Writing through grief
A poetic letter from one breast to another amidst breast cancer and the loss of a beloved daughter.
PHOTOGRAPH: Maddie Thomas (R) and her late daughter, Nancy (L).
Being a newlywed on a honeymoon, the last word you want to hear is “cancer.”
Newlyweds are envisioned as a young couple in bridal attire. And a honeymoon usually means a trip following the wedding ceremony.
Now in my mid-70s, I had recently married for the second time, to a man I sang with in our church choir where we met. Our honeymoon is continuous and ongoing, long after a getaway trip to Maine.
When “cancer” was first spoken, it was from my first-born child, Nancy, who was 55 years old. She thought she had a urinary tract infection, but she was soon diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. None of the several chemotherapy or bone marrow treatments helped her.
Instead of focusing on despair, Nancy planned a party for family and friends. On a beautiful July day in 2021, over 150 people gathered at her church to celebrate her with food, music, skits, and laughter.
Two days later, four months after her diagnosis, she passed away. It was my 76th birthday. That night I unwrapped a birthday gift she had given to me earlier. It was a tiny book titled “Things I Love About Mom” with 50 prompts she had filled in about our life together.
A year later, “cancer” was my own diagnosis. Breast cancer. The tumor was too large for a lumpectomy, so a mastectomy for my right breast was scheduled just before Christmas 2022. The night before surgery as I showered, I shed tears of goodbye.
The idea of goodbye stayed with me, and I wrote the following letter to express my feelings of loss.
December 14, 2022
Dear twin sister,
I never thought we’d be parted,
But you were right.
And now that you are gone, I am all that’s left.
We grew up together,
Slept in the same bed,
Kept warm under the old quilt.
Everything I did, you did with me.
It didn’t matter when hard times surrounded us.
We were always together.
We had each other.
You were my mirror image.
We were about as identical as could be.
There was never competition between us,
How can I look in the mirror and not see you, too?
Only a vacant place beside me.
I feel the loss deeply. I miss you so.
Things are not the same now that you’re gone.
I’m unbalanced. Alone.
My memories of us being together, always,
Are what I shall cherish all the days going forward.
There are reminders of where you stood with me through it all:
Reminders stitched in, like those made in our teddy bears
When there was a need. And when the teddies were stitched,
We loved them still, maybe even more.
Now I feel deep gratitude
For all those years of our togetherness,
Side by side.
I send you peace and love
And will carry on now, without you,
As best I can.
Years ago I created an altered book (a form of mixed media artwork created by modifying or reshaping an existing book) titled “Inside My Envelope.” I thought of my body as an envelope, containing who I really was on the inside. I filled the book with all things I loved. An envelope that ages gets wrinkled, mended, spotted, ragged in places, taped and stitched together, but still contains the preciousness inside that’s always been there.
Losing a breast is difficult, but it’s just a part of my envelope. Losing my precious daughter puts everything in perspective.
Related videosView all