Last week my wife's aunt died of cancer.
I make it sound sudden but of course it wasn't sudden. In the fall she had an unceasing headache and chronic pain in her back, and scans revealed tumours in her back, her lungs, and her brain. The doctors tried various therapies, and she lost her sense of balance, her continence, and when relatives visited she was often too nauseous and in too much pain to enjoy their company. The last few months she was bedridden and mostly unconscious.
There is a picture on many a facebook page of our extended family: that of this woman, playing in a band during last summer's family reunion. In this photo she is all of sixty-five years old, slender and fit, beautiful, with dark hair, and wearing flattering white pants, standing beside her husband playing sixties tunes for my kids and their cousins. It's a wonderful photo and the very essence of her.
Yet if you know anything about cancer, you know those tumours were inside her, posing for that same picture. They were sitting there, patiently growing. Cancer is doing the same thing to millions of unsuspecting people around the world.
Cancer is the perfect dichotomy of the endlessly tragic and the grindingly mundane. In every first world city there is a hospital that is the main thoroughfare for cancer patients. In Toronto it's the Princess Margaret. Writers with cancer describe going for their first consult and seeing in the waiting room their kids' pediatrician, local judges, old schoolmates, former workmates, relatives of friends. Oh, you too? I'm so sorry. How old are your kids? How are they handling things? My family has been great. Cancer tragically kills your mother and then it invades your prostrate. It sneaks in under your armpit and eats up your breast. The sun can start cancer growing under your toenail, or the sole of your foot. And there is more and more of cancer.
We consume frightening movies and books about horror and the apocolypse so we can forget about the things that kill us. Vampires, zombies, werewolves - they all follow rules, have you noticed that? Specific vulnerabilities, times of weakness. They can be defeated. We watch them, so we don't have to think about cancer and things like it: Alzheimer's, heart disease, strokes, or that great and undiscussed gift that keeps on giving: a type-1 mental illness. But you cannot ram a stake through cancer's heart, or shoot it with a silver bullet. You can only start to make phone calls to relatives, the specialists, and in many cases a hospice that can manage pain and provide comfort.
The funeral was wonderful. People laughed and sang, and it was so packed the funeral home air conditioner broke down dealing with the heat of all those extra bodies. She was a woman who lived her life with grace and humour, who could have lived another thirty years, and who left behind a son before he could give her a grandchild.
This is my best memory of her. In February of 2002, when my first son was six weeks old, we visited my in-laws. The new great-grandmother held him for most of the visit, then the new grandparents, and then the baby-crazy neighbor. My wife's aunt just manned the snack trays, coordinated the visits and parties heralding the clan's first child of the new generation, and was chauffeur to her mother-in-law. Finally, at the third party at an uncle's house, when all the old people were napping in their chairs, and everyone else was readying to go home, she quietly asked if she could hold the baby.
Of course we said yes. She was our favorite aunt. She always will be.
I've been writing stories for years. I think I'm a good writer and I'm willing to bet you'll feel the same way. So here they are. Enjoy them, comment on them, tell your friends about'em, reblog them, retweet them, reread them. I have four stories in my archive so far:
"One day on the Mountain", a story of Lycanthropy, a father, and a son.
"The Boy", a story of a very ambitious and sociopathic fifth grade boy.
"The Easy Girl, A story of infidelity and unpaid sexual debts. This story is very dark.
"Brick The Mighty", a story of an aging superhero.
Although this is primarily a blog of horror, I also write about things that are important to me. I have more stories tucked away; they just need editing. There's even a few novels. There will be more to come.
PS. Feel free to leave a comment. I love comments.