Today’s guest post was written by by Alix Gibson. It is brought to you by our Sponsor, Blissful Healing.
Blissful Healing provides funding for Maggie’s Brightside as a Super Generous Sponsor. Maggie Card holders receive 10% off all treatments at Blissful Healing. Thank you for supporting the brands and businesses that help further our mission to improve the lives of Vermonters living with cancer.
Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Stories
I received a message inviting me to write a blog for Maggie’s Brightside. The very thought filled me with both tremendous honor and sheer terror – the internal, tummy hurting fear of not honoring her memory properly, enough, deeply, right … well it created a little angst, let’s just leave it there.
And then I thought, wait a minute Alix … Maggie would be supportive, she would say “do it, go for it” and also “just don’t f@&k it up”! Because we’ve got to hit that sweet spot of keeping it real with both the pains and joys of life in a way that promotes inspiration and then turn that into action. I thought, I can do that, I mean, I had cancer, and people told me I was pretty inspiring, and I can write pretty well, and she was gonna help me start a blog anyway … and then that gut wrenching guilt hit me again because I am still here and she is not. And that runs so deep in my heart when it aches for her comradery, wit, wisdom and physical presence on this earth.
So here we are, and I’m here to share a few things. I hope it provides a small glimpse of her again and even makes you smile just a bit. Inspiration to action, right? As we all suspected, life isn’t nearly the same without Maggie. It’s not as funny, not as stylish, not as warm, not as sassy, not as filled with love, and certainly not as bright. No matter how we knew her, the world is forever changed in her absence. Maggie felt larger than life to me, and she inspired me to be a better, braver, truer version of myself, as I suspect she did for all of us.
I think back on one of the last times I saw Maggie. It was Sept 17th and I was in NYC seeing Dear Evan Hansen with one of my best friends. I had just heard that Maggie’s health had taken a turn and I was so panicked that I would never see her again, never get to connect in person and share our experiences again. I posted on FB that I was in Times Square and she nonchalantly writes “I’m here too”. What the what?! She was taking Zoey to see Aladdin. I tried to think of ways to bump into her in the hugest and greatest city in the world (Hamilton fans, ya feelin’ me?) and was going to try and surprise her at the 8pm line outside of the show. I was trying to figure out how to make this work.
And then around 5pm, in the heart of Times Square, where over 300,000 people walk each and every day, where it’s so crowded you are literally walking in single file with the masses, I hear “hey Alix” … cool as a cucumber … and I look and she waves. I yelled to her … ARE YOU KIDDING ME RIGHT NOW? GET YOUR ASS OVER HERE!!! I grabbed her and hugged her tightly and she smiled and sighed and looked so unbelievably beautiful and tired. She was making memories with her sweet Zoey and checking off her bucket list like the warrior she was. After we chatted for a few minutes, she walked away and I just stood there … amidst the lights, sirens, honking, the thousands of people, and I wept. I was so grateful that I got to see her again. I thought, there IS a higher power of some kind, the goddess of kindness and understanding that knew what I needed. And then Maggie posted a video on my FB page that showed us passing one another, and said “Remember that time I ran into you in the crossroads of the world where 100’s of thousands of people walk through daily”? I sure do Maggie, and I always, always will.
I was blessed with one more visit. Oct 8th, just two weeks before she passed on to the other side of the stars. I picked her up and took her to coffee, and she was a different person in so many ways. She seemed tired and far away; quieter and not as connected. It caught me off guard and saddened me, but at the same time, it made me feel equally honored that she allowed me to visit with her when so vulnerable. I asked if she was sure she wanted to go to a coffee shop, and she smirked and said with a wink, “yes I don’t get out much lately” and we giggled.
When I asked her if she thought she was foggy from the medication she had started, she looked out the window, hot tea nestled in hand, looked back at me and very slowly and deliberately said “No, I think it’s because I’m dying”.
We talked about how she was sharing this with her husband and children and family and friends and villages near and far, what words she used, what language captures this message to those who love her so. We quoted Hamilton, strategized a little about her legacy, about her hopes about her family and about MBS …
I am obsessed with a line or two from Hamilton. (To be fair, Maggie was too.) Those who know me know I quote them often. “I imagine death so much it feels like a memory.” “Who lives who dies who tells your story.” These two are so thought provoking that there have been times I’ve thought about them over and over and just quietly cried. They represent mortality, reality, impact through connection, how much you matter or don’t to people, to the world, how you live on through others and how the only control you have over that is how you live your life. I thought of Maggie everytime I listened to Hamilton, how she was so honest, so candid, so courageous, so real, and how it broke our hearts and inspired us, the dozens and hundreds and eventually thousands of us. How she consistently made us want to be realer, better, more. Inspiration to action.
So I drove her to chemo, met her loving mom briefly (and could not wrap my head around what this might be like for her as a mom), squeezed her hand and said goodbye to my dear friend. I think I knew this would be the last time I saw Maggie, and I sat in my car in the parking lot for what felt like hours, feeling too afraid of what driving away meant.
I share these stories for a few reasons. Pure selfishness is one. The therapeutic value of getting this out into the universe is another. Lastly, I think it’s cathartic to honor her brilliant and courageous personality through snippets of her exchanges.
I think about how important it is to keep her spirit alive, doing all the good that can be done in the world. I think about how her friends are working so hard to keep her spirit alive through events and initiatives. And I think about how she must be spreading greatness, love and light in another dimension now. Yet we are still here.
I mentioned guilt earlier. And, I want to say something about what it’s like to be a survivor mourning a friend who lost her life to the very same disease. A disease that Maggie hated for what it took from her. A disease that also offered her a voice and a chance to help others in ways she hadn’t been able to before. A disease that gave her a sort of fame and transformed her life. This I understand. Our friendship grew out of this sisterhood. The cruel, debilitating aspects of it. The chemo, the cognitive decline, the memory and hair loss, the weakness. These stories are what initially bonded us. And then the stories of intolerance for ignorance, and the new strength discovered in self advocacy.
I also remember with pain and guilt when she came to give me a bouquet of flowers on my last day of chemo. The same when I came out of surgery with no complications. Guilt again when I finished radiation. And again, when I was told I currently have NED – No Evidence of Disease. I felt confused – happy for me and outraged for her, for her family. I paused to tell her. I thought about how unfair it was that she didn’t get this news. I won’t lie, there were days I met people or heard their stories and thought, why couldn’t her trajectory be traded for someone else’s, someone with less to give to the world? I know that’s not kind or politically correct, but it’s honest and if she taught me anything, it’s be who you are without abandon and it will attract great people, tribes that are meant to be in your world.
So I go on, and I make sure I think of Maggie with intention when I feel the sun on my face, and the moon on my way home from work. It feels like they are shining ever so brightly now, with strength and intention, enveloping us in their warmth and protection. I absorb those powers with my face tilted up towards them and think of her. I will think of her when I listen to Hamilton, or when I dance in the kitchen, or belly laugh with my daughter. I will be but one person who ensures Maggie lives on through the joy and wonder in my life. I will make sure that my survival matters, and that I fundraise for cancer research, that I fight for social justice for children and speak out politically on issues related to human rights. I will laugh loudly and cry. I will live with intention and make sure that my survival matters. Because it could’ve gone very differently and I know this each and every day that I wake up. So you see, in death she continues to remind me of the choice we have, the choice we have to live and to live well. We do not wait for the invitation, we seize the opportunities given to us, we make the lemonade.
About Alix Gibson
Alix was born and raised in Queens, New York and moved to Vermont to get her Bachelors in Social Work. Upon graduation, she moved back to NYC to start her life as a social worker but quickly learned one can’t ever move out of their parents home in the city on a social workers salary! So she moved back to VT worked with at risk youth and then got her MSW. She has worked as a social worker for DCF for the last 18 years.
Alix is a wife, mom, stepmom, friend, community leader and colleague and openly grapples with the order in which she prioritizes those things. She loves all of these aspects of her life fiercely and seeks balance and a healthier lifestyle.
Alix is also a cancer survivor, 2 years since diagnosis, 17 months since being told she has no evidence of disease. Alix loves hanging with her girl and her family, working hard, laughing harder, reading and writing. She looks to writing because she feels she has something to say and hopes her writings resonate with others.
If you would like to contribute a guest post about how cancer has affected your life, on living with a terminal illness or about your experience with Maggie please email us at infoATmaggiesbrightsideDOTcom