Tumbling between anger and sorrow

The muddy little girl in the red dress grins at the camera from the classic stink-bug position. Head on the ground. Tush in the air. Little hands and toes splayed for balance. She is rocking an upside down world.

"Sometimes you need to talk to a 2-year-old just so you can understand life again," the caption reads.

I'm paging my inner punkster in hopes she'll offer some toddler wisdom and right my tumbling heart and mind.

Cancer claimed the lives of two dear hearts this week. One was a young mother. The other was a grandmother. Both were remarkable women who battled this damnable disease with great strength, amazing courage and awesome grace. They even threw in some humor. Me? I'm currently stuck in an emotional spin cycle. Tumbling between anger and sorrow.

Anger is my emotional default when cancer invades. I know it's pointless to rage against the dying of the light. And we are all going to die someday. Of something. But, seriously, can we please find a forever cure for this f-ing disease. Please?

Sorrow sits heavier in my chest. I haven't had time to sit down by the river and cry it all out. Nor even properly expressed my regrets to my friends' families, or even our mutual friends, other than the usual platitudes. And that just further pisses me off.

Again with the anger. That secondary emotion, it's easier than grief.

I met the young mother via our mutual madness for horses. I was the manager of the stables. She was a bright, beautiful, young girl — a constant shadow to her equally awesome big sister. The girls shared a wicked sense of humor and a keen appreciation for the absurd. Kindhearted by nature and by inclination, these two also didn't suffer fools gladly.

Elena demonstrated her moxie at age 12. A prestigious riding clinic was underway. At its helm was a legend in the equine industry — a man as feared for his humiliating teaching methods as he was renowned for his undeniable skill in the saddle. The stable bathroom reeked of flop sweat and vomit as young female riders tossed their cookies out of panicky nerves, and in a desperate effort to avoid this man's loudspeaker ridicule.

"Lettuce and water, my dear," he'd sneer into the bullhorn. "And you could do without the lettuce."

When I casually questioned Elena's absence from said clinic, the preteen calmly set me straight with one pithy sentence. Why, she wondered aloud, would anyone ever suppose she'd allow this man to publicly mock her person or her abilities? Much less pay for the privilege.

She offered her statement with a sideways smile and a clear-eyed gaze. I've loved her ever since. And never once worried about Elena's fate in this world. Not until her big sister told me this sassy child, who grew to become such a loving mother, was battling leukemia.

Hearing Elena had demonstrated extraordinary grace and courage during her final days brings bittersweet tears for a monumental loss. But certainly no surprise. It's simply who she was.

Nan and I, and several other of our mutual friends, connected through our shared affection for parrots. At one point, Nan had as many as 16 parrots in her home, many of them rescues from atrocious situations.

Nan's favorite job was as activity director at a nursing home. She enjoyed singing with the residents, making them laugh and keeping them company. She had an infectious smile and could light up any room, her obituary reads.

I quite agree. This tiny woman's huge heart tugged at all of us bird nerds. Her silly side kept us cackling with glee. Her trademark "Waaaaa!!!!" wails were legendary during our 15-year hen party. For sometimes Nan would get frustrated with the ways of the world. She'd fuss and fume. But she rarely got truly angry. And if she did, she always forgave — quickly and fully. I loved that quality about her so much. And tried to learn that lesson.

Many of us affectionately referred to Nan as "Maw." Her ability to sooth ruffled feathers came from a sincere belief that we were all family. No matter our geographical location, political persuasion or religious beliefs. No matter our trespasses. We are here to love one another.

Love. Finally the tears are trickling. My inner 2-year-old is heaving a sigh of relief. She recognizes love. We both know it's the emotion that will trump my anger and sorrow. Eventually. For love abides. Always.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or sspecht@mailtribune.com.

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