Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Marlene Rudy Linz: "The Fringe Benefits of Cancer" (Life on the Edge No One Would Ask For)

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: "The Fringe Benefits of Cancer" was written by our friend Marlene Rudy Linz, and read at her Memorial Service on June 27, by her husband Peter Linz and many friends. I became friends with Marlene and Peter about twenty years ago. They were married and expecting their first child (which turned out to be two children — twins!). I remember Marlene's beautiful glow and her warmth and generosity to "the new girl."

I'd just started dating Noel, also a puppeteer and a good friend of Peter's, as they'd worked on Sesame Street and lots of other television puppet shows together. Marlene and I soon bonded and over the years remained friends because we were part of a very, very small and special club — the significant others of television puppeteers. 

(Peter is probably best known for starring as Walter in the recent Muppet movies—singing the Academy Award-winning song with Jason Segal, "Muppet or a Man." He worked on the most recent Muppet Show for ABC, performed with the original cast of Avenue Q, as Skye on PBS's Puzzle Place, Tutter on Disney Channel's Bear in the Big Blue House, and also Theo on PBS's Between the Lions. But, at home at least, we—the puppet wives—were the stars — and we never let our husbands forget it!)

Peter read Marlene's piece last week at her memorial service, which she had planned, down to the last beautiful detail. I thought the piece was profound and thought-provoking —as well as tear-inducing — and I wanted to share her words with all of you (edited for length and a little bit for clarity). This is what Marlene, who bravely fought brain cancer for five years, wrote:

The Fringe-Benefits of Cancer 

(Life on the Edge No One Would Ask For)

by Marlene Rudy Linz

It was my friend Anna who recommended a Youtube piece in which J.K. Rowling gave the commencement speech at Harvard called "The Fringe Benefits of Failure"—really good and worth checking out. I admire J.K. Rowling on many levels but only mention her here to explain that I nicked the title of this note from her.

I’ll start with the biggest one: Thanks to cancer I got to attend my own funeral. It went on and on for many years and if I’m even more lucky than I thought, it may still be going on now. Everyone I love, know and care about has already called me, visited me, written to me, fed me, supported me, laughed and cried with me and told me I looked beautiful (even when I didn’t). You said I was amazing and strong and held me up when I felt like neither. Thank you all for coming. It has been a wonderful funeral because of you. This funeral has rocked.

Cancer has taught me that cancer is not my, or your, fault (unless, of course, you are doing self-destructive things). Take it off the guilt list— it just happens.

This one was solidified by my next door neighbor, Evan, as he went through a terrible cancer at age 24. His mother Susan talked to me over the fence with encouraging theories from Evan that I found inspiring through his brilliance and spirit. 

What I retained in my much less eloquent way is this—everyone has their shit to deal with. Focus on the wonderful, fulfilling, privileged, and brimming-with-love life you have been given. If you are not feeling that, tune into a few minutes of NPR or volunteer to help people who live with violence or can't feed their children. The negative only gets to you if you actually read the paper or watch the news. Your life is very, very good and you are very blessed.

I can curse as much and as often as I like. It helps. Even though I always tried to be respectful and taught my kids cursing was a low-life way to speak, it helps. And maybe I only curse in front of Peter and select pals. I’ll give you an example –“Wow, this gosh darn cancer is really getting me down today.” This doesn’t help. 

50 is a wonderful age to be! So is 53, 61 and 72.  Everyone my age is experiencing the inevitable vision loss. My wonderful husband is worse that I am at remembering people’s names. The good news is that you can't see well enough to notice all the unsightly changes appearing on your body every day. It’s just good to be alive, imperfections and all. Live it while you’ve got it!

There were many years (ok I really don’t regret those) where I spent tons of energy on work, volunteering, taking care of family and home. I think of my daily list from those days—make lunches for the kids, do several loads of laundry, go to work, grocery shop, go to school meeting, make dinner, drop kids off somewhere, organize something you have agreed to help with....etc. 

Over the last few years I learned how to sit still and quiet and notice things around me — the way the sun reflects in odd and beautiful places in my house which I adore even though it needs a lot of work, the brilliant array of birds in the yard, the odd movement of the clouds in the sky, the almost all-white hair in my husbands beard and how amazingly patient he is with all of us. How Aria can drift through a whole day in creative reading, writing and producing costumes but still notice when someone needs help. How Jonah can focus on organizing fun activities for his friends and always be kind and polite to adults. How Mica can rub a single spot on her head over and over as she creates the most amazing drawings I have ever seen. Having a lot of time allows me to notice many things I would have missed if I was still so busy. 

Because of cancer I have made some rewarding efforts to reconnect with a variety of great people from my younger years. I found some long lost Chicago cousins and talked with friends from first through eighth grade at Saint Joseph’s. Wonderful old friends have stopped in for visits. Many people I care about have, along with received letters and cards, made the effort to come see me more, so I have to rank this in with fringe-benefits. 

Confessions ... I don’t always believe in God. I try, but I find it very hard. Much of my communication with God is in the form of arguments followed by a great deal of heartfelt thanks. Let me mention that I taught “sunday school” for 9 years and worked as a church secretary for 3. Maybe I get a few credits? 

Can I just say that In spite of having a lot of griping with God, I am thankful that one of my best friends is also my Priest, Anna. She kept me from turning in my God resignation. She reminded me that things like miracles and evidence that God is paying attention are around everywhere. A perfect example is my beloved Grace Church Family who always make the top of the list when I have a thankful conversation with God. Every day I do talk to God — about how thankful I am about my amazing life, of course asking for help for a lot of things and people, sometimes I have an argument and some times I scream. 

Like I said, this changes a lot. If I get a chance to really talk to Him/Her I would like to mention that His/Her secretary is very inefficient. Not that I ever intended to be a secretary (sorry Anna), I would take on the job and keep you all informed.

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: It became a lot more personal at that point, and the service was a wonderful one, that ended with the Delta Rae song Marlene chose, "Dancing in the Graveyards." (You can see it/hear it here—it's amazing.)

Dear lovely Reds and readers, what do you think are the fringe benefits of living through difficult times? Please tell us in the comments.

Marlene Rudy Linz 1965 – 2016

Marlene Rudy Linz, 51, of Katonah, NY, died peacefully in her home on Saturday, June 4, 2016, surrounded by her husband and three children.

An artist, potter, exquisite cook, avid gardener, cookie chef extraordinaire, and voracious reader, Marlene remained all of those things while living with cancer for the past five years. She lived with gentle strength and beauty. Refusing to let herself be defined by the disease, she focused on her true passions, always noting the artistic qualities of the world around her and relishing in culinary delights, even from her hospice bed. Marlene summed up her perspective just a few weeks before she died saying, “Life is wonderful, if you try.”

Born March 2, 1965 in Chicago, Illinois, Marlene moved to Georgia at an early age with her parents, Manfred Rudy and the late Theresa Rittner Rudy. She graduated Sprayberry High School in Marietta, GA. She attended Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, but quickly found her intended goal of medical illustration to be “boring.” Marlene transferred to Kennesaw College to pursue degrees in Art and Science, and also to earn her teaching certificate. She spent a transformative summer in Cortona Italy where she studied art and gelato, and formed her adventurous outlook on life.

Celebrating the completion of her student teaching, she met her husband at Limerick Junction, an Irish pub in Atlanta, after being sneakily set up by a mutual friend. They married just over a year later in 1993. Following two years of teaching 4th grade at Chapman Elementary in Woodstock, GA, Marlene moved with her husband to New York where they have lived for 22 years, first in Dobbs Ferry, and for the past 17 years in Katonah.

A parishioner at Grace Episcopal Church in Hastings-on-Hudson, Marlene served as youth group leader, Sunday school director, office manager, and alternative gifts craft market coordinator. Everyone she met was touched by her warmth and grace. Providing aid to others in communities near and far gave her joy, peace, and the feeling that she had made a little dent in the kind of work she had always wanted to do.

Much to the delight of her family, she collected recipes, the best of which made it into her “hall of fame,” a treasured resource. She enjoyed taking gardening classes at the NY Botanical Gardens. She loved old houses, glass doorknobs, craft fairs, and antiques, particularly for the kitchen. After taking a 2-day workshop at the Culinary Institute of America, Marlene would self-depreciatingly say of her cooking, “I must know what I’m doing. I studied at the CIA.”

Always up for an adventure, Marlene enjoyed accompanying her husband when he traveled for work. While living in Los Angeles and London, she would create history-focused scavenger hunts for her children, which kept them all entertained. She loved visiting museums and educating herself on artists and their works. For long road trips, she made travel boxes filled with activity books, construction paper, notepads, crayons, pens, markers, hole punchers, pipe cleaners, stickers, and tape, keeping her children engaged contentedly for hours. She delighted in their creations.
Marlene is survived by her adoring husband, partner, and best friend Peter and their beloved children Aria (19), Mica (19), and Jonah (13). She is also survived by her father Manfred Rudy of Woodstock, GA, her sister Brigitta Ruth (Paul) of Marietta, GA, her brother Fred Rudy (Jenny) of Rydal, GA, twelve nieces and nephews, and eight grand nieces and nephews.

A Memorial Service and Celebration of Marlene’s life will be held on Monday, June 27th at 2pm at Bedford Presbyterian Church, Bedford, NY. A reception will follow.

Marlene requested memorial contributions be made to any charity working to benefit children in need.


Joan Emerson said...

What an insightful, eloquent piece your wise friend has written.

I’m certain each of us has faced difficulties in our lives. Perhaps, as a result, we’ve gained valuable insights into ourselves and come to recognize what is essential and important in the way we live each day of our lives.
Although some of the fringe benefits will inevitably be different for each of us as they pertain to our unique situations, I suspect that recognizing the specialness of our own families and friends would likely be a shared realization. Another, so eloquently stated by Marlene, is the wise perspective that focuses our energies on those things that are truly important in our lives.

Of course, the world would be an immeasurably better place if we recognized these things without having dire circumstances lurking in the background of our lives, if we were never too rushed or harried to remember that everyone is in need of a kind word and a friendly smile. What a difference it would make . . . .

Kathy Reel said...

Wow! What an amazing piece of writing by your friend, Susan! Her determination and ability to squeeze the joy and beauty out of life while battling her terminal illness is inspiring to those sick and well. She sums it up so well in he words: "What I retained in my much less eloquent way is this—everyone has their shit to deal with. Focus on the wonderful, fulfilling, privileged, and brimming-with-love life you have been given."

2016 has not been a good year for me, but with my best friend just losing her 42-year-old son to a heart attack and your friend, Susan, losing her battle with cancer, I know that I've been fortunate, too. Recently, I found something out from my past that was devastating news, and I felt it hard. But, I spent time with my six-year-old granddaughter, too, and laughed and felt great joy. I was wondering at that. How one can feel devastation and joy in the same day, and my thoughts reflect Marlene's that you must keep joy and love and beauty in your life in spite of the ugliness that insinuates itself into your world. I will now remember Marlene's way of putting it, "Focus on the wonderful, fulfilling, privileged, and brimming-with-love life you have been given."

Thanks you, Susan, for sharing this inspiring woman and writing with us. As trite as it may sound, thanks, I needed that.

Edith Maxwell said...

That is so beautiful, Susan. Thank you for bringing a tear this early morning.

A very good friend found out she had an aggressive breast cancer in 1998. She told EVERYONE, and she had friends all over the world. She told the checkout lady at the store, her coworkers, any random stranger. As a result she was lifted up for healing by a huge number of people. She survived an equally aggressive treatment, and is alive, traveling, and dancing her with sweetheart to this day. I'm not sure I would share as widely if it happened to me, but I saw the benefits for her.

My sons don't live near me, and every time I am lucky to spend time with one or both (like this weekend!), I make sure we share what we need to, and that they know how deeply I cherish them. Because ya never know...

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Susan, wow, what an amazing woman she was, and a very special friend. My heart goes out to her family, especially the kids.

She reminds me of Anne LaMott in this piece--so angry and devastated and yet able to find the joy in so many little things around her. I don't know why we need to learn that lesson over and over--life is good, find the joyful, bright moments!

Hallie Ephron said...

Susan this is gorgeous, moving, life affirming, even death affirming. Much to ponder.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Susan, thank you. Some people leave deep footprints.

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Like Anne LaMott, yes! Lucy, I didn't make the connection, but that's great.

FChurch said...

Susan, so sorry for the loss of your dear friend, but thank you for sharing. She was indeed a remarkable spirit! Kathy Reel, beauty is all around us--as Marlene shared--and our capacity to tap into that beauty is always there, too--even in the midst of tragedy. It requires only a tiny shift--a focus on the moment--and sometimes that's all we can manage in the midst of the troubles that visit our lives--devastating illness or loss--or whatever misfortune befalls us--those precious moments spent with your grand-daughter or a moment of prayer, a few kind words from a stranger--can lift us up and keep us going. Blessings to all the Red family this morning.

Mary Sutton said...

What a lovely piece, Susan. Thanks for sharing and I'm sorry for the loss of your friend.

I think living through the not-so-great times makes us appreciate the better times even more. Simple things like being able to walk from B&N to Panera and back without excessive pain (which I did on Sunday - a whole 100 feet total maybe; woot!).

Karen in Ohio said...

Deep footprints, indeed. Susan, I'm sorry for your loss. Although it seems as though Marlene gave you, her family, and now all of us a tremendous gift, this sharing of her life and insights.

About ten years ago my husband and I went to so many funerals in a fifteen-month period, it was almost our entire social life. We literally lost a dozen family members (both his and mine) and an equal amount of friends during that time. Honestly, it was like one body blow after another.

By the time I realized what we'd been through I also realized we had to make significant changes in our lives, take advantage of whatever unknown amount of time we have left, and to savor every minute we could, both together and apart. Life is too short, and we simply don't get to know, usually, how much of it we have left. Marlene was given the wonderful gift of time to get this right, but most of us don't. Personally, I'd rather have no regrets.

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Deep footprints, indeed.

Rhys said...

What a beautiful piece! I'm still crying. So sorry for the loss of this wonderful woman.
At this time I year I have two anniversaries--the death of my father on July 26 and the day my mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the end of June. The same day my daughter Jane got engaged. We all go through our times of darkness but I'm in awe about the way some people are tested and come through their darkness shining like suns

Kim said...

Dear Susan,
Thank you for this post. It comes at an incredibly necessary time in my life. Today, the fringd benefit of hard times is being reminded that I have so many wonderful people around me to make these times less hard. My life, no matter how hard it is, is blessed.
As always, with love,

Deborah Crombie said...

Susan, thank you. I am sorry for your loss, and wish I'd known Marlene. I've been thinking a lot these days about being aware and appreciative but it takes work and there's a lot of backsliding!

I know the things that work for me; cooking, music, being outside, reading, writing, and so especially friends and family. Alas, the writing at the moment is depriving me of time with friends, daughter, and grandbaby, but that will right itself soon enough. First thing on my "finished book" list is to call all the friends I've missed the last few months.

I loved the video, too. I have a new band to follow!

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Love the video, too! I wanted to get up and dance to it during the service! Marlene planned the entire service and it was so beautiful.

Coralee Hicks said...

My condolences to you and to your heart family. Thank you for giving me an opportunity to share my lessons from adversity: I learned from adversity to sort for the butterflies and ignore the fire ants. I learned from adversity that the book was called "Job" not Coralee. I am not a cosmic chess piece. I learned that living with love is healthier than living with anger. I learned that crocus are waiting to bloom beneath the snow. I learned that letting go allows me to be here. I learned that each day is a new beginning. I learned that now is more important than "then" or "if". Finally I learned that being is better than doing. Thanks for listening Coralee

Julia said...

Marlene sounds like someone whose life was truly worth celebrating. She exemplified what I have learned from Ross's successful fight with cancer and a dear friend's courageous walk towards the end with the same disease: that life can and should be lived to its fullest no matter what.

Gail M Baugniet - Author said...

Susan, you present a beautiful tribute to an awesome woman whose example offers encouragement and strength to those experiencing similar suffering. My condolences for your loss.

Reine said...

When I was a new bride at 24 my doctor told me I had cancer and needed surgery that would take me out of my last year of college and prevent me from having children. Against his advice I went to summer school and crammed all the classes I could into the short summer term. I had 6 weeks to recover before the fall term. I had to do it. It gave me focus.

I didn't appreciate how much focus it gave me, until it happened again when I was preparing for graduate school. I needed more surgery in the same area. I didn't believe my doctor, so she sent me to specialists who told me that I did have cancer that had spread from one organ to another and that I didn't have long to live. I might have weeks or months. Maybe. I showed them my letter of admission to graduate school at Harvard. One of them cried. She was very kind but insistent that I needed the surgery. I could have chemo in Boston.

When I got to Boston I went to the director of the student health center, who was also an oncologist and head of the American Cancer Society. He examined me and checked my records, including the slides that all those doctors back home said verified that I had cancer. He asked me what my diagnosis was. I said I didn't believe that I had cancer. He said he concurred. "You never had cancer."

So what did that do for me? It made me resilient and patient. It gave me understanding for others. It took a little time to get over being angry, but it was important, maybe the most important thing of all. I knew what it felt like. I learned to keep going.

Keep going.

Reine said...

Marlene's message is beautiful. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Dear Susan,

Your friend sounds very insighful. How strange that she and a neighbor's son both had cancer. I wonder if there was a factory in that neighborhood!

She made lemonades out of lemons that she was dealt with. My heart goes out to her husband and children.

I cried when I read your story about Marlene.

A family friend, who also grew up in Chicago area, died of cancer when her kids were young. Fortunately, her friends rallied around her husband and children.

Marlene touched many lives during her short time,

I went through spinal meningitis before age 2 (years before the meningitis vaccine was available). I went through brain surgeries and I had to learn how to walk again. Pretty much learn everything again!

As a result, I think facing these difficulties so early in life made me work very hard at everything. As an adult, I continue to work very hard.

Thank you for sharing,
Diana xoxo

Brenda Buchanan said...

My condolences to you and all who loved Marlene, Susan. Thank you for this inspiring post.

Brenda Buchanan said...

Reine, that is an astounding story. Absolutely astounding.

Triss said...

Thank you for sharing this inspiring post.I wish I could have known her.The answer to your question about what we learn comes from my own encounters with serious health issues and the loss of some dear friends: today is the only day we ever have.That's not exactly news but it is hard to remember when there is no big, scary issue hanging over us.

Did we make this one day a good one? Spend as much time as possible in ways that mean something, and as little as possible in ways that don't? Hold our loved ones in our hearts, and forgive their annoying qualities as we hope they forgive ours?

Being seriously ill does give a kind of freedom: not to waste one more precious minute on whatever, or whoever, makes us unhappy, stressed, used up, unsupported. (The tv show The Big C,was just brilliant on this)

wendy corsi staub said...

Susan, this is beautiful--just seeing this now and I'm so glad. I didn't know you had a connection--so deeply sorry for your loss. The Linzes live here in town, and our kids have been in a number of school productions together over the years--and of course, every Halloween for years was spent tromping around their house, such a gift to the local kids. Like so many in this community, I'll miss seeing her lovely smile and will treasure these profound words she wrote. Thank you for sharing.