The poignant words of a dying woman

This is a somber read for a Saturday, and it’s supposed to be my “day off,” which means I work for 6 hours instead of nine. When I finish this, I’m going to take a long walk, though I won’t see any penguins. But I’ll be thinking of Josie Rubio on the way.

Rubio was a writer and editor who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma six years ago. During her remaining years of life—she died four days ago at 42—she wrote prolifically on her website A Pain in the Neck, discussing her disease, its metastasis into neuroendocrine tumors, her suffering, her attempts to find a boyfriend, and her attitude, which was often surprisingly upbeat and always worth a read.  Her New York Times obituary, if it can be called that, is below, which includes some links to her published work about trying to find love at the same time she was dying.

Here’s perhaps her most famous piece (below), which, as the obituary above notes:

The online version of Ms. Rubio’s article, published on Aug. 24, garnered more than 225,000 page views; it appeared in print the next day in the Sunday Review section. That same weekend she learned that her prognosis was grimmer than she had thought.

“Instead of sitting at home feeling sorry for myself, I read a lot of really nice and encouraging emails” from her essay’s readers, Ms. Rubio wrote in a blog post soon afterward. “It sounds like dating sites are going to be inundated with cancer patients now. Good. Feel free to use my opening line.”

The opening lines grab you:

One night, as a friend and I were headed to a bar to see someone I had met on a dating app, she asked, “What do you tell these guys?” I pulled up my profile and handed her my phone.

“I have cancer so if you want to hang out, act now!” reads the first line.

“This is great,” she said with a laugh.

After her diagnosis, Rubio was ditched by her boyfriend of twelve years but, after pondering what to do, swallowed her pride and her knowledge that she was terminal, and dived into an online dating pool.  And she finally found love—with the the guy who was by her side when she died just a few days ago:

The guy who made me break some of my rules made me shatter more. I found myself, at his insistence, reluctantly and badly dancing, but laughing the entire time. I’ve held his hand across restaurant tables. I steal kisses from him in public. Sometimes I don’t recognize myself anymore.

I’m so happy and so sad at the same time.

Death isn’t an abstract concept. I live week to week, moment to moment. I live fully, but I have always done that. Since the new treatment, I can even walk around sometimes not thinking about cancer. I agree with my ex: It’s nice. Since that first 1992 date, I just wanted to find someone and feel like that part of my life was settled. But from ages 28 to 40, I just settled. Period.

When my ex kissed me goodbye on the day we broke up, I thought, “This will be the last time a man kisses me.”

It finally feels good to be wrong about something.

These pieces will make you weep, as will the words she wrote in the next-to-last post on her website (click on screenshot below), when she found that her cancer had spread massively through her body, that her death was imminent, and she would have to go to a hospice:

Josie was also a cat lover, as you can tell from the banner of her website (above).

In the end, my heart will stop, but it feels broken now. I don’t want to leave the cats. I don’t want to leave my boyfriend. I don’t want to leave my mom. I don’t want to leave my friends. This is very different than how I felt in May of 2018, when my boyfriend at the time wanted me to die so he could be with his Pilates instructor in London (it worked out for him in the end even though I didn’t die then). Then I didn’t care whether I lived or died because I felt broken. This time, I don’t want to go, and I know that makes me much luckier. My life is so much better than the way it was.

My friends decorated by room with photos. I’ve had a good life. I can’t comprehend that it’s going to stop so soon. How did this happen?

. . . I’ve received countless messages of love.

I asked my boyfriend what he thought happens after we die. He says you live on in other people’s memories, and I won’t be forgotten.

Still, the end looms close, and I feel like I’m not ready.

The final entry on Josie’s website, below, is given its entirety, and was posted after she died.

 

Here’s her image from her Twitter page, which had its last entry on November 21.

And one more photo.

YouTube has an interview with her before she was diagnosed with cancer.

If I’ve made you sad today, I’m sorry. But I hope I’ve also made you want to live more fully. As an old friend of mine used to say when talking of life, “Squeeze that lemon!”

28 Comments

  1. Randall Schenck
    Posted December 7, 2019 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    Damn that was a tough one. And I just finished my walk so beat you to it.

    I am most sad because Josie died so young. That has to be the worst part. And also that she did not find her love earlier in life so she did not have to start over. That is also a very bad thing for her. Going through all of that at the same time you are attempting to start over. I don’t think most people would even try.

    I have been married for as long as Josie lived but I will think more about that now than before. When we go through some hard times, we sometimes do not know what hard is.

  2. g.
    Posted December 7, 2019 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    Thank you. Simply that.

  3. Tom Besson
    Posted December 7, 2019 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    Or, as Robert Johnson put it more extensively, “You can squeeze my lemon, baby, ’til the juice come running down my leg.” It sounds like Lynn grabbed life by the balls and squeezed ’til ahe couldn’t squeeze no more. Good on her for having no fear.

    • Tom Besson
      Posted December 7, 2019 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      Sorry, I meant ‘Josie’, not Lynn.

    • Dragon
      Posted December 8, 2019 at 8:01 am | Permalink

      I presume you mean Robert Plant who sang the lyrics or Robert Plant/Jimmy Page/John Bonham/John Paul Jones/Chester Author Burnett who are the listed songwriters.
      Note: The chorus is not ‘…come running …’ but simply ‘…runs…’.
      -Led Zeppelin fan

      If you can tell me how a Robert Johnson had anything to do with the song, I would be interested.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted December 8, 2019 at 9:53 am | Permalink

        TRAVELLING RIVERSIDE BLUES [TRB]
        Songwriter: ROBERT JOHNSON, 1937

        This has the lyric “Now you can squeeze my lemon ’til the juice run down my leg” & Johnson likely took that from a recorded song of earlier in 1937, “SHE SQUEEZED MY LEMON [SSML] by ARTHUR MCKAY & ROOSEVELT SYKES

        TRB:

        SSML:

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted December 8, 2019 at 10:21 am | Permalink

        THE LEMON SONG
        Songwriters: LED ZEPPELIN + HOWLIN’ WOLF [real name Chester Burnett], 1969

        Led Zep used to play this live as “KILLING FLOOR” – the HOWLIN’ WOLF masterpiece & indeed it is called by that name on early UK copies of LED ZEPPELIN II & properly credited to Howlin’ Wolf. Then the name was changed to THE LEMON SONG with no credit for Mr. Wolf on later pressings of the same album. Mr. Wolf’s publisher went legal ape shit & Burnett was added back to the credits under the song name THE LEMON SONG too. It is important to note [as you will know as a fan] that the canonical version of THE LEMON SONG is only such because it is carved in stone – frozen in time on LZ II, but in real life the lyrics changed at every performance with Percy throwing in snippets of old blues standards at every turn.

        LEMON SONG, 1969:

        I should have quit you long time ago, long time ago
        I wouldn’t be here, my children, down on this killin’ floor

        I should have listened, baby, to my second mind [2x]
        Every time I go away and leave you, darling,
        You send me the blues way down the line

        Baby, yeah, treat me right, baby
        My, my, my, my
        I take it down little bit
        Give it to me baby keep me satisfied
        Tryna worry ’bout me, baby
        But I’d never get you with myself
        Keep on worrying baby,
        Can’t keep you satisfied
        Let me tell you baby
        You ain’t nothing but a two-bit, no-good jive

        I went to sleep last night,
        I worked as hard as I can
        I bring home my money,
        You take my money, give it to another man

        I should have quit you baby,
        Oh such a long time ago
        I wouldn’t be here with all my troubles,
        Down on this killing floor

        Squeeze me baby,
        ‘Til the juice runs down my leg, oh
        Please, squeeze me baby,
        Until the juice runs down my leg
        The way you squeeze my lemon
        I’m gonna fall right out of bed, bed, bed, babe yeah

        Baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby, baby
        Hey, babe, babe, babe, babe

        I’m gonna leave my children down on this killing floorildren down on this killin’ floor

        KILLING FLOOR, 1964:

        I should’a quit you, long time ago
        I should’a quit you, baby, long time ago
        I should’a quit you, and went on to Mexico

        If I ha’da followed, my first mind
        If I ha’da followed, my first mind
        I’d’a been gone, since my second time

        I should’a went on, when my friend come from Mexico at me
        I should’a went on, when my friend come from Mexico at me
        I was foolin’ with ya baby, I let ya put me on the killin’ floor

        Lord knows, I should’a been gone
        Lord knows, I should’a been gone
        And I wouldn’t’ve been here, down on the killin’ floor

        TRAVELLING RIVERSIDE BLUES
        ROBERT JOHNSON, 1937

        If your man get personal, want you to have your fun
        If your man get personal, want you to have your fun
        Best come on back to Friars Point, mama, and barrelhouse all night long

        I got women’s in Vicksburg, clean on into Tennessee
        I got women’s in Vicksburg, clean on into Tennessee
        But my Friars Point1 rider, now, hops all over me

        I ain’t gon’ to state no color but her, front teeth crowned with gold
        I ain’t gon’ to state no color but her, front teeth is crowned with gold
        She got a mortgage on my body, now, and a lien on my soul

        Lord, I’m goin’ to Rosedale, gon’ take my rider by my side
        Lord, I’m goin’ to Rosedale, gon’ take my rider by my side
        We can still barrelhouse baby, on the riverside

        Now you can squeeze my lemon ’til the juice run down my…
        (‘Til the juice rune down my leg, baby, you know what I’m talkin’ about)
        You can squeeze my lemon ’til the juice run down my leg
        (That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout, now)
        But I’m goin’ back to Friars Point, if I be rockin’to my head

        A NOTE ON THIEVING:

        Percy & Bonzo, as much as I love them, were thieves long before LED ZEPPELIN in their hand-to-mouth days – ‘borrowing’ vans to get themselves & their kit to gigs, siphoning petrol, walking away with other bands stuff after gigs, it is said Plant even nicked one of Sonny Boy Williamson II’s blues harps! Plant loves a good harmonica & a nice free deal on mics, audio leads etc…

        In defence, this was very much the norm in bands then in BritLand [nicking music, kit, band members, spouses, girlfriends, groupies] & I think it normalised the stealing of lyrics & melodies too much. Although this has always happened in trad, blues & folk because songs were mostly passed down by memory & they evolved & speciated – the practise of heavy, uncredited borrowing should have stopped when the monies involved got to be serious amounts.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted December 8, 2019 at 10:55 am | Permalink

        SIDE ONE, LED ZEPPELIN II:

        588198-killing-floor

  4. Michael Fisher
    Posted December 7, 2019 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    From Josie’s Insta two weeks ago 🙂

    insta

  5. mallardbrad
    Posted December 7, 2019 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    Touched my heart. So sad for your (ours) loss. Never easy to say goodbye forever. Thank you for sharing your life with us.

  6. JezGrove
    Posted December 7, 2019 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    Very sad – condolences to all who knew Josie or were touched by her all too brief life.

  7. Posted December 7, 2019 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    Whoosh, that is a tough one. This very clearly distills how life can be terribly unfair.

  8. Posted December 7, 2019 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Josie Rubio was spiritual in a good way. She had a lot of spirit and lived her shortened life to the fullest, despite the bad breaks.

  9. David Coxill
    Posted December 7, 2019 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    Life’s a bitch and then you die ,far ,far too early in this young lady’s case .

    Off to watch videos of cats on youtube .

  10. Diana MacPherson
    Posted December 7, 2019 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    It’s really sad but I’m so dead inside because I know one person that has been dealing with metastatic cancer for 8 years & she hs currently undergoing radiation again, I lost a close friend to cancer that metastasized to her brain 2 years ago (she was only 35 and had two young daughters), and someone I work with lost his son to a rare brain cancer a couple years ago and he was only 18 when he died. I feel surrounded by this type of thing.

  11. Posted December 7, 2019 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    “But I hope I’ve also made you want to live more fully. As an old friend of mine used to say when talking of life, ‘Squeeze that lemon!'”

    Yes, and thank you for that. I needed it.

    I grew up as one of five brothers, all a year-and-a-half apart in age (see photo). At age 80, I’m the only one left, having given the eulogy for my last surviving brother just last week (my only older brother died first, 10 years ago, and the youngest died earlier this year). We were close not just in age, and it’s hard to get used to the idea that I don’t have a brother out there watching my back (not that this meant all that much in practical terms). I don’t believe in an afterlife, but I do carry the weight of their missed joy on my shoulders every day and feel that it’s now my job to “live life more fully” for all five of us. That’s a lot of lemons to squeeze!

    https://cl.ly/26443d44c542

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 7, 2019 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

      Oh what a cute picture. It must’ve been great growing up with your brothers. It’s sad as we age and there are less and less of us.

    • Posted December 9, 2019 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      Mirandaga: Although I can’t know your specific grief, I sympathize greatly.

      I will be 79 in January. I have one brother left out of three, and no members of prior generations. My husband of 58 years died in 2016, one of my daughters almost died of a burst appendix and sepsis the month after his death. And, my “second mother” aunt died the month after that. It took until relatively recently for me to want to keep on keeping on regardless of all the wonderful memories. However, this year I took a solo road trip following Old Route 66 and visited a number of sites my husband and I had travelled to together, and I very strongly felt his presence with me in memory and love, despite his not being there with me physically. I am so grateful for the time we have with those we love, family and friends. I hope you do live life to the fullest for yourself, and your siblings.

      • Posted December 9, 2019 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

        Thanks, Diana and Rowena. Today is my birthday (me and Kirk Douglas!)and I’m surrounded by family and people I love. At 81, I couldn’t ask for more.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted December 10, 2019 at 10:39 am | Permalink

          Happy birthday!

  12. Posted December 7, 2019 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    Thank you. We’re so cocooned from death and dying, it’s good to know that life can be lived, right up till the end. Courageous lady. She won’t be forgotten.

  13. Ken Kukec
    Posted December 7, 2019 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    Shaddup! I’m NOT crying; you’re the one who’s crying.

    These Mu majors are for you, girlfriend:

  14. Posted December 7, 2019 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    Thank you. Sad, but a reminder…act now!

  15. Azreal
    Posted December 7, 2019 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    David Gibson has died.
    https://quillette.com/2019/12/02/on-the-passing-of-oberlin-plaintiff-david-gibson/

  16. Ruthann Richards
    Posted December 7, 2019 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    Went to all the referenced sites, with all the cat stories. It is especially sad both that she died so young and, in addition, was obviously a great cat person. I’m glad she found someone to take care of all three and hope that woman will appreciate the cats all the more.

  17. Nicolaas Stempels
    Posted December 8, 2019 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    Moved me to tears (for obvious reasons).
    She was a brave woman. Thank you for sharing.
    As an aside, I cannot fathom her boyfriend leaving her when learning about her cancer. That really is the pits.

  18. Pin Wiersinga
    Posted December 8, 2019 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    Dear dr. Coyne,

    Thank you for sharing the story of a marvelous, courageous and totally honest human being. It reinforces my trust in humanity and humanism, shaken as it may be at times.


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