The truth is…it’s getting harder by the day as the holiday approaches and the joy around us swells. We are lucky and blessed to have so many friends and family working their butts off to be with us exactly as we are. “Open invitations, zero expectations.” We are lucky and blessed to know that they truly get it why and when we cancel, which we’ve done a LOT of this season. (As in: almost every plan we’ve had thus far.) As my husband said last night, “we Rhoades are not an easy duo to be around right now.” How lucky and BLESSED are we that we have people still willing to try?
Last Christmas, our little family escaped for an overnight getaway that turned out to be one of the best weekends we’ve ever had together. We took Kate to Busch Gardens Christmastown and stayed in an adorable villa just outside of Williamsburg.
This is long. And it’s painful.
Just this past Monday, we marked 11 months without Kate. The next four weeks will bring our first Christmas without her. Our first New Years without her. And then, the 1 year anniversary of that horrific day. The worst 15 hours I will ever live. In just a short time, people will start saying “Kate died last year.” LAST YEAR. A year away from my little girl. A year since I saw her. Then it will be a year + 1 day. Then a year + 2 days. And so on it goes. It’s not as if one year is some magic number. It doesn’t end there. It’s not like “ok, I’ve made it a year, I’m good. She can come home now.”
“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.” ~Norman Vincent Peale
Over the years, Thanksgiving had become one of my favorite holidays. I loved the traditions, the food (minus the turkey) and the fact that my house had become the go-to spot. I loved that our family knew to come over after Kate woke up from her nap. I loved that MY stuffing had become the family favorite. I loved that I didn’t even have to ask Mom to make the pies…she just knew it was her job. I loved that after 6 years of hosting Thanksgiving on my own, I still had to ask every year how to make mashed potatoes just as good as my mom’s and, if my sister was in town, it was automatically her job.
Since we started hosting 6 years ago, we had special reason after special reason to celebrate…and even more so with Kate’s arrival. Though the date changed yearly, Thanksgiving Day holds a lot of special memories for me and my little family of three.
The first year we hosted was the day we announced that we were expecting a baby. My mom was recovering from a mastectomy and we all posed for a family picture. While setting the timer, we told everyone on the count of three, say “Lindsay’s pregnant!” instead of cheese…and the video was rolling the whole time so we caught everyone’s reactions. It was a very, very special night.
The second year we hosted, Kate was here! A sweet little chubby baby of nearly 6 months old, she got to enjoy her first taste of solid food at the dinner table with us. She loved her sweet potatoes and being passed around and doted on as the only Virginia-grandchild.
The fourth year, we thanked our lucky stars she was still with us. Diagnosed just 3 months before, we were settling into the world of childhood cancer and were supported by friends & family all over with shared dishes to serve and more love than we could fathom. Kate learned she loved pumpkin pie and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and for a brief moment, I felt okay. I felt like we were going to be okay.
Year five was extra special. It was the first holiday Kate got to spend with her cousins. It snowed that weekend and the kids played in the snow, which Kate loved. We had pancake breakfasts at her favorite place and the cousins visited Grandad “up on the mountain.” We had to rent tables & chairs that year and happily moved furniture out of our living room to seat everyone. Kate loved nothing more than when her family was all together.
Last year was what I had dreamed of since she was born…a happy, healthy little girl who had become my very best friend. She helped me cook. She set the table. She picked out each & every person’s place and thought about where everyone would like to sit. She had learned a special story at school and shared it with us and she made crafts at school and brought them home. She had been without chemo for 2 months, seemed SO happy and SO healthy. She spent the evening being as sweet as I can ever remember her being (not hard to do, however) and she spent the night beating everyone at Candy Land, giggling herself silly and remembering how much she loved pumpkin pie. She stayed up extra late. Her first schoolmate play date and movie in a theater followed. The cold & low fever that became the beginning of the end started that same weekend. It will forever cloud my memory and joy from that weekend…because less than 2 months later, she would be gone from this Earth and my heart has not caught up with the reality that there will be none of this ever again. My mind cannot look at pictures of her from that night, so full of love and hope and relief and think that mere weeks later, she would be gone. I will never understand what happened. I will never understand why.
As hard as it is, I will remain thankful. Thankful for her. Thankful for her life. Thankful for her doctor and nurses who gave us those 2 years with her. (Trust me…they don’t understand how or why, either and fully expected an unlimited number of years.) I will always be thankful she chose me. Of all of the mommies in the world, this perfect, precious, loving Kate…chose ME.
Friends, readers and followers…thank you for reading this and for being here with me. I am thankful for you and your support. Please, for me…for Daddy…for Kate…tell your children how much you love them and make sure that you are showing them, too. For my friends here who have also lost a child, please know that my heart is with you as you face that empty chair, whether an actual empty chair or one like mine that exists only in my head.
Kate, I love you. I miss you so desperately. I wish so many things…so,so many things. Please stay close. I need you. Best friends forever. I promise.
I feel like I have officially run out of things to say. I feel like I’m failing at Kate’s Cause. Her voice. Her life. Her purpose. I’ve become silent on the subject; quiet here on her page. I can’t seem to do anything but think about her and long for her.
Kate’s favorite holiday was Halloween.
Personal Facebook pages prompt us…”what’s on your mind?” Tonight, for me, it’s this.
On this day last year, we met up with (most of) the rest of my family at Disney World for Kate’s last night of her MAW trip. It was Mickey’s Not so Scary Halloween Party and through all of the rides, the meetings with princesses, the trick or treating and the candy…at the end of the night, when asked what her favorite part of the WHOLE week was, Kate replied…”seeing my family!”
That night also happened to be our 7th wedding anniversary. Today is our 8th. Michael Rhoades, I just love you wholeheartedly. Completely and utterly. You’ve given me the best years of my whole life, and the greatest gift of our girl.
Many people plan fancy dinners and events for their anniversary. But my favorite? My favorite was this hot dog & tootsie roll dinner one year ago tonight with our best girl in the happiest place on earth.
Mike, I love you all the way to Kate and back.
One year ago, my perfect little family was packed up and heading to bed early. Our limo would arrive the next morning and we would be whisked away to Disney World. We went to bed that night tucked in with Minnie Mouse jammies and so looking forward to what would become a week of the most magical, wonderful days of our lives. I can’t even express how happy and hopeful we were this time last year. I very distinctly remember my head hitting the pillow and smiling. My exact thought was “I have looked forward to this since I found out I was having a little girl.”
One year ago Kate was quivering with excitement over who she would meet first…Simba, Aladdin, Rapunzel, Cinderella or countless others. She would ride her very first park ride, eat ice cream any ‘ole time she wanted and would learn all about the magic that is Disney. It was our only vacation as a family of three and I was already planning our next trip back. I remember thinking on that one day, I could simply burst from the happiness I felt. I could feel myself breathe deeply for the first time in years. If I could have bottled up that day…oh if only.
Three months later…on this exact day, the hope…the happiness…the magic all died with her. Nine months ago, my baby left this life for her next and nothing has been or ever will be the same.
I know that had she lived, what awaited her meant pain, sadness, fear and misery for her. Yet since she died, what has followed has been pain, sadness, fear and misery for us. I know she is at peace, she is whole, she is healthy. She is happy. But us? All of that left with her.
Oh, just take me back…take me back to this day, one year ago. But you? You are free, my angel. You are free.