An Open Letter to My Widowed Sister: The Strongest Woman I Know

Dear Lana,

I remember watching you through each of your three pregnancies with Matthew. You seemed to be glowing with every one. Your attitude always astounded me with how positive you were throughout the whole process. It seemed, to me anyway, that you never had a bad day. You loved being pregnant. You loved being a mom. You loved being married to Matt. You made the settled life look so satisfying and contenting.

I remember being at work and calling you to hear how Matt was doing. He had been sick for several months and no one knew what was going on. Was he allergic to gluten? Was it colitis? Was it just weird nausea? Doctors had begun running tests and realized that he had a large blockage in one of his intestines that was inhibiting his ability to digest properly, but still no one knew for sure what was going on. But on that day I heard the words come out of your mouth that no one ever wants to hear. “Matt has cancer”, you said. “My husband has cancer”, you said again as you began to cry. Test results had come back positive and the blockage was a cancerous tumor. As I heard the words slowly drag out of your mouth I felt the tears build in my eyes, but I determined to be strong for you and try to encourage you that it would all be okay. When we got off the phone I stood at my desk in stunned silence and immediately turned around to go into a back office where I stood with my head pressed into the walls of a room corner and wept over the devastating news.

IMG_0306
The Quinn Crew

In the coming weeks you and Matt would find out that his cancer was Stage 4 and that it had a high likelihood of spreading to other parts of the body, if it hadn’t already. Together you and Matt determined in your heart to beat the cancer. Neither of you were willing to accept less. I watched you research everything about cancer. You would make lunch for Kingston and Coen, breast feed Christian and sit on the couch scrolling every medical website you could find for any additional information you could use to fight this cancer monster. You managed the needs of three boys between the ages of 1 and 5 as well as tending to every single need Matt had through it all, completely neglecting yourself. Finally, the day came when your doctor gave the news that Matt’s cancer was beyond helping and his case was terminal. He could do chemotherapy which might give him a little more time, but forfeit his energy and quality of life, or go without and see if natural remedies could make a difference. Matt decided he both wanted and needed to be as healthy and energetic as possible to be the dad to his boys he needed to be so he made the choice to go full on into homeopathic care. There was no changing his mind. He was sure he would beat the cancer and defy the odds. You championed him in whatever he set his mind to.

From that decision forward you guys settled in to a strict diet and exercise routine, hours of quality time with Jesus each day, and tons of memory making as a family. I watched you serve Matt from morning, noon and into the night. You never seemed to answer any of his requests begrudgingly. You always seemed happy and willing to do whatever was needed of you. On top of Matt’s extensive needs you had three little boys who never seemed to stop wanting. I can’t tell you how many times I sat back at your house stunned at how positive your spirits were in a time where I was convinced you were deserving of a total breakdown. You drew so close to God and He really was your strength and joy through months of turbulence.

Then the day came when doctors found that despite all of Matt’s efforts to beat the cancer, more tumors had been found in his stomach. With that news Matt’s determination seemed to weaken somewhat. In the weeks following he began losing weight, growing lethargic and weak, and visiting the doctor more and more. You stepped up all the more. Handling everything from running the house, to handling all the doctor visits, changing Matt’s colostomy bag (that he got after a large portion of his intestine had been removed) and taking care of his daily needs, acting as the communication liaison with his family, your family, and the community as everyone watched the saga with baited breath. Matt continued to grow sicker and sicker until he was in the hospital more than he was home. Tumors continued to form and his body was failing him. You would leave the boys with a set of grandparents, drive him to the hospital sometimes at 1am, handle all communication with the doctors, stay with him for a few hours, drive back and breast feed Christian, and turn right around and go back to stay with Matt because you didn’t want him to be there alone. You tried your best to shield your boys from what was happening to their dad. You stayed so strong and so positive for Matt; always supporting his decisions and never letting him give up on himself.

I remember when you demanded doctors do a surgery that would open up a blocked portion of one of Matt’s organs. They were skeptical that it would do any good but you knew without it he was certainly hours from death and you practically forced doctors to act on Matt’s behalf. Your tenacity and unwillingness to give up gained Matt back his quality of life and added another few months to his life. You and I sat in the hospital cafeteria one night and I remember how deeply impressed with you I was and how the words I wanted to say to you always seemed to escape me. I had never looked up to you more. How were you able to hold up so well? How were you not a pile of tears everyday? How was it possible for someone to love another person this much? You smiled, laughed, and pressed on day after day on usually no more than 2-3 hours of broken sleep. Constantly in and out of hospital and hospice rooms. Living for the days, or sometimes mere hours, when Matt seemed a little better. And then you would say to me through exhausted, tear-filled eyes that you knew it was all God. God in you was giving you a supernatural leg up to handle what was happening. Doing what you were doing for Matt and your family felt like the most natural thing in the world to you.

Then the dreaded day came.

Matt’s weakened and fragile frame took its last breath at home in his own bed. You told me that only a couple hours before he passed away he asked you to sit down beside him on the bed so he could rub your back. In his sick state he still wanted to give back to you for all you’d done for him. You were able to whisper in his ear all the ways you loved him and were proud of him and the fight he put up. Those last moments you two shared were so precious and deep. You loved each other fiercely and truly right up to the very end. As soon as I got word that he had gone to be with Jesus I headed right back to Waynesville. When I saw the broken and numb state you were in all I could say to you was, “I am here for you. We are here for you. Whatever you need, we’ve got this. I love you. I love you.” You had fought so long and so hard and it was time for others to step up for you. But you said to me later that day that you had begged God to let Matt stay with you. That you were willing to serve him, feed him, empty his colostomy bag, clothe him, even carry him on your back when he couldn’t walk and do whatever it took for the rest of your life if it meant you could keep Matt with you and the boys. But the mercy of God wasn’t going to let either of you spend a life like that.

So, Lana. As I watched you soldier through that incredibly difficult year and the nearly one

me and lana
Lana and I

year mark since his passing I can say emphatically that you have changed my life. You redefined what love looks like. I’ve never seen someone fight for another person so ferociously. You loved and supported that man no matter what. You forfeited and neglected every need you had in order to take care of your husband and three sons every single day. You researched and pushed for every treatment to be tried on him and you wouldn’t rest until every homeopathic remedy rock was left unturned. You constantly laughed and smiled, never giving up hope ONCE. You never turned a moment of Matt’s battle into a pity party or chance to put the limelight on yourself. And it is because you never once considered yourself during that time that I choose to honor you now. Honor for you was always in my heart as I watched you, but I never knew how to express it. You taught me what it looked like to be selfless; what it was to love someone so much that you truly give up yourself for them. You’ve never asked for or expected attention over what you were going through. You just quietly and humbly kept going. You are the definition of an unsung hero. But I’m here to sing your song.

I want to apologize for failing to be there for you as much as you’ve needed in the wake of his passing. I am sorry for any nights you’ve felt like you were alone or unseen after Matt was gone. I have never not seen you and never stopped remembering all you have gone through. I know you have questions and can still be hard on yourself about how things ended up. I know you still think there was more you could have or should have done for Matt. I know you constantly feel unable to help your little boys process the loss of their daddy. You put so much pressure on yourself to handle things that no human is ready for or equipped to handle. But you need to know that you have done and are doing the most amazing job at living life and raising your sons that anyone could ever do. You did everything a person could possibly do for their husband in his state. There was no more love you could have showered on him, no more serving you could have done. Please believe me when I say this. You were enough. You are enough. You are allowed to be broken hearted. But you are also allowed to have fun. You are allowed to not have all the answers. And you are allowed to ask all the questions you need. You may never know what your example has taught me or how it’s changed the way I see life and love, but to me you are a superhero. Your story deserves to be told.

I am unbelievably proud to call you my sister.

I love you with all of my heart.

 

Your baby sister,

Rachel

lana and the boys
That sweet family.
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6 thoughts on “An Open Letter to My Widowed Sister: The Strongest Woman I Know

  1. I had not seen your sister or Matt in a good 10 years when I heard about his diagnosis. I immediately felt heartbroken. He was always a happy person. As your sister goes, the love she showed by taking care of him until his last breath and being a mother is a great look into the kind of person she is. Reading your letter makes me look up to her and I am not her little sister. You are lucky to have her. She is lucky to have a sister that loves her so much. Please send her my blessings and prayers.

    1. I will send those to her from you, Marissa! She is a special person and our bond is unique in the wake of all this, to say the least. Thank you for reading and commenting!

  2. Beautifully written , so heartfelt and so humbling. Lanas strength and her will inspire me to do and be my very best! What a great bond you share , your sister , her sweet boys and the entire family are always in my thoughts and prayers!

  3. This is a heartbreakingly beautiful letter, I imagine that it will be a blessing for your sister when she reads it. Your family continues to be in my prayers.

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