The journey did not begin with cancer. It did not begin with tumors or with headaches or with stealthy genetic malfunctions waiting to emerge. In truth, its origins reach further back than the birth of my daughter. The journey began some 89 years ago, when a country girl named June first greeted the world with strong lungs and a cry of perseverance.
She was the youngest of three sisters who she would outlive by more than 20 years. Her family was so poor that she recalled ramshackle breakfasts fashioned from a slice of bread, sugar and warm coffee. She suffered embarassment at school when she was the only child not to have a lunch. But she held her head up. She never surrendering her dignity without a fight.
When she was just 16, she experienced the first of her life’s many challenges. Out for a joyride with her sister and two gentlemen callers, they were struck by a train when their car stranded on the tracks. One of the boys died. She spent the rest of the year in a hospital bed. A bright girl, who wrote well and read often, she abandoned school forever when her condition slowed her studies. She kept her dignity and persevered.
She later married a farmer, and they raised eight children, two of them his from a previous marriage. Her first-born, a buoyant boy named Bobby, drowned in a swimming accident when he was still a child. She would never shake the tragedy from her memory and she would develop a fear of water, but again she persevered.
She endured many more tests along the path of her long life. Her husband died too young and left her alone to raise the two youngest of their children. A few years later, she nearly died from a rare intestinal illness. Again, she persevered … with dignity.
Last year on this day, June Rose Callihan, my grandmother and Jordan’s great grandmother, passed away. She was a beautiful, gifted woman who blessed the lives of her friends and family. She was an inspiration to those who knew her, and she was loved by many.
When I look into my daughter’s eyes, I see the fire started by June Callihan. When I watch her stand tall and cross the room with legs still struggling to walk, I see June’s thirsty perseverance. When I sit and talk with Jordan and hear the flirtatious girl with the passion for life, I hear the whispers of June’s spirit. When I help Jordan read a book, as she tries desperately to preserve her dignity because all the letters look like a jumble of squigly lines and the words unclear, I sense the dignity of my grandmother.
June’s journey is over, but it inspires Jordan’s. My daughter grows stronger every day. I believe her journey’s path runs parallel to June’s, along a river of hope that gives them cool repose and constant direction. Like June, Jordan will persevere with dignity, with purpose, and with an abundance of love.