She was nervous to meet me. I thought it was quite amusing, it was like she was coming to meet the parents, meeting my Dad’s college age son. Cari and her late husband had never had any children, so meeting me was intimidating to Cari.
We me at a restaurant halfway between my dad’s house and hers, we had lunch, my dad and I ordered Red Ales.
I don’t’ remember much else. She was very pleasant, funny and for some reason I thought she looked a little bit like Hillary Clinton.
My dad and I had more or less “been on our own,” for the last several years. My stepmother (a woman I was convinced never liked me) had divorced my sophomore year in high school—a huge relief for me. My dad, that year had moved into a small apartment a little ways down the parkway from where we used to live, so I could still walk to visit most of my friends when I was down visiting him.
I tell you all of this because a few years after I met Cari, my dad and her got married. I was so happy for them. Cari told me how honored she was to become part of our family, and how she wanted to take my dad’s last name, because it was so special to her to become part of our family. She thanked me.
She got a son for the first time in her life… and I, another mother.
I won’t try to make it better than it is, divorce sucks, especially for the kids, but sometimes having two families was such a huge blessing, it’s hard to describe. Not everyone has the privilege of having even one loving family, but ever since they got married, I have had two.
Cari and my dad met online, and so they were quite a distance apart; he lived in Binghamton, she lived in Dalton, Pensylvania. After the passing of my Grandma Brown early in the spring before I moved to Denver, both my Dad and I received a generous inheritance. Mine went to pay for seminary and part of my dad’s went to a fun little sports car that he used to bomb down the back roads between Cari’s place and his. Just before they got married, the little town of Vestal experienced tremendous flooding (along with all of New England) and before my dad could retrieve our fun little car, mandatory flood evacuations forced him to take what he had managed to retrieve and leave to Cari’s house. The brand new car and many, many of his belongings soaked under first rains and river water, and then backed-up sewage for more than a week.
Luckily, my dad had already begun the process of moving into Cari’s beautiful house in Dalton, so not all of his things were destroyed. The insurance company totaled my dad’s car and Cari and he decided to put the money into a driveway at their little house, which, being in the small town, only had street parking on the hill. When my dad and I would get teary eyed about the car, Cari would remark about how nice their beautiful driveway was!
They got married that fall and honeymooned in Prince Edward Island.
The cancer had first struck before they got married, she did her first round of treatments and was pronounced that her cancer was in remission. It almost seemed like that first round had nearly killed her, she went from a dress size 14 to a 4.
But, for a time, we all had peace.
I get a little garbled in my brain about the order of events and timing of things because Cari was such a go-getter that even in the midst of cancer treatments she’d wear out my dad and me. She was always planting and gardening their beautiful early 1900s house, taking us out to dinner, traveling and insisting on these big meals when I’d come to visit.
They were some of my first family to come and visit me in Colorado. I recommended a restaurant for us, Merle’s in downtown Littleton.
“Oh! They have fish Tacos! I love fish tacos. And then I can have them for breakfast tomorrow morning!” My roommate and I burst out laughing.
“Cari, you’re going to have fish tacos for breakfast?” I said.
“I love fish tacos, they’re delicious for breakfast!” She said smiling.
Cari was my biggest fan. My brakes went out on my car early on in my time in Denver and she insisted my dad send me a check. When I’d come to visit they’d both buy foods for me, whatever I was eating at the time, even before I got to their house. She’d always try to offer me more food, ask if I needed anything, “You know if you need anything, always just ask.” She’d always check to make sure I had enough money and food before I left. When they had come to visit me in Colorado, she fall in love with my little Saturn. “I can see why you like this car, I’ve been telling your dad, isn’t Nate’s car getting old, why don’t you buy him a new one?”
I remarked on the phone to my dad a few months back that Cari is the perfect Jewish mother, she over heard and said she was proud of that!
Danette and I met, I think, the same year they were married, and so I somehow convinced her to take this whirlwind road trip with me to meet all of my family in New York and New England. Cari loved her. A year later I was nervous that having our wedding in Colorado would limit some of my family and friends from attending, especially Cari. I couldn’t stand the thought of her not being able to come. The cancer had come back, and she started another round of chemo. Her beautiful hair that had just started to come back, was falling out again. My dad shaved her head while we were visiting.
Out came the rocking wigs again!
She was all a frenzy of the upcoming wedding plans. My dad and her organized all of the invitations and the rehearsal dinner and chipped in everywhere they could.
Part way through the summer, just a few months before the wedding Danette and I heard the great news that Cari should be able to make it out. There was going to be a break in her treatment.
And so many of you met her. This wonderful, fiery woman, with a limp and a cane from all her battle scars with cancer, head held high, and proud. The rehersal dinner was awesome, I hate to think of how much it cost the both of them, but Cari and my dad wouldn’t have it any other way. We had the most wonderful wedding because of them and the support from Jack and Shirley—Danette’s dad and his girlfriend. The Brown family grew from three to our little group of four.
Cari got a break in her chemo because she got into a clinical trial and they had to quit chemo to see if it would work.
A few months later, the clinical trial proved to be completely ineffective–and so would everything else, but Cari decided to take one more swing at the evil that invaded her body. She went down fighting, to be sure.
We visited in January, the Colorado Brown and the Pennsylvania Browns.
I could say a few months later, again, but in reality it’s been a few minutes. All of it has. A few minutes later, the got the doctors to admit a time frame.
Probably not another year. Fucking cancer.
Not another year, and we’ve only just begun! We’ve only just become a family.
I called from work about three weeks ago. My dad’s e-mail said he had called in hospice.
“Hi Cari, I love you.”
“I Love you to, sweety.”
I’m trying to keep my crying quite so she doesn’t hear me.
“I’m having trouble with my words,” she said. She repeated herself three more times. My dad had warned me that she was having a hard time with nouns. In typical Cari fashion, a few days before he said that she was trying to tell him what she wanted him to do and gave up partway through saying, “Go do something while I figure out what I wanted to tell you!”
“I hear your family is coming to visit,” I managed.
“They’re coming for lunch,” she said. She said how confused she’s been with all the people standing over her and checking on her at home. “Well, I need to go honey. You take good care of Danette, ok? You take good care of her,” she repeated.
“I will Cari, I will. I love you.”
“You take good care of each other. We’ll see you soon.
“Goodbye, Cari. I love you.”
* * *
Thank you. You’ve taken such good care of us. I know we all planned man, many years of fun together. I know you wanted to travel, and come and visit again soon. I would have liked to see all the dresses you were going to sew since your cancer forced you into early retirement. I know you’re proud of all of us and love us, and we’re proud of you too. I’ve never met someone so brave and so strong and yet so thoughtful of everyone around you. We’ll take good care of Dad, I promise. I can’t believe I came to have a mother and lose her so quickly, but it has been the highest privilege. We’ll be sad, but at the same time I know how happy you’d be to be with all of us.
I will miss you always.
NateCari asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to The American Cancer Society, or The Griffen Pond Animal Shelter, 967 Griffin Pond Rd, S Abington Twp, PA 18411. A Christian memorial service for her will be held next Saturday, Aug. 2, at Neil Regan Funeral Home, 1900 Pittston Ave., Scranton, at 11:30. Interment and lunch to follow.