Home > Death, Friends, Health, Learning, Love, Parenting, Personal, Reflections > On bald heads & being unending

On bald heads & being unending

Although this post begins with a tragedy, it is a post about hope.

I was thrift store hopping in 2003 when I missed a call from a girlfriend. Stepping out from the thrift store I’d been shopping at, I dialed my voicemail access number. I knew something was wrong when my new voicemail began not with “Hi, Debbie!” but “Oh, Deb.”

Only a handful of seconds later, I sank to the sidewalk and thought, “No. No, this is a terrible joke. This can’t have happened.”

But it had.

Months later, I continued to struggle with how suddenly lives could be ended. I found solace only in my long nighttime runs, during which my thoughts ran even further and wider than my legs.

Finish line

One evening shortly before the 2004 marathon that would be my first, I noticed a car passing by me slowly and repeatedly. I started getting anxious about how dark it was, how long it had been since I’d seen another person, how if someone managed to get me into their car, there’d be no one around to notice.

I ran in the direction of the nearest police station and I prayed. The car fell away, eventually, but the adrenaline didn’t.

I wondered about what would have happened if the ending there had been different. Would my friends remember me for all the happy memories we shared, or would they remember only how my life ended?

The thought horrified me. As I wept while running homeward, I thought over and over again: We are so much more than the ways that we end.

Afterward, I endeavored to remember those who had died not for how their lives concluded, but for who they were while they lived. For their lives.

And yet, when my friend Karin began daily posting links to a blog series about a young girl’s struggle with cancer, I thought, “Gah, why would I want to read so extensively about a girl’s death?”

Donna the Fairy Flower (photo used with permission from Mary Tyler Mom)

It was only when I read Karin’s husband Chris’s Freshly Pressed entry about why they are going “Blissfully Bald” that I understood just how much I had misunderstood. This wasn’t a story about a girl’s death to cancer.

It was a story about a girl’s life.

As I read Chris’s post, I knew I’d have to read Donna’s Cancer Story. If her life story had moved him so, so very much that this post flowed from its reading, I had to experience it myself.

Friday evening, I started reading her story.

Saturday morning, vision blurred from crying, I finished reading it.

Notice what I did there? I didn’t say I finished the story. I said “I finished reading it.”

That’s because Donna lives on in the things we do to remember her.

On March 24, my dear friends Chris and Karin, subjects of my first stick figure animation, will shave their heads to raise money for St. Baldrick’s. I’ve donated, which you can do via the “Blissfully Bald” link below. I’ve tweeted. I’ve posted it on Facebook. Now, I must share their fundraising efforts here, in the place I’m freest to explain everything they mean to me.

It’s been almost two years since my mom died of cancer. I remember daily the strength I feigned to cover the helplessness of watching her fade.

I remember deciding to run a half-marathon to raise money in her memory. It wouldn’t bring her back, but it was something I could do.

When you’re watching cancer steal away someone you love, there is painfully, wretchedly little you can do.

In running, I found a way to look forward instead of backward. I couldn’t bring my mom back, but I could take very literal steps toward ensuring someone else’s life didn’t end the same way.

Always and forever

So I ran, with my siblings, for Mom. When we were done, we placed our congratulatory roses on her headstone, and I felt a fluttering of peace. It faded quickly, but feeling it made me know it was a beginning. It was another step in the right direction.

This afternoon, as I drove home from brunch with girlfriends, I marveled at how deeply interconnected are things and lives whose connections we can’t always see: a pediatric cancer charity, a dojo, my mom, a scary encounter running, a pair of Michigan bloggers, and a little girl who filled the world with so much brilliance in the four years she was given to do so.

I thought about the 21-year-old woman the memory of whom inspired the memorial scholarship that enabled me to finish law school. I recently sent a note, via the law school, to let her family know that she continues to inspire me, although I never met her.

I remain grateful to this woman, and the family whose steps to remember her so tangibly impacted me. My life would not be what it is today but for her blessed memory.

Our bodies will cease. That is inevitable. But we will live on in the hearts of those who shared the journey with us, and whose lives we touched with our actions. In the hope that we helped build through these actions.

It’s thus I leave you with the words I shared on Facebook right after finishing reading Donna’s Cancer Story:

Last night I started reading Mary Tyler Mom‘s blog series “Donna’s Cancer Story.” This morning, through tears so abundant it was hard to see, I finished it.

I hope you’ll consider reading the series yourself, someday if not today. But if you don’t think you can read the whole thing, I’d recommend you read this last entry. It’s full of thoughts about what you can do to help Donna live on in the good things you do today.

Team Blissfully Bald

If you are able to donate to From the Bungalow‘s team “Blissfully Bald,” that’s one thing. There are many more that don’t cost a thing but will help make life easier or brighter for someone else. Check out Donna’s Good Things for more on this, even if you don’t read this entry or the series.

Like its name suggests, it is full of good things, but there’s always room for more.

After I post this, I’ll greet my little man for the day, and be grateful. And I’ll remember these words, this morning and always, as well as the little girl whose story brought them to me:

“Choose hope. Live until you die.”

In doing so, you’ll live on further still in the memory of those blessed to love and have been loved by you.

© 2012 Deborah Bryan. All rights reserved.
Duplication in whole or substantial portion is explicitly forbidden.

  1. January 22, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    Donna has been on my mind all weekend, too. She’ll be in my heart forever.

    • January 22, 2012 at 8:24 pm

      What you said. Absolutely what you said. It seems impossible that I “only” read about her, for it feels already like she’s been with me since there was a “me.”

  2. January 22, 2012 at 6:03 pm

    Very moving, thank you for sharing this.

    • January 22, 2012 at 8:25 pm

      Thank you for reading. I always have to get things out by writing them; giving them words in the world also gives them clearer form in my thoughts.

  3. January 22, 2012 at 6:08 pm

    Our bodies will cease. That is inevitable. But we will live on in the hearts of those who shared the journey with us, and whose lives we touched with our actions. In the hope that we helped build through these action.

    Beautiful, Deb! There is incredible magic in those moments when we see clearly just how interconnected we all are. All the inspiration and warm fuzzies around this post are like a love Hadouken to the heart! Thanks for perpetuating the story and for choosing hope.

    • January 22, 2012 at 8:34 pm

      I had to google “hadouken” for its definition, which enabled me to understand just what I’ve seen countless times while running by the park! I love this imagery, and the idea behind it. I love most of all that you and Karin are doing this. Y’all are awesome, and bringing hope that is making and will continue to make a difference to many.

  4. Joy
    January 22, 2012 at 6:58 pm

    Thank you for this beautiful post!

  5. January 22, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    Wow. Thank you for bringing our story to the attention of your readers. It means a lot. I am sitting here, crying my eyes out at the sight of Donna’s beautiful face, and from reading your words.
    I’m so very glad you finally got to know her; and I am so blessed to know you.

    • January 22, 2012 at 8:42 pm

      I wish I’d had enough sense to read when you posted before. I read one or two of the links and told myself, “This is so sad and time-consuming, it’s just not for me!” As if you’d sit and read through something that was what I told myself this was!

      I feel bad for not having gotten it sooner, but I’m glad I get it now.

      Thank you for being patient. And for these beautiful, tear-inspiring, and very much echoed words:
      I’m so very glad you finally got to know her; and I am so blessed to know you.

  6. January 22, 2012 at 9:39 pm

    Beautiful, Deb. So many of these same feelings and sentiments were expressed at the funeral I attended on the weekend for a co-worker’s partner. There is sweet in amongst the bitter.

    • January 24, 2012 at 9:18 pm

      There is sweet in amongst the bitter.
      Exactly, perfectly so. I wish it could all be sweet, but I’m glad that the bitter is not (all) for naught.

  7. January 23, 2012 at 5:36 am

    I feel very hopeful after reading your work. You pour your heart and soul into everythuing you do, right?
    It certainly shows!

    • January 24, 2012 at 9:28 pm

      It doesn’t feel like it at the time. It feels like I’m just doing what I’m supposed to. It’s only later that I look back and realize I really did give it everything I had, at that time.

      Thank you!

  8. January 23, 2012 at 7:25 am

    beautiful Deb. What a tribute to your mom and Donna and MTM and everyone else who’s battled or battling. Using the internets for good!

    • January 24, 2012 at 9:30 pm

      I love using the internets for good! Remembering when I used to use them for sharing everything I hated makes me tired. Writing stuff like this, and reading posts like yours? They remind me what it really is all about. Thank you. ♥

  9. January 23, 2012 at 8:41 am

    I am starting down a road I do not want to take as my mother’s cancer has returned with a vengeance. Your post heartened me and I realize that reading and sharing will help me to manage the grief and pain I fear will consume me. Thanks.

  10. January 23, 2012 at 9:34 am

    What a wonderful thing. Kudos to you and your friends for highlighting this little life, and reminding us all to live it as we find it.

  11. January 23, 2012 at 9:39 am

    I saw the post had been Freshly Pressed but I’ve not had time to read it yet. Now I know not to miss it. Thanks for this post, Deb. Thanks so much!

  12. January 23, 2012 at 10:50 am

    I want to hug this post.

    Thank you.

  13. January 23, 2012 at 11:26 am

    Yes, yes, yes…it seems all I can do today with the blogs I follow is resound in agreement-proving our interconnectedness. And, I’m so joyful that I allow myself to experience all of it, for those who do not, well, they are missing life. Thanks for sharing, Deb!! 🙂

  14. January 24, 2012 at 1:59 am

    I started this reading this post thinking (yet again) you would make me cry. Instead, you’ve left me with a peaceful smile. Thank you, as ever, for sharing x

  15. January 24, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    Thanks, Deb. This is beautifully written. I will read little Donna’s story another day

  16. January 24, 2012 at 6:26 pm

    I love how you were able to weave that feeling of inter-connectedness we all share. Thanks for sharing on this story.

  17. January 25, 2012 at 5:24 am

    Thanks for sharing. Cancer hits a note with me because I lost my Dad and grandmother from it.

    You write so beautifully.


  18. January 27, 2012 at 2:40 am

    Thank you for sharing Donna’s life with us… This is deeply touching.

  19. January 29, 2012 at 9:11 am

    I’ve always believed that the only wasted life was a forgotten one. As long as we are willing to take up the torch for others who can no longer carry their own, they live on; even in death.

    Great post!

  1. February 14, 2012 at 2:08 am
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