She was Rebecca.
I can remember her whole and perfect before cancer took its pieces. Cancer’s siege on her body took twelve years to complete. The disease took her hair, her voice, her appetite, her breast, and eventually her life. While her death left loved ones in devastation, the cancer’s victory was merely superficial. Though often portrayed as a distorted, broken shell, her spirit was never conquered by cancer.
Rebecca’s last two words escaped as a whisper. “Thank you,” she murmured to a nurse who had given her a pill to take the edge off her unimaginable pain. Those two words were so indicative of the way she had lived her life. She found reasons in heartbreak and miracles in joy. Her faith never wavered. When her prayers to keep her “glory” went unanswered as her knee length hair fell out, she just smiled that wise, all-knowing smile that seemed to hold the keys to universal truths. “God sure knew what he was doing,” she proclaimed to anyone who would listen, even the nurse injecting the poison in her arm. “As weak as chemo makes me, if he had let me keep my hair, I would have never been able to lift my head.”
Rebecca’s last month alive was spent in the hospital. With her bowels blocked, she vomited her own excrement. The morphine began to shut down her kidneys, and fluid built up in her lungs. During that time she spent her energy witnessing to every person who entered her room. “Let me tell you what Jesus has done for me,” she would begin to any willing ear. Her last day was almost silent as a series of small strokes paralyzed her, distorting her face to a monstrous version of its form. With her last breath, she raised her face toward heaven, her arms lifted slightly off the bed, and with one tiny shutter she was gone.
At that moment, I wanted desperately to believe in the same spirit Rebecca so magnificently believed in. I wanted to picture her whole and perfect walking hand in hand with Jesus on streets of gold. I wanted to picture the child that I lost being scooped up into her loving arms. Belief would have been so convenient. It would have fit so nicely.
I am Rebecca’s granddaughter. I am also an Agnostic. The incongruity of those parts of my identity living in the same body has made me feel as though I am a walking paradox. A portion of Rebecca lives inside me. I recognize her voice speaking my innermost thoughts. I do not reject the places of my soul that she inhabits. I reject her God. If she could speak from the grave, she would say that God was everything that defined her as a person. What defined me was her.
I struggle knowing I do not carry on the legacy she would have wished for me. Yet I am the person she raised me to be. I find her most in my capacity to love and accept others. I find her when I follow the truths in my own heart. I find her in my strength. Much like her, I find reasons in sadness. I always look for the silver lining. I hear her voice when I am singing to my children the same silly songs she sang to me. I love Reece’s Cups and hot Dr. Pepper. I write poems when I am sad or trying to understand a situation better. As I type, I look down and see her fingers. I am Rebecca.