In times of death, words are virtually useless. Family members are stricken with grief and are surrounded by well meaning friends who offer condolences which are often more aggravating than comforting. Mourning the loss of a daughter, mother, father, son, brother or sister is something only those experiencing it can understand. After the first few “sorrys” and “call if you need anything” the grieving sometimes wish everyone would shut up and go away. A loss of this magnitude is deeply personal and individual and no one on the outside can truly grasp the depth of the sorrow of the moment. Grieving may be a human experience, but each human and family grieve is very different and intimate ways.
Rather than write a blog about how “sorry” I am for the loss of Lauren Skillman, I am going to write about how she changed my life. While I hope someday the family reads this, it is not as much for them as it is my way of dealing with the profound sense of loss in my heart. Lauren Skillman was to me in many ways simply Melanie’s daughter. Until recently, I was not an intimate personal friend of Lauren and knew comparatively little of Lauren outside of her early struggles with cancer. When Alex first began working for Melanie, Lauren was still a teenager and a rowdy one at that. Like so many brilliant artists, Lauren was internally very conflicted and that conflict manifested in her rambunctious behavior. Ironically, it was the stubborn and rambunctious spirit which kept her alive far longer than anyone else who has suffered from the type of cancer which ultimately took her life.
Lauren’s struggle with deadly cancer is not terribly unusual in some ways. Struck down just as she began her adult life, Lauren garnered the sympathy of hundreds if not thousands of friends and followers who came to be known as “LaLa’s Soldiers.” Thanks to social networking, Lauren’s story spread far and wide as people all over the United States learned of her struggle. Lauren had developed a very rare form of child hood cancer from which no one survived. Because of the type of cancer and despite her age, Lauren was treated at Cook Children’s Medical Center by a physician who studied at the Mayo Clinic which was the leader in nerve sheath tumor treatment. Lauren was in many ways still a jubilant child inside and drew from the positive energy that flows through the halls of Cook. In retrospect, being treated at a children’s hospital was likely a key factor in her recovery and living longer than expected.
In my 21 years of working in healthcare, I have witnessed my fair share of death, both immediate and protracted. Medicine has advanced a great deal, but the one constant that seems to extend the lives of those stricken is their willingness to fight. I never gave much thought to just how brave fighters like Lauren are until I considered how I would react to a terminal diagnosis. I can say with little doubt that if I were facing the same diagnosis that Lauren faced, I most likely would have given up out of sheer panic and terror. Perhaps I would regain some composure and fight, but Lauren did so much more than simply fight a deadly disease, she mastered it. What separates Lauren from me and many others is how she bravely fought and controlled certain death until the very end.
One trait that Lauren expressed in her life and in her fight was an unwillingness to be pushed around, bullied or otherwise told what to do. As you can imagine, in parenting this made for difficult times, but the unwillingness to be directed by others is exactly why Lauren was able to live as long as she did. Make no mistake, when Lauren was first diagnosed all those months ago, for any other person it would have been a rapid death sentence. It is very difficult to put into words the intangible zest for life that Lauren exhibited. It is not so much that she was the proverbial life of the party as much as it was her unwillingness to let life steer her. There can be no doubt that Lauren was always the one driving the ship. If there were ever a person who embodied Farragut’s famous “Damn the torpedoes, Full speed ahead” is was Lauren Skillman.
It is this insistence of living life on her terms which I hope to leave you with today. Lauren lived in 21 years more life than many live in an entire lifetime. Lauren lived each moment to the fullest in anticipation of the next. Certainly she experienced all the same worries, fears, frustrations and anxieties that we all face, but she was able to interweave her brand of living with them all. It is difficult to say what Lauren’s life may have looked like had she never been diagnosed with cancer. I doubt she would have led a typical life by comparable standards because she simply was not typical in any way. What I can say for certain is that in her illness and death she truly taught others how to live. How often do we hear that in eulogies only to wonder if it were true? Friends, I can assure you that it is very true of Lauren Skillman. God speeds sweet angel!
I added the photo above because I felt like it was a pictorial way to describe the Skillman-Wilson journey. Lauren being the ray of sunshine guiding the family across the next bridge of life. On the other end of that bridge is sunlight to guide their way along the road. There is no cliche, no thought, no blog nor any eulogy which can ease the pain right away but in time wounds will begin to heal and those rays of light will permeate many people. Lauren’s zeal for living will go on forever and ever!