Dear Jan

janDear Jan,

You’ve been on my mind lately, flitting about the edges of thought, leaving a trail of light, a little like Tinkerbell. You had that pixie quality about you – but in fact, you were more like Peter Pan than Tinkerbell. A tomboy through and through, until you became a girly girl, determined to acquire boyfriends like some of us collected coins.

My memories of you are suffused with this late September light – golden, warm, with the knowledge that the days are getting shorter. This is my favorite time of year, a time when I feel closest to you. You left us too soon, but we’ve been over all that before. I miss you, but that’s been covered, too. After 5 years, there really isn’t a lot more I can say on that topic that I haven’t already screamed about, cried over, or painfully accepted. You are a missing piece I have to go on without and most of the time, I do just that. But today, on September 27, I get to take that piece out and look at it, marvel at it and remember how well we fit into the picture we’d created together. Me without you is still an equation I can’t solve for – the one algebra problem that has no answer. I’ll have to skip this assignment and take the F. And you know I never like failing.

I talk to you in my head a lot. I have these long conversations with you that are full of deep meaning, then I forget what I was thinking before I can write them down. You are with me when I walk the dog or I need to process something or want to share a thought. You don’t talk back – just so you know, it’s still one-sided – I haven’t gone completely nutso. It’s hard to change a half century of habit just because you’re gone.

Did you know we moved? I sent change of address notes, but didn’t have a place to send yours. We completely disrupted our family by selling our home. It felt like the right thing to do and most of the time, I’m still sure. But I wanted to talk to you or mom or dad about it many times, to be reassured I was making a good decision, but I had to pull myself up by my own bootstraps and soldier on. There’s nothing like really feeling you are the grown up when your backup team is gone.. I still miss hearing you tell me you are sure I’m doing the right thing. You made me feel invincible and brave and capable, like I had superpowers. I need to go cape shopping, I guess, because I still feel like the little sister who wants approval.

Sometimes I worry that I’ve forgotten where your final resting place is. I know I have it somewhere, but I worry I’ve lost you beyond the metaphysical loss. It’s funny how these details come back and haunt me in a way you never do. You are everywhere and nowhere – you are a philosophy, a memory, a way of being. You are the dappled light I dance in on the water’s edge, the nutmeg aroma that means something delicious is baking, the smile from a stranger that makes my heart full.

I’ve lived longer than you now. I guess that makes me the older sister, doesn’t it? I passed you on April 1. I really intend to make every day count, but some days, I’m just a lump on a couch being lazy. I hope you understand – while I appreciate each day, I’m just not tearing things up all the time. Let’s pretend I’m thinking deep thoughts while I sit there. That might make me feel better.

I miss you, Jannie. Thanks for being my sister, my friend, my confidante, and my cheerleader.  You will be in my heart until my last breath.

Your sis,



Friday Flash Fiction

being MG

Photo Courtesy of Marie Gail Stratford

‘Chicago, Chicago, that toddling town…’ – one of my very favorite cities in the world is featured this week. Long ago, I thought I might live there. I never was a fan of Midwestern winters, however. Nor their muggy summers. I hear there are about 3 weeks in April and October that are lovely…

Life changing things happen behind the many windows of a big city, hidden from view. Everybody has their own burden to bear, carried silently within.

Word count: 100


Long shadows fell across the familiar buildings at day’s end. She’d leave her office once she’d composed herself, putting on a happier face to the world. For the moment, she let the news wash over her again.

Nothing to be done, really. She’d get up every day and face whatever needed to be done. The shape of her life had altered, the road ahead no longer endless.

Breathing deeply, she squared her shoulders and shook her head, wishing away the three words burning in her brain. Tonight, she’d live her life and enjoy the city.

Cancer could wait until tomorrow.

To see other stories, please visit the Rochelle Wisoff-Fields site here.

© Erin Leary

Out of Season

I love spring. It has always been my very favorite season – something about the suddenness of things bursting into life after being dormant all winter fills me with hope and gives me a feeling of wonder.

I have posted about the beauty in my garden as the early bloomers appear or about the glory of the nesting Great Blue Herons as they begin the cycle of bringing their chicks into the world. They are reminders that spring is here and all is right with the world.

Things have a time, a purpose, a season and the pattern is familiar and comforting. Then my thoughts drift to my sister, my friend, my constant companion. We often talked by phone as I took my walks that led me past the herons, especially toward the end of her life. I’d walk and tell her what I was seeing, describing the hungry chicks calling for their food like rusty hinges squawking with life.

It dawned on me earlier this week that I am almost exactly the age she was when she died. That thought stopped me in my tracks. I can’t imagine being ready to leave my life. It is staggering to think about, really. Her time was cut short – she was an out of season loss. Not everything conforms to the patterns or the timing of nature. It’s been five years this year that she lost her fight with pancreatic cancer and it’s gone by in a flash, while every day without her has felt too long.

As I think about it, I am reminded to live each day fully, as she chose to: to revel in the everyday things and marvel in the beauty of the world. She was an inspiration as she approached the end of her time with us. She wanted nothing more than one more day in case she had the opportunity to meet someone new and maybe touch another life with meaning. She was an optimist and kept her childlike wonder even as she faced the death sentence she’d been given. I loved that about her. I loved so much about her.

Jan, in her field of gold
I saw a picture of her flash by on my screensaver yesterday. It was taken a month or so before her death. She is standing in a field, lit up with golden sun at the end of the day, looking fragile but peaceful. She told me before she died that she visualized her home in heaven – she believed fully in what comes next – and saw it in a field just like that, lit with golden sunlight. Seeing that picture, I am filled with joy, then sadness at losing her, then anger at it coming too soon. All those emotions roil through me in a split second and then I say a silent “I love you, I miss you, it’s not the same without you” and smile. Everything has a season. Hers just came too soon.

May 5 Redux

The irony is not lost on me that a week ago, I posted about my dad’s birthday.  Today, he’s on my mind again, as this is the day he died. It feels inconceivable that it’s been four years already – in fact, in last week’s post, I said it had been three.  My brother reminded me that it was, indeed, four. Wow. How time flies.

In thinking about dad, it is with admiration and joy and love. He was a great dad and this post I wrote quite awhile ago captures him well. He was a force to be reckoned with when he was on a mission.  I love him and miss him and hold the best of him in my heart, and hopefully, in my actions as well.

Cheers to you, dad. You are remembered.


January 10

So it’s your birthday
And what have you done?
Another year older,
A new one just begun…
me through the years
Reprising the great John Lennon here for a moment as I reflect on what my brother likes to call my “55th successful revolution of the sun”.  Yes, it’s my birthday.  No, I’m not having a party.  I am working hard to stave off a pity party.  Something about this year seems to hold special portent.  The double digitedness of it, maybe?  The fact that I am halfway through my (gasp!) 50s?  That this is an age where many people I work with begin to leave for retirement?  All of the above and possibly more.

What I don’t want to dwell on is all that I’ve lost in the past five years.  Back then, I hadn’t lost my dad, my mom or my sister to cancer.  I was physically fit, having completed a sprint triathlon the summer before and did another the following summer.  I hadn’t been diagnosed with an incurable liver disorder or lupus.  I hadn’t experienced a major breach of trust that almost ended my marriage.  I felt hopeful, optimistic, and ready for whatever came next.

Today, the headline that comes to mind after listing all that crap above is “All that you’ve lost”, which sounds like a lyric from a U2 song.  Clearly my mad skill for lyric memorization is coming in handy today.

But I need to change my thinking.  I don’t want to dwell on what I’ve lost.  I want to dwell on what is still possible.  I am 55.  I am alive.  That last item alone should be reason to celebrate.  While I may not have my health the same way it was, I don’t have a terminal cancer diagnosis, which is what my sister had at this age.  I have my kids in my life and they are all well.  I continue to like my job and don’t plan to leave it immediately – but I do have thoughts about when I might want to go and that sets off another set of thoughts around possibilities like “what’s next?”.  I have ideas.  I have dreams.  I have goals.  All of these are good things. So I need to nip any sense of pity in the bud and remind myself of all the good that being alive brings.

Birthday Toast
I remember standing up to raise a toast at my 50th birthday party, where my friends and some of my family had gathered.  I looked around the room and saw people from almost every major part of my life – elementary school, junior high, high school, college, various career junctures – and I thought how very lucky I was to be connected to so many who knew the story of my life.  I thanked them for being a part of that story and when I think about it today, I would want them all at a party this year, were I having one.  Plus, there are new people that I would like to include.  As I go through each year, I get richer and more blessed.  I will dwell on that, and I will think about possibilities, not what’s been lost.

“The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change”

This lovely cliché is attributed to the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, who predated Plato. I needed to look this up for something at work that I was writing about and found the actual translation of his work is, more accurately:

“Upon those who step into the same rivers flow other and yet other waters. All things…are in flux like a river.”

Trans. John Mansley Robinson, An Introduction to Early Greek Philosophy, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1968) p. 91, Fragment 5.15 and p. 89, Fragment 5.10.

And so I view my life.  It is a river that I step through and the water that moves by me has been going on for all time.  I gather those drops that I need to sustain me, I hold them for a time, then, like all drops of water, they evaporate to become clouds and come back to the river as rain.

I am lucky.  I am blessed.  I am alive.


Flash Friday Fiction


Photo courtesy of Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

This week is a twofer.  I had an idea for a poem come to mind first, then the dialogue followed.  This shadow box reminded me of one my mother had.  I saw it as a dust collector, but after she died, I really wanted to ask her about why she’d collected each little thing.  What seemed trivial while she lived was suddenly a mystery once she was gone.  Ephemera, flotsam and jetsam, the trail left by our lives is easily erased.

Happy birthday to Rochelle – and thank you for your willingness to make this happen each week.  Friday is also my daughter’s birthday.  Happy #22 to you, dear Laurel!

Word Count: 93

Shadow Boxing


We are young but for a moment

childhood flashing by on hummingbird wings.

Treasures lined up in our mind,

safely stored in shadowy spaces.

Memories rich with meaning –

tucked away, glowing steadily,

beacons against the gathering dusk of our days.


                 – Mommy, why do you have a clown in your treasure box?

                 – Well, it reminds me of a fun day I had when I was about your age.

                 – Do you like clowns?

                 – I did then, Honey.  Clowns always made me laugh.

                – Like daddy does now?

                – Exactly – just like that.

               – That’s what I thought.

Please check out the links to all the other Flash Friday Fictioneers, which can be found here.

© Erin Leary

Flash Friday Fiction

Photo Courtesy of Lubyanka

Union Station, Washington DC – Photo Courtesy of Lubyanka

I passed through Union Station in DC last June on my way to meet with our state’s representatives and senators.  It is a monument to both change and endurance.  The activity level is steady, as passengers embark and disembark in droves – 40 million each year.  The building continues to serve as a hub of busy business into its second century.  It could be seen as the heart of our nation’s capital – or at least a part of the circulatory system!

Word Count: 102

Soldiering On

I rise from the basement where the Metro station is located, footsore and weary.  Like being born anew, I emerge from a narrow tunnel into the light, the heat, the frenzy that is DC in session.  Blinking, I adjust to this new world, steeling myself for action.

I carry with me facts and figures, details to persuade, cajole, and encourage my legislators to continue funding cancer research.  What they cannot see are the hearts I carry with me.  Father, mother, sister – I am their standard bearer, their voice, advocating for those who can no longer speak.

Time to soldier on.

Please check out the links to all the other Flash Friday Fictioneers, which can be found here.

© Erin Leary

Flash Friday Fiction

maui-from-mauna-keaPicture courtesy of Doug MacIlroy

Call the police, I broke the law.  Scattering ashes requires a permit most places.  Hawaii must have its share of scofflaws like me who come to honor a loved one’s last wishes…but then again, they have ashes in the wind on a regular basis.  This story is more truth than fiction.  Thanks to Doug for the lovely muse his photo provided.

Word Count: 99

Silver Linings

– Well, now you can scatter my ashes with dad’s on Maui this summer.

We were listing the positives of mom’s terminal diagnosis, trying to make the best of things.

– Somewhere near Makena Beach, if you can.  You kids used to have such fun there.

Hawaii wove through my parent’s life like a vibrant green tendril, tying together our memories.  It was their paradise, their place.

Rising above the clouds as we head back to the mainland, the sun paints their edges with liquid silver.   Promises kept, memories honored, we left more than our hearts behind this time.

Please check out the links to all the other Flash Friday Fictioneers, which can be found here.

© Erin Leary

Sad, But Still Kicking Butt

It hit me this morning as I got ready for work that I have something to be proud of.  A year ago, as Jan left us, I felt frustration about the fact that pancreatic cancer continues to kill so many every year.  There needed to be better treatment options and earlier detection available to change this.

On September 19, the House of Representatives passed HR 733 with a unanimous vote.  The name of the bill was changed from the Pancreatic Cancer Research and Education Act to the Recalcitrant Cancer Research Act of 2012.  A rose is a rose if it smells sweet, and this one does.  It is a step forward.

Representative Anna Eshoo from California was eloquent and heartwarming as she spoke about the need for this focus and of all the people we lost in the 6 years that this has been in work.  I had tears in my eyes hearing the unanimous vote in favor.  This is progress that matters for all.  It makes the trip to Washington DC with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) last June just that much more meaningful and worthwhile.

The bill is now in the Senate, and we hope Senator Whitehouse has the same success as Representative Eshoo.  I’ll be watching on C-SPAN with the same rapt attention.  This is about the only thing that will get me to tune in to that station.

Dad and Jan would be pleased.  I am relieved and proud and committed to continuing to fight on their behalf.
BREAKING NEWS! The House HAS PASSED #HR733! Senate still needs to pass. Thank your U.S. Rep:

My Sister, My Friend – One Year Hence

I need to mark her passing, but words fail me.   I’ve written a lot about her, what we meant to one another, and how much I miss her.  There isn’t much more to say.

I am still not really able to admit she’s gone.  She’s just been busy, or she’s been away – not really gone for good.  I feel her too much for that to be true.

Her family is well.  Her husband remarried and has remade his life with someone new.  Her son is finding his way, bouncing along with the resilience of youth.  I am happy for them.

I am sad still, unexpectedly so.  She was, to quote my brother, my first best friend.  She was one of the first to hold my hand and help me up.  My earliest memories are centered on her.  She was my benchmark, my ideal.

She left her mark on my heart, always telling me that mine was big enough to hold the world.  Tonight, it hurts knowing there is still a Jan-sized hole in the center.

Always in my heart, my sister, my friend.

Jan Marie Viele

1954 – 2011