October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a month I spent working a part-time job where we were encouraged to wear pink shirts on Fridays. That first Monday, though, we kicked off the month by wearing all things pink. My manager bought scarves for the team. I brought pink pom poms and tucked one in my ponytail. The boss distributed pink tutus for the ladies and pink bow ties and suspenders for the guys.
I was surprised by his short burst of sharing. Usually it was a heads down, fast-paced, take your breaks at staggered times type of place. Little time to get to know each other. And of course, we were back to work after this brief exchange.
So I didn’t see a good opening to share the news I’d just found in my email.
My friend Grace had been on hospice for breast cancer recurrence when she finally succumbed earlier this month. The thing is, I had been thinking of her just the week before – before I knew she had died – and I found myself reflecting on the last emails we exchanged. This was in August. I felt like I should have checked in one more time.
She had been cancer-free for over twenty years before it recurred. I met her during her remission a couple of years ago when we signed up for the same writing class.
I remember the first night of that class. It was January, 2020, and I had just finished a brisk walk from the Red Line stop at Park Street to GrubStreet’s old location in the Steinert building on the Boston Common. I reached the back of the dimly lit entry hall just as a group of writers scuttled into the tiny elevator. I knew I wouldn’t make it onto that ride, so I slowed my pace and prepared to wait for the elevator light to reset so I could push the button.
Before I could reach out my hand, a Chinese woman blew into the vestibule, crossed the floor and poked impatiently at the button. I knew her action wasn’t going to call the elevator. I waited for a polite moment and then gently pressed the same button again once the light reset.
It was a small moment, but one that, for me, captured the essence of Grace – who ran after life, demanding the best, and quickly.
Self-described as a global nomad and journalist, Grace Segran had a passion for travel, for writing, for Jesus, and for her late-husband Raja. She leaves behind a plethora of personal narratives for us to enjoy, as well as advice for those who may shirk from hospice care.
Today, I am grieving the loss of her life, and I am grateful to have known her. She encouraged me – in writing, in faith, and in life. Even with only months to live, she asked me about my life. When I said I wanted to go back to work but didn’t know what to do, she suggested Walgreens, saying it was fast-paced and interesting. She also sent me the link to a song that sustained her during her breast cancer metastasis – https://youtu.be/rNXd0KQaYXg – a production of “Yet not I, but through Christ in me.”
And I thought of her during subsequent writing classes, including during a session in which I didn’t know how to respond to a prompt. This is what I wrote, and it’s how I’d like to always remember Grace:
"I don't know what to write -- which makes me think of Grace, who never knew what to write in class either. What if the prompt doesn't fit? What if you want to write something else? I think of her smiling eyes behind her glasses, playful and a little devious, daring me to play hooky and grab a cup of tea with her in the kitchen. She'll tell me tales of Scotland, and I'll wonder if I'll ever see the world through her eyes -- to have a brush with death and a heart full of gratitude for one more day. Let's stay here in the kitchen, Grace. We'll get back to work eventually. There is time. There will be enough time for it all."
I wanted to come to your memorial service, Grace. I told you that. But I had to attend virtually instead. I’m sorry I never met your daughter, the one who shares a name with my own. I’m sorry I never met your granddaughters. But I’m so glad I was there to sing with the worship team “Yet not I, but through Christ in me” and to hear your brother-in-law proclaim your immense faith and the comfort you found in your last days in Psalm 130 and your anticipation of seeing Jesus for the first time:
“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.
O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.”
You told me once, Grace, that you wished you could write more about your faith. Know that your faith was proclaimed and witnessed. And we cherish it.
I am so glad to have known you, and I hope that one day, we will meet again.
Here you will find a catalog of my writing and reflections.