Dear 20-something me

Generally speaking, it’s a good thing we can’t see into the future. But if I were required to know in advance what the wilderness years would hold for Hubby and me—that season of unspeakable loss—then here’s what I’d say to a younger version of myself:


Younger version of us, l to r: Summer, Gary, Marlys, Jeremy


Dear twenty-something me,

This is to let you know there are some hard things ahead. But much good will come of it. Trust me.

First, the bad news: Gary will be unemployed for two years when the company he works for is sold. You will eventually sell your home, cash out your investments against retirement, and deplete your savings.

Your mother will move in with you for a few years, sinking into dementia. During that time, Gary will receive a terminal cancer diagnosis. He won’t survive cancer.

Brutal, right?

Now that we have the bad news out of the way, here’s what you need to know: There are dozens of good things that will come from your wilderness years.

Financial setbacks

Because of Gary’s unemployment, you’ll need to get a job with benefits. You’re going to end up on staff at the St. Charles Cancer Center, working with and serving some of the most amazing people on the planet. And so many of these co-workers and cancer community friends will stand on the frontlines of cancer with you and Gary, surrounding you with love and support at a time when your heart is overwhelmed.

Live-in elderly parent

Your mother, due to health issues, will live four-and-a-half years with you and Gary, and you will carry large amounts of guilt. Know this in advance: It will be impossible to hold down a full-time job, care for your husband with cancer—including weekend hikes and snowshoe treks as part of your battle plan—and be everything your mom wants you to be for her. Impossible. So don’t pick up the guilt. One of the good things that will come from this season is improved caregiving skills that will serve you well in Gary’s last year of life.


It’s a scary word, isn’t it? But after you get over the initial devastation, you and Gary will undertake things you never imagined, such as establishing a non-profit and speaking across the country, including at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. (I know it must be difficult for you to imagine Gary—who has never enjoyed the spotlight—speaking in front of crowds, but he will do an amazing job.) Your life will expand into something richer and fuller because of this disease. And you will be amazed at what God accomplishes in and through you during the cancer years.



South Sister, left, and Broken Top – two favorite mountains in the Cascade Range


Death and dying

On the whole, we humans don’t like to think or talk about death. But one of the good things to come out of this season will be the knowledge that walking beside the dying can be a sacred and  sweetly sorrowful experience. Daughter Summer will stand watch with you as Gary dies, and your home and Hospice House room will be saturated in unexplainable peace.


Even though peace will pervade during the daylight hours, in those final months of Gary’s life, you’ll wake up often in the middle of the night with anxiety over the thought of being widowed. But widowhood won’t be as horrific as you imagine. Widowhood will provide you with some amazing brave-making opportunities. As you say Yes to unexpected invitations that come your way, you’ll hike in Switzerland, conquer stand-up paddle boarding in Puerto Rico, meet long-lost Mallory relatives in Wisconsin. And with each Yes, you’ll grow stronger, braver, more resilient, more tenacious.


You’ll struggle with each piece of bad news as it hits—we’re talking self-pity, anger, frustration, fear, anxiety, hopelessness—but in the long run your faith and relationship with God will be strengthened. You’ll come to understand more deeply in your heart what your head has known for a while: You are the beloved child of your heavenly Father, and he is able to bring good out of the hard.

Here’s a sneak peek at a poem a friend will send your way that beautifully describes the process of loss:


The tide recedes but leaves behind bright seashells in the sand,
The sun goes down but gentle warmth still lingers on the land;
The music stops and yet it echoes on in sweet refrain,
For every joy that passes something beautiful remains.


Wishing you a hope-filled life, Marlys,

From an older, more experienced, more compassionate version of you.


How a season of loss can be bountiful


Top Ten things I miss about you


  1. KR

    Maryls, beautifully written.

    Your granddaughters look like their mom and Jeremy looks like you.

  2. Wendy

    Thank you for sharing your writings, Marlys. You have such a beautiful way with words.

  3. Beautiful…from a mother who experiences the joy her son left behind and who celebrates moving beyond survival to flourishing after cancer. Thank you.

    • Cristina, It sounds as if you’ve had a double dose of hard loss. It’s a challenging thing to do, isn’t it — making that decision to flourish after losing a loved one and after experiencing cancer — when we’re tempted sometimes to hold tight to our bitterness and anger. So glad you’ve experienced joy along with the sorrow, and that you’re moving forward toward full life.

  4. Cindy Pierce

    So beautifully written. So hard to make it through the wilderness but looking back I see so many good things that have come from it. Don’t think I would have had the courage to face it until I had no choice.

  5. Rachael juarez

    Marlys, God is so good to bless you with this passion of writing and encouragement! Your words brought such blessing to me.????

    • Thank you, Rachael … your words bring blessing to me at a time when I’m reevaluating my writing after coming under fire from a group of online widows who think I write superficially and “preachingly.” I’m learning the balance between accepting constructive criticism (some of them had valid points) and discarding the negative stuff. Thanks, again, for your kind words.

  6. Chris

    Marlys I’m so pleased to read your new blog post every time it is just what I need to remind me of often times more than 1 good nugget of encouragement ❤️

  7. Martha

    Marlys, I especially liked the parts about guilt and faith. These definitely apply to all our different hurts and struggles in life. Guilt can be so haunting and faith can be so freeing. I loved the encouragement to leave the guilt behind and hold tightly to the faith. Thanks, Marlys, for expressing things so beautifully… things that are so hard to put into words.

  8. Carol

    I really enjoyed your “Dear younger me” perspective; it’s very sobering to reflect on the trials we’ve been through and wonder if we’d do things differently if we’d known. But I agree that it’s much more important to know who holds the future than what the future holds.

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