In the green of the grass…in the smell of the sea…
In the clouds floating by…at the top of a tree…
In the sound crickets make at the end of the day…..
“You are loved. You are loved. You are loved”, they all say.
-Nancy Tillman, Wherever You Are: My Love Will Find You
Yesterday, Nana and Allison came with me to the grocery store. They ended up staying for lunch and even dinner. We had the absolute best time, and my heart still feels happy and content and full of love from the day we shared together.
After Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods, and boxed frozen lunches, the three of us snuggled on my couch, watching home movies back from 1992-2005ish. And thankfully, Everett took an exceptionally long afternoon nap, so I had the freedom to relax. The three of us laughed and cried and talked and argued about what we watched, what we heard, and how we felt.
It was special.
For Christmas, Terri made copies of the home videos for us four kids, so now I have my very own collection. It was truly the best present.
I haven’t stopped thinking about you since we watched those movies, though. You are alive and well inside my head, and I just want to take you out of there and hug you for real.
Now there are tears in my eyes and my stomach feels tight, right across my belly button and down into my center. Because seeing your expressions and hearing your voice makes me remember just how beautiful and vibrant and fun you really were.
You know, I’d cross the earth ten times over just to see you once again.
I have written through twenty-three papered journals, a detail I know you know, because you used to read some of them when I was younger, particularly the first one I started as a freshman in high school. I kept it hidden under my mattress, and you weren’t so good at replicating its exact position.
I can just picture you, tucking the sheets tightly in that talented way of yours, hitting finicking fingers against something, and discovering your daughter’s hidden dramas and secrets.
But you looked so healthy and happy in those videos, it’s like I now need proof that you really did get so suddenly sick. So here it is. I was sixteen when this was written:
January 27, 2008
I don’t want to be writing this at all, but I’ll have to eventually. On Wednesday night, the 23rd, my Mom was diagnosed with cancer.
Grandma took Allison and I upstairs to my bedroom with Aunt Katie. It was dark outside. Grandma sat on the futon with my sister, and I sat in front of them on top of my little Ikea coffee table. When she said the word cancer, my mind immediately went fifty different directions. Now we finally knew the mysterious reason Mom hadn’t been feeling well since New Year’s.
I didn’t say anything, just stared, and then once Grandma’s words semi-set in, I cried and cried while she held me. She rocked me like a baby as I snuggled into her. I’m sure Allison was being held too, but I honestly can’t remember.
I felt like I couldn’t move my body. Aunt Katie talked with me for a little and then I asked to be alone so I could call Nana. I did, and I just cried more. There was no hope left in my body. My world crumbled into itty bitty pieces in a matter of seconds.
Then I called my best friend Stephanie and she came over a few hours later. I was still sitting on the floor and she came up the stairs and sat there with me, holding me and talking and crying. She brought her things to stay the night. Before we fell asleep, I asked her if we could say a prayer together, so we did, lying beside one another in my bed.
We got up early the next morning and my driver’s test was still scheduled. I went, passed, and got my license printed. The whole time I was driving, I was in a daze, just telling myself to get through it…get through it. And besides, the diagnosis didn’t feel real yet.
Once I got to school, the whole senior high was getting out at 10:15 a.m. because of a water line break or something of the sort. I remember Jessie, bright and cheery at my locker (like always) and me having to pretend I didn’t just find out Mom was sick. I couldn’t just blurt out the truth then.
She was still existing in a world I suddenly knew I’d never be able to come back to.
I got home and went to the hospital. Grandma and Papap drove Allison and I in his Suburban. When she and I were in the back seat, I saw Grandma put her hand over Papap‘s resting forearm, giving it a reassuring squeeze, like they were uniting on the same front.
Walking into Mom’s room, I immediately turned around to Dad behind me and we stood in a spot she couldn’t see us. He hugged me so tight and for the first time in my life, I saw him cry. I remember feeling like I couldn’t stand up and he just kept holding me. He could barely get his words out, but he said his love for Mommy and me and all us kids was beyond words, that love wasn’t a big enough word. He said that he feels so much pain in his heart for all of us and wishes he could just rip it out.
I will never forget that moment for all my life. I was wearing my new chestnut Uggs and the Roxy thermal with turquoise hearts I got for Christmas. And for some reason, I know I won’t forget those details for all my life.
Then I went up to Mom’s bed and just leaned down to hug her. I couldn’t help but cry. Seeing her look so weak and sick made this all so real. We found out what kind of cancer it was and I was relieved when I heard it was breast cancer. That is the cancer people beat.
We stayed until night time. It felt like the longest day. I can only imagine what Mom and Dad feel like. He has spent every night there with her.
I need to make the best of the days to come and stay positive. I’ve got the best friends and family and the best mom I could ever ask for.
That between time, from your diagnosis in January, to your death in August, feels like a figment of my imagination when I remember or read about it. You were sick so quickly, and then remember how you improved? You ate clean foods, continued your chemo, and we were all full of unencumbered happiness, trusting you’d be healthy again.
And then came that last beach vacation with just the six of us. I think that was the last time we were all together, tucked away in a certain kind of innocence.
One night before we went out to dinner, you and I were in the master bathroom of the beach house, finishing getting ready. You put on a blue and white tie dye dress (the bohemian clothes were starting to come back then) with white heels. I argued with you, explaining how you can’t wear heels with tie dye, that you have to wear a flip-flop or some kind of relaxed sandal. You took my advice and we all headed out to this seafood restaurant that was on the water. They served sweet honey rolls.
While we were all walking back to the car, us kids ran ahead of you and Dad. I’ll always remember how you looked, casually striding in that beach breeze and holding his hand, safe and protected in your white and blue swirled dress. And once we were a good ways ahead, I turned my head over my shoulder, wanting a direct view of you.
In the time it took to tuck my wind-blown hair back behind my ear, I saw the disease through your eyes, rather than my own. I saw you silently wonder if you’d be here to watch your kids grow up. And never again until now, have I truly mourned your death through your perspective: through a mother’s perspective.
The thought of something happening to me and having to leave Everett, feels so absolutely scary, my mind can’t even comprehend it. Or the thought of being pulled away from Chris is equally frightening. Thinking how lost he would be…how sad he would be…how I know he’d try desperately to pick up the pieces with Everett and our house and dinners and plans and all the love I gave that was just gone.
For you, I feel so sorry as your daughter.
And I feel even more sorry as a mother.
I want to take the pain I feel now thinking about all of this, and rip it out of me, like Dad said on that ingrained January day.
How scared were you for us kids? How scared were you for Dad? Did you worry we would forget you? Did you wonder how we would all turn out? Did you ever think of Dad remarrying? Were you sad thinking about all you’d miss? You had to have thought about graduations and weddings and babies and birthday parties and family dinners…
But how could you have missed that all? There is simply no way that you did. I know with all the truths I can possibly feel in my heart, that someone like you would never leave.
A mother could never sever from her children. And now I understand that when something eventually happens to me, I’ll never be gone from my kids. I will never be gone from my husband.
This is something I never understood until Everett. When I read his current favorite book, Wherever You Are, I literally choke up each time because it’s as if you’re saying the words to me. They remind me that you’re everywhere, Mom. They remind me that you’re loving me always, just as I am loving you always.
You never left, and you never will. You simply transitioned forward, without your physical body. And while at times that can still feel incredibly frustrating, I’m starting to believe that I don’t have to look for you, I don’t have to wait for you–because you are here, in the green of the grass…in the smell of the sea.