This blog, it was born of grief, born of a deep love for my daughter who left too soon. Born of a sadness always there, always tucked away and I wonder when the sadness first arrived? Was it when I was five and my father died or was it long before that? Did it arrive when I was four months old, taking in the sounds and smells and sights around me and the first diagnosis came in: You have cancer.
Did it arrive then? When the adults around me were trying to process what this meant? I have seen it so many times since. The cancer diagnosis. The hopes falling away and the fears arriving. The darkness descending. How bad is it? And then the hope kicks in and the fight arrives. We will beat this. And the fighting starts--the chemo, the radiations, the surgeries.
Four months turned to one year, a single candle upon a cake. The parents hovered around singing the birthday song. Then two years pass. Remission. Hope rises. Fear falls. Sadness gets tucked away.
Three years and three candles, and the cancer returns and the remission fades. More surgery. More radiation. More hope. More questions. Fear returns. The eyes and ears of a three-year-old see things that others can't. I know this because the eyes and ears of the five-year-old saw so many things that I tried to protect him from. He saw the masks come off. He wrote about that. He heard the voices of his parents shouting. He wrote about that.
And I saw too as a child things you should never have to see. The father screaming when the pain was too much and the medicine wasn't working and the screaming to get out of the room. I saw the hole in his back where the radiation burned him and ate away at his flesh. How is it that I can't remember the kindness of a man that so many talk about, but I can feel deep into my core the yelling to get out of the room? How is it that I cannot picture the hole on a body, but I can feel the hole burning into the backside of my rib cage making it hard to breath?
These memories are not just memories of some distant pain. These memories create the people we become. These memories are why when I step into a hospital my stomach twists and my throat catches because too many days from four months old to five years old, my father lived there and I was sneaked in to see him. These memories of ultrasounds and "I'm sorry, there is no heartbeat" is why driving by the hospital where she was born still causes me sharp pains in my lower belly.
And now this:
Our son has left for college. It's been eight weeks since I've seen him, and I know he's not gone forever. I know he's not dead. But this inability to touch and hold and see just inches away from me feels all too familiar. It feels so different. I worry about the sadness I feel because sadness feels all too familiar. Sadness feels too much like pain. Sadness feels too much like death.
So I have to learn to sit with the sadness more. To sit with the joy beside it when I see how happy he is, how thriving he is, how tired he his, how much distance there is between his five-year-old self and his 19-year-old self.
Today someone wrote to me because his devotion was about thanking a teacher, and he wrote to me to say that it made him think of my father who was one of his teachers. And I hold that note from him in my hand and I turn it over and over again grateful for its arrival. Overjoyed that my father's memory still lights up someone else's life. And I turn it over again and weep for everything I've lost, for this deep and everlasting sadness that I cannot pick up the phone to hear his voice, that I can't sink into his embrace when this sadness and longing feels like too much.
And I remind myself that this is the sadness I need to sit with. This is the sadness I am grateful for.
In two weeks, I will get on a plane to go visit my son. And I will hug him and see him and be in his presence. And this sadness I feel today will give space for the joy that feels tucked too far back at the moment but is still there.
Before we moved from my first home after my father died, I had a playhouse in my own private yard. It had a ladder so that I could climb to the flat rooftop and sit on it. There was a honeysuckle plant that grew up against the fence along the side of the playhouse. Sometimes I laid down on the roof and would try and make myself as small as I could so that no one could find me. I'd pretend to disappear and cry silently so that my body shook but the noises coming out of my mouth were muffled. The salty tears would fall into my mouth. And then I'd sit up and reach into the honeysuckle plant and pull out the long, thin white 'string' and suck on the end of it, letting the sweet nectar drip down into my throat. I did this over and over again until the bitter taste of the tears gave way to the sweetness of the honey.
There is so much to be thankful for.