On Friday, Aug. 11, the Working Mother family lost a valued friend and contributor. Rachel Huff, one of our bloggers and writers, died of Ewing’s Sarcoma, an extremely rare form of cancer that often begins in the bones.
I had the pleasure of getting to know Rachel this past year as her editor, and though we were only briefly and professionally acquainted, her death is hitting me hard. When we first began working together, she confessed she would have to scale back her assignments: Her cancer had returned and the prognosis was not good.
“My goal is to turn 50 which is in a year-and-a-half,” she said to me in January. “I am working and trying to keep moving forward. And I am spending as much time as I can with my kids and husband. I am not a pity-party type of person so this is what I do.”
This is what I do.
It’s such a simple concept, and yet it’s so hard for most of us to simply spend time with our loved ones, and to enjoy that time for what it is: a gift.
I nearly died giving birth to my son, and yet I still find it all too easy to take life for granted. To get stuck in the daily grind of work and commuting and chores and appointments. To forget to reply to my husband’s flirty texts or my son’s requests to play trains or my best friend’s email. Tomorrow, I tell myself. I’ll do it tomorrow. Tomorrow, I’ll be a better wife, a better mother and a better friend.
Rachel, of course, knew tomorrow is not promised. That's why this year she renewed her vows in Hawaii, took her kids to San Francisco and traveled with friends to see the super-bloom at Antelope Valley National Reserve and Anza-Borrego National Park. But it wasn't the big vacations she cherished most in her final days. "I am not advocating that you must fulfill those bucket-list items right this minute," she said. "Rather, my request is to take a minute to revel in the everyday and in those people who continue to show up in your life."
She lived her last months doing just that, full of unapologetic honesty (see her piece, "I Promise, It's OK to Talk About My Terminal Illness, Even at Work") and boundless love for others. In just a few brief phone chats and emails, I knew this about her. And her words were full of the wisdom that comes from someone who knows their remaining time on earth is measured in hours and not years.
That’s not to brush it aside. Millions of people have faced the end of their life with bitterness and regret. How could they not? It’s a tough, tough world, and life is filled with sudden, irrevocable choices. But Rachel did not. She viewed the planet and its people with compassion, an act that seems particularly challenging in these fraught times. She didn’t just love her family—she loved her coworkers, and the college students she had the pleasure of watching grow up, working in the police department at California State University Channel Islands.
As she says in her piece, "The No. 1 Lesson Cancer Has Taught Me About Climbing the Career Ladder":
Yesterday, I hung out with freshman college students at their orientation. It's one of my favorite times at work. Seeing their bright, excited faces and talking to them (and their parents) about the semester ahead is the highlight of my year. It energizes me in a way I cannot explain. I can forget about chemo, scans and a dismal prognosis. I can focus on these amazing students who are starting their college careers.
My own 17-year-old daughter will be in their shoes in a year. More than anything, I want to be next to her when she starts college. I would go to the ends of the earth to be with her on that first day of college. Saying goodbye to my children is more than I can bear or even think about today. This ridiculous cancer is unpredictable, and all I can do is appreciate each moment I get with them. They will hear the words "I love you" from me every chance I get. I will hug and hold them as much as they can handle.
Rachel didn’t make it to her daughter’s first day of college. This breaks my heart, but it also makes me determined to heed her advice. To go home and fiercely hug my husband and son. I will hug and hold them as much as they can handle. To call my grandfather, whose Alzheimer's disease means he is slowly slipping away from me. All I can do is appreciate each moment. To tell my family and friends how very much they are loved and appreciated. They will hear the words "I love you" from me every chance I get.
I imagine that Rachel inspired many others to do the same—and I hope you do, too. That means Rachel’s legacy will be one of love. What a truly remarkable way to leave the world.