On the 1-Year Anniversary of Mom’s Death

I’ll be at RadCon, a sci-fi convention about three hours east of Seattle, at the time this post goes up. Just a sign of how life goes on, I suppose.

But I’ve scheduled this post a couple days in advance, because I feel like February 16th is an important memory to mark. And I suspect on Sunday, my mind will be more dwelling on Mom than on a science fiction convention. Even one that I happen to be attending.

One year ago, on February 16, 2013, at 8:00 pm, Mom passed away from very aggressive, metastatic breast cancer. In fact, we had only stopped the chemotherapy less than a month earlier– and afterward, the cancer took only a few short weeks to end her life.

For me, it not only meant losing my Mom, but it was a very personal reminder not to put things off, to try exciting things and take risks now. Which is partly why I’m at RadCon, practicing photography and networking with writers and other creative professionals, in the hopes not just of making new friends and having a good time, but being successful and maybe even making a living doing things I love.

I’ve posted the video below before. It’s a short memorial video I made with a few pictures of Mom’s scrapbooks; a little side project that kept me distracted while my brother and I finished sorting through her affairs and her belongings.

Next week I’ll be back to photos and con reports, I promise.

A Brief Note and Well Wishes to Jay Lake

Jay Lake, one of the most liked and well-respected members of the sci-fi/fantasy writing community, received a terminal diagnosis yesterday after battling Stage 4 cancer for years. I highly recommend reading his blog post on the matter.

I’ve only gotten to interact with Jay a few times, most memorably at World Jay Day (seen right), organized by Diana Sherman at WorldCon 2011, and at Norwescon 2012, when he critiqued one of my short stories for the Fairwood Writers’ Workshop. His critique was thoughtful and detailed, with broad observations and line-by-line notes typed up, printed out, and ready to go. It was a great experience, and both before and after, I’ve always tried to say hi when I see him, though he’s usually so surrounded by friends and colleagues that it’s difficult to say more than a brief hello.

It’s been both interesting and sad to watch the parallel courses of Jay’s cancer and my Mom’s, to see the differences and similarities with which two people and their families respond to an increasingly dismal series of diagnoses. Throughout, I’ve been both impressed and uplifted by the openness with which Jay shares his emotions, his treatment decisions, and his thought processes. In Jay’s own words, from his blog post linked above: Telling this story is one of the few good things I can derive from cancer. I cannot cheat death, but I can cheat the terror of the disease a little by easing it for others.

Which is, I think, possibly the best reason for writing that I’ve ever heard.

Through it all, Jay’s done some amazing things, including using crowdfunding to help pay for DNA testing, which unfortunately did not bear useful fruit. He’s fought the cancer tooth-and-nail every step of the way, in a way that’s been an inspiration for me, even after my Mom passed away from her own cancer in February. When I wrote Mom’s obituary, I wrote that in each of her roles in life, she left a legacy of love and friendship, and I see Jay doing the same thing every time I see him.

So in closing: Best wishes to Jay, his daughter, and his family. With luck, he has many months yet left– but cancer is a fickle thing.

Also, cancer really sucks. Have I mentioned cancer sucks? Because goddamn, it fucking sucks.

And Life Goes On

I’ve been back in Seattle for almost three weeks now, and in a sense I feel like I’ve been re-entering life. Slowly the mundanities of every day existence– like going to work, or remembering what I need to buy from the grocery store on the way home– have regained their previous importance.

Well, perhaps “importance” is the wrong word. Better to say that it’s easier to care about them.

I have to admit, it was tough returning from North Carolina (where Mom’s passing was very much present, in almost every thought and personal interaction) back to Seattle (where I was more or less expected to continue with the routines of day-to-day life). For a while I wasn’t sure if I had the strength.

But life does, indeed, goes on. Two weeks ago I went back to work, and started going to the gym again, and slowly but surely things fell into place. An immensely daunting pile of paperwork even got finished, one signature and one receipt at a time.

The hardest thing, I find, is the number of times something will happen or I’ll hear a funny story, and think, “oh, I should e-mail that to Mom.” Or “hey, I’d better ask Mom.” And then I’ll remember.. no, no I won’t. I can’t just call her up any afternoon or evening on a whim just to ask, for example, “Do you soak the bread crumbs in milk before you put them in the meatloaf?” And I always knew, no matter what, that Mom would be glad I called.

I think we all have an unfortunate tendency to take for granted the people who love us unconditionally, especially if they are people we have known for a very long time– and certainly parents qualify. It’s when they’re not there any more that you realize– even if you didn’t talk to them every day– that their mere presence in the world cheered you. You walked a little easier just knowing in the back of your mind that someone who cared that much about you existed– and when you lose someone like that, I’m not sure you ever get over it. You just get a bit stronger, because you have to.

So that’s where I stand. One thing that helped me immensely last weekend was Norwescon, and later this week I hope to do a more detailed (and cheerful!) write-up. Because it’s time to cut down on the depressing blog posts, and make this thing about writing and travelling again.

Life, and Blog, goes on.

Dream Big

For me, today would be incomplete without a brief nod to the fact that exactly nine years ago, on March 8, 2004, I started my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. It’s an anniversary I’ve noted before, and it continues to serve as a reminder to always set big goals.

Going through Mom’s stuff, I found a copy of the following poem, which once adorned the sidebar of my original Appalachian Trail webpage. That site has long since been re-absorbed into the aether of the Interwebs, but the poem is still poignant, especially given the recent passing of Mom. My mind’s been circling around these sort of thoughts a lot lately, and today it seems particularly appropriate to post this.

In more mundane news, I’ll be heading back to Seattle next week, ready for life to move on, even though things will never quite be the same. And the memory of the last few weeks, like the memory of the Appalachian Trail, will serve as an ever-present reminder to keep dreaming, and to keep setting those big goals.


Dream Big
Author Unknown

If ever there were a time to dare,
To make a difference,
To embark on something worth doing,
It is now.
Not for some grand cause, necessarily,
But for something that tugs at your heart
Something that’s your aspiration
Something that’s your dream

You owe it to yourself
To make each day here count.
Have fun.
Dig deep.

Dream big.

Know, though,
That things worth doing
Seldom come easy.
There will be good days
and there will be bad days
There will be times when
you want to turn around,
pack it up,
call it quits.
Those times tell you
That you are pushing yourself,
That you are not afraid to learn
by trying.


Because with an idea,
and the right tools,
you can do great things.
Let your instincts,
your intellect,
and your heart
guide you.


Believe in the incredible power
Of all the things that will cross your path.

The start of something new
Brings the hope of something great.
Anything is possible.
There is only one you,
And you will only pass this way once.

Do it right.

Nothing is Certain but Death and Paperwork

Thanks to everyone who posted good thoughts on my last blog entry. It’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks, as we ricochet between the emotional side of death (memories; memorial services; reminiscing with family and friends) and the mundane side of death (getting papers in order, clearing out and selling the townhouse, wrapping up the estate). When you’re dealing with the mundane side, with the possessions and material goods accumulated in day-to-day life, and the bureaucracy of both government and large financial institutions, you simply can’t afford to be paralyzed by emotion. Even amidst so much turmoil, there’s still plenty of shit to do, and quite a lot of it.

But in turn, this means you need time to vent, to put aside the paperwork and focus on the important things– like the memories. (At least, that’s how it works for me.)

I’ve been coping the past couple of weeks by going through and scanning pictures from Mom’s scrapbooks. She kept detailed scrapbooks all throughout her life, and on top of that I’m pretty sure she never actually threw a picture away. We found a whole box with nothing but old negatives that I’m pretty sure had been sealed shut for twenty years.

In the process of going through photos, I put together a small retrospective, which in addition to being deeply emotional for me, I’m fairly pleased with from a creative perspective. It’s certainly not a comprehensive view of Mom’s life, but I think it does tell the core narrative, and the parts which were most important to her, especially the love she gave to family and friends.

This and the next couple blog entries will probably be overly emotional things, a way for me to vent so I can spend the bulk of my daylight hours dealing with banks, the IRS, the SSA, and any other 3-letter bureaucratic acronyms. The good news is, the end of the short-term work is in sight, and I hope in a week or so that I’ll be back in Seattle. Life will never quite be the same, but I’m looking forward to life going on, and seeing what new adventures will come.

In the meantime, a short little memorial video:

On The Death of My Mother

On Saturday, February 16, 2013 at precisely 8 pm, my Mom passed away at home in Cary, North Carolina.

Those of you who follow my blog or my Twitter account will know this is not unexpected. For the past year, Mom has been battling Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer, and this was the conclusion of that battle. We knew the end was coming, but that didn’t make it easier. The final few days of vigil were the most difficult moments I’ve ever had to endure. But when the end finally came, it was peaceful; she drew one last breath, and then drew breath no more.

I was present at the time, as was my brother Charlie, her sister Sue, and her brother Bob. Our family is doing about as well as can be expected, given the circumstances. My brother is flying back to Los Angeles this evening to finish working on the Academy Awards– you’ll be able to see him in the telecast– and he’ll return home afterward for the memorial service.

A huge number of people have offered their love and support through all this, in person or online, and for that I thank you with all my heart. Throughout her life, Mom left a path of love and caring everywhere she went, and if I can emulate her example in even the slightest way, I will count my life successful.

As a creative writer, I thrive on speculation, imagination, and questions of the what-if. And even though I’m not religious, I have a hard time believing that we will not meet again, whether in another world, or another life, or another universe. If infinity is the scale of time on which infinitesimally unlikely things inevitably happen, then we– or future incarnations of us– will indeed meet again.

And in the meantime, every story I have ever written, or ever will write, is dedicated to her on some level, as is the life I live.

Barbara Elaine Williams
8/31/1948 – 2/16/2013

A Short January Update

It’s been a busy month, as evidenced by the lack of posts until now, roughly five minutes before month’s end. I’ve written a couple of short stories, made a long trip home to North Carolina, and done a lot of work at the day job, among other things. But as for blogging? Mostly what lays in front of me are topics I’m not ready to post about, topics I don’t want to post about, or topics that seem, well, rather frivolous, or self-indulgent. Maybe next month I’ll be able to blog more on some of the things whirling around my head.

I mentioned that 2013 was going to be a rough year, and it’s already started off that way: Mom’s in at-home hospice care, and the cancer has reappeared in her brain. And much like waiting for a post on this blog, life kind of seems like a waiting game. Waiting for news, waiting for diagnoses, waiting to see what happens next and what we need to do to knock down the next crisis, because nobody knows exactly what it’s going to be or when it’s going to occur.

I’ve been writing some letters to politicians to follow up on my post-Sandy Hook gun control posts. I’d like to finish those in February. And I’d like to plot out a novel next month, too, so I can start writing it in March. We’ll see whether any of it happens.

But I’m around, alive, in good health, with good friends and family supporting both me and my family, and I suppose that’s about all I can ask for. And I’m still writing. Maybe there’ll be some good news on that front I can post about in the next month. I think I’m also going to apply to Clarion, although I have no idea whether I’ll actually be able to make it this year. From the folks I know who’ve been, it seems like a wonderful experience, and I’d love to partake.

And that’s about all I have to post for now. If I write more, this might turn into a woe-is-me post; I’ve pretty much avoided those, and anyway, there are people out there for whom things are way worse than me. But cheerfulness seems phony, too. So for now, it’s one day at a time.