The Back Page: Stacy and Isabelle
By Bruce Steinberg
So often two people run into each other, or call, or social-media message, and the first question is, “What’s new?” In nearly every instance, the response is, “Not much, what’s new with you?” To which the first one answers, “Oh, nothing.”
It may be true that nothing is new, or not much new. It seems, though, the pressure in these encounters is to go on to something else, to not take up too much time. Talking about what’s new takes a while, and there are obligations to get to. So we say, whether there is something new in our lives or not, “Nothing. All good. See you later.”
If my most distant acquaintance, even a stranger, were to ask me these days, “What’s new?” the usual exchange simply wouldn’t work. Stacy Tongate is far too new. Isabelle Ewen is far too new. As my column submission deadline nears, there is very little else for me to think about. Stacy died after an 8-year battle against stomach cancer. In life she was vibrant, beautiful inside and out, the loving wife of our nephew, Zachary, loving mother of their 2-year-old daughter, loving daughter, aunt, niece, sister, friend, and so on and on. She was only 34 precious years old.
Take 34, double it, add the typical age of a high school graduate, and we get to Isabelle’s age. Isabelle Ewen, loving wife of 61 years to Richard, who passed 4 years ago, mother of four, including my wife, grandmother of three, including our son, great-grandmother of three, a devoted church-goer who showed the goodness of her Catholic faith in such pure kindness at all times. All of Isabelle’s living shows just how unfair it is for someone like Stacy to die so young. Isabelle, age 86, attended Stacy’s visitation memorial that Wednesday. Thursday was Stacy’s funeral. Friday morning, Isabelle passed.
For my family and me, that’s what’s new. Back to back. It often feels all too much to take. While I know all of you have moments of great sadness, and comparisons of the intensity of such sadness are simply not appropriate, this does not feel fair. It’s a struggle to think about much else, especially when witnessing the devastation this brings to others around you, who are also loved. It wasn’t that a stomach cancer patient’s death and an elderly person’s passing come as extreme surprises. But the sum of their lives, their legacies, are suddenly thrust upon our thoughts − for how could they not be? − and back to back. It seems too much and so very unfair.
But to write this for a Silent Sports column? Both women were bowlers, Stacy a machine, rolling a 225 like a walk in the park at our son’s birthday party. She was active, sure, but there are no silent sports details for me to provide. With Isabelle, silent sports were not part of her generation. At best I can say she listened to my silent sports stories, especially those related to the Birkie. But she listened intently to everything people had to say to her. When she asked, “What’s new?” she really wanted to know. So how does all this relate to a Silent Sports column? I really don’t know other than the usual deadline and my inability to write about anything else.
As I write, it’s been only four days since Stacy’s funeral; three days since Isabelle’s passing. I realize, over these sad days, in addition to doing my part to help with arrangements for Isabelle, and be with my family, I’ve also cut the lawn, swapped out a bathroom ceiling fan, gone to the office, talked to clients, and the rest of the usual that wouldn’t wait for grief to ease. This includes running each day. But with each run, I was overwhelmed with the thought, “This right here, the strength of the body, the body itself, is what eventually gives out, for everybody, so what’s the point?”
It didn’t take long to come up with the answer; several answers actually, all obvious. But one reason stood out the most. For all of us, when sadness comes along, and it will, sometimes two days in a row, what are we to do?
Think of them.
Know that they wouldn’t want our lives to stop while we’re still living.
Honor their lives, no matter how long or short, with the goodness of ours. Not for them, but because of them.
For our lives, let that be what’s new.