Monthly Archives: June 2012


One of my chemo warriors died Saturday. She was one of my tribe of supportive sisters.

Andrea lived big. She touched many. She gave me my first teaching job and taught my daughter to sing and love music. She asked my son, before he went to fight in Iraq, “Are you prepared to die?”

I wrote her letters when she stopped having visitors during her year of living with the demanding new member of the family who vehemently moved in, cancer. When she stopped treatments, I sent her a letter telling her why I admired her, thanking her for changing my life and making my children’s lives richer. Ending the letter, I told her I would always love and remember her. If I sat with her I might have found the courage to ask, “Are you prepared to die?”

She was the one with the guts. In her honor I will try to be braver, gutsier. But I am sure Andrea prepared, in her own way, the things that were important to her, because she was one to plan about keeping and continuing things even beyond her reach after death. How do you prepare to die?

When it is my time to prepare for dying, I will want to make peace all around me. I will hug my family and friends. Of course, my papers and passwords and the secret places and workings of my financials must be made accessible to my dearest. My pets and most precious possessions must be given away with love and care. And then, if I have enough strength I will clean my house. A clean house is one of my hang-ups; I never leave town with the house in disorder. Most importantly, I will clear the corners of my mind and the paths to those I have known, saying, “I’m sorry” and “Thank you” and I love you” widely. For my friends I will wish gentle closings of the gaps I leave. Then, I will live every day and every moment I have left like it is a gift. I will love my life. And finally, I will make friends with death and call it by its first name, Freedom.

Hmmmm. Make peace. Hug. Share money. Take care of pets and prized possessions. Clean up. Clear my mind and make amends. Be generous. Love my time and my life. Reframe death.

My list for preparing to die sounds a lot like what I am trying to do now as I move forward to prepare for the next chapter of my living.

Share Button

Embarrassing Starts

How does your life move on? Does it just take off running, or lumbering, from start to finish without a blip or a break? Or are there chapters, like in a book, marked by characters and events coming and going?

I returned from a two week trip to Australia where I traveled alone to scatter my daughter’s ashes. A million things could’ve gone wrong and they didn’t. I came home feeling strong, at peace, and ready to begin a new chapter of my life.

Barely twelve hours after landing in New York, I fell into my front door and broke my nose.

It rained blood. Stars shot up before my eyes as my fingers fumbled over my cell phone in an effort to reach a friend for help. As I held onto my face for hours in the emergency room, all my renewed spirit and energies evaporated into a small cloud that hung around where my nose should have been.

For the next three weeks, with my movement restricted, I finished the first draft of my book manuscript. So even a stupid mistake or an accident can be a gift.  Because of a broken nose, I got the manuscript done and my nose looks a bit better than before. So now it’s time to tiptoe back to beginning the next chapter of my life.

I lost my daughter but I have not lost my life. Each morning her dog and cat wake me, reminding me that she is no longer here. But I am and that next chapter of life is not going to piece itself together and conveniently land in my lap. This is where I get to challenge myself, try new things, kick myself out of the house and out of my comfort zone.

That’s what I did the other night when I went alone to a new friend’s birthday party at a local bar. I don’t often go to bars or easily engage in conversation with strangers over loud music, so I promptly embarrassed myself choking on small talk and hurried home mortified without even a drink. Trying new things can be empowering, exhilarating, embarrassing or even disastrous. But days later, on two different occasions, I heard I’d been seen at that party looking great. An embarrassing moment became another gift. I’m prepared for a million things to go wrong and embarrass me in the process of finding my new role in life. Each day brings an opportunity for another challenge. So how will you challenge yourself today?

Marika wrote this poem after her first summer of being unconscious and nearly dying three times in the Intensive Care Unit at Rochester’s Strong Memorial Hospital.  Then, on a strict chemo regimen, with a compromised immune system, no hair and little energy, she picked up the pieces of her life and traipsed off to begin college.

Summer ‘08
Marika Warden, August 2008

A year ago, who would have guessed?
So many tears ago,
From boys, from putting my strength to the  test.
A sickness found a new romance
A skewed wishlist round
Family, love, saved my life by chance.
Now after all that I’ve gone through
The biggest trip and fall,
Now I can start my life anew.
This summer: my worst, my best.
Swimmer or runner?
Once it’s over I can re-progress
Back to the life that I once knew,
And though I can strive,
That life will be different through and through.
And I’ll miss you.
I just don’t know who.

Share Button

Safe at Home

HUMMERONPONDLast night, sometime after midnight, I wake to bright headlights that flash in the windows. A truck’s engine turns off, the dog barks furiously, doors slam, feet tread in the mudroom next to my bedroom and commotion clamors in. My son is home for the holidays.

Most of the time when he comes home he sneaks silently into the house, past my bedroom door and up the stairs to his room. It’s usually around 2:30 or 3 in the morning. I’ve learned to sleep through his coming and going when he’s home. Or else I pretend to.  Suki, always next to me, sleeps through too and often, the only way I know my son has come home is the warm welcome sight of his red Hummer sitting in the driveway in the morning.

When he’s not home, my son lives in the middle of chaos in some of the most dangerous places in the world. He thrives on adrenaline rushes and functions most efficiently in commotion and turmoil. And last night he brought commotion home with him.

The dog knew it. An affinity for commotion is the only thing my warrior son and my adorable little dog share. Right away, Suki recognizes it. People at the door. Strange people coming into the house is her sign to morph into her guard dog role. She barks and growls uncontrollably. And then it is impossible to play my role as the invisible, deaf, stone-drunk, dead-to-the-world other occupant of the house.

He’d brought friends home for a fast pit-stop before heading out to drive them home. Not wanting to turn on the lights, they stumble over the gymbag I’d left on the floor, the pile of laundry on the staircase and each other. All the while, Suki, in protector mode, is barking non-stop. She weaves her way out of my grasp when I try to catch her. She thoroughly enjoys this opportunity to let loose in the middle of the night.

On other nights, when my son is away, the sounds of squirrels running between the ceiling boards, mice in the walls and raccoons under the deck paralyze me with fear. They do not get a blink from Suki. And when my warrior son is in town I barely notice these sounds myself. I feel safe.

I finally grab Suki and hold her until the growl turns into a squirming squeak. We cuddle there together and listen to the sounds of flushing toilets, doors opening and closing, and finally, the shuffling around of friends trying to find the shoes they’d left off in the mudroom. I stifle a laugh into Suki’s fur. In less than ten minutes the chaos let loose in the house is over. There is a vacuumed whoosh and then silence. I fall back to sleep and wake again a short time later when he creeps back into the house for the night. Suki snores away on her back oblivious. I pretend to sleep although I’m wide awake now. And I don’t mind being awakened twice this night. My son is home. He is safe.

Share Button


Hi!  Is anyone out there?

This feels like getting on a stage where the lights are shining so brightly in your face that you can’t see the audience.  I’ve been told you’re out there.  But it’s so still and quiet around here that it’s hard to know for sure.  Can you tell it’s my first time doing this?  I wonder what I could say or do to create a stirring.  Maybe if I make a plea like Peter Pan sends out when Tinkerbell falls sick: if you hear this and care, please clap, please blog.  Let me know you’re out there.  I’m Marika’s mom.  Marika Joy Warden’s mother.  That should wake someone up somewhere.  She was the girl in Ithaca who kicked leukemia but died of complications.  In March, 2011.  Remember?  Well, I’m writing a book.  Our book.  Please help.  I wasn’t supposed to become a writer.  Marika was the writer – I was the artist, the teacher and the mother, the one who could be counted on to put out good food and drive anyone anywhere.  But after Marika died, I discovered her journals and notebooks.  She spent hours and hours writing songs, poems, plays, prose. The first poem I found was a single entry on the first page of a brand new journal.  She beckoned me, no dared me, to carry on.  She wrote that she wanted to be remembered for her words.  So I’m here writing a book.  Using her songs, poems and prose as her part of our conversations about tough issues like dying, like how cancer affected her life and relationships, … the book tells the real story about our last three years in and out of hospitals and all the way to Australia.  It’s like a duet, her words and my words taking turns on the pages.

I’ve been told I need to blog, finally fix up my neglected Facebook pages, brand myself! And get out there in order to establish a platform.  Publishers won’t even look at our book without a platform.  So I’m inviting you all to help me build a platform.  I’m begging you to help me with this platform thing because frankly, this is the scariest part about becoming a writer.  Marika loved being on center stage.  But I’m more shy.  And putting myself Out There, telling our story, using the computer beyond emailing, and exposing myself to strangers – my Aunt Bope always says, “Don’t be a stranger!” – has been a little unnerving.  So don’t be a stranger, please jam with me.

Party Jam

Marika Warden
One more drink away ‘til the night begins.
Let the smoke lead the way to another night of sin.
All the laughs and cries, something else came in.
Put your soul on overdrive
Because this party’s startin.’

Look around at all these people lookin’ for some fun,
Got my Rastas, got my hipsters, got a few of everyone.
When the music stops the after-party’s just begun.
Get your nightlights on and ready
Ain’t expectin’ any sun.

IMG_1781Wait – time out – the drink and smoke and “night of sin” stuff – twenty year old Marika’s words, not mine.  We had different views about things.  But that’s what makes this book so unusual.  She’s written some amazing things that I will share with you in these blogs each week.  This particular short song of hers just seemed to summon up her audience, which is what I need to do now.  I know you’re out there somewhere rooting for me in this new project I’m undertaking.  So let’s get on with the show, writing words that bring comfort as they are released and again as they are received.  We can all move past our grief and loss.  In a million ways we can make it all mean something and find joy again. 

This is your wake up call.  With Hurricane Marika gusting me through ten chapters, a journey to Australia, Ithaca’s gorges, everyday ups and downs and more, I will be writing every Monday, starting in June, 2012 from wherever I am, however I am. 

Cheers always!



Share Button