On Thursday, November 17, 2011, I attended the funeral of Holly Sneider (1972 – 2011). I had never met Holly, I only knew her parents and don’t live close enough to them that we see them often. But when we did meet up with Holly’s parents, at family reunions or the occasional meet-ups at my mother-in-law’s house, there was a connection there — a feeling that I’d like to get to know them better. I liked them a lot and hoped they felt the same. They seemed to think about things the way I do.
In April of 2010, Holly was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer, already in the liver. As Christopher Hitchens notes wryly when speaking of his own cancer, “There is no Stage V”. Holly was a fighter, and she had a husband and three children, and decided cancer wasn’t going to beat her, not without a fight. And she gave it her very best shot. Reading her Caring Bridge page left me with a knot in my stomach, that anyone could go through so much agony. But she didn’t want to leave her children without a mother, her husband without a wife, her parents without their daughter, and her brothers without their sister.
She thought of other people before herself, and throughout her battle never lost her faith, and she never lost her will to live. Some people seem to especially touch those around them and Holly was one of those. Her illness affected the entire small town of Milan, Ohio where she lived.
As her brother said, at the funeral, It’s not how it begins, it’s how it ends that matters. Holly was brave to the end, and she inspired a whole lot of people to think about what she was doing and because of her, that they might find the strength to do the same if the need arises. And her brother admitted that he thought he’d be a better person, that he would be better equipped to handle the bad stuff in his life, because of Holly and the example she’d set.
Though she only lived 39 years, she had made a difference. Just having her around that long was a gift to everyone who knew her. At the funeral home, the line of people who wanted to pay their respects, to tell the family what Holly had meant to them, stretched out the door and down the block. Some people stood in line for two hours.
It is always deeply tragic when someone so young is taken from us, especially by a disease as insidious as cancer. Cancer sucks. There is no doubt about it. It scares me worse than anything else, yet statistics say other afflictions kill people more often, heart disease and even the flu. But a diagnosis of cancer is a life-changing event, even if you do beat it, you aren’t really, ever the same.
If only Holly could have beat it, she’d never have been the same. No, her body would have been forever damaged by the effects of the massive amounts of chemo she took, but she would have been okay with that. I picture her as becoming a life-long cancer fundraiser, or a cancer counselor, perhaps. If she’d been able to beat her own, she’d have probably devoted the rest of her life to helping others do the same.
She was an inspiration to all who knew her. True to form, her motto was:
Life is good, no matter what!
Holly Sneider, 1972 – 2011.