Debra Ruder Communications

Writing that matters

Remembering Geri

During her nearly 20 years with cancer, Geri taught everyone around her about making the most out of life. She did that even as she said goodbye.

I met Geri in the late 1990s, about three years before her death. She wanted to launch a newsletter for patients and families connected to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston; her goal was to provide news, inspiration, and hope — and to encourage a spirit of advocacy.

Over the next few years, Geri crafted a series of editorials for the newsletter “Side by Side,” in which she revealed her ups and downs with liposarcoma, a rare cancer that required multiple surgeries and other treatments. She urged readers to be open with their children about illness, reflected on the doctor-patient relationship, described her cyber friendships with other people facing sarcoma, and delighted in the companionship of her little dog, Sammy. As her health failed, Geri also shared her sense of loss.

Eventually, Geri opted to stop pursuing new treatments and to let the disease take its course. While she was still strong enough, she visited several hospices and chose a small, homey center in Wayland, Mass. When her body and heart told her that she was ready, she moved there.

I will always remember the peaceful atmosphere at the hospice and the way the staff spoke about Geri’s “journey.” At the time the language sounded almost hokey, but I soon realized that it was an accurate description of her process of weakening, sleeping, and ultimately dying. She got extremely thin, but she seemed comfortable in her room with a view of the snow and trees outside and surrounded by puffy pillows.

Knowing how much “Side by Side” meant to her, I wanted to help Geri write her final editorial. With her blessing, I visited her with pad and pen, and she slowly dictated an essay about hospice. She encouraged readers not to wait until it’s too late to consider this option, and she described how being there was like being in her mother’s arms again. “If you can die with dignity,” she wrote, “this is the way to die with dignity — comfortable, at peace, and with loving arms around you and feeling loved.”

I typed up the piece and faxed it to the hospice for Geri to review. A staff member sent back a note that read, “Geri sends love and hugs and says article is just fine.” Six years after her death at age 56, that message still hangs above my desk as a reminder of this strong, warm, and compassionate woman (and mother of two) who taught so many of us how to live, as well as how to die.

Shortly before the end, Geri whispered to me from her hospice bed that she wanted to be remembered. I took that as my personal charge to do whatever I can to continue her legacy. I guess that’s what each of us wants, to know that our lives have made a difference. Geri’s certainly did.


Consider this . . .

Everyone wants to be remembered. You can help someone who is dying know how and why he or she will be remembered.