Ten years ago we watched your last breath and heard the last beat of your heart on the monitor. You had shriveled away on your hospital bed hooked up to multiple intravenous tubes. We watched your lifeless body be carted off and began our lives without you.
Emma is now 22, and Lily 19 and I’m 53. (You would have just turned 58 earlier this month.) We are still in the same home in Takoma Park, but you wouldn’t recognize it now. I left it largely unchanged until this summer when I finally decided I was ready to redecorate extensively.
Takoma Park has been a wonderful place for the girls to grow up. They found compassionate friends and received a solid education in an ethnically (if not politically) diverse place. They are appreciative that their experience coming out gay and queer was gentler here than it might have been in many other places.
In your final words, you were confident I could single parent two young girls. Thank you. I was never a hovering, doting, lunch-packing type of parent but I kept the house financially stable, focused on everyone’s mental health, gave the girls great freedom to explore and built strong family identity with travel, circus, and rock n’ roll. I have painful shortcomings and made big mistakes but I’m proud of my effort.
The circus years (2012-2016) were expensive and exhausting, but rewarding physically, mentally and emotionally. TSNY was like our church, our community of support. It taught the girls something you appreciated: mastery of a skill or art. Emma and I worked very, very hard to reach performance level. (My performance video)
As the family athlete, Lily made it all seem effortless, but I know even she had to drill, adjust and drill again to succeed. It’s an important lesson to learn – the value of refining a skill to very high levels of quality. We still go from time to time.
I wasn’t blogging at the time, but the girls and I reached our year-around-the-world goal on New Year’s Eve in 2019 Berlin, Germany. We had visited 40 countries in 14 years to achieve that and our favorites are Vietnam, Jordan, Iceland, Indonesia and Peru.
Travel is in their DNA and it makes them very confident young ladies. One underestimated value of family travel is that kids see adults (the parents) solving problems together in real time. Most family issues are solved behind closed doors, but not stolen luggage in Casablanca!
It will bring you delight to know they took their first trip abroad together as sisters in Costa Rica this past summer. It’s the dawn of a new era.
Last month the three of us met in Newark, New Jersey to see ‘My Chemical Romance,’ a band we associate with you because you always liked their signature album ‘The Black Parade’ which is coincidentally about death and grief.
MCR sing lines like “Baby, I’m soggy from the chemo”, and anthemic choruses of ” I won’t explain or say I’m sorry. I’m unashamed. I’m going to show my scars.” We cried and held each other many times during the show. Art and especially live performance can help process and explore our subverbal emotional experience.
If I were to summarize my approach after you died: I just… kept… going. I thought it was important to show I could continue living as I was before your death. And, I suppose it was? It’s easy to second guess myself now.
I stayed at my stressful but rewarding job at Internews. And I fell in love again, remarrying in 2015. I’m proud that I fearlessly tried to love again, even though it was (unsurprisingly?) unsuccessful.
Then two years ago, during the Covid-19 epidemic, I decided to radically change my life.
The second marriage was behind me and Lily was in her senior year of high school. I somewhat abruptly decided to leave my executive career and office life for good. I began what my therapist calls my ‘monastic period’ and did a lot of meditation (30 minutes a day for a year.) Eventually I opened a financial planning firm to make a little money and help people. I’m trying to live life richly, but also more slowly. It’s a good change for me.
Emma is in New York City finishing college and building a career in theater and performance. She’s an accomplished costume designer and wardrobe manager. Her knowledge of modern plays is astounding. New York has been very good for her because it forces adulting like no other place. She maintains her stoic, cool, charm, not unlike yours. She is also unwaveringly loyal to her friends. She loves movies and like you, goes alone sometimes. Her interest in food is, like you, very limited.
Lily is in rural Connecticut. She plays Division I women’s rugby and is the smallest on the team but is as committed as the biggest brute in the scrum. Her studies are wide-ranging liberal arts, sociology, classics, modern Greek and women’s studies – like you she enjoys many subjects. She drives well and doesn’t mind hopping in the car to go anywhere anytime, also like you were.
Cancer disfigured their youth irreparably, but they are now strong adults of whom you would be proud. Though they won’t ever have anything close to a normal childhood, it does not have to disfigure their adult life. I’m sensing that having survived the decade, the girls are giving themselves space to be more than the ‘daughters whose mom died of cancer when they were young’.
Trish, your story helped a lot of people. Our family was featured in a video in the New York Times, in articles in The Washington Post and Huffington Post, an advertisement for the American Cancer Society, and have over seven million views of a sad video of you and the girls on YouTube. I regularly help young widows and widowers (pro bono) at my financial planning firm. (I write a blog there about investing, nonprofit professionals, and finding meaning in life. Sign up if you like to keep reading me.)
I know you and our supportive community wants us all to be happy but It doesn’t feel right saying we are ‘good.’ It feels disrespectful and unappreciative. It feels cold and self-serving. It feels ungrateful that we got to live and you didn’t.
And yet Trish, we are very good. We are so good that some days we don’t think about you.
(Is that okay? Do you forgive us?)
Ten years ago we lost you forever.
We miss you so dearly.
Be at peace; our lives are good.