I’m older than some of my elder law colleagues, having lived a full life, experiencing marriage, divorce, births, and injuries, and deaths of friends, family, and colleagues. I’m fortunate to have an office manager, Sandy, who also has lived a full life, experiencing tough situations that enable her to understand the importance of our work with others. As members of the sandwich generation, we both have cared for children and godchildren, parents and godparents. So, we’ve seen a lot.
Sandy’s mother died in 2014 at the age of 94. Mrs. P was a vibrant woman known for her love of life and empathy for others. Until being diagnosed with a rare oral cancer in the last years of her life, Mrs. P enjoyed a healthy and productive life—working until she was 89 years old. Sandy’s retirement allowed her to care for her mother, spending quality time with her and experiencing the continuum from good to painful times together.
Sandy’s mother rarely thought of her own needs and lived her life taking charge and care of some of North Carolina’s most vulnerable children. When Sandy started providing more care for her mother in recent years, Mrs. P would often tell Sandy, “I don’t want you to just take care of me, you have a life to live.” Sandy and I would often reflect upon this experience and her mother’s advice as we strategized about how to assist clients in similar situations.
Then one day this past fall, Sandy started another journey that has helped us keep our attention and intention on the importance of living life as Mrs. P exemplified. Sandy was diagnosed with cancer. Sandy was doubly shocked that both she and her mother had developed cancer as it was not prevalent in their family. I’ll let Sandy tell her story:
…a few months ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I found the lump myself during a self-examination but I had no idea it would turn out to be breast cancer. My breast cancer is treatable and the prognosis is good. But for a year my life will be very different. I have had a lumpectomy and installation of a port to receive chemotherapy.
There are so many things you learn when you have cancer, how vulnerable you feel, how wonderful your life is, and how you need to let those who love you give to you. There was much I didn’t understand when I was caring for mother and now I know just what she meant.
Like her mother, Sandy is a very loving, caring, and empathetic person. My favorite moments in the office are when Sandy and I catch up on clients and reflect upon the importance of their journey and our privilege to work with them. In one of our recent discussions, I suggested that Sandy write her thoughts down about how she truly did not understand how her mother felt toward her, until the table was turned and she saw her husband in the same role as she was in with her mother. Sandy writes:
I am fortunate to have a supportive husband and many friends to help me through this process. But especially for my husband, I don’t want his life to be only centered on my cancer. I know he wants to help and I appreciate that, but I want his life to continue to be full and good. So, now I hear myself echoing my mother’s words, telling him to continue to live his own life as much as he can. He will be better able to support me if he is doing well himself.
Both Sandy and I bring our life experiences to our office. We love our work, care for the people who grace our doors, and welcome them in our lives for both the good and hard times.