Keeping My Past Afloat


The closing phase of life ideally includes time for reflection. Imagery of elders rocking on shaded front porches as they share stories of years gone by seem right, whether or not current society actually allows or encourages that. Terminally ill, albeit younger, I find myself reflecting more on my past, enjoying the memories.IMG_0229

But I have not enjoyed the past breaking through into my present this July. Instead of rocking, I was called to action – stressful action. Not only did I re-inherit my beloved houseboat, home during my late twenties, thirties and early forties but also it threatened to sink me. This glorious home that looks so wonderful was catastrophically ill below the water. There were other woes after almost a decade of no responsible parenting and constant movement on the river. I needed to sell and I decided I had exactly 26 days in which to do it. I was not going to pay August Moorage fees.IMG_0235

It led to a stressful month as my reasonable asking price became less reasonable as clarity grew that this home needed a buyer with $50,000 + for upfront repairs. I sold it today for $5,000 – a bitterly wrong sum. But I needed to be done with the stress of this house capsizing on my watch and then having a huge financial burden as it was salvaged from the river floor.

Living on disability during what someone called ‘my prime earning years’ does not make me flush. Commuting cross-country for medical care is an additional burden. (This clinical trial only covers actual treatment costs.) It would have been lovely, and appropriate, to sell this home for $89,000 or more.

But the stress is gone. And it is now August. I intend to return to some rocking with the best of memories as companions. Priceless.



About marcy westerling

I am a long time community organizer with a passion for justice and founded the Rural Organizing Project in 1992. Derailed by a Stage IV Ovarian Cancer diagnosis in spring 2010, I have stayed in treatment since then. I am learning how to embrace livingly dying and hope that by starting a Phase One immunology clinical trial at UPenn in spring of 2013 I will have more time to find the sweet spots of thriving while terminally ill.

11 responses »

  1. Dear Marcie, I found myself thinking of you a lot lately. My life has had a fairly sudden cluster of changes, most of which involve letting go. We bought a beach house six years ago and I painted the whole inside and furnished it and decorated it. Some of the stuff from friends (Connie’s chair was my first reupholster job, Pam’s fancy Chantal blue tea kettle, my Mom’s table cloths, etc. ). Now we need to sell it. Financially it makes no sense to work so hard to keep up a place we rarely use, as Danner’s energy continues to drop. As I thought about this loss, I thought about dying. I thought about how everyone loses every thing. Every THING, but maybe not everything. I think about our bodies, these bio-degradable packages that we come in, and identify with so closely. I think about your beautiful body, once as thin and lithe and strong as a ballet dancer, now struggling to keep going from such challenges.

    We will take quite a hit on the price, too. Probably nothing like the hit you are taking, but the tall trees are so vulnerable… I have fussed and fumed about it, but in the end, as my Dad used to say, it is all must stuff. I want to be a good steward to the earth, including my homes and yards… I want to leave things better than I found them. I find solace in believing that others will come along and say “somebody sure loved this place”, just like I did when I bought it. Well, here’s the thing, Marcie: you have created a remarkable legacy. You have done so much for social justice and human dignity that the ripples will spread so far and wide that they will motivate others that you must know that you truly changed the world. You changed the world. Not many people can say that, at least not in the way I mean it. Yeah, yeah yeah, we all change e world in our little daily life ways… But how many of us a finally change e course of history? Well sweet woman, you did.

    I have become involved in the No Coal issues here. I spoke at theCounty Planning Commission and at the city council, and then, when asked to speak at the DEQ rally at the Portland convention center, to a crowd of 300, I paused, so scared, and thought of you and thought shit, what am I afraid of? You spoke everywhere with such conviction. So I said yes, and found myself a “featured speaker” standing on a podium in the heat with my east coast straw hat and my no coal red shirt and my mothers grey silk skirt blowing around my ankles. I did fine, fine enough. I said what needs to be said, and that’s all I needed to do. I believe your strength was shared with me at day. For this I thank you.

    So what do you get to take with you? Who knows. That is part of the Big Secret, isn’t it? But I find myself confident that our true essence, is that our soul?, is who we are and when we separate from our bodies we survive on. I have no idea what that will be like, but I am certain it will be interesting.

    I don’t know much about much, but I found myself compelled to write to you and encourage you to remember that it is all just stuff. Wonderful stuff that gave us great pleasure. I think we get to take the pleasure with us as we leave the stuff. And really, at the end of the end of the day, aren’t we so damn lucky? We got to be here and live useful and delicious lives. And you, my friend, leave a legacy. Good for you. You will be afloat wherever you go. I will never forget you, nor will my daughter. And she will tell her children about you, and maybe they will tell their children….

    Annie Christensen

  2. Oh wow. This is a big thing to balance in your heart — letting go of the past, letting go of the beloved, and letting go of the stress. Honoring the past, standing firmly in the present, looking towards the future. No easy feat. You always impress me with your ability to juggle all these balls of complex reality.

  3. At least one less stressor in your life. It was indeed a lovely home and I have very fond memories of my visits with you there. It was always so peaceful. Hopefully, the new owners will love it as much as you did and keep it afloat for another thirty years. I can’t “like” this post since I don’t have a WordPress login, but once again, thanks for sharing.

    Thinking of you often, Penny

  4. Hi Marcy. I can’t help wondering if you’ve heard of Dr. Keith Block, the integrative oncologist. He has a center in Illinois and does some pretty amazing work with metastatic cancer. His book is “Life Over Cancer”. He also has a website.

  5. Dear Marcy,
    Letting go or hanging tight. We have a choice to surrender or to resist in any given situation. You made a good decision regarding the house … hard as I’m sure it was. You have more important things to use your energy for.

  6. Letting go of your beloved houseboat at a loss is yet another example of your amazing courage and ability to move forward with wisdom, clarity, and strength of spirit. Bravo!

  7. I had a close friend who went to Dr. Block in Ill. She had metastatic colon cancer. Unfortunately, his treatments didn’t work for her. I could put you in touch with her partner if you’re interested. Jill died in Jan.

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