Part Two: Verbs in Past Tense

On loving her, on losing her

Sara K. Runnels
5 min readNov 30, 2022


Grief is not black & white but this portrait of us is.

Part One.

Every morning, I walk quietly to her bedroom, the sunlight inching its way towards her face, the oxygen machine singing its weary hymn, the pill bottles multiplying on the bedside table. I stand in the doorway nervously, studying her chest, hoping this isn’t The Day I no longer see it rise and rest, rise and rest.

She inhales, I exhale.

My heart shouts: another day together! Then I let her sleep and plague myself with a thousand other worries.

Every night, I hug her delicate body, and we gently scratch each other’s backs. She says, “Love you, sweetie,” and I sleep terribly wondering if my heart might have to shout in a different way tomorrow.

Everything we do in between is determined by pain—a threshold that’s extraordinarily high, but rarely consistent. Some days, we venture outside, visit with friends, do the NYT crossword, eat something wonderful. And some days, out of necessity, we both lie perfectly still and try not to cry. As a caregiver, I do everything I can to make her feel safe and comfortable and unburdened — like she did for me my entire life—with the cruel exception of not having the ability to turn back time.

I am in denial of ever having to change our verbs to past tense—she was? No, forever and ever, she is. She is. She is. But this deep, painful, unsettling heartbreak tells me otherwise.

My mom didn’t just “battle” cancer for three years, she went to war with it, and she did so with such unbelievable tenacity and positivity, scholars should study her strength and grace. The hours spent in doctors’ offices and hospital beds and operating rooms and treatment chairs might’ve destroyed your average seventy-something —but you know she was anything but average. With every recent visit, her oncologist would applaud her resilience and declare she was “defying all odds,” outliving a persistent evil. She truly fought for as long as superhumanly possible, and I know she continued to endure because her only child was terrified of living in a world without her.

Will everything always be measured by how long she’s been gone?



Sara K. Runnels

Copywriter by day. Humor writer by night. Exhausted by afternoon. @omgskr /