Sunday, March 9, 2008

Life and Death in a Big City

My daughter-in-law just died. She was thirty-two years old. Not an up subject, I know. But, there it is, right in your face—for real—as in dead and she’s gone, and it hurts so bad, and how can we stand it, and will this never end, and we’re all gonna be there someday, so get ready.

Alana came into my son’s life when she was fifteen and he was seventeen. She had the smile I wanted all my life. Big and bold and beautiful with perfect teeth. She was traveling with her dance company that she’d been part of since she was five years old. My son was traveling with his wrestling team. Amidst a backdrop of teenage ballet dancers and wrestlers they made an undeniable connection. Several conversations and a farewell breakfast at Perkins later all my son had was her address on a piece of hotel stationary and an empty bottle of Sundance Raspberry Sparkler they’d shared the night before.

They each went back to their respective home towns. A week later a long-distance romance began with a flurry of letters flying back and forth. For a year and a half the letters and a handful of phone calls sustained them. Then the unexpected happened. Alana’s Grandmama offered to pay the airfare for my son to visit. She put him up in her condominium, probably to keep a watchful eye on the lovebirds. The sparks were flying.

He brought back all these really cute pictures of them, but my son moaned around the house, one lovesick pup. Then we’d grant permission for another phone call—long distance charges in those days were horrendous—and he made pancakes for breakfast and whistled Dixie—okay we lived in the north, he whistled something else I can’t remember—and then they’d be back to their letter writing and so it went.

My son graduated high school and went on to college. More time passed. The young couple never wavered in their devotion. Alana graduated from high school six months early and they decided to move to Salt Lake City. There she would continue her dance career at the University of Utah, and my son would decide what to do when he got there. Being with Alana was all that mattered to him at the time.

They were doing great and then sort of great and then not so great. Alana had many goals in her life that included becoming a professional ballet dancer, traveling the world, and earning a PhD in medicine or science. And my lovelorn son aspired—well, frankly—to be with her. Young love is like a soap opera. You never know what will happen next.

She ran off with a professional football player. And she became a professional dancer and she went on to get her undergraduate degree in Biology. My son kept in touch as best he could. Years went by. They exchanged two letters, eight phone calls and got together for a single twenty-five minute visit when she had a layover in Phoenix where my son was living at the time. Then Alana went about pursuing her dreams. Meanwhile my son mostly went into depression. He recovered from the heartbreak of his first grown up love but never married and continued to compare all the other women in his life to her—sad and so futile, right? I wrote many letters to no avail.

Then, the unexpected happened. When he was in his thirties, still a bachelor, he typed in her name and did a google search, but used her maiden name for Petey’s sake. Good luck! But up she popped, freshly divorced and back to her maiden moniker. Go figure. They conversed. Thirteen years had gone by—lots to talk about. She never married the football player. She married and divorced a doctor. She was in Minneapolis. He was in Phoenix. They flew back and forth. They clicked. Here’s where the drama comes in.

She’d been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. That’s how he happened to find her. The article on google said she’d defied the odds, gone on to Princeton, and gotten her master’s degree as a Molecular Biologist all the while smitten with a brain tumor. All the while my son was still smitten with her.

They married. She moved to Arizona. They bought a house. And the cancer grew. Two years went by. The doctors said, “Look’n good.” And the cancer grew. They decorated their home. They met the neighbors. The doctors said, “Doing fine.” And the cancer grew. They painted and laughed and cooked spaghetti. The doctors said, “No problem.” And the cancer grew. They bought two miniatures dachshunds. They named them Dave and Jack. And the cancer grew. The doctors said, “Way to go!” They climbed Mount Sonoma and camped out and made love. And the cancer grew. The doctors said, “You’re amazing.” And the cancer grew. They danced and planted their yard and bought a new car and had company visit. And the cancer grew. The doctors said, “You’re doing great.” And the cancer grew.

But, one day her back hurt, and her head hurt, and she collapsed, and they took her to the hospital, and the doctors said. “It’s bad. The cancer’s back. And the cancer said, “That’s right! And I’m going to kill you.”

And it did.

If you’d like to read Alana’s story go to Scroll down to the bottom of the screen and click on Alana’s Story.

J. L. Miles is the author or Divorcing Dwayne, Cold Rock River, and Roseflower Creek. Email her at Or check out her website at


JD Rhoades said...

That may be the saddest story I've ever read.

River Jordan said...

I don't believe a whole lot in chance. I'm given more to angels, destiny, and the Divine. And while I don't understand that monster called Cancer and hope for a cure, my greater hope lies in your words that they laughed, and climbed, and ate, and painted and made love. And in knowing that in the last moments and days of your daughter-in-laws short and beautiful life, she knew that she was loved beyond measure in such a way that most women desire and dream of but never really find in this life. Blessings and prayers for your son and all those like him who will miss her smile.

AmyM said...

How sad and how beautiful. I don't know what else to say.