Day 24: Death and Why I Laugh In Your Face

I have been on Facebook since summer of 2007, only two years, but in FB time seems like a decade. I joined up so that I could be part of the United States Public Service Academy Group (!) because I had just become a volunteer for the organization and our grassroots organizers at the college level insisted this was one of the best ways to communicate with our core and our corps. And then, KABOOM, Facebook became one non-stop cyber reunion after another. Because I pride myself on being as much of an open book as I am fiercely private, I quickly figured out how to lockdown my profile and leave just enough breadcrumbs that if you wanted to find me you could.

There have been so many warm reconnections, most of the genuine check-in variety, some earnest sharing of updates, then a normal, healthy and mostly unspoken parting which generally settles into photo “likes” or a happy birthday message. (Facebook birthdays are super fun however!) Other reconnections have been more impactful and important to my daily life. I cherish these.

One of those connections has been to my friend Jen Lew. She and I worked together on a movie called “The Patriot” in 1999 and into 2000. Jen is hysterical, like grab your guts, choke on your tea, spit take, oh-no-she-did-not-just-say-that funny. She’s also smart and intense and never met an opinion she didn’t like. I worshipped her immediately. There were also times I wanted to kill her (it’s true Jen, I wanted to choke a bitch, although now I have no memory of a specific instance, plus I was like 28 or 29 and dating GP… um, a little help there would have been good, ha!), but I am sure a lot of that had to do with my level of exhaustion and frustration at one of our bosses, and the good news is she is someone that you can confront and she will meet you there, have the conversation, and move it on forward. So finding Jen on FB was a super happy connection and one I kept up with checking on her page to see what mischief she was getting herself into.

And then, the news this summer:

Jen Lew has cancer.

What?

Yeah, fucking cancer.

But she just moved into a new house, I saw all the pictures of the paint project where she stripped the walls and re-did and made it all pretty and inspiring…

What. The. Fuck.

Unfortunately this is not my first time on the cancer train with a friend. I made a decision at some point to take all the “experiences” and “situations” and “lessons” life has served up to me and put them to use, and this was no exception. I was simultaneously devastated and empowered: somehow I knew exactly what to say to her and get the necessary info about all the treatments and plans to put my mind at some kind of ease, but more importantly, try to treat her just like my funny, beautiful friend from late nights in the production office. And then Jen did an amazing thing… she started writing about the cancer for all of US.

The post that I have identified with on a molecular level that Jen has shared is this one. Few people are willing to express the depth of their pain because it is so scary for loved ones to hear, but she so accurately described the sense of wanting one thing to just make it stop, and that is quite simply, death, but since there is still a shred of sanity and dignity, you are not going to actually make death happen. Does that mean that you should be alone during those acute and tenuous moments? Absolutely not, and I knew enough to call in the cavalry when it happened to me, which is what I think Jen did just in the act of sharing this diatribe. I sure wish my friend Jake had made that call…

Jen is here. She is doing her chemo, doing her work, letting people take care of her, and planning a huge birthday party on November 28th. Jen inspired me to run one more fucking race this year because she cannot. She reminded me to look back at a particularly shitty year and realize there is not one thing I cannot handle and in fact, some really good shit happened too. I will get to that on another day. When I write about it, because god damn it, Jen’s inspiration was the tipping point that busted open all my pent up creative essaying.

Jen Lew, you are the coolest. Thanks for being my friend.

Click “Comments” below to see comments from original FB posts.

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3 thoughts on “Day 24: Death and Why I Laugh In Your Face

  1. Ashley-

    Really moving, Justine. Thanks for sharing this.
    November 11, 2009 at 5:01pm

    Leigh-

    Beautiful and poignant.
    November 11, 2009 at 5:12pm

    Justine-

    thank you for reading ladies. ♥
    November 12, 2009 at 8:10am

    Kimberly-

    The bravery of this, what you wrote and what she wrote, is indescribably beautiful.
    November 12, 2009 at 8:35am

    Justine-

    humble thanks. :-)
    November 12, 2009 at 10:50am

    Jen-

    no no YOU are the coolest.. and might I just add. Even though I am too fatigued to walk up the stairs lately.. I wouldn’t run that race if my life depended on it.. and with this you are my hero.
    Run, Run, Run… you are amazing.
    xo
    November 13, 2009 at 2:50am

    Justine-

    JL, I am laughing my ass off. As my sister-in-law says, “I only run if being chased.”
    November 13, 2009 at 5:55am

  2. Thanks for another excellent article. Where else may just anyone get that type of info in such
    an ideal means of writing? I’ve a presentation next week, and I am on the search for such info.

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