On Toni Randolph

On her blog for We Know How This Ends: Living While Dying, MPR’s Cathy Wurzer provides this glimpse of the desk of Toni Randolph, the long-time MPR reporter and editor who died on Sunday while undergoing cancer surgery.

Photo: Cathy Wurzer Cathy Wurzer

Putting flowers on her desk today is about all we can do. We couldn’t offer any support to her during her three-year affair with cancer because she never told us.

How could we possibly have not noticed that someone so close to us was undergoing chemotherapy? That someone so physically close to us was dying?

There are more eloquent tributes to Toni — Meg Martin’s and Julio Ojeda-Zapata’s are the best ones I’ve read so far — but it’s hard — and probably inappropriate — to give voice to a component of our collective shock: a little bit of disappointment — and, if we’re being honest here: a touch of anger — that she didn’t tell us.

Wurz explains it in her post. It’s common. But it seems to come down to this: People don’t want to burden other people.

Grief therapists say it’s a complicated question with a variety of potential answers.

Dr. Karen Weihs, the director of the psycho-social oncology program with Banner University Medical Center in Tucson, says some patients don’t want to burden others with their plight.

“It frightens them, she told KGUN-TV, “and they feel like they have had a big change in themselves and they don’t want other people to feel the same way they do. Sometimes its just because they are so emotionally distressed by it and imagine [family] will be equally as distressed and their trying to protect their family members from that distress.”

Other people, she says, fear abandonment or don’t feel they have the kind of people in their lives who are willing and able to be supportive. Some people, who are living with disease, also don’t want the disease to become their identity.

My beloved and departed friend, Bruce Kramer, kept his ALS diagnosis quiet for a time because there were “sharks” at his former place of employment who, Bruce thought, would “smell blood” and leave him even more debilitated, on a professional level, than he was to become with the disease itself. Bruce also discovered the need to create what he coined “The Tell” when he decided what to say to people when they saw him limping and using a cane. While initially exhausting to shoulder the emotions of people after hearing about his ALS diagnosis, Bruce found beauty and healing in sharing his dis-ease and learning about the inevitable dis-ease of others.

Photo: Caroline Yang for MPR News Caroline Yang for MPR News

Fate has robbed us of a person who was in this world, but not of this world. It robbed of us a chance to be better friends and colleagues, and be the people we are. It robbed us of the chance to show someone our everlasting appreciation that a quiet, private, and reserved demeanor can be the loudest voice of conscience in a newsroom.

Toni’s wish was not to allow her burden to become ours, and the people who were close to her rightfully honored her request.

“People will automatically go into grief mode and she did not want that,” MPR program director Jonathan Blakely, who knew of her illness, said of her decision to keep it private.

Our grief and our guilt is our burden.