My sister-in-law, Lisa Walker, died on July 2. This time last year, unless you were privy to microscopic changes in her body, she was the picture of health. The week of Christmas, six months ago, she learned that a nagging pain under her rib cage was not a gall bladder problem.
That's how pancreatic cancer works. Silently. Quickly. Intrusively.
It's too soon for me to write about this in detail. Down the road I certainly plan to, but for now, I'm in that hazy grief-fog, just trying to remember why it is again that I went to the grocery store? What have we run out of? Where did I park the car?
In the Charlotte airport awaiting my connecting flight home, I picked up a consumable book. Something I could start, read, finish before touchdown at PDX. I didn't want anything funny. I didn't want anything too literary. I didn't want anything stupid. Less than 250 pages. A paperback, easily crammable in my more than two carry-on items which, in order to avoid the ridiculous $25 fee, I knew I'd need to consolidate or parcel out to my kids (even in grief, I'm cheap, it appears).
I ambled down the book shelf at the newsstand, picking up, rejecting. I briefly considered a book of Sudoku puzzles for the disabled. A similar book of crosswords. And then, there she was, Elizabeth. The pillar--the icon--of a woman pummeled. Repeatedly. Name a shitty thing, and Elizabeth Edwards has suffered it. A suddenly dead child. Breast cancer that won't go away. A lying, cheating fuckwad of a husband. Intrusive media. A vicious, attention-seeking mistress who got herself knocked up. I expected the book to suck, of course. Churned out memoirs of the famously shafted typically are.
Resilience not only does not suck, it's fantastic. Rather than being driven by solipsistic rants and martyr-infused sentimentality, this little memoir, I hope, will find itself amid other thought-provoking, poetic, honest books, like Gift from the Sea. Or even, dare I say it, Auster's The Invention of Solitude.
Having just spent hours watching a beloved relative die an untimely death; her agonal breathing still embossed in my brain, her husband's weeping, her children, my children, her parents, her best friends, coming to grips with a loss as big or bigger than any they had suffered previously, Resilience was the only book I could have attended. It is not written from the distance of safety; it's penned in the midst of devastation and unprocessed grief, and yet, it's coherent, lovely, full of the sort of wisdom that only comes from asking questions, and following a depth of inquiry that leads to a sort of celebration. I'm alive, still, kept being the message.
So God bless Elizabeth. Say what you will about celebrity memoirs and bids for attention, Resilience is an important book.
Thanks for writing this. I'm so sorry for your sister-in-law and your family's loss. The pain and confusion you describe is also familiar--I lost my sister to pancreatic cancer. I now volunteer with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network as a way to make sense out of the senseless. I wish you and your family well.