mean so much to them!

    Welcome back, anyway!

  35. This feeling really hit home. A good friend of mine just died yesterday.. He was 18. Its so much more heartbreaking when it comes as such a shock.

  36. oh Theresa, I am so so sorry for your loss. i can't even fathom what you must be feeling. i hope the days get easier though -- the shock of anyone passing is a lot to stomach.

    i'm so happy you're back though! the blogosphere was lonely without you.

    can't wait to hear about your trip! <333

  37. Welcome back!

    Life may be fleeting, and on the relative scale of things, we come and go like flashes of light piercing the leafy canopy of trees swaying in the breeze.
    My condolences on the loss of your friend. But you've reflected some of her light into the world, and that light is also present in all those she loved; and from the sound of it they were many of those.

    Making food is no little thing.. Sure it's no cure all, but caring for others, one way or another, and having other appreciate both the caring and one another, that is a form love.
    Love isn't a cure all either, but it does soothe even the most grievous wounds.

  38. Amanda, I just keep thinking of the children, and how they have to go on without their mother.

    Kenzie, I'm so sorry to hear about the death of your good friend. You are so right - the unexpected deaths are the worst.

    Tahereh, thanks for the nice words. I plan to write a happier and trip-related post today.

    Alesa, thank you for such a poignant comment.

  39. Hi Theresa. After a long bank holiday weekend here I am only now catching up with my blogging friends and have just read your sad post. I am so sorry to hear about your friend Lisa and also sorry that you had to learn of her death while so far away from home in Paris.

    But I am a great believer in the Universe or God or whatever organising things how they should be. And maybe you were spared knowing just how ill she was before you left the US, allowing you to enjoy your time in Europe - until you heard anyway.

    The other thing that I would say is that don't underestimate the power of practical help to those who are lost and grieving. Meals and shopping etc. help hugely and will be remembered for a long time!

    A big hug to you.


  40. Yes, we often don't know about the silent struggles of others and the big hearts some people can have for others. How kind of you to try to reach out in small gestures for the family.

  41. Barbara, thank you. I hope when I offer help, her husband takes me up on it.

    Sheila, thanks. I was glad I found a quote that matched what I wanted to say.

    Paul C, it's true we don't know what others are going through. We often just convey the superficial.

  42. Theresa, sending her family good thoughts, making a meal if you can, all of that helps. A loss of a mother and wife is so huge that our small gestures can seem trivial, but they are not. Take care and welcome home.

  43. Rebecca, you're right. Cooking is the last thing on a family's mind when they're grieving.

  44. I think it's wonderful that you're going to cook for the family. My heart goes out to them.

    I hope you did get to enjoy your trip, despite the sad news.

  45. MBW aka Olleymae, thank you. I did enjoy the trip even with the sad news.