Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Saleswoman's Diary: Life Like That

I wasn't out setting appointments at 7:15 a.m. yesterday as I planned the night before.

I just couldn't. I couldn't put my lipstick on and get out and sell stuff yesterday.

I felt heart-broken after learning about 10 p.m. Monday night that Khristine Elliott, a friend and paper newspaper colleague, had died suddenly.

I'd received the news from another friend of ours on Facebook via a personal message. It was a little strange to hear about it on Facebook but it was one time when I felt really grateful for the social networking site. A few years ago I walked in a bar I had worked at in college to find memorial pictures of the owner and longtime bartender. I hadn't any idea they'd passed. For all of my complaints about the modern methods of information distribution, I admit there's an upside to online social networking.

Khristine's death is really sad. She was a kind and happy person, only 40, and she leaves behind a husband and an eight-year-old daughter. I had no idea she was sick. We'd been reconnected on Facebook for about two years and her posts and pictures always seemed happy and optimistic. She made sweet comments on my posts sometimes. When I posted a Black-Eyed-Peas Flash-mob-dance video in late April, she had commented to say she thought it was great and she and her daughter liked to dance to that song sometimes.

That was the image I'd had of Khristine -- a happy mom who had become a stay-at-home mom after her 11-year-career as a journalist had been cut short by the downturn in the newspaper industry. According to everything I saw on Facebook, life seemed good for her. I thought she was making the transition from paper newspapers better than I was because she had a home life, because she had a family, because she didn't have the workaholic tendencies I've always been prone to having. But after reading her obituary online from the Battle Creek Enquirer I gathered she had died of cancer, seemingly breast cancer. The family is requesting memorials for the Susan B. Koman Foundation.

Grief hit me like a brick.

Another beautiful smiling woman, another mother, another sister, another friend snatched by breast cancer. I hate breast cancer and Khristine knew that. Maybe that's why she never told me she was struggling with it. She was never an attention seeker. She went about her life quietly. Khristine would never have been one to launch a whole series of stories about her career transition and solicit a bunch of fans for it. She was a team player, not a headline grabber. She supported me with research help when I was going after big stories during my tenure at the Battle Creek Enquirer. She was reliable and well liked. She loved her husband. Her daughter wasn't yet born when I worked with her.

Khristine knew how much I hated breast cancer because she'd seen me hurt by it - twice - and she'd supported me through those times by getting me out of the newsroom for a change. She took me to garage sales. I bought two wooden chairs for my porch. I painted them white and covered the seat cushions with blue plastic material. They looked great and I only spent about ten dollars on the chairs and refurbishing materials.

When I began working at The Battle Creek Enquirer in 1997 my mother had terminal breast cancer. I had come back to Michigan to work because of my mother's cancer and had landed in Battle Creek where the newspaper operated out of a classic paper newspaper building with an operating press, four full-time staff photographers and a film darkroom, a quirky staff of veteran and cub reporters, a hierarchy of editors, a publisher with a full-time secretary, a full-on copy and design staff and, unique to the Battle Creek Enquirer, a basement cafeteria where Ruthie, our southern cook, made outstanding casseroles and pies. Beyond the cafeteria was the smoking room. Though I'm not typically a smoker, I have my stress-runs with the habit. Sometimes I'd wander into that smokey haze of newspaper employees from every area of the building -- distribution, marketing, editing, news. But you'd never catch Khristine in there. She was a healthy and balanced person. Actually, that's what she generally wrote about -- health.

My mom died of breast cancer in August 1998. I was devastated although I'd known for two years the end was nearing. I'd been my mom's baby, the youngest in our family with seven kids. She had been my greatest fan in life and I'd never had to accomplish much to impress her. I made creamed tuna on toast and she thought I hung the moon. In her eyes the fact that I was a reporter at a daily newspaper was equivalent to being a superstar.

Eighteen months after my mom died, our beloved Battle Creek Enquirer columnist Leslie Rardin died from breast cancer, too. Leslie died in October 1999. In April of that year I'd travelled to Italy with her and her daughters and a few of her other friends. It had been a bucket-list vacation. She had rented an apartment overlooking the southern tip of the Italian Riviera in Chinque Terra. It was lovely but she hadn't been well on the trip. After going through breast cancer with my mom, I could tell what was coming.

Breast cancer is ugly. The demise of old-school paper newspaper operations is sad. I miss Khristine. I'm sorry I didn't do more to stay in contact with her and the other people who I'd worked with in Battle Creek during the pinnacle of my paper-newspaper career. I was recruited by a bigger paper in 2000. But it was nothing like the community we had at the Battle Creek Enquirer.

Those days are gone. Khristine is gone, too.

I think Khristine was quite wise in her quiet way. On her Facebook page she left some of her favorite quotes about life including this one from John Lennon:

"Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans."

And this one from The Kooks:

"Wasn't it you who said life was like a plastic cup? To be used and then disposed of? That's no way to live a life like yours."

1 comment:

  1. I just found out that a friend died of breast cancer last April. I also know many survivors -- they're calling themselves victors now. I want a better term. Released? The body is the battleground -- not the personality. I'm rambling. Of course you didn't go to work today. You need today for yourself, so you can process your grief in peace. Nobody need to go to work every day. Staying home for emotional health makes as much sense as staying home for physical health. Your friend left you with good thoughts. They will help with your life -- going on where she can't follow.