The week leading to your birthday was a tough one. Most days I can push through the sadness that has been burned into my heart, realizing that this is just the way things are now. The roller coaster of cancer finally derailing us all off track. Each struggling to find a new way along an unfamiliar and solemn road. In a way it's brought us closer and I know that that would have made you happy.
I fought back tears while I filmed Veronica's first dance recital. So proud of her glowing and smiling and confidence; amazed really as she is normally very shy when people are staring at her. She shined and you would have loved it, excited that I found a dance teacher that values developing the person not just teaching steps like you gave to me. Anger bubbled under the surface at the unfairness of it. You would have been there crying with me, happy joyful tears -- instead I fought sad tears that you were missing it.
That same weekend came my first Mother's Day motherless, I was overwhelmed by the hypocrisy of my emotions. Both happy and in love with my family, but also detached so I wouldn't feel the pain of your absence. This of course doesn't really work and it's exhausting on every level. Then leading up to your birthday, anxiety that this will be the moment I lose it in public. Never knowing when it will happen but fearing it will every time I'm out in the world. I used to only see the pity not the empathy; felt the scarlet M seared across my chest, publicly branded so that everyone I crossed paths with could see it too. Fighting back the urge to scream when an innocent comment from someone unaware leaves me wanting to say "she can't go into business selling her amazing hats my daughters still love to wear because she's dead." But I can't say the words, I won't because it's a whole new level of reality that I don't wanna face. One more day that person has no idea that our worst fears that day my dad called, and said something happened to mom, came true.
I love this picture of you. A rare true smile caught on camera and you let me have it. No more insecurities, just joy that we were celebrating with 59 gorgeous roses. Even this birthday was a dream come true. That was 2 years ago, but it feels like a lifetime away.
A few weeks ago dad and I took MLK Jr Dr to take the kids for a play date at the museum. A winding, serene passage from the highway to the hospital. These gorgeous arched bridges that remind me of the bridges we saw the first time we visited NYC in Central Park. Along MLK Jr Dr are parks and monuments; each one dedicated to someone or something. There was a monument under construction during your stay downtown that is called the cancer survivors monument. Every time I drove past it I wanted to throw rocks at it. So angry that you never even had a chance at surviving cancer. That we couldn't sit there one day after you were in remission and be grateful together that you were given a new lease on life. It made me resentful and hard as I rounded the corner and headed back to the hospital; mad at the world. A painful reminder that there was not going to be a happy ending to your story.
Headed to the museum that day, it didn't hit us until we were on it where we were. Both dad and I sat in silence left to our own thoughts, mine both lonesome and loving, a beautiful reminder of you and just like that you were there with us. I felt a connection to you and it was comforting. We didn't say much more than a startled acknowledgement of the road we were on, but I hope he felt your presence with us that day as I did and could find some peace in that moment as I did. I was surprised that I was happy to see the monument was finished and I was taken aback by it's beauty.
Until recently, my grief and anger were too strong to realize how wrong I was, that you absolutely were a cancer survivor. Everyday you lived with cancer you were a survivor. Every time you were scared and instead found a way to smile and be grateful for one more day, you were a survivor. In the lessons of the beauty in strength, that we are worthy, of wanting to spare us the heartache of your loss for one more day, you were a survivor.
Of course we prayed that you would see sixty never truly believing it. And as we approached the day, your day one year ago, I got nervous that something would happen just before and you would be gone. But you did make it. I had gotten decorations and balloons and a cake to celebrate. I came down stairs that morning beaming, so happy we had one more birthday to celebrate. You smiled when I said happy birthday and I started to decorate around the hospital bed. As you watched me you became irritated, insisting I was wrong. And if you could have you would have slapped me over the head like grandma used to do when we disappointed her, I could see it in your eyes. Maybe I should have talked more about the big 6 0 leading up to the day, but I was so scared I'd jinx it. You were a good sport even though you thought I was crazy wrong and we celebrated with cake and watched Annie (the original). I wish we could have all climbed in your bed and surround you with hugs and cuddles and love, but we were too scared we'd hurt you. So I settled for holding your hand; both of us holding on for dear life.
And although I hugged my kids harder on your day, I couldn't find the strength to celebrate your birthday with cake and singing, let alone even tell the kids you should be 61 that day. But one day when the kids can understand I will take them to your monument and tell them of strength and beauty and worth and what it means to survive. Your story encompasses it all.
I started training for a 10k at the start of the year, my race landing on the one year anniversary of grandma Palmer passing, and a few days after your birthday and Mother's Day. I didn't realize the significance of the day until my phone chimed in with the reminder shortly after I finished my first race, and although she lived a long and beautiful life it was a loss I feel deeply too, another part of my life and my heart gone. Another affirmation that I was on a path that was true for me.
When I started training I needed something to focus on, get moving after baby number four, and I liked having a structured program to follow. Somewhere along the way running became a great place to put all these emotions. About 15 minutes into my soundtrack is where I want to stop the most. Where I almost convince myself to stop every time, and then the song "I bet my life" comes on my playlist and even though I wanna cry it pushes me forward. And although this is not a literal interpretation of our relationship, far from it actually, there are aspects that resonate deeply. It's the resurgence I need to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Running feeds the overwhelming need I feel to refuel and gear up, but also gives me time to soak up all the goodness in life. It is inevitable that tragedy will strike again, it is the way of life. It's not a matter of if but when, and I want to be ready. And part of that is putting myself first, and also squeezing in as many cuddles and laughs I can get. I may not have lost an inch or a pound; it may not matter how healthy I am or how well I eat; but if it gives me one more day where my children don't feel this ache, then I will do it.
One step for every day you survived and a step for every day I get to love my family fiercely. To choose me, that I am worthy, that my kids are worthy of one more day.