On vulnerability, grief, and fundraising

 

01

Nine and a half years ago, I lost my Grandma Beryl to cancer.

A year and a half ago, I lost my Grandma Claire to cancer.

Every time I interview a woman who has cancer, I face this all over again.

Every time I write an appeal, I remember what it felt to sit at their bedsides and hold their frail and beautiful hands.

The grief. The sadness. The guilt. The fear.

I grew up in a small farming community, where both sets of grandparents lived a stone’s throw away from me. These two women helped raise me. They were like surrogate mothers. They were my confidants and cheerleaders (they both were two of the biggest fans and champions of my writing.) They were two of my dearest friends.

And I see their faces and feel their stories in the stories of women whose stories I tell on a regular basis.

Women who are amazing mothers and grandmothers. Women who are so strong and fierce. Women who like to spike their coffees on Christmas morning. Women whose idea of a celebration is a bunch of hotdogs and beer in the yard with all their kids and grandkids and friends and neighbours.

Grief is a scar. One we feel again and again throughout our lives when we are faced with new grief. And there is always new grief.

But I’ve started looking at these scars much like I view the many stretch marks I collected during my pregnancy.

They do make me stronger, even if seeing and feeling them all too often make me feel weak.

All too often, what is missing from fundraising is humility and humanity.

And vulnerability.

When I write this stuff, I open myself up completely. Cracked like a stone filled with sparkling gems.

It hurts like fucking hell.

Write what you know, they say.

They maybe didn’t have two of their best friends stolen from them, watching them wither away like a garden in the fall. Lusty, vibrant plants that seemed like moments ago were bearing bright and memorable fruit.

But maybe they did.

Probably, they did.

We all have.

Maybe it’s silly, but every time I write a letter about a woman fighting (and beating!) cancer, I feel like I am somehow avenging my grandmothers. Like somehow, in an alternate universe, I am helping them live. Or in this one, if there is anything afterwards at all, that they are still reading what I’ve written, over spiked tea and ginger snaps, in fancy fucking hats and dainty gloves, while David Bowie and Freddie Mercury and Prince and Johnny Cash and Jesus do a lovely rendition of “Fat Bottomed Girls” on a white grand piano.

This is all very unprofessional.

But if you’ve read anything I’ve written here before, you’ll know that I’m hardly professional.

And that I tend to believe that “professional” isn’t at all what we need to cure what is hurting.

What a strange job. To write from the cracks, of ourselves and of others.

And what a beautiful gift. To watch something grow.

Something that invites so many to pause and question “what is there for me to do to grow this thing – it is not mine, but somehow is – and be a part of something that is both bigger than me, and innately inside of me as if it were my bones and marrow?”

Philanthropy is the love of humanity.

But deeper than that, it is a love of self and what belongs to us.

Because that’s how we come to understand what it means to be anything at all.

And it is, and must be, a recognition that the hurt of others is the hurt inside us, too.

And that we must start where we are, use what we have, and do what we can, to do anything at all.

Anything at all.