Now, Burt, a former schoolteacher, has chronicled her final year with her daughter in the book “I Had a Daughter.” Burt will speak and sign books on Monday in the Ayers Room at the Public Library of Anniston-Calhoun County.
A mother of two, Burt, never expected to find herself caring for her child at the end of her own life. “I thought that, as I aged, Rozelle would be taking care of me,” she said. “I think that was something that was difficult for her, but she knew that she wouldn’t be able to care for my husband and me when we were old.”
After her daughter’s diagnosis, the two traveled between Birmingham and Houston to receive treatments and see specialists. Burt feels that the open and honest relationship they already established helped them to support each other. “She trusted me so that she could say anything to me,” Burt said. “We relied on each other for a great deal.”
“I Had a Daughter” originally began as a guide of sorts on how to navigate the disease. “I wanted to present this as a medical journey, because it was not easy finding the right doctors, finding the best treatments, making the best decisions as you go along,” Burt said.
What it ended up becoming, however, was a memoir that demonstrated just how deep and strong the bond between a mother and daughter can be. “In a way, it was cathartic. In a way, it was revelatory,” Burt said about retracing that moment of her life. “I learned as I wrote.”
While Burt struggled to maintain a brave face through her daughter’s treatments, she shared her sadness and fears through emails back and forth with friends, who printed and saved them for her.
The exchanges about Rozelle’s treatment are laced with hope, fear and uncertainty, but also chronicle Burt’s everyday challenges in finding doctors, temporary housing — even preparing for the holidays.
Burt also kept a journal. “I respond to life’s situations by writing, and I think it’s my way of clarifying or of trying to understand a lived experience,” she said. “I lived through it, and I’m still living through it, but I wrote in response to it.”
Although Rozelle’s husband and three children were affected by their mother’s illness, Burt made a strict choice to base the book solely on her point of view. “I don’t know how they lived through this … and I did not want it to be in any way their story because I don’t know their story,” she said. “I didn’t want to bring them into it in any way. I felt that I would be interjecting myself into their life in a way that would be publicizing them — that would not be fair.”
Just over four years have passed since Rozelle’s death. Burt knows she’ll never get over it, but that doesn’t mean she can stop living, either.
“You try to avoid despair or anger taking over your life,” she said. “There are just many things that we don’t understand about life, and we have to accept our inability to control. We have to recognize human limitations.”
Burt feels confident that her daughter would be pleased with her work. “She read everything I wrote and wanted me to do more,” she remembered. “I think she would be very happy that I could write about this experience — both hers and mine."
Rebecca Burt will speak and sign copies of her book, “I Had a Daughter,” a memoir of her daughter’s battle with cancer.
When: 4 p.m. Monday
Where: Ayers Room, Public Library of Anniston-Calhoun County.