“It’s kind of intimidating to get up here to read what I’ve written about Lisa, who was such an accomplished writer herself, and to do so when so many professional writers have already expressed their feelings about Lisa so beautifully and eloquently in various media.
But I can only speak as Lisa’s father, and for her mother Rita, and as her parents, we can only say –
– Lisa, we hardly knew you.
By that I mean that living with Lisa since her diagnosis in 2006 was a learning experience – we learned about a Lisa we did not previously know.
We used to think of Lisa as our little girl, the pre-schooler who was so pigeon-toed she wore braces for years so she wouldn’t trip over her own feet. Then she passed through the turbulent teens where there were early signs of the ferocious willpower that flourished later, but I have to say – we didn’t see it then as an attribute. We thought she seemed like just another teenager whose willpower is mostly dedicated to resisting whatever their parents ask them to do…
Then she went off to college and it was already clear she was becoming an exceptionally beautiful and intelligent woman. She initially chose Cornell because she could combine an Ivy League education with her strong interest in fashion. Of course that fashion interest had wardrobe consequences. When I drove her up to college for moving-in day, squeezing all her clothes, footwear, and miscellaneous necessities into our little Subaru station wagon was like packing for a trip around the world with only carry-on luggage … I thought the back windows would pop out…
On Cornell’s enormous campus she soon realized that she wanted a more personal education, and she transferred to Franklin & Marshall College where she not only met Clarke, but learned how to write. Writing was another of her skills that wasn’t immediately apparent to me, because after college when she got a Master’s degree in Sociology from Rutgers, I actually could not understand her thesis. When I asked her why she used such convoluted academic jargon instead of just saying what she wanted to say in plain English, she said, “Oh, Dad, if I did that, they’d never give me my degree…”
– Little did I know then how well she could write plain English.
When cancer struck, Lisa’s unflinching writing about it introduced us to someone we did not yet know.
William Styron, the author of Sophie’s Choice, said: “true artists must paint life honestly according to their vision.”
Lisa knew that instinctively. On her blog, day after day, week after week, year after year, she wrote about how what was happening in her life could teach us about living.
The psychotherapist Irving Yalom said that cancer is wasted on the dying.
He meant it’s wasted because cancer provokes an acute awareness of mortality that teaches many life lessons, including how to distinguish the vital from the trivial, and how to endure.
Lisa understood those lessons, but what really differentiated her was the ability to teach those lessons to others.
When you live with cancer, each day brings new challenges. Those cancer patients who see all the challenges as part of a single, unified whole, often find the cumulative emotional burden so oppressive and debilitating they shrink into themselves or just give up.
Some people find that course preferable. Lisa didn’t. For her, chronicling every detail of each treatment enabled her to deal with each challenge individually. She thus made them tolerable not only for herself, but for all her readers, especially those who were traveling the same road. It proved a brilliant insight, and it kept her from ever shrinking into herself or giving up.
It was as if Lisa got up each morning to go to work, but just happened to have an unpleasant job. Being treated for cancer was her job and, doggedly, relentlessly, she just did what had to be done – chemotherapy, having an intravenous port inserted, getting her brain irradiated, whatever…
And at every step she had not just a doctor, but a partner. Lisa had the essential understanding and support of her beloved Doctor Chau Dang, of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, who was by Lisa’s side in a very special relationship, day by day, and when it came to that, even at night, right to the end.
When we look back at the cumulative burden of what Lisa endured through the years without complaining, we are astonished by her tenacity and feistiness, her sheer grit and determination to just keep going, because the paycheck for that unpleasant job of hers was more time with the family she loved.
She made striving to stay alive meaningful, because she had reasons to live. They are called Clarke, Paige, Colin, and Tristan.
As all her readers know, her love was always turned outward. Over the recent Christmas break, Rita was recovering from a knee replacement and couldn’t climb stairs, so I came alone to stay with her because otherwise Clarke wouldn’t leave her to take the family for their annual skiing vacation in Wyoming with his large family. At the time, Lisa and I reminisced that when she and Mark were little, Rita and I thought the baby sitters ought to be board-certified pediatricians. It amused us to think that now Lisa had gone us one better and had a sitter who was a board-certified heart surgeon.
In her blog she wrote unselfishly: “I’m thrilled that my family has gone away on vacation starting today… I insisted that they go; it is so important for me to know that our kids and my husband can have some vacation time and get a break.”
My job that week was not just to bring peace of mind to Clarke while the family was away, but to bring Lisa double espresso cappuccinos. She could no longer get to her machine downstairs, and she was so happy that I had figured out how to use it…
Towards the end, when it became clear to her that she wasn’t going to get better, and she knew that 2016 was a bridge too far, she continued to fight for one more month, then one more day, and eventually, just one more hour.
This past November Lisa wrote:
Some days I don’t know how to get out,
Or want to be the brave one,
Be the strong one.
Some days I don’t believe this is what my life is,
What it has come to,
Or even think I have woken up for the day.
Some days I don’t wish to believe the best days are over,
Know if the adventures have ended,
Want to believe that it can be true that they are.
But even on the days I don’t…
Somewhere inside I know I must press onward,
For whatever that means for right now.
So every day that is just what I do.
Lisa – it’s clear now that when all this started we hardly knew you. But, with thousands of others, we learned a lot about you. Sure, anyone could see you had a fierce will, but thousands of others found that your will was wrapped up in other qualities. As one follower wrote, you were also “warm, thoughtful, gracious, dignified, devastatingly candid, and so brave.”
Expressing her grief, another admirer wrote:
“She will live forever in the sunshine, her favorite flowers,
The morning mist, the evening shade, and the stars.”
I might add, less poetically, that she will also live in cyberspace.
For all of us with aching hearts, I’ll conclude with some lines by an anonymous poet:
Those we love don’t go away,
They walk beside us every day.
Unseen – unheard, but always here.
Still loved, still missed, still very dear.”
Thank you all for being here with us today, and with Lisa always.”
Next: please see the remembrance video of Lisa shown at the reception.