A Hard Place
I wrote this piece for the Huffington Post on Sunday and it was live for a few days, but I ended up taking it down because I was worried Ana would read it (a woman posted a few “helpful” comments about how much I’d regret it if Ana saw the post, so I decided to listen to her, even though I kind of hate her a little). I may put the piece back up on HuffPo, but for now I’ll post it here so it’s not gone completely.
You’re Not Supposed to Feel Sad In Spring
It’s the season of possibilities—the time of year when life blooms and the slow drag of winter has finally come to an end. Even the rain is comforting—warm spring showers that smell like new growth and possibility. Both of my daughters were born in spring. I was born in spring.
But I’m balancing an impossible reality this year. My teenage daughter has terminal cancer. My brain wants to leap forward in remembered anticipation of hot summer days, but the green sprouts, the returning birds, the longer days…all of it seems diminished, almost sinister. Cancer has once again twisted the natural order of things, turning spring into something menacing and dark.
Spring makes the passage of time too obvious, providing visual proof of how fast the days come and go. I mark each new week by the way the trees keep changing, but this doesn’t give me comfort the way it once did, because it also means my daughter’s cancer is growing. I’m reminded, with heavy certainty, that this will likely be her last spring. That puts a special kind of pressure on every single moment—a pressure that might shatter me.
This year it got warm too quickly in March and my neighbor’s Magnolia tree began to bloom, but then it snowed and the flowers died on the branch. That’s where they’ve remained—dark shadows of dead flowers that never fully opened. Why this year? My daughter deserves to see the flowers open until the petals drift down, covering the grass like pink frosting.
I wish I could flip the years back to the days of driveway chalk and blowing bubbles, to when spring held the promise of a dozen seasons stretched endlessly in front of us – me and the girls. Cancer wasn’t supposed to happen to my child.
I’m the person you don’t want to be. I’m the worst case scenario.
The other day an old friend of mine called to tell me she’d gotten fired that morning. We shared a laugh when I suggested she’d called me because I’m the one person who can help her put losing her job into perspective. She’ll have more time with her 12-year-old daughter, after all. She can always get another job.
I’ve lost faith in spring blossoms—given up on seasonal rituals and milestones—even though I long for them in a way that’s almost physically painful. I see them played out on Facebook, at my children’s schools, on television…everywhere. My daughter is supposed to get her driver’s license. She is supposed to go to prom. She is supposed to graduate from high school.
My daughter is supposed to grow up.
I’ve lost faith in “supposed to’s” because nothing about what’s happening to my child, to my family, makes any sense. Life is supposed to make sense, right? My family is maintaining a nearly impossible balancing act of trying to live each day without looking too far ahead in the midst of a world that obsesses over the future. Have you ever tried doing that? It’s really hard.
I spend weekdays gazing out my office window as the minutes tick by, trying to get my mind to focus on work, on getting things done. I visualize the seconds pouring out of each day, overflowing into minutes, then hours—time I’ll never get back. We use time up like it will never run out, but it does run out, doesn’t it? Even in spring.
Everything seems pointless when I’m sinking into the darkest part of my life. I know that daily tasks are a way to keep the boat from sinking faster, but most days I want to give in, watch the boat fill up. I want to go down to the bottom of the ocean with it.
When people ask how I’m doing, I usually say, “Fine.” But more often than not, I’ll start crying because my brain carries me forward to the place of unthinkable thoughts. I know it shows in my eyes—especially to other parents—and I don’t blame them for backing away. No one wants to look at this place with me.
It’s a foreign place where my daughter’s room is empty, except for things she filled it with, things I know I can’t bear to move. Empty without her, full of her memories. How can something be both empty and full?
When your mind can’t tune out thoughts of death, then death becomes a filter for everything you see and do. I can’t focus on the fact that the Magnolia tree is sprouting tiny green leaves. I can only see the shadowy silhouettes of dead flowers that never got a chance to bloom.
My daughter looks healthy. She feels wonderful. She’s gained 14 pounds in the last two months, weight she desperately needed after an intense surgery followed by three weeks of chemotherapy in February. She’s been smiling a lot, coming out of her room to tell me wants to get an iced green tea—her new favorite drink—and thoroughly enjoying it when she drinks it. She’s wiser than me, at 14, she knows what’s important.
It’s the final cruelty of a disease that’s offered up a thousand cruelties—watching my daughter heal yet again, letting my thoughts carry me forward to a place of miracles that don’t exist for her. It’s also the final gift that she is healing, that she feels good. I don’t have a resolution to this pain because I’m embedded in it. All I can do is share something from a friend of mine who lost her husband to cancer five years ago. She mourns his loss each day.
“You cannot carry this all alone. You have to lean, and share this load…I keep you in my heart and prayers, and continually ask the Universe to bless and protect your darling girl…and give you all peace and comfort despite this cruel storm that rages around you.”