Well Met by Moonlight

May/June 2010

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Well Met by Moonlight

Courtesy Hillary Stamm

Although my parents both grew up in Portland, Ore., Peggy Carstensen and Walter Stamm met at Stanford. When he was in Sigma Chi and she lived in the adjacent Storey house, they'd slip out on their decks for wee-hour chats. I love that vision: a warm night with the two of them laughing under the stars.

My siblings and I always say we won the parent lottery. The healthy, smart, brilliant and fun parents who would do anything for their kids? Those were ours. During my years at Stanford, I loved when my parents would visit. We'd walk the Row. Mom's face would light up as she told us about their first date, when she asked Dad to the Halloween dance. Dad, with his calm demeanor and dry wit, would smile as she reminded us to look for their names, carved in a bench at the Goose. "Ah, Class of '67, the Last Great Class," Mom would muse, citing their cohort's vainglorious motto.

The next time I'm on campus, it'll be another of the obligatory "firsts" that come into your life after you lose someone you love. Last year my heart hurt when I walked by FloMo, missing my mother and recalling how she'd moved me into the dorm senior year. This year, I'll walk to Lake Lag, aching with the memory of how Dad advised me on career choices when we shared a morning jog on my graduation day.

In loss, one realizes how powerful true love can be. My father, who died in December, was a brilliant scientist and a kind, reserved soul. My mom was a savvy socialista, the leader of our family. During her eight-year battle with cancer, she was always on the front line, ready to try new treatments. When my sister, Lindsay, '00, graduated, Mom braved the trip to Palo Alto with a Port-o-Cath implanted in her chest. When my brother played for the high school soccer championship, she, in her uncomfortable wig, was in the front row. Months ago, when I returned to the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance with Dad, I visited with a nurse who had cared for Mom. "They just couldn't develop the therapies quick enough for Peg," she said. Mom kept coming back and asking, "Well, what do you have for me now?"

Dad was heartbroken after she died. Lindsay and I stepped up our visits to Seattle, worried about his being alone. Eventually he told his best friend he was finally starting to deal with my mom's death. Then a few short days later he called with "unfortunate news." Stage 4 melanoma; lesions in his brain and his body. His research had revolutionized the treatment of infectious disease and saved hundreds of thousands of women from infertility. But he could not cure what took Mom's life and his own much too soon.

I was organizing a box of pictures the other day and came across an old black-and-white of my parents sitting in front of the Claw, stars in their eyes; their lives and contributions ahead of them.

Some stars are so bright, they just can't shine as long.

HILLARY STAMM, ’98, is a writer in Los Angeles. Read Walter Stamm's obituary.

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