A pretty powerful letter circulated throughout social media last week. If you haven’t read it, you must. It’s a beautiful 27 year old’s final letter to the world before dying from cancer shortly after sharing. Find it here. 27 years old. Gone too soon but clearly wise beyond her years. And cancer, you really really suck.
Having walked her walk and having had to grasp the reality of my own earthly mortality, I give her a resounding +1 to everything she said. There is beauty in being able to share that type of perspective, that type of heartbreak. Finding a way to be grateful, eating the cake, zero guilt, spending money on experiences vs. things, not complaining in general but especially not complaining about things that some people would be grateful just to have. Those things all hit home!
Building on why that letter resonated so much for us, I think it’s a lot of things. One part because it’s just tragic. One part because we get a lot of what she’s saying and I admire how frank she was with it all. One part because her name is Holly, so close to Hallie. Many parts because that could’ve been me. That would’ve been me if it weren’t for Hallie. I had tears in my eyes the entire time and as I re-read it, I couldn’t help but feel my mind wander to what my letter would’ve said.
It would say a lot and my hope is I have a lot more time to think about it (😜) but I know for certain right now that my letter would have a big chunk in it about do overs. That’s right, do overs.
Allow me to explain.
It’s been an exhaustive stretch. And by stretch I mean 15 months. When you’re diagnosed with cancer, you are walked through the treatment plan and you’re made aware of all the struggles that come. You learn when to call the doctors vs. go straight to the hospital. What you don’t give thought to is the implications of all that: emotionally, mentally, physically & spiritually. You simply enter survival mode. Survival mode is literally checking off boxes each day. No thought, you are purely robotic. And then you get a clean bill of health & you enter a honeymoon phase. You are simply grateful to be alive, and as you should be. Too many people never get even that when diagnosed. No low moment or side effect can touch your spirit!
And then reality sets in. The side effects don’t go away and in some cases get worse. You begin to actually process your own mortality. You begin to understand the magnitude of all you went through. As life moves on without skipping a beat, you look up & catch your breath to find you’re a totally different person. And then you start to feel the loss of your daughter. It was real all along but survival mode yields no ability to process reality. To feel reality. If you aren’t processing or feeling, you aren’t moving forward and as a result, things get really hard. A completely different kind of hard than chemo days or radiation fallout. A hard that the only way I can describe it is by sharing what I would say to Kevin in those dark moments, “I’d take chemo any day over this.” And I meant every word of it.
Then you add on my personality type to that. I’m a control freak. A lover of details and one that wants everything to be perfect. The more involved the merrier. The ultimate people pleaser and also fiercely protective. I wish someone would’ve said to me, “yeah that’s like the worst personality type ever for what you’re about to go through.” 😜
I wish I would’ve known what Holly knew when I was diagnosed – that life’s true perfection is really in the imperfection. Because of all of this – cancer, grief, my personality, I can rattle off so many dates and days and events that didn’t go right this past year, especially the second half. And I can rattle off roller coasters of emotions that followed in the wake. Our anniversary was the best example of this. We talked up that night so much, we made it an “escape,” and while it was great to start, it went downhill fast. Disaster, for a lot of different reasons. Cancer ruined another night. Another memory stolen from us, another memory filed away under, “low point.”
It was admittedly yet another hard thing to work through. It took a lot. As we started to piece together the why, we started to realize the real opportunity for us – our key to surviving this stage. A radical idea let me tell you, we decided to simply, try again. A do over.
And so we planned a take two. As we were driving to the Herrington, Kevin asked if I was excited and I simply said two words: low expectations.
In turn, we had a most wonderful night. And born was this concept that has become an instant ESPN classic in our home: do overs. It doesn’t matter how big or small – whether a conversation mishandled, a plan gone all wrong, a day that you just can’t get out of bed, an event that you want to go but can’t because that should be us or the reminder of Hallie that it is. Instead of beating ourselves up over that “failure,” we’ve instead granted ourselves the grace to simply try again until you make that memory you so desperately need. We’ve strung together some great memories over the past couple of weeks, which I’m really really proud of us for. It’s been awhile since I’ve felt genuinely good about something.
So there you have it, do overs and low expectations. The absolute opposite of how I’ve always lived life. Who knew it to be the prized possessions of cancer survivors and grieving parents. For now, it is the winning combination in the Hart home & a guaranteed part in my letter someday!