How has the world traveled around the sun three times since we were last standing together in a circle of women, champagne in hands, raised as we sang “Happy Birthday” with a gusto that wasn’t quite felt in our eyes. Together, our lips pushed into a semi-smile we hoped looked real when you rang out, “And many more.” It made me want to weep, your sincerity.
I didn’t disagree. I hoped along with you for a miracle recovery but reality was setting in. You now needed assistance walking up steps and uneven ground but this was before your left arm stopped working. The later happened around Valentine’s Day, four months before I threw a pink rose onto your casket saying my last visual good-bye.
You loved roses. You loved holidays. We haven’t resurrected your cookie exchange. We made a gallant effort that first year but found it’s in fact you who made it…well, our annual cookie exchange. With your strict rules, your festive dress, your organizational genius that created the hype, the commitment, and the extra details in our presentation that moved us to hope for one of your coveted prizes. (Material prize, irrelevant. Bragging rights, priceless.)
Your kids are adjusting; Jeff is so committed to helping them. He hosts dozens of gatherings at your house – yes, it still feels like yours – bringing so much life and laughter (and angst over Seahawk’s play calling) to make your absence manageable. He’s still a writing machine, working on multiple creative projects (as to be expected). Jeff has grown in his organizational skills. You left a huge hole. However, he and the kids continue to search for and hang the perfect yearly calendar that holds everyone’s events and appointments. Last year, he and Lauren chose an outhouse-theme. Maybe you could check with Freud on the interpretation of this choice.
There are a few things I want you to know. Those tears and worry over Ben, that he would be a harsh and mean brother, that you weren’t able to stop being triggered by him so that your words came across harsh and mean – well he’s thriving. He’s gentle and kind. He’s finding himself behind the camera. Whether video or digital, he’s working on perspective and angle. He creates and directs, YouTubes and has a whole set up in the den. He even set up Elisha’s YouTube channel after I failed. This to say, he’s an amazing older friend to the boys in our community as well as an older brother. He’s loving – doesn’t complain about sharing a room with Nathan. You would be proud. I’m proud. He’s coming out of the darkness from living much of his childhood with the knowledge that his Mom had brain cancer.
Lauren is coming out of her own darkness. She laughs for real now – not with sadness beneath it. She looks just like you. She’s no longer comforting with food so you don’t need to feel guilty for causing her to cope with an unthinkable stress – a mother’s cancer diagnosis. She too is an amazing creator. You would love the room she and Tisa created. (Tisa was sent directly to your family from God. He is good. She has so many skills you loved and hoped to pass on to your kids.) Tisa took your old fabric from Baby Bubbles and made a valence and quilt. They created her desk with fun organizers for all her necessary tools – pens, colored pencils, paper, lip gloss and her current favorite- candles. I swear you directed it from heaven. I think you would have done it the same. That first year was hard, for everyone, but it showed most visually with her. It was hard to walk through her room. Piles. Clutter. You would’ve had a fit but this was fitting for her. She needed to express her grief by holding onto things. She needed this time, this expression. After all, it’s impossible to say good-bye to a mother but somehow we make it through and she has, and does.
Nathan. Nathan still doesn’t quite understand where you’ve gone. His five year old self just can’t process good-byes where his mother doesn’t come back. He loves Godzilla and I’m not sure I could write that if you were still alive. I suspect you would have censored this decision of Jeff’s, said it wasn’t age appropriate. You may have been right but for Nathan it’s been splendid. His imagination is vivid. When he’s interested in something, he roots himself in that world, just like a tree. I can’t keep track of all the names, places, or relationships in this Godzilla world. Luckily, he’s patient and sets me straight when I confess my ignorance to him again and again. He’s a great cuddler. You would’ve loved holding him while he shares his stories.
I don’t think I saw your family so clearly before. I would’ve described it as your business/ organizational talents undergirding Jeff’s creative genius. But I had it wrong then. My perspective was stilted. I underplayed your creative self as I underplayed Jeff’s energizer-bunny self. Yet, I see it so clearly in your children. They are products of a creative powerhouse couple, they lean into their grief that will never leave them (after all, no one forgets their mother no matter how much time has passed) with boundless creative energy. Whether it’s making videos or taking photos, designing clothes or drawing comics, and whether it’s holding up the latest droid family member from Godzilla whose story is told, your giftings are present in your children. As an aside, I wish we were working out our daughter’s “best friend drama” that occasionally creeps in to their relationship.
I also want you to know I’ve forgiven you. I’ve forgiven you for the isolation, at times the neglect, and the depression that stole your life while you were still breathing. I hope you’ve forgiven me for the judgment and anger that must have come across at times in our rawest moments together — me wanting you to live in connection and you wanting it all to go away. I realize now, what I didn’t know then, that while I was eager to help, to be with you, I wasn’t eager to lay with you in your bed during the times you just couldn’t make yourself get up. I didn’t know how to live in your world – as an individual with a terminal condition. Death’s door – warp speed ahead. I like to think I’d do it better this time. I’d like to think I would be a little more like Mary, a little less Martha. At least I’m trying to have my life reflect that now – a gift you’ve given me through your death.
I carry you inside of me: your confidence that I can write this darn book, your loyalty that no matter what circumstance I find myself in, you’d have my back, your love for tea and doing things proper, right. I carry you with me in the hole left behind once our memories together stopped. You, my friend, are remembered.
And so, I raise my glass and salute you, “For eternity, my friend. Until we see each other again in the land of many more. Happy Birthday.”
I love you.
Expect Payback in Heaven for posting without your permission but girl…you look good!