To Those at My Table

Maybe you’ve stood in a store, mindlessly running your fingers over the glittery ornaments that seem to be made just for you and your child, but you wonder if you should buy them because…well…

Maybe you’ve stood in that same store, or maybe it’s another one (because you’ve gone to 10,) and cursed everything in your path because try as you might, there exists NO store that carries anything perfectly suited to decorate a four-year old’s headstone for Christmas instead of her play room tree. Maybe you’re crying as you move numbly aisle to aisle, hearing her in your ears and wondering what she would be like today, cringing as the little girl with cat ears and pink boots twirls by.

Maybe you have a rack in your garage like me, with organized bins and shelves full of decorations of the past 3 holiday seasons and now you ache and cry and wonder if anyone really knows what that feels like. That a quarter of your garage is dedicated to storing cemetery decorations because you cannot bear to throw anything away because it’s all you have left; all you have to give anymore. This is life now. This is “normal.”

Maybe the very thought of the holiday tears you in half because you WANT (oh how you want!) to remember the good holidays for a moment or shoot, you’d even be okay remembering the bad ones when chemo threatened to destroy your memories. You’d actually give anything for the bad ones again because they were REAL. They happened. They were actual, real life and now, you can no longer create more of those new, real life memories, hard as they were at the time. And you feel torn because how in the hell can anyone ask you to feel thankful, grateful and blessed when the world has ended and left its mark as ashes at your feet? You know you are all of those things, but you are also and sometimes MORE devastated, isolated and broken?

Maybe you feel one day like it’s okay to be angry, but cry yourself to sleep because you feel AWFUL at being angry because you know it’s so very, very far from what your little girl wants for you. There is a face that others see, but even that is cracking and you feel like screaming and spitting like a caged animal at the rage you feel inside because no one really understands that YES, GOD DAMMIT, IT DOES STILL HURT THIS MUCH!

But then you catch one glimpse of her face in a photo and for a moment, you go back in time. Maybe you close your eyes, but I know you wish with every cell in your body that you could just stay there forever. Or for one second, because even that long would be okay. You relive the “lasts” you experienced with your love over and over again. All of the “befores” and “untils.” You cherish the perfect family photo from that last Thanksgiving that you still get a giggle over because of the blasted turkey carcass in the background that is now part of a larger story and you wonder “how many times did I tell her I love her that day?”

Maybe it’s not your daughter. Maybe it’s not your child at all. Maybe it’s your husband or your mother or a very dear friend. Maybe it’s your first season without them or your 20th. In my third this year, it hurts worse than I expected it to because she’s still gone. And she will be gone for the rest of my life and something about that just can’t be explained to people who just don’t know. Something about that kind of pain longs to be felt, explored, examined, revered and honored, but in doing so you feel you could die from how much it hurts.

If you have read this far, somehow I think we might be feeling the same things this holiday season. I don’t have a Thanksgiving table anymore, but if I did, know that you would belong there. For whatever reason you are hurting this Thanksgiving, I see you. Lord knows I don’t know how to help, but at least you know you aren’t alone in my house and in my world. I’m grateful for those who see me and welcome me with open arms despite how very hard I am to love right now and I pray that you feel the same, even if it’s just from this. I pray for a peaceful and gentle Thanksgiving to those who are hurting and I send you my love all the way to Kate and back.

Kate, I love you. I miss you. Best friends forever. I promise.

Hurting for the Holidays

It starts at Halloween. Her favorite, I think. Kate was diagnosed in August, so the Halloween that followed was an absolute blow for her. She was so sick and in so much pain that for that particular year, it was all about what we could do. We crafted, we looked at decorations online and in our cul du sac. We couldn’t go far, so she developed a love for the holiday from the safety of her covered cart at Target. She loved the decorations and the costumes. She’d choose 10 things each year she would like to be. She only ever got two REAL Halloween adventures, but she loved those two nights so completely. She didn’t even care about the candy, really. For Kate, Halloween was all about the build up. The days leading up to. Now, I can’t even answer the door. All the costumes that grace my Facebook feed or parade around my neighborhood only serve as a reminder of who she would be.
Thanksgiving hasn’t ever been my favorite holiday, but since Kate passed away, it has almost become so. I think it’s more that it’s a favorite memory than anything. Kate was feeling so, so well her last Thanksgiving and she was little miss personality. It was the very last day that I can remember her feeling good. Being 100% KATE. In love with life, her whole future ahead, family all around. Now, we bury our heads in the sand, sometimes choosing to half-hardheartedly participate, sometimes not. Each time we don’t, I feel I’m betraying her. How dare I not invite the whole family over for the same feast we’d served when she was here? How could I even think of not celebrating a day all about family; something she cherished?? But then when I do, I also feel it’s a betrayal, even considering a family gathering when she cannot participate. Afterall, WHAT is my family without Kate?
The sound of Christmas carols makes my stomach hurt. Twinkle lights make me cry. I went from being the mom who did it all – decorating, baking, shopping, wrapping, hosting, crafting – to…well…nothing. I don’t say that to sound arrogant. I really don’t. I’m a mom who LOVED the holidays and Kate just made my love and joy for them magnified x 1000. She allowed me to be the mom I always dreamed of being and together, we got to turn a whole month into excitement, joy and fun. She was my little sidekick and from as early in her life as I can remember, she was right there with me oooh’ing and aaah’ing at every sparkle that caught her (our) eye.
It breaks my heart, really. Kate loved (LOVED) the joy of celebrating. All of it! St. Patrick’s Day, Mother’s Day. It didn’t matter. Counting down to special occasions was something she truly loved to do. Having her family descend on our house, helping to set the table, just giddy with the excitement over the pure merriment of the season. Presents? Sure, she loved that part. Cookies for Santa and leaving him and the reindeer letters? Absolutely. But my girl just loved the JOY of it all. After all, she was at the center of our world and she just simply loved her life. She really did. We were told once “the short experience she had here was wonderful. She was not defined by illness. She was made to feel lived and important and she was cherished. Cuddled. And that was what really mattered to her.” She LOVED her life, her family and her world and I wish I could just live in that world again. It was magic, really, the bond of us three.
I dreamed of taking her to the Nutcracker. Dressing in special glittery, twirly skirts and taking her to a special tea or dessert restaurant and delighting in all things sugar plum fairy-ish. In fact, when I found out she was a girl, I think this might’ve been my very first thought.
I want…I SO WANT…to be able to celebrate for her. To rejoice in the feelings, do all the things she couldn’t. Because I know with every fiber of my being that she’s right there with me in spirit and to me, that means something. “In spirit” doesn’t just mean “oh she’d love this.” No, to me, it means she’s THERE. In my lap. holding my hand, twirling in a pretty skirt. And she wants me to. OH HOW SHE WANTS ME TO. I just don’t know how. I don’t know how to pretend it’s okay when it just simply isn’t.
The holidays are just so, so hard. I want to be okay and I just don’t feel like I ever will be. For her, we will keep on trying to find out how to carry forward with her in my heart.
Kate, you made every single part of my life better and I’m trying as hard as I can. I love you. I miss you. Best friends forever. I promise.