Floating away

April 18th, 2013 § 54 comments


I sit on the beach, feel the sand’s angry texture rub my chemo feet in a way I wish it wouldn’t.

I watch my family in the ocean, turquoise and calm and vast.

My husband flips over, face in the water, takes some strokes out to sea. His movement is graceful, effortless, just as it was the when I met him 22 years ago.

He was a sprinter on the college team then, and while he laughs and says it doesn’t feel effortless anymore, nor perhaps fast, it does not matter. In my mind’s eye he is that young man, swimming fast, joking with his team, coming over to the stands to talk to me while chewing on the strap of his racing goggles. I fall in love with him again every time I see him swim.

My three children float, bobbing in the ocean water.
I can feel the distance between us, it feels like a lifetime.
It is my family in the ocean floating away from me.

I see the quartet, I watch as an outsider.
I do this a lot lately. I watch them from afar and think how it will be without me. A new family unit. Behind the big black sunglasses my tears stream down.

Suddenly Tristan is running from the water to me, across the sand. He stands, dripping, face beaming. “I just wanted to tell you I love you, Mama.” I take his picture. I capture the sweetness. I grab him, hug him, feeling the cold ocean water on him, melding it to my hot skin. I murmur to him what a sweet boy he is, that he must never lose that. I send him back to the ocean, away, so I can cry harder.

By the time they return to shore I’ll have myself composed. But my oldest immediately senses something amiss. She mouths to me, “Are you okay?” And pantomimes tears rolling down her cheeks.

Yes, I nod.
I walk to the water’s edge to prove it.

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§ 54 Responses to Floating away"

  • Lindsey says:

    Oh, Lisa. I wish I had something to say other than I love this, your gorgeous family, your memories of your husband and how he is still that man, your dear, loving littlest and your sensitive, thoughtful oldest. They will never be without you, in some important ways. But I know that is no solace. I wish I knew what was. xox

  • Diane D'Angelo says:

    My heart just clenched. Thank you for this.

  • Jennifer McFarland says:

    Oh Lisa, my heart breaks reading this and I too cannot stop the tears from falling. When my Mom was dying she looked at my sister and I and said I don’t want to go, I’m going to miss you all so much. If only she knew not a day goes by, eleven years later, I still miss her so much.

  • Elaine McCabe says:

    I cry with you. Thank you.

  • I loved this one Lisa. You can really feel the love, the passion, and the pain in your writing. I really hate cancer!

  • sarahbutten says:

    You are five of the most gorgeous people in the universe. I wish I had more to say than that.

  • Christie says:

    You always touch upon something familiar to me – and others. Whether counting our own limited days or blindly feeling our way through them oblivious to our own mortality – we are one.

  • Jill Salahub says:

    It is the most confusing thing about being human, mortal, that in this moment, these sort of moments, our love is the biggest, our light the brightest, we are the most present and you are the most beautiful, brilliant, tender, even as we wish for dim, dull, normal and boring–we are awake, in love with the world and each other, and it is so sharp.

  • Susan Simmons says:

    This is heartbreakingly beautiful. You are a remarkable woman, Lisa, with tremendous depths of insight and sensitivity. Your family too, is special, and your influence on them is indelible.

  • jandemommy says:

    I am crying, Lisa. I hope that despite your tears, you enjoyed your vacation. My heart breaks for you & your family, and for everyone dealing with advanced cancer. Sending a hug.

  • Kathryn says:

    I have been thinking about you all week, hoping your vacation has been a respite from the stress of the last six months. The love you have for your family is beautiful. xoxo

  • Kcecelia says:


  • Elizabeth says:

    My heart aches for you and your family, Lisa. My dad died when I was 17 after a very long illness. I empathize with your oldest child. My dad and I had such a profound relationship and it is clear that your daughter and you have a similar bond. You are astounding in your ability to capture in words your experience of your illness from every angle; and you are so good to share it with us. We are supporting you with our thought and in our hearts.

  • denise says:

    I often think of you, trying to imagine the emotions you experience as you live with metastatic breast cancer. This essay is equal parts exquisite and heartbreak and allows us all to learn, to think and understand. Much love. xo

  • Sarah Hina says:

    Your love runs as deep as that ocean. Thank you for sharing the unbearable poignancy of this moment with all of us.

    Those kids of yours are so dear.

  • Mary Killian says:

    So eloquently said. Thank you for sharing your deepest, raw feelings. This is why I have survivor’s guilt; I know better than to feel this way, but life is so unfair. Thinking of you and your family.

  • David Dobbs says:

    Oh, Lisa Lisa. This is so painfully lovely, so achingly and beautifully painful. It will also be consoling, and a permanently warm source of love, for your children and husband and all others who love you.

  • Oh, Lisa. How beautifully written! I can sense the aching in your heart. My best to you and your precious family. xox Jan

  • Britt says:

    Impossible not to cry. Beauty and love and pain in a handful of perfect sentences… damn right you’re proving it.

  • Pat says:

    Lisa, this one is tough. If my recent experience is any guide, your kids will be resilient, secure in the knowledge that you love them. And they will be gifted with the amazing testaments of your love in all your writing. I suspect they will also pay that love forward to friends of theirs who haven’t yet encountered heartbreak.

  • Sue says:

    My heart breaks at the same time that it opens wide to see the love in your family. Thank you for sharing so much with us. It means so much.

  • Joanne Firth says:

    Heart wrenching words. I was able to visualize the entire moment, turning your poetic words into pictures. Tristan running toward you, your brave smile welcoming him into your arms the tears falling from beneath your dark glasses. Thank you for so beautifully sharing this tender and personal moment with your family. xo

  • Margaret says:

    Nothing has touched me as deeply as this post for a long time. Beautiful. Sad. Poignant. True family love and spirit. You are wrapped in layers and layers of love and light. Your presence is powerful, your words are far reaching and help thousands (by your twitter followers count), if not millions. I wish I had comforting words to say other than the fact that you are and always will be legendary. I know you don’t believe in “after we die”, but you will live on through so many hearts and memories, especially those of your dear family. Taking train back to CT from city job and tears and nose are running! But worth the incredible read. Thank you. Thank you. I hope writing it and sharing it helped you.

  • Joe says:

    That’s beautiful Lisa and I’m happy you experienced those powerful emotions. Reading this makes me want to feel more. All of it, good, bad and worse. Soak it all in and really feel because that’s what we really have. Moments like this. You’re awesome my twitter friend.

  • Pam says:

    So lovely.
    So heartbreaking, yet also heart-filling.
    Thank you for writing this.

  • Lori says:

    Crying with you…

  • Amy Coulter says:

    Tears here…beautifully captured. Love you.

  • Lexie says:

    Lisa, first off – your writing is beautiful. I could see the entire scene as if I was there. Beautiful. Second, my mother battled cancer as my sister and I were growing up. I can imagine she had similar moments. I wanted to tell you that from the child’s perspective you are a hero – one that will live on forever, no matter what card fate deals. You are strong and looked up to. My mother and I got closer than ever in some of her sickest moments and I cherished every second I spent with her. I can imagine it is hard to think about what life could be like without you there, but know that your strength will live on in your children…

  • Gesine says:


  • Suzanne says:

    Thank you for this post. I am living with stage 3c ovarian cancer, and I too find myself looking at my family this way–with a mixture of sadness that their stories may go on without me and with joy at how beautiful they are. Love and light to you.

  • Thank you. What a beautiful writer, and soul, you are. So vivid. So powerful. And so full of love.

  • Kim C says:

    When the heart is so full of love, it spills forth and finds a forever home in the hearts of the ones we love the most. Next steps, Lisa. Next steps.

  • Holloway says:

    Beautifully captured details of an extraordinary family.

  • Kim C says:

    When the heart is so full of love, it spills forth and finds a forever home in the hearts of those we love the most. Next steps, Lisa. Next steps.

  • Kathleen says:

    Hi Lisa,

    I saw your tweets yesterday, read this earlier today and it’s sat with me since. It’s just heartbreakingly beautiful.

    When I thought about the quartet piece for awhile, I came to a place of seeing you as the music or the conductor or the harmonies unwritten…I’m not sure which, but I know you’re in the music. Woven through, pianissimo and fortissimo, I know you will continue to be heard.

    Thank you for sharing your life so openly with us. It’s an amazing honor.

  • Tana says:

    I know that the number of people you’ve inspired to follow up on appointments and tests and medications and symptoms is vast. I include myself in that number. Besides being an incredibly beautiful woman, wife, and mother, you are also a sort of a lifeguard at the pool where your friends and followers swim.

    Because of you, some of us will live longer, facing challenges far less stark than yours.

    Because of you, some of us have slowed down certain little moments that crystalize the meaning of life…or life’s variety of moments. Thank heavens for little boys covered with cold ocean water. The salt of that, drying on your warm skin, even as your tears do.

    The salt of that. The salt of the water. The salt of the earth. We all dissolve, but love NEVER does. Your children have known your love since they lived inside you. Your love will never leave. Nor, I think, the echo of a laugh that I believe is hilarious unto itself.

    I hope you laugh wildly. I do.

    Sending you love, and the prayer for a solid belly laugh, to you and yours. And before anyone bites me for suggesting that you could laugh—it could happen. I know that with all my heart.


  • Marianne B says:

    Lisa, You are an inspiration. I am so grateful I discovered your blog.

  • Patty says:

    Wow, you are an amazing woman. All I can say is “thank you” for your beautiful words. They resonate so deeply with me. Your writings bring such calmness.

  • Meg says:

    Amazingly poignant. Thank you for your beautiful words. You touch our hearts.

  • Amy says:

    You are an amazing mother, wife, woman, writer…and so many other things, I am sure, for you do those 3 things so well. My heart goes out to you and your beautiful family. May your words find the people that need them and bring them peace and comfort.

  • […] Heartbreaking post from Lisa Adams about being a cancer patient and staring at her children’s future. […]

  • Sophia says:

    Lisa, I so hope you’ll still have a long time to go with your family and many more happy moments with them. And I wish you all the strength to carry on and keep yourself composed in front of them – when you want to!
    You give a voice to so many of us, fearing death itself less than leaving our loved ones behind. And you make people see what so many of us hide – the desparation when we realise our loved ones will have to go on without us, but we hide our tears and cry in secret because we don’t want them to worrying about us. Please excuse my choice of words, English’s not my native language. Thank you so much for your posts – and my best wishes to you!

  • Lee says:

    Hugs, and so much more.

  • Bill Labich says:

    Thank you for sharing your pain and grief. You remind me that these moments are to be cherished, each and every one of them, no matter what.

  • […] I want to link to this beautifully stirring piece by a young mother of three who is dying of breast cancer. It is deeply emotional – I cried and I […]

  • jenna says:

    read this last week on my phone, so didn’t comment…but days later I’m still thinking about this one. I think one of my favorites.

  • Kate says:

    I was trying to work, but my work took me to Ed Yong’s blog looking for a link which took me here, and now I am sitting at my desk and sobbing. I don’t even want to read the piece again, because it is so perfect. My father died when I was a teenager and was ill before that. I don’t even know how to express why this piece means so much, and what it’s expressing that is so evocative and right.

  • Patricia says:

    Thank you for sharing your strength, courage, and yes even despair and fear. When I lost my father to cancer (I was 11, he was 38), I had no idea what it must have been like for him to watch my brother and I go on about our lives, knowing that soon he would no longer be there to partake of them with us. I’ve often wondered about that experience, how he must have felt the weight of each day as it passed, knowing that he was not getting better, nor would he. I will keep you and your lovely family in my thoughts, and I hope you will keep sharing yours.

  • luna says:

    this took my breath away.

    my mom was diagnosed as terminal about 4 yrs ago, just a few months before our first child was born. we have said goodbye many times since then. it never gets easier.

  • Louisa says:

    We float away or sometimes they float away from us…..so painful, so difficult so without reason and without common sense…these losses cannot happen, they cannot be real, they cannot exist..we are too good, we give too much, we love them too much, they love us too much, they give too much, we give too much ….yet it happens. We who have lost ourselves or are losing our children understand…whether we have lost them or they have lost us…..we so value them and so honor them and so love them…they, we or both of us will carry forth and make the world better….believe it.

  • niluferwajeeh says:

    Heart wrenching..

  • paul says:

    Thank you. Thank you Lisa

  • My thoughts are with you. Thank you for sharing this article!

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