A few days ago my stepmother, Laurette Schecter, passed away after a long struggle with a neurological illness. Since her death, I have thought so much about the time we spent together. When I was in the midst of a life struggle, she always asked questions, wanted to understand all the details, and talked me through how to cope and move on.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer right when she entered the last stage of her illness. Since we both couldn’t visit each other, we only spoke on the phone briefly, not able to really connect or go deep into what was really going on in our lives. It wasn’t until her death that it hit me how much I already missed her. I started to imagine what it would have been like the past couple of months if she were healthy. She would have been visiting me in California with my father, meeting my oncologist (who reminds me of her in some ways), and on top of every decision about my treatment. We would have gone scarf shopping.
Just like her, I have experienced the onset of a serious, life-threatening illness. I know what it is like to go through a series of scary testing, waiting for results that determine your fate. The experience changed my life forever, especially my relationship with death. The chemo continues to work and there is great hope to cure my cancer, but my life is still aggressively being saved. The future is not clear or guaranteed. But by feeling more intimate with death recently, I feel closer to Laurette, which is incredibly sad but gives me comfort right now.
I was not able to attend the funeral today in Hastings. It has caused me great heartache not to be with my family. I wrote a letter to Laurette that my sister read at the funeral. I want to share it with you. For those of you who knew her, I invite you to comment on this blog post with a memory of her.
I want to be one of the many voices today that honors the wonderful life you have lived. You are free of illness and at peace. We feel your strength, the energy of your being. Your life now rests in the love you have given, and in the love we give you.
When I was a young girl, I remember walking through your house on Frazer Place, absorbing the beauty and history of the art work and photographs that lined the walls. Your home was always a reflection of you – vibrant, spontaneous, creative, and full of love. I listened to you tell exciting stories of your past. I admired your relationships with Brooke and Eric, and how you always found a point of connection with each member of your growing family. I still can taste the delicious, fennel-and-Parmesan salad you made for many Sunday night dinners.
Laurette, my siblings and I will never forget the many trips we made with you down to Florida to visit our grandparents. We had long conversations sitting side-by-side on our beach chairs, sharing a fruit plate. You knew about all aspects of our lives and often that’s how Dad found out about what we were up to: “Ariel moved to Tennessee?” My favorite moments were when my Dad made you laugh so hard you would cry, barely able to recover so you could finish your meal.
Laurette, how caring you were. For our wedding, in lieu of place cards you hand wrote each and every one of our guests’ names on gorgeous water-smoothed stones. (By the way, Laurette, many of our friends still have those treasured little keepsakes.) After that you knew every single name of all my friends and their partners, and you always asked about them. In recent years I invited many of these same friends to the condo to spend time with you and Dad. A highlight was always the snack bar upstairs, but besides that, they always spoke about your exciting personality, how fun you were, how thoughtful that you had a gift for them. Because you always had a gift for your visitors.
My illness is keeping me from being with everyone else today. What I wish I could have said to you before, in solidarity, is that for both of us, our illnesses do not, and will not ever define our lives. We know you as the artist, the runner, the reader, our life-long stylist, the one who enjoyed and appreciated life to its fullest. We love you and will remember you as Laurette: our mother, grandmother, sister, teacher, and friend.