Ivy was my little sister, the one I hid from when we played hide and seek. The one with whom I walked hand in hand to the store when I was six and she was three, and i could read and she couldn't. I could read the traffic sign by the road side, yellow with big black letters, GO SLOW CHILDREN, meant for drivers to slow down. I took it literally, thought it was talking to us, insisted that we take baby steps all the way.
She was the first person to believe in me, a spirit behind me all my life. She died shortly after Labor Day, just about the time we all lost Princess Diana. She'd been diagnosed with fourth stage metastacised ovarian cancer just fifteen months before, her only symptom then a little pimple on her belly button that wouldn't go away. An exploratory operation following the adverse biopsy showed the cancer all through her body, her ovaries in complete decay. She asked her doctor when it would make most sense to schedule her daughter Courtney's wedding. Her doctor told her "soon".
We'd been close before that, but not regular. From then on we had breakfast once a week, talked every day. At our breakfasts we shared our lives, each step of her decline, family issues, my work projects. I'm a professor at Harvard Law School, the director of a newly formed Center for Internet and Society, the chairman of Harvard's next Internet and Society Conference, coming up in May, 1998.
My passion is building out into cyberspace, seeing structures develop that reflect and serve the public interest. As a society, we are just at the beginning of building out a network as important to the coming century as the telephone network was to the century past. We might be twenty years from having it in place so that people depend on it the way people depend on the phone. The network build-out is the least part of it. It's the human structures to be built upon it of law and business, society and culture, that really count.
She saw my passion and made her last non-family request to me that I build a piece of cyberspace in her name, dedicated to women with cancer, to make it easier to live and die, to support discovery of means of earlier detection, to provide a way for women to find relevant information, to sort wheat from chaff, to make connections, build community, find support on medical and family issues, give support to others. She asked that instead of money for flowers at her funeral, gifts come in the form of donations to the Ivy Fund to support the building of "Ivy's Place" to make it warm and welcoming and truly useful, to give it many cogent voices.
Ivy's greatest contribution was her lesson in how to say goodbye. In the months she had, she gathered her family around her, and with their help, each one spoke their heart. Each came to terms with what was happening. Each let her go and said goodbye, and she in turn. She died at home, serene, nursed primarily by her family, with an intrvenous morphine pump holding back her pain, clear of mind and caring about those around her to the very end. Her spirit lives in me. Her spirit lives in all who love her.
Ivy's life meant something. There's a lesson in her story about family, love and passage from this life that is universal. How to say goodbye? Who doesn't wonder how to do it. Who doubts the need that it be done.
Stories from Ivy and her family