Thank you, Nancy

By on Mar 26, 2018 in Autumn, Blog Posts | 3 comments

Share On GoogleShare On FacebookShare On Twitter

Nancy made me cry this morning.

What do I even call Nancy? It feels presumptuous to claim her as a friend when I’ve never met her. I don’t even know a huge amount about her life. But, her wisdom and kindness since Joshua’s diagnosis and death have (like many members of the cholangiocarcinoma support groups), held me steady in the moments when the unravelling of my comfortable life has felt too terrible to bear.

And she reads my blog. It demonstrates that either she has impeccable taste or that she’s too kind to say she hates it. Either way it feels a lot like friendship.

Writing and knowing that someone bears witness to my attempts to make sense of this experience is a huge gift. (Thank you). I admit to feeling a kind of pious, selfless pleasure, this morning, knowing I was giving Nancy that gift. And, as always when I get a little above my station, the universe (today in the form of Nancy’s story) is quick to turn my thinking on its head.

The story was a simple one of an injured deer. What it sparked in me was the question of what it means to create a safe space in which to die. Josh died in my arms and in those final moments I told him again and again how much we loved him. How we know that that he loved us. How proud were of him and how we would never forget him. That he was a great son, a wonderful brother and  a faithful friend. I repeated those phrases again and again on the drive. He was unconscious and I have wondered many times if he could hear me. If he knew. If he was slipping away terrified or with relief or simply just slipping away.

I realised as I read Nancy’s story that my words didn’t matter because I was saying things Josh already knew. I know Josh loved me and he knew how much I loved him in return. Yes, we have far to many memories that we will never get to make but we have no unfinished business. Nothing left unsaid. I did create a safe space for Josh to die. Knowing that, gives me comfort.

But this post isn’t really about those last moments it’s about reading. I’ve always written to find meaning but mostly I’ve read to escape. And reading is a great way to escape. I’ve read more in the last two months than in years and I was already a prolific reader. Today, though, I remembered that reading is also a tool for making sense and to provoke thinking. It was a great thing to remember. Thank you, Nancy.

Nancy's told the story of an injured deer.


  1. Lucy Nicholson

    26th March 2018

    Post a Reply

    I read your blog with love for you and your family, with appreciation because I’m learning and with heartfelt hugs for you all xxxx

  2. Nancy Ur

    26th March 2018

    Post a Reply


    About 15 years ago, my husband decided to feed the deer who began to frequent our yard, in the hopes they wouldn’t eat our shrubs. We still feed them nightly (they know where to go to get their fill of corn and apples and pears)….but – they still eat our shrubs. Oh how we enjoy these majestic beasts who visit on a regular basis. Deer were not common to our yard years ago, but the constant and continued construction of homes and strip malls have taken away their natural habitat.

    It was a Tuesday. I retired a few years back but I’ve been asked to help at a nursery school, so I’m off to work again (which I swore I would never do). As I opened the back door, I spotted a young deer in my yard. Deer don’t normally come to visit us in the morning…but this morning was different. A sweet female was browsing through the corn feeder looking for some scraps, leftovers from the previous night. I knew something was amiss. When she heard my footsteps, she started to move. It was then that I realized half of her rear right leg was missing….and what was left was a tangle of flesh and bones. My heart sank. I glanced at my watch. I needed to be at work. I had to leave, but my mind couldn’t escape the vision of this wounded beauty.

    I thought of her all day. In my mind, I named her “Tripod.” As soon as I got home, I headed out back to see if I could find her. I walked the railroad tracks that run behind our home and I spotted her in my neighbor’s yard. She was resting and was fully alert. I tried to toss her a few apples but I’ve never had good aim and they fell short of her. She didn’t try to get up. At that point, I made the decision to contact our Animal Control Officer. As a volunteer at our local shelter, he knew me and came immediately with one of his co-workers. On their first attempt to approach Tripod, she struggled …but got up and made her way further away from us and further from my home. The ACO explained that the best answer would be to leave her alone. My heart sank, but I knew this was for the best.

    Shockingly, two evenings later, I came home from dinner with friends to find Tripod lying alongside our back yard deck. Her big brown eyes stared at me and I quietly went into my kitchen to cut a few apples. I tossed them to her, and she gratefully ate them. I watched her for about 15 minutes when, finally, she got up on her three good legs and hobbled off. The ACO had informed me that deer can actually live with only three legs, so I was beginning to feel positive about her survival.

    On Friday, March 16, I saw Tripod again. She was lying further back in our yard, and she seemed exhausted. I could see in her eyes that the fight had gone out of her. I slowly made my way towards her, and she attempted to get up but she failed, falling over twice. In an effort not to upset her more than necessary, I retreated back into my kitchen. I watched as she lay there and I came to the realization that there was nothing I could do to help her. My tears began I began and I sobbed, probably harder than I have in a few years (having had two glasses of wine definitely did not help with my emotions)!

    On Saturday morning, I pushed myself out of bed after a fitful sleep. My husband came to tell me that Tripod had, indeed, passed away. Grief overwhelmed me and my eyes misted over. My husband (who just always knows what to say) told me he believed our sweet little friend came to die in a happy and loving place. She knew where she was safe and our home is where she chose to be.

    It certainly was not lost on me that my reaction to this whole event was, at least in part, due to the memories of nine years ago when cancer was wreaking havoc on my son’s body. To this day, I always felt that there was something more I should have been able to do to help him. John was in France when he received his diagnosis of cholangiocarcinma. He made the decision that same day to come home to a safe and loving place. John passed in our home on October 9, 2009.

    By the way, Tripod died peacefully in our yard on March 17 — my son’s 39th birthday.

  3. Lisa Ustick

    27th March 2018

    Post a Reply

    Oh my goodness….. the tears are flowing right now, Nancy’s story was very touching. I’m sorry about your son John Nancy, my heart aches for you. Penny, I started reading your blog and following you when we “met” on the support group for Josh and my husband. I love your writing! The way you construct a sentence… any sentence… I know I have told you before, but I think your marvelous! Thank you! Keep doing what you do 🙂

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join the mailing list

Join our mailing list to have the latest adventures from cancerland and the garden delivered to your inbox.

You will also receive your copy of the Writing Bit and Bobs - a short collection of memoir posts.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This