I just miss you.
I don’t have much else to say.
If you want to stop reading now, please know only that I miss you. (I know down deep you think all this grieving is emo and tedious.)
When I listen to a new band or see a new country or hear a new joke , I want you to be there to experience it.
And to see the girls, I always want you to see your girls.
No, it doesn’t matter anymore that I’m devastated that you’re gone. I can bear that. I just want you to feel it and experience more life – see things change. You deserved that. And you didn’t get it.
It’s been three years today since you flat-lined, your bed encircled by your mom and sisters and daughters, as I held your small hand. (You had such small hands and feet. ) Those last days and hours were precious, but you were long gone by that point. Thank you for letting go. We couldn’t have handled more. You died like you lived: fast and hard.
Only much later did I realize my grief started long before the day you died. I lost you as my companion, friend and equal, years earlier. Cancer is cunning and surreptitious. It took us, before it took you. It denied us the equal footing needed for a normal relationship and you the chance to be whole. At least as early as 2010, and maybe sooner, I was taking care of you emotionally and physically, as if you were a dependent.
You fucking hated that. I know. But you let me. Thank you for that privilege. Toward the end, as I was giving you my final goodbye, you said “you are the only person I could let love me.” It’s an honor I carry forever, and a debt I owed you for struggling with me for so long.
And I was so powerless anyway. I still feel guilty about the time we were coming back from Africa the year you died. I begged the flight attendant to let you sleep on the floor under our airline seats but he said it was against the rules. You writhed in pain from the cancer entering your bones. We both knew what it was, but we didn’t want the girls to know, so I didn’t stand up to him and protect you. You suffered.
Sometimes I even wonder if you knew even earlier that you would die so young? Subconsciously? You were always prescient of your own mortality. It’s what made you so non-judgmental and patient. Did you know? Or was it just PTSD fear, having come so close to death that night in the car crash when you were 22?
That event caused you to have a dark side – not evil, just cynical. It wasn’t easy for you to want to be a parent – to find the will to be so responsible for someone else. I remember the day Emma was born, and you held her, mystified and teary, saying “Yesterday I didn’t want to be a parent, and today I would throw myself in front of a bus for this tiny sack of skin and bones.”
You were a patient mom. Lily can’t get enough hearing about they way you carried her for two years – pretty much non-stop. I don’t think you complained once about that. You just held her constantly. I’m not sure I even noticed until years later when you pointed it out, matter-of-factly. You never did look for credit or thanks, just acceptance (and a wide berth.)
Often we joke about the way Lily would beg ‘up, up. up’ or for her ‘tippy tup’ and Emma would bark orders at Lily, a Nazi Disney Princess. “LILY YOU ARE NOT DOING IT RIGHT! I’m Cinderella and YOU are the fairy godmother.” Lily and I laughed the other day about that horrible zebra kids couch they had. They watched Disney movies endlessly as we tried to build a little household. And then, cancer.
Lately, Lily has been dealing more with the grief of your death. Being nine when you died, she struggled to understand what it meant.
Of course Emma struggled too, (we all did) but those three developmental years between 9 and 12 are huge. Emma could grieve and have her own emotions and thoughts – at least to some extent.
Lily was sad of course but she she wasn’t quite capable of her own grief. But now it’s hitting her, and she’s being forced to grow up quickly at 12 (Both have had to mature early.) She’s doing it beautifully. I couldn’t be more proud of her the last six months.
In late spring, she and I sat outside the new gelatto place in downtown Takoma Park and talked about how important she is to this family. She was feeling a little lost, no longer wanting to be a kid, but still wanting to be the smallest and youngest. With the help of her therapist, she invited the conversation with me to talk about supporting her emerging identity.
In it, we decided that she is the bravest in the family because she’s the youngest and we always push her. We can only go as far as she let’s us go. We adore her humor and how affectionate she is and how much she values family.
You won’t be surprised that she has become a fashion diva. No one in this family comes close to Lily in that regard – maybe not even you. (She’s started wearing your shoes, by the way, she’s a size six.)
You would be surprised that she has become completely responsible and trustworthy. The summer you died, she stole at least a thousand bucks (yes, Grand Larceny) from friends and family –
most of it was spent on make-up from CVS. It persisted for a while afterwards, but it’s long gone. I would trust her with anything now. It’s an amazing accomplishment.
(And you already know that I also was a stealer as a teen. And I did it for much longer than Lily. So my pride comes from hard personal experience.)
Emma is a magical kid. She’s a thoughtful, sensitive-but-not-emo teen who, like you, loves her TV and is unwaveringly loyal to her friends and family. Emma is unflappable and fucking wise. How many teens are wise? I don’t know where she got it from, not me. I guess you can take credit for that.
And holy shit, she’s got your cool. People just want to be around her. She’s figuring out life as a teen slowly, enjoying her time being young rather than trying to grow up too quickly.
She’s still a little flaky, but she is very earnest. You would have loved her recent response to a stressed out friend worried about getting into the ‘right’ college. “I’m not stressing” she said “I’ll just get good-enough grades, go to a decent school, and be happy.”
Both the girls and I have become attached to circus and trapeze at TSNY in a way you might never have imagined possible. One of us is down there nearly every day of the week. Emma is our most advanced flyer, with Lily shortly behind. I flew so much in the first year that I needed shoulder surgery.
I’ve become more intrigued with aerials now and am stronger than I’ve ever been. (I’m not sure you’d even recognize me.) There are so few still at the rig that knew you personally – just a handful, but you are known by name to almost all.
They are taking down the old tent later this year, and more than a few tears will be shed remembering your last visit and swings there. The new rig will go up nearby and the girls will continue to perform in the shows. I hope to do my first doubles static trapeze show this fall or spring.
We travel still. I haven’t forgotten our promise to each other, to travel a year with the girls. We think of you every time we board a plane together. We did Brazil, Iceland and Scotland – just the three of us. It was so difficult to do the first trip without you. Every evening as we went to bed, I re-lived the night the girls found out they would lose their mom. At times it was excruciating, but you were a fighter. We are too.
Just today, as I drove the girls to theater rehearsal, we were laughing hysterically about the Iceland trip. It was my first big one with out a second adult – and I did some really stupid shit, like buy baking soda instead of salt for the girls pasta with butter. Even funnier, they ate it, wincing.
Stop laughing. Yes I remember the time we talked about it, right before you died. I said ‘Maybe I won’t remarry’ and you chuckled and said ‘Nah, you will. You love too much.’ It was sweet, but also a bit of a dig at me. I know you would have preferred me to be less intense. (Sigh, I would prefer that too.) And, of course, you were right.
And indeed, I’m madly in love. We are a family, now. Amanda is great for me, and she’s loves Emma and Lily deeply. It’s nice for them to have a woman around. She’s embraced the challenge of living in a home with a ghost. This is hardly a storybook situation for any of us. We’ve all had to stretch to make this work.
You’d like her, although you’d think she was a little too enthusiastic. She sure appreciates you. She knows you endured my rougher years.
You would have thought the wedding was cool – it was AC/DC themed. Mandy was our officiant and she was amazing. Emma, Lily and Ingrid performed Green Day’s ‘Good Riddance’.
Your whole family from California came to support us and welcome Amanda into the family. It was gracious and loving beyond belief. You would have been proud of them. We’ll see them in Tahoe this winter again. It’s one of Lily and Emma’s favorite trips and there are only a few more years left before the cousins all head off to University.
I feel fortunate to have met you and loved you. I would choose to bear the grief again knowing how it would turn out. But I would try to be a lot less judgmental and a lot more patient – more like you were to me.
Life’s too short. I had to lose you to really understand that.
You are not forgotten. We move on because we have to, not because we want to.