I make sure my family goes on trips without me now.
It is important that they learn to be without me.
Important that they get time away from here.
Important that they know there can be fun and joy even if I am not with them.
This is what I want.
This is what will be.
It is not easy to be the family of someone who is ill.
I know this is true.
And so I send them away to laugh, to be together, to have fun.
This is what I unselfishly demand.
In April of 2013 we all went to Florida. I didn’t know it would be our last trip together for a while. I could not focus very well. I just knew that life was not the same and it never could be. I had learned about six months earlier that I had metastatic breast cancer. I knew I would never be carefree again. I had intended to stay away from writing for that time, but on this particular day, in this moment, all I could do was realize the agony that was my situation. When I got back to the hotel room I wrote the words that had been in my head.
I watch my family in the ocean, turquoise and calm and vast.
My husband flips over, face in the water, takes some strokes out to sea.
His movement is graceful, effortless, just as it was the when I met him 22 years ago.
He was a sprinter on the college swim team then,
and while he laughs and says it doesn’t feel effortless anymore,
nor perhaps fast,
it does not matter.
In my mind’s eye he is that young man,
joking with his team,
coming over to the stands to talk to me while chewing on the strap of his racing goggles.
I fall in love with him again every time I see him swim.
My three children float, bobbing in the ocean water.
I can feel the distance between us, it feels like a lifetime.
It is my family in the ocean floating away from me.
I see the quartet, I watch as an outsider.
I do this a lot lately.
I watch them from afar and think how it will be without me.
A new family unit.
Behind the big black sunglasses my tears stream down.
Suddenly Tristan is running from the water to me, across the sand.
He stands, dripping, face beaming.
“I just wanted to tell you I love you, Mama.”
I take his picture.
I capture the sweetness.
I grab him, hug him, feeling the cold ocean water on him, melding it to my hot skin.
I murmur to him what a sweet boy he is, that he must never lose that.
I send him back to the ocean, away, so I can cry harder.
By the time they return to shore I’ll have myself composed.
But my oldest immediately senses something amiss.
She mouths to me, “Are you okay?” and pantomimes tears rolling down her cheeks.
Yes, I nod.
I walk to the water’s edge to prove it.