In Memorium: Teresa Scalzo

On May 23rd we lost our dear friend, Teresa. An aggressive cancer took her far too soon, and we are left with a mountain of grief. There have been many tributes to T on Facebook, in blog posts, and in her hometown newspaper. All of them eloquently describe her professional legacy and recount her sunny and generous nature. I’ll forgo addressing both of those areas since they’ve been beautifully detailed, and instead tell you about something entirely different. I’ll tell you about T’s last year, and subsequently, about mine.

T was handed a lousy diagnosis last July. I had a ringside seat for it all. As the clinician in our merry band, I attended the vast majority of her medical appointments and ED visits with her. I was there as she was handed bad news on top of more bad news. I watched as science utterly failed her; as her body turned against her. She never caught a break. And yet, she kept working, and she kept planning her future. One night, during an emergency department visit early in her disease, I was sitting at her side in a darkened bay. It had been quiet for a bit, I thought she was asleep, and then she said to me—“You know I am not afraid to die. But I just have so much still to do.”

A person’s truest nature reveals itself in the face of adversity. I witnessed it with T, who never once felt sorry for herself. Never turned away from her faith. Never stopped worrying about how her illness was impacting those around her. Never once lost her optimism and her hope that she could beat this disease. But of course, she didn’t.

The last social gathering T was able to attend was the Seder my wife and I hosted this year. T was too sick to eat much more than a few sips of soup and part of a matzo ball, and left before we could serve the main course. But she participated in the reading of the Haggadah, sitting in a club chair by the window, smiling at us in an aqua blue dress. If we remember nothing else from that night, it is simply that for a time, T was with us, and it was good.

I wasn’t with T when she died. While I had been sitting with T and her family (along with members of our tight-knit crew) in the week leading up to her death, that morning I was in Dallas, working on a case that she had asked me to take on. I have no regrets—I am certain I was exactly where I was supposed to be. T passed away surrounded by her loving family, finally released from the unrelenting pain that had plagued her since the initial diagnosis.

Tomorrow we will say our collective goodbyes to T at her church here in Alexandria. Several hundred people are expected, and there will be tears, and laughter, and red wine, and much reminiscing about the remarkable person she was.

You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.

 -Anne Lamott

Ciao, sweet T. You left a lot of us limping along. But there is comfort in this community you built, in the work that brought us all together, and honestly, we just have so much still to do.

 

{Contributions to T’s memorial fund can be made here}

Comments

  1. November 30, -0001 | 12:00 am

    Becki Campbell

    This was beautiful. thank you.

  2. November 30, -0001 | 12:00 am

    Laura Gaertner

    What a wonderful friend you are. Thank you for sharing your time and experiences with Teresa with us.
    Sending you,her friends and family thoughts of strength, comfort and peace.

  3. November 30, -0001 | 12:00 am

    Jacqui Callari

    Beautiful, just beautiful expression……thank you……

  4. November 30, -0001 | 12:00 am

    Kim

    I could feel your love for T throughout this. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  5. November 30, -0001 | 12:00 am

    Heather Ploeger

    I didn’t know Teresa, nor do I know you Jennifer. But I think I do now. It is good to know that there are such caring people in the world, who stand by each other when it is most important and even when not and who continue in spite of it all to do such good work. Ann’s poem about death is comforting and you and Terese are amazing people. May she rest in peace and may her memories bring comfort to all who knew her. Thank you x

  6. November 30, -0001 | 12:00 am

    Liz Louden

    Touching, fabulous, heartfelt.
    Thank you.
    Liz

  7. November 30, -0001 | 12:00 am

    sheri kembel

    Thank you for sharing! You have all been in my thoughts and prayers. I did not know Teresa but from the time you posted about her loss, and through other tributes, I feel that I do know her. She did a lot for victims and most of all was a great friend and inspiration. Thanks for your insight into dying and loss…such truth! And I do believe that “T” will shine through to all that she touched and trust that you all will continue that light of hope to others.
    sk

  8. November 30, -0001 | 12:00 am

    Jennifer Levy-Peck

    My deepest sympathy on the loss of your friend and a shining light to the world. Teresa’s legacy will love on. May you find comfort in your memories. –Jennifer

  9. November 30, -0001 | 12:00 am

    Candace Mosley

    This was an amazing and touching tribute to your dear friend. I knew Teresa as a business colleague. Thank you for sharing your love .

  10. November 30, -0001 | 12:00 am

    Miriam Falk

    Thanks, Jen, for creating this wonderful tribute for Teresa. While not nearly as close to her as you, I considered her a dear friend and a cherished mentor. I believe you captured T’s essence in your words. I hope we will all carry on the work that she left for us to do with as much passion, energy, compassion and vision as she inspired in us when she was able to be present with us here. I miss her. God bless her as she journeys forward, and my most sincere sympathies to her family and friends as you grieve. Miriam

  11. November 30, -0001 | 12:00 am

    Tina Peck

    You have a beautiful soul Jen, I feel like i got a chance to meet her through your words. I’m so sorry for your loss.

  12. November 30, -0001 | 12:00 am

    Jenna Jones Paradis

    That poem at the end brought the tears down my face. It is comforting to get this perspective from someone in her inner circle. I knew she had one, of course… but reading these words made me feel better about how much love surrounded her. Teresa and I were band mates in middle school and junior high. She was first chair flutist. I always have admired her gusto and kindness towards others. She leaves a great legacy, and many, many friends who will always remember her with a smile.