My family doesn’t have much in common with the Edwards family. My parents were mild mannered professors who avoided the spotlight. And though my dad was once head of the German Department, he was never a Senator. Nor, for that matter, did he ever run for President. And sure, there may have been a fight or two along the way, but my parents never separated. There was no highly publicized affair. Or any affair, for that matter.
But tonight, my heart goes out to the Edwards clan for the things my family does have in common with them—the things that all families have in common with them. Love and mortality.
Like Elizabeth Edwards, my father died of cancer. He passed in 2002, just days before Thanksgiving. And also like Elizabeth Edwards, Dad’s doctors advised him shortly before his death that more treatment would not make a bit of difference. My dad still fought valiantly, though. And he was very much part of every single moment that he possibly could be right to the end. Like the evening we made martinis in his hospital room—a no-no for sure, but the nighttime nurse let it slide. He died the next morning in his bed on the 7th-floor.
Every year during the holiday season my thoughts turn to my father even more often than they had in the months prior. And this year was no exception, only my thoughts have also turned to someone else. My sister. She died of cancer in the middle of October. She, too, was told that chemotherapy was no longer an option. Like Elizabeth Edwards, my sister had school-aged children. Her daughter is a senior in high school.
The pain of losing my father and that of losing my sister were similar. Only I felt them in different capacities, once as a son, and this most recent time as a brother. And a dad. It was hard to explain to my daughter. She had never really dealt with death before, except once, and she was a lot younger then. She didn’t know my sister very well, but she cried, nonetheless.
I did, too.
But looking back, in both cases, my family was lucky. In both cases, like the Edwards family, we got a chance to say goodbye. And through those goodbyes, we learned, as painful as it was, that there was much magic in the melancholy, great beauty in the struggle. Which is why I think my dad and sister both fought the way they did. Not for them. But for us. So we could feel that magic and see that beauty. They died with dignity. And they died with love.
No, you’re not familiar with my family. Not like you are the Edwards family, John and Elizabeth and their four children, Cate, Emma, Jack and, of course, Wade, who died in an automobile accident in 1996. The Osbornes have never been on TV. At least not my Osbornes. We never even really watched all that much TV. But we’re a lot like the Edwards family. And we’re a lot like your family, too.
Because it doesn’t matter how big your family is. Or how small. How wealthy it is. Or how poor. How well known or obscure. Every family knows love. And no family can escape mortality.
Tonight, I hope and pray that the Edwards family is in as much peace as possible. And I hope they derive a similar beauty out of Elizabeth’s passing as we did the passing of my dad and my sister.
I also hope they know that there are countless of Americans who are grief stricken alongside of them. Because no matter how dissimilar we all are, everyone knows what love feels like. And none of us live forever.
Nor do the people we love.
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