We can’t be three. That’s what I kept thinking yesterday as Jim, Emily, and I sat in the living room watching crappy t.v. until midnight and procrastinating about going to bed. We can’t be three. We’ve always been four. Without Ana, I don’t recognize the shape of our family.
As Ana got sicker, particularly in the last year of her life, I wanted time to stop. It didn’t matter that enabling her to live the way she wanted took an enormous amount of effort—adjusting medication, constantly reaching out to her doctors, adapting our schedules so that we could make sure she got where she wanted to be when she was able (our Friday and Saturday nights revolved around what parties, shows, or sleepovers were happening.)
I could do that forever…
But, of course, none of us have forever. Ana struggled with superhuman strength against the tide of her disease in the last month of her life. She was so very tired. When I feel this despair, this depthless loss in the spaces that were once filled by her, I remember that and for a blessed moment, I’m flooded with relief and peace.
I have a picture in my mind of where Ana is right now that helps me capture that feeling when I’m overwhelmed by the heaviness of her loss. I hold tightly to it in my mind when I feel as though I’m drowning with memories and longing and grief. I envision Ana’s spirit smiling that joyful, mischievous, wholly content smile that I’ve seen in so many of her friend’s photos over the last few days. You know, she rarely smiled like that in the photos I have of her. Teenagers NEED their peers. That is where their happiness is centered, which is why Jim and I made Ana’s social life a priority over everything else.
So, with this in mind, and with the shaky certainty that Ana’s consciousness lives on, that she’s finally able to travel to wherever she wants to go, with the firm belief that we’re the ones that have been left behind—and not the other way around—I see Ana in a place filled with the familiar faces and names of the children who have died before her and whose parents I’ve met along the way. They’ve been waiting for her.
Killian, Will, Zach, Maddie, Mac, Lael, Benji…she’s walked through the doorway from our world to theirs and they’re standing on the beach she’d been dreaming about visiting for months. There are others there too, but those are the kids that are waiting, and laughing, and showing her the ropes. She is content. She has the smile on her face that her friends are so familiar with, the smile that Lola Cook captured perfectly in this photo (thank you, Lola, for sharing your photos with me). And she’s worried about us, because Ana was a worrier, so she’s going to check in constantly.
Look for signs of her. She’s not very far away at all.