Sunday, February 28, 2021

She Died, But Left Me Something Unexpected

All of this started for me in the summer of 2020. For over four months the pain progressed. Several doctors couldn’t pinpoint the root of my issues. “I’m not calling you a liar. I’m just saying we can’t find anything wrong with you,” a specialist said. “And without other evidence, there’s no way your insurance will pay for an MRI.”

This happened long before we knew it was stage four “terminal” cancer...back when almost nothing seemed worse than blind, debilitating suffering.

Without answers, I doubted myself, wondering if I’d die from a strange malady only found in an autopsy. I could barely walk—feeling suddenly crippled—so, why couldn’t the “experts” help me? 

As I sat at my writing desk, mulling mortality, I wondered what my purpose has really been. Raising my kids, yes. But beyond that? Why have I felt the need to write so much about my life and then share it with the world? Was the courage it took, and the sacrifice of my pride, worth anything to anyone? 

Feeling that my last lifeline hung, severed, that’s when I got the unexpected text: “She wanted you to have this....” 

The words brought me to a time before, when I ran a little newspaper in Blackfoot, Idaho, and wrote opinion pieces about the amazing people in town. I’d been vivacious and fun—not this shadow of myself. 

While there, I briefly met Norma Furniss, the kind of woman who shone with an unforgettable intensity. Her eyes saw much more than they should have, and she carried a wisdom befitting her 96 years. Ever-changing like time, it appeared she’d outlive us all—and maybe that’s why her death surprised me. Yet, months later her wishes lived on, and I got a message from her son, Nolan.

He came to my house, and when Nolan walked from his vehicle with that Quiet Riter—the same typewriter Norma herself had used—well, I could have burst into tears. I hugged him, telling him how very much it meant to me.

That night, my husband cleared a special place on my writing desk where he set up the typewriter. And there it rested, waiting....

Soon after that, the doctors told me I was dying of cancer. Some hope did remain, in surgeries and immunotherapy, but despite that, they said cancer would cut my life short. At only 37 years old, I’d need to get my affairs in order and draft a will.

The news hardened me, and one day I found myself sitting in front of the typewriter, soaking in the feel of metal keys beneath my fingertips. To keep from crying, I imagined Norma from years ago, sitting in front of that same typewriter. The machine is nearly 70 years old, and it must have been something she’d owned early in her marriage. Norma was a brilliant woman, a storyteller who lived the kind of life people wanted her to relay to others. I could only imagine what she had written. And as I touched the keys, so much courage suddenly came to me. 

I thought I might not really know my purpose...and maybe none of us always do, but Norma must have seen something in me. She was always insightful. 

That day, I decided to share more about my experiences with cancer. Writing everything down seemed natural for me. It was terrifying to read some judgemental messages from people, saying they knew why I got cancer: bad diet...too much sun...even my sins.... Despite roadblocks, I received so much positive feedback that it buried the negative ones. I slowly started helping myself and somehow it seemed my words benefited other people too.

So, I keep the typewriter displayed as a reminder. It doesn’t serve as a symbol that I’m meant to be a “great” writer, it’s a reminder that I’m supposed to share my journey—the good and the bad—so people won’t feel alone. So...I won’t feel alone. 

Life can be hard, but troubles halved, cut in fourths, eighths, tenths... When troubles are shared they’re much easier to handle. 

And that’s what I’ve learned. Maybe her typewriter made me strong enough to keep sharing my journey about cancer, but it’s something else that’s given other people the strength to now share their stories with me. Carrying the load for each other, we’re bound to make it through. No matter what my purpose is, I’m grateful for the lessons Norma gave me through that typewriter. 

I will never forget her or her kindness, even beyond death. Maybe someday my words about cancer will be like that for others.


  1. I read your first few lines on Facebook, yet moved on to do a quick review of irrelevant posts. Later I returned and was directed to your blog. Elisa, you are the kindest most insightful young ladies I've ever met. You, my Mother, and a groundhog all shared a birthright, he had 60 years separated the former. You only knew her a very short time, but you're written tribute we'll travel through eternity. I have written a line, read a book, and enjoyed life more than I have given. I have no idea what the future holds, but today you have made me reflect on a few moments and she'd a tear of hope for the future. You honored my Mother...I pray she caressed you.

    1. Thank you so much for this, Nolan. I’m so glad you had a chance to read it.

  2. Wow 🥹 this is beautiful
    Love & prayers
    for you and your family