I don’t know what it’s going to feel like to walk into the house.
It’s been 14 months since my mother-in-law died and in a few hours I’m going to walk into the house that was the last place she slept before she died. The bed she slept in will be there. All of her Christmas decorations. Her towels. Her dishes. All of her things are going to be there.
Christmas has been strange already.
I didn’t send her my itinerary, of course.
I didn’t call her on Christmas Day to thank her for a bounty of presents for the children.
I didn’t call her to tell her about the bracelet Clarke bought for me that I know she would have loved.
There are so many things I didn’t do—and then there are the things I am doing:
I think about what it will be like to walk over the threshold and into the foyer and know she isn’t going to be there to welcome me.
I think about the Christmases past and can’t decide whether to laugh or cry.
I can’t imagine what it’s going to feel like to be in her house without her. There will be nineteen of us together this year. One of my nephews was two days old when she died. One of my nieces wasn’t even born yet. And I know that every time I hold those babies part of me will be treasuring that feeling for Barbara, wishing she were there with us, doing what she loved most: being with her family and snuggling with her grandchildren.
I miss you, Barbara. I don’t cry every day anymore. But I still cry often. And this time of year, perhaps more than any other, just feels empty without you.
I was in Wyoming this past Spring at the court hearing for the man who was driving the truck that hit Barbara’s car and killed her. On a cold Spring dayI was in a car when I went over the exact place she died. It was a spot on a highway, a piece of asphalt in the midst of expansive vistas filled with mule deer and brown grasses. When I passed over that spot, identifiable by the mile marker on the side of the road I waited for it—something. I waited for a shift, a tingling, a sign that it was special. I wanted there to be something so that everyone who passed that mile marker knew that right there, at that spot, one of the most special people in my world died.
And yet, it was just road. Nothing happened. No one would have known.
This trip is different, though. Each and every one of us is going to feel the seismic shift when we walk through that front door this holiday season. In the same blink of an eye it took to cross the spot where she died, I will walk through the doorway and into her house.
It’s time. It’s time to feel that shift.
We keep moving on, but moving on does not mean forgetting. Moving on means weaving the feelings of grief and pain and sadness into our everyday lives.
We must keep going. We have kept going this year.
But it’s not the same. It never will be.
Originally written December 25, 2008
(three weeks after my salpingo-oophorectomy and two years after my diagnosis of breast cancer. This was actually the first blogpost I ever wrote.)
I’ve only cried once today. That’s not too bad. But the day is not yet done. Today, again, I’m thinking of the things that cancer has taken from me. First, let me say that I am well aware of the blessings I have. I remember them each and every minute of every day. They are what keeps me going, keeps me fighting. But today, again, I’m pulled into what’s gone, what’s irretrievable, what’s changed.
The body parts are gone, of course. My feeling of immortality. Of safety, of security. I’m vulnerable now. And I feel it. Part of me wants to blaze down I-95 at 100 miles an hour because I’ve stared down cancer, so what can touch me now? Taking risks is a popular grief reaction. On the other hand, a part of me wants to curl up in bed and not come out.
Today, on Christmas, when the childlike wonder is all around, I feel like I am watching it from high above me, as it happens TO ME, around me. I smile, I do what I am supposed to do, I play the “Santa game” with my children. I eat delicious food. I gather up the gift wrap strewn about the living room. I pile the presents in the kids’ rooms. I pack their suitcases for their 3:30 a.m. wakeup for their winter vacation. Half my family is leaving me tomorrow. They’ll be back, of course, but they are leaving. And while they are gone I will ponder the sadness that has settled like a cloud since my latest surgery almost a month ago.
I know I’ll be fine… everyone tells me so, as if to will it to be that way. Even in my darkest moments I know it is only temporary. But I am angry at cancer. Angry at the bad twist of fate that makes me unable to travel this year, unable to be myself, unable to shake this feeling that the dark cloud just seems to keep following me, like those creepy paintings in the museum whose eyes seem to follow your every move.
And knowing the other people who are similarly sad today, those who are remembering loved ones lost, and those who are suffering in pain, and those who will head in for more chemo and surgery and therapies before the year is out are also forever changed by the great equalizer of cancer.
To anyone who reads this and thinks it sounds so odd, so foreign– something that happens to “someone else”… I am so happy for you. I am jealous of you. I remember that feeling, but I am almost getting to the point where I am unable to remember it. I never thought it would be me thinking this way, feeling this way. But it is me. And it’s taking a long time to grieve for that life I thought I would have.
Maybe that’s what it is.
I’m in mourning.
I’m mourning the life I thought I would have.
And only time can help that.