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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Life She Lived--Anne Creager


I first met Anne about five years ago, I think, at a writer's conference. She was there in her capacity as a teacher, I was there as a writer, and Julie Wright and I ended up sitting with her and a bunch of other strangers. As we ate, we talked and she asked us about our books, we asked her about her teaching and family and eventually it came out that she was a writer--though she said she hadn't done much with it. This was her last year teaching though and she was so excited to be home with her two daughters and get some writing done. She'd sold an article to The Freind so far, and blew that off even though Julie and I were both wanting to get an article in a church magazine.

Some time after the conference, she contacted me about a writing group I had recently begun with some gals in my area. She didn't live to far away and began attending--often with her darling little girls in tow. My first impressins of Anne were that she was smart, sweet, didn't like to inconvenience anyone, and was excited and anxious about being able to put more time into her writing. I'm not sure when I noticed the scar on her upper arm for the first time, but I remember being curious as to the story behind it. It was mostly hidden by the sleeves of her t-shirts, but it looked as though whatever it had once been had been painful. However, even I have manners sometimes so I didn't ask.

Eventually, she told me about the scar--Melanoma she'd had removed a few years earlier. Yikes. I'd never met anyone that had actually had skin cancer. And she was so young--she'd have been in her early 20's when they'd found it. Her husband was a dentist, so it had taken place during his schooling, and not to long before her first daughter was born. She didn't make a big deal about it, and so neither did I but it put a bit more focus on her and the way she lived her life. She'd faced demons most of us won't face, and she was refined by it. No wonder she had such evenness and compassion.

As our friendship continued she had another little girl, asked how she could still write when she had so much 'mothering' to do, wondered if she should wait until her girls were older, worried she was wasting her time. Most writers have these same thoughts and one of the best parts of a writing group is the support and solutions we can give to one another.

Last February after a ski or bike trip with her husband (I'm afraid I can't remember which) she had a pain in her chest; what she thought was a pulled muscle. But it didn't go away. I won't forget the e-mail where she told us (the writing group) what happened, she said it was a blessing that her husband had become so incredibly sick that they'd had to take him to an emergency doctor's appointment. While there she casually mentioned the pulled muscle in her chest that didn't seem to be healing. I don't know what test the doctor ran but within a week or so they discovered a tumor the size of a football growing in her chest. Apparently when Melanoma comes back, it doesn't go away. But Anne was determined to get every minute out of this life that she could get.

What came next was months of traveling to Denver for treatments, surgeries, cyberknife--anything and everything she could get to help keep the cancer at bay. And yet it continued to grow. It wrapped around her heart, it snuck up on her thyroid, and as of last month it had attached to her liver. She fought it, and yet that's not all she did. She also took trips with her kids, did photo shoots for family and friends (including me) and continued to be a mother and wife to her family. She lost her hair and it came in black and curly instead of straight and auburn. She lost weight and gained weight--and lamented the toll the medication took on her skin. Every time she sent an update she thanked God for her blessings and pointed out the miracles happening in her life. And she wrote.

She'd been working on a book when she was diagnosed, and she finished it and began shopping agents. She had an article published in the New Era a few months ago. She began a project about growing up for girls, admitting that one of the reasons was that she knew she might not be there to tell them what she wanted her daughters to know. She began recording childhood memories--beautifully written childhood memories. She wasn't able to come to group very often, but when she did she'd read us these moments from her life and we would realize how much we didn't know about her. I'll never forget the Boot of Stew story or the one that had us all bawling where she talked about the experience of braiding her hair into three braids before cutting them off before chemo took her hair from her. She wanted a braid for each of her girls--so they would remember Mama's copper braids. Sometimes she worried that she shouldn't be spending so much time writing, and yet Ward (her husband) said "But it's what you love." And it was what she loved. She loved to write, and amid the horrific changes in her future she didn't want to lose any of those life memories. The picture included in this blog was taken at the 2009 LDStorymakers Conference. She'd always wanted to come, and finally did even though she had to leave early as she wasn't feeling well.

I saw Anne for the last time at writer's group about a month ago--her hair was gone again and she laughed as she said that she hated that her youngest daughter would only remember her bald, since she'd only been about two when Anne lost her hair the first time. She read us an article she'd written for the Ensign about preparing for death. We all cried through it. She said she'd finished writing all the letters to her daughters that would be given to them as they passed milestones she would not see. They'd moved to a home near her husband's parents, and she said how much fun it was, how glad she was to be able to be there with her family. Treatments had run out, she wasn't feeling well but was still looking into her options. I can't remember if I hugged her goodbye that day. I sure hope I did.

Last week she posted this to her blog:

I have no doubt that if it is Heavenly Father's will, I will be healed. But even if I'm not, I have to admit that I feel at peace. The last month has been fraught with panic and frantic anguish, but now I feel differently. I trust Him. I look forward to asking WHY all of this had to happen. I'm not going to ask it now, because I know that He can see the whole picture and I know that whatever His will is, things will be okay. My girls will be okay because they have Ward. I know that Ward will be okay because he has them. And we all have each other--FOREVER--and that's what really matters.

Today, this was posted in her behalf:

We wanted to let you know that Anne is in the hospital and has taken a turn for the worse. She is not expected to live much longer ...

I love Anne. And I will miss her. Though I was not part of her inner circle of friends and family, I was blessed to know her, to hear her words, and watch this final journey she has made. I am strengthened for the strength she has shown, and yet my heart is simply full of sorrow for the things she is leaving behind. She has a beautiful life HERE and I want her to stay in it. I don't understand why she's being called away, it's not fair. But she has accepted the path her life has taken, and I have no doubt that many loving arms will embrace her on the other side just as many arms here will ache.

Thank you, Anne, for your example, for your friendship, for your beautiful smile and your realistic view of life and love and family. I am greatly blessed to have known you and am glad that through the words you took the time to write, you will live on for generations to come.

May you and your family feel peace--you have earned it.

25 comments:

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

I don't even know what to say. I'm sorry for all that she will be leaving behind.

Julie Wright said...

oh wow. This breaks my heart. Anne is an amazing woman--filled with so much life, talent, and ability. This was a beautiful tribute, Josi. A beautiful tribute to a genuinely beautiful human being.

Neas Nuttiness said...

What a lovely tribute to your friend. How wonderful that she is at peace, and knows that our Heavenly Father is always with us.

Annette Lyon said...

I'm not sure if I met her--but I wish I did and remembered her now. I'm so glad you honored her with this. Such a gift for an obviously remarkable woman.

Melanie J said...

I am so sad for her and her family, but grateful she has an eternal perspective. It makes it all bearable and at some point, when we let it, that knowledge makes us stronger.

CTW said...

Very sad. I'm sorry for her family and her friends. A nice tribute Josi.

Ronda Hinrichsen said...

Josi, this is perfect. I've been crying all day but found no words to express the emotion. Thank you.

Cheri Chesley said...

What a beautiful tribute. And for those of us left behind, a reminder that we don't choose how much time we have on earth and that we should never take a moment for granted.

Heather Justesen said...

What a beautiful post. Thanks for sharing. I'm so sorry. Sometimes things just don't make sense.

A man I went to high school with recently died of Melanoma. It was such a shock, I still haven't quite wrapped my mind around it.

Kimberly said...

That was beautiful, Josi. Women like Anne make the rest of us yearn to live lives that would inspire this sort of tribute some day. Thank you for sharing a small part of her with us.

Sarah Buma said...

Anne is charity personified. Thank you for this. I was feeling cold and missing Anne. I wanted to read something she had written, so I went back and read Copper Braids tonight, then I found this post with a random google search. A few months ago I was honored when she asked me to read her 3 recent children's books. She "knew" all of you and her family were all "lying" to her and flattering her unworthily (so modest and such a sense of humor!) and she needed me to tell her she "wasn't crazy to think they were good enough" to be published. She made me promise not to just say they were good, but give 3-5 critical comments. I failed miserably. Me to Anne in an email: "...I have read Mama’s Braids/Copper Braids about 10 times I think. First, I read it and ended up in a weepy heap. It is so well written, that there is not a thing to touch. Something that raw and real is not for a critic but for an appreciator. The tenderness is phenomenal. The fear and uncertainty of change is tangible. However, those are only undercurrents to faith, strength and love--and it's swallowed whole by hope! ...Okay, I hope I've not lost all footing with you as a useful critique!..." Her response email is priceless to me now. "...I don't know why I am so lucky to have you for a friend" she said. I know we all feel the same way. She blessed everything and the brilliance of her light will never fade. Josi, from one who is SO FAR AWAY (I live in Alaska), thank you for celebrating her. When I think of Anne, my very soul is warm.

Heather B. Moore said...

Thank you for posting this, Josi. My heart goes out to her family.

Crystal said...

what an amazing tribute to a strong, loving woman. Breaks your heart, thanks for this

damselindisdress said...

I've been trying to figure out how to comment to this post because it touched me deeply. There are no words, really. When I read about women like this it both scares and inspires me. Scares...because I also had cancer and did the bald thing, and when I hear about people having a recurrence it feels like a little stab. But at the same time, her story is so beautiful and so inspiring that I can't be sorry I read it. I know I'm not making any sesne but thank you.

Becki said...

Josi this is a wonderful, sweet tribute to Anne. i guess all of us are thinking of the moments we shared with her and all we learned when she didn't even know she was teaching. you captured the essence of who she is and how much we'll miss her. there really is nothing like the people in our lives is there?

Brodi Ashton said...

Josi- I loved reading this. I only recently got to know Anne and her writing, and I am jealous of those of you who got more time with her.

Thank you for including this on your blog.

Brodi

Di said...

Josi, this is Anne's sister Diana. I just wanted to thank you for that beautiful tribute to Anne. She loved you! She raved about your writing and always told me how fun you were to be around. Thank you for loving her like we love her.

Courtnee Earl said...

I found this post by searching for Anne Creager on google. Mrs. Creager was my eighth grade English teacher in 2000. She was the most wonder teacher I had in all my years of schooling, I always enjoyed going to her class. I believe it was her first year of teaching and she did such a great job. At the end of the school year she told our class that she would be moving(I believe it was for her husbands schooling). She told us all that she would be coming back when he was done and if one day she ran into us at the grocery store or wherever she would remember each and every one of us and call us by name. I have been thinking about her over the last six months or so, for some reason I couldn't get her out of my head. I looked back in my old yearbook and there was a note in there that she had given me on the last day of school when I went to have her sign my yearbook. I sat here and read it tonight and I couldn't help but to cry, she was such an awesome woman. Here is what the letter said.
Courtnee
I am so happy I had a chance to get to know you this year. I love the uniqueness you have. You are a great individual. Keep your great attitude and always reach for the best in life.
Love Mrs. Creager

There have been a few times over the years that I have flipped through my yearbooks and come across that letter, and it has always brought a smile to my face. I wish I would have gone with my gut and tried to look her up over the last few years.

Kristi said...

OK...I'm crying...this seriously breaks my heart. I was having a pity party moment, and then I read this and it slaps me back into life, and gives me some perspective. Wow...I can not even imagine this. Thank you for sharing this.

Jenna Consolo said...

Oh my gosh, this is heavy. And lovely. What an amazing woman, and an incredible story.

Leslee said...

Wow, she sounds like a wonderful woman. May the Lord bless and guide her loved ones, while he holds her hand and they watch from above.

Colette said...

I grew up with Anne. We lost touch over the years. Thank you for sharing her life as an adult. I can tell you, she was wonderful her entire life.

Luisa Perkins said...

Oh, my goodness; how heartbreaking. What a lovely tribute to your friend. I'm so sorry.

Amber Argyle-Smith said...

Our cousin died at 32 from strep throat. She left behind 3 children from the ages of 10 to 3.

Stories like Nancy's and Anne's remind me to enjoy what I have. I pray every day that I live to see my grandchildren.

Lori Nawyn said...

Josi, I'm so sorry for your loss. What a remarkable woman. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I wish I had known Anne.