Today is World Cancer Day. In this day and age, almost everyone in the world (or so it seems) has been affected in one way or another by this terrible disease. On this day, we are, perhaps, all united by one common list of fears that cancer brings up: fear of the disease itself, fear of loss, fear of pain, and fear of uncertainty. Instead of dwelling on fear, I would like to use this post to honor a special person in my own life who died from cancer almost four years ago.
While I have never had the disease myself, my grandfather died of the disease and my aunt is currently suffering from it. When I was twenty-two, my mentor, Kim McElaney, who was director of the Chaplains’ Office at the College of the Holy Cross, was diagnosed with colon cancer. She survived almost a year and a half before her death in May of 2010. Words cannot describe how devastated I was to lose her. I absolutely did not understand how such a wonderful, beautiful, holy person could have died at age fifty-five. She touched so many lives and had so much left to accomplish in this world.
After I worked through my pain and grief (some of which I still work through on a daily basis), I realized that the best way to honor Kim was to be a living witness to her memory. I keep a picture of her on my desk in order to remind me to be the best campus minister I can be every day to each person I am privileged to minster to. When I don’t know what to do, my spiritual director tells me to listen to my “inner wisdom.” For some people, this “inner wisdom” might be known as our conscience, or the Holy Spirit. I like to think of my inner wisdom as a combination of Kim’s voice and lessons, and well as the Holy Spirit guiding me.
The further I get from Kim’s death, the more I come to experience one of my favorite lines from Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie: “Death ends a life,” he wrote, “not a relationship.” Though Kim is no longer living, our bond lives on. I honor her memory. I cherish her advice. I fill my heart with all the times we spent together and how happy and loved I felt. Most of all, it makes me happy to know how pleased she would be that I became a campus minister, just like her.
My hope for all of you, on this day when we remember those in our lives who have been affected by cancer, is that you dwell not on the sadness of the death but on the joy that their memory brings you. I hope you can think of the ways your own life honors the life that they lived and how proud they would be of all you have accomplished and the type of person that you are. To end with some more wisdom from Mitch Albom, I hope you never forget that “Lost love is still love. It takes a different form, that’s all. You can’t see their smile or bring them food or tousle their hair or move them around a dance floor. But when those senses weaken another heightens. Memory. Memory becomes your partner. You nurture it. You hold it. You dance with it.”
If you want to read more about Kim’s life, here is a wonderful piece written about her in the Boston Globe when she passed away.
This post was written by campus minister Sarah Fontaine-Lipke.