Friday, April 13, 2012

Essays and Memories

What I'm about to do here is a smidge embarrassing. I'm about to post an essay I wrote almost 18 years ago - as is, with no changes to the wording (despite several urges to "tinker").

When I was in Florida a few weeks ago, my grandmother passed along to me a pile of papers she had been saving for years. They were hard copies of three different essays I wrote as part of my college applications. I don't have electronic copies of these - I wrote them back in the day of the "family computer", floppy discs, and shared (barely functional) e-mail accounts. I'm not even sure what word processing program I used to write them - not Word, that's for sure. I had always been a little proud of the essay that got me in to my eventual college of choice, The College of William and Mary, and was a little sad that I didn't have it anymore. So these brown-stained papers Mimi found came home with me, against my base nature of throwing out anything and everything that isn't nailed down in an effort to prevent clutter.

Though once I get these puppies on the computer, all bets are off.

Anyway, this essay is NOT the essay that helped get me in to W&M. Maybe I'll post that one another time. This essay - well, I have no idea where I submitted it, and no idea if I was offered admission to wherever it was sent. But I want to copy it down here, today, because it's about my lovely Aunt Donna.

The sterile hall stretched before me, endless and lonely. I was finding it difficult to put one foot in front of the other. My hands were clenched at my sides, with little half moons imprinted on my palms. My back was ramrod straight. I became more and more apprehensive as I grew closer to room 224. "Maybe this was a bad idea," I though to myself. But I continued to move forward and, stopping at the door, knocked softly on the cool metal. Years passed before I heard the weak, "Come in." I opened the door and stepped inside.

Under most circumstances, I am comfortable in a hospital. As a little girl, I would accompany my father on his daily rounds at the New England Deaconess Hospital. But this was a different hospital, and I was here to visit a family member, not a nameless patient under my father's care. My aunt had been admitted to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to have a cancer-ridden lung removed. Though she has battled cancer through much of her young life, this was the first time I had ever seen her ill.

Lying in the huge hospital bed that looked as if it would swallow her, I could barely recognize Donna. The pale skin, the frail body and raspy breathing - it all had to belong to someone else. Where was the aunt who seemed more like the older sister I had always wanted, the aunt I had known and loved my whole life?

I discovered she was right before me, doing her best to make me feel at ease. She talked to me as if nothing had changed, and indeed,  nothing had. Underneath the starched hospital sheets, the thin cotton gown, and the small chest that moved unevenly whenever she took a breath, the heart of my aunt kept the same rhythm it always had. Donna is stronger than anyone else I know. She has a will to live that most of us can only observe, and it has helped her survive through five battles with cancer. Never once has she given up, never once has she said, "it's just not worth it anymore." When I look at my aunt and all she has accomplished with her life - a happy marriage, a job she enjoys (ed. note. - I should have included FRIENDS on this list - she had so many friends!) - I feel as though there is nothing I cannot face. She has taught me to face danger with a little fear and a lot of courage. Most of all, she has taught me  that it is alright to feel afraid as long as I make the right choice, the choice to live.

I survived my hospital visit that day, and so did Donna. And I know that if our roles had been reversed, and I was the one lying in the hospital bed, I would survive that as well. I would think of the strength I see in my aunt, and I would make it through each day.

April 13, 2012, would have been Donna's 48th birthday. Or maybe 47th? I'm sad that I don't know for sure. She lost her war with cancer during my sophmore year of college, a couple of years after I wrote this essay.

I still miss her. I wish she could know my husband, my children. I wish she was here.

But I have lots of happy memories of her, and that helps. Seeing her tanned and happy after a semester in Hawaii, her excitement when she got engaged, her wonderful wedding day, that Red Sox game where she admired Tim Wakefield's "physique" (fine, butt). I even remember that day, 29 years ago, when she sat with  my sisters and I outside our little condo in North Andover, and waited with us to greet our new baby brother on his first day home from the hospital.

So excuse the cheesy, written-so-you'll-think-I-have-depth-and-accept-me-to-your-university, words above. Just something I wanted to post today, to help me remember Donna on her birthday.


  1. okay you made me cry and not a day goes by that I think about Donna. I also miss her so very much. Donna loved you very much. Mom

  2. What a sweet post and what an inspiration. I remember Krissy talking about your Aunt Donna all the time and I know how special she was to your entire family. Hugs.