Readers Write: On How We Cope

We are alone – the sole captains of our own ship

“People’s lives, their innermost feelings and motivations are largely unknown to others—even to their own families. Indeed, one’s innermost emotions are often inscrutable even to oneself, with answers buried in the unspoken histories and struggles of one’s dead parents. We are not necessarily lonely, but we are alone—the sole captains of our own ship. This existential fact is pitted against the role of random, accidental, and often cruel events which affect the voyage. Brenda Corrigan’s story illuminates the universal search of the individual to understand oneself and one’s relationship with others—especially one’s family. The novel poignantly describes the efforts of loving friends and family to affect the outcome of adverse events, but without success. In the end, only Brenda herself controls the outcome, along with the unrelenting hand of time and chance.”  — Barbara Robeson


God graciously granted Brenda the desire of her heart

“Brenda fought a good fight, a long and tiring one and she fought it with the help, strength and support of her family and close friends. As a woman who believes in the power and presence of Jesus Christ in my life, I pray that if I were faced with the challenges, pain and discomfort that Brenda faced, that I would not only have the help and strength she had from her family and friends, but that ultimately my determination to live and continue the fight would come not from within me but from Him. On my own strength and might, I am unable to do this as I am human and have limitations. I am unable to save myself, or anyone else for that matter, from all that life sends my way. But with Christ, I have hope—not in my body that is temporary, not in my circumstances that are forever changing, but in Christ. I have hope that He is with me in the midst of my pain and my suffering, and I have hope that goes beyond this life, which is fleeting. It appeared that Brenda didn’t have that hope. She was tired and weary and wanted to be “done.” . . . Brenda didn’t choose to end her life by taking it. She ended it by giving up. I believe that God is the creator and sustainer of our lives, and that it is He who determines when we are born and when we will die. So I don’t know that Brenda could have given up her own life without God being the one who graciously granted her the desire of her heart.” — Lisa Vande Wege, Director of Women’s Ministries, Walnut Creek Presbyterian Church


I have always refused to consider [this disease] a major part of my identity

“Oh, does the aroma of freshly-brewed coffee smell good in the morning, even if I cough and sneeze sometimes while drinking it. But the coughing and sneezing are a small price to pay for having what, for me, is the perfect welcome to a new day. And I surely did miss my morning brew during those endless months of recuperation following two surgeries and radiation therapy resulting in a loss of my ability to swallow that beloved morning “fix.” I consider myself an optimist . . . Although this disease is a definite part of my physical being, I have always refused to consider it a major part of my identity. It is not the core part of my psyche. That’s not to say that I am unrealistic. I just prefer to compartmentalize that aspect of my life and put that bundle of worries somewhere “over there” while I live as best I can. Of course, sporadic moments remind me each day of my post-surgical deficits and that this disease and I are inextricably intertwined.”


 I said I would stop living passively

“I was diagnosed in December 1982, two months after my 40th birthday. I had a mastectomy (right) in early January 1983. Later that month with my women’s support group we were discussing what changes we would make in our lives in 1983. I said I would stop living passively, would have a new job, a new man and enough money for me and my children to live comfortably. And that all happened. The job opened the door to working for WHO. The man was a strong support for the several reconstruction surgeries and is still a good friend. It took a while to get permanently on a solid financial footing, but we made it. However, after living aggressively for so many years I found in 2000 that I needed to be softer, more compassionate, less judgmental. So that is what I am working on now.” — Julie Milstien


The meaning of life is the most urgent of questions

“I felt that Brenda was rational and thoughtful even as she explored the tragedy and absurdity of her situation (we can’t know until we’ve walked in their shoes).” — Donna Greene

also from Donna:  “I see many people die because they judge that life is not worth living. I see others paradoxically getting killed for the ideas or illusions that give them a reason for living (what is called a reason for living is also an excellent reason for dying). I therefore conclude that the meaning of life is the most urgent of questions.”   — Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus