“1 in 5 children diagnosed with cancer will not survive.”
This morning I called. Three rings and a few moments later – I was talked to a seemingly empty receiver. I knew you were there, listening, as always: The quiet breathing, occasional sniffle, and the dropping of the phone kind of tipped me off. But all that is beside the point. Today, you turn ten.
I originally planned on spending the day with you, as usual. Maybe get some pancakes, try and embarrass you a little. Who knows. I didn’t really have the day planned. I didn’t really know what would go down. But instead, last minute plans left me a thousand miles away – talking to you on the phone while you did what you do best, and listened.
I filled in the gaps, carried on a conversation as if you were giving answers right back at me. And then I hung up the phone and thought about what you hadn’t said. Not just today. But in the past five years.
Someone asked me the other day if I had ever considered buying you an iPad to help you communicate with others. I brushed it off with my common answer of not wanting to disable you from communicating outside of a piece of technology, and how I wanted you to be able to communicate with everyone – no matter what electronic you held in your hand. I stated my case. Then stopped and thought about what I had just said and wondered for a brief moment: Am I disabling you?
The things I do, I do with you in mind. I try to think about your best interest, and plan for future. I accept the help for you that I believe will give you the best results, and try not to hold you back too much. I try to push you, encourage you to expand, and try to give you the tools you need to grow…
But in all this, am I holding you back? Am I making the wrong choices? Am I giving you the wrong things, and holding back the right? In the name of helping am I really holding you back? In trying to push you, am I hurting you? In trying to grow your mind, am I really just inhibiting your abilities?
And then, in a brief moment of self-pity, where I feel sorry for myself – I cry out to no one in particular that if only you would talk. If only you would tell me. If only you could communicate with me. If only. I never asked for this. I never wanted to go down this road. I never. Me. I. What about you?
In all my thinking and planning and hoping and wanting and wishing – What about you? Do you wish you could talk? Do you wish I would stop holding you back? Are the things I assume about you really so wrong? Do I not know you the way I like to think I do? Are you really so different? Would you tell me if I were holding you back? Would you somehow let me know?
And then I stop. And think. And realize.
You never asked for this either. You didn’t ask to be scared. To be hurt. To be torn down, and belittled, and left. You didn’t ask to live here. You didn’t ask for people to talk about you while you are standing there with them. You didn’t ask for me to selfishly wonder “WHY ME!” Yet you smile…
And you dance. And you laugh. And you show the world how to be a better person, just by being you.
And if there is one thing I should know by now, it’s what you have shown me, again and again and again. It doesn’t matter what life hands your way. It doesn’t matter who tries to knock you down, or gain from your failures, or triumph over your disasters….it doesn’t matter.
Because at the end of the day, you go home with yourself – not them. And at the end of the day, when you smile, and laugh, or even when you cry in frustration. Even on the days that are so hard – I am reminded. No. I didn’t choose this for you. No. I wouldn’t have chosen this for you. But you? You make this world so much better just by being in it, and you make me realize just how lucky I am to be in this world with you. And no matter how tough things get, or how complicated and confusing things are – I am here to navigate those roads with you. And I will always be here for you.
I hope one day you will realize that I have failed, so hard, that I don’t always make the right choices for you, but I try. And I will always try. Because YOU are worth trying for, and you always will be. Don’t forget that.
Don’t let anyone hold you back, not even me.
Happy Birthday Buddy,
- Your Uncle
Life lately has been what I would refer to as, manageable. I can manage problems from a distance from the comfort of my phone. In fact, the biggest complications I have had the past few months have been deciding when to get my work done. Not how, but when. I have had the pleasure of disconnecting myself from life to take a breather. In reality, the break should have been about finding some answers, establishing a plan to get not only myself, but the kids, through this world – successfully.
But instead, I have unleashed a hidden dream of mine and am afraid to put it away.
In less than a week, I will board the plane and be thrown back into the whirlwind of life. Rain will most likely meet me, problems I abandon four months ago will still be there and the whirlwind to get things back on track will still be waiting.
I haven’t done as much deciding as I would have hoped. But in the midst of my down time, I have done some contemplating. Some begging. And lots and lots of thinking.
Life. Is. Complicated.
Sure that may seem obvious, but it is. It’s messy. It’s hard. It’s frustrating. There are so many words that could be used to describe it. Short. Unfair. Fast. Challenging. Exciting. Thrilling. Disastrous. Wonderful and daring to name a few. But there is so much of it that goes unnoticed. So much of life that just gets passed over, ran past, and forgotten.
How quick we are to forget. To take notice of someone other than ourselves. How fast we fail to remember that the world does not rotate around us. How quick we are to become frustrated with the mundane, day to day, in and out, seemingly meaningless tasks surrounding us. But in the midst of the mundane is where the beauty lies.
In the middle of school shopping, traveling, and working. In the middle of the night, the rough afternoons and the complicated evenings. On the days you just want to throw your hands in the air, and wave the white flag of surrender….there. In those moments. Is where life REALLY matters.
A few days ago I was talking with someone who had just passed their driving test. “I ran over a hedge, knocked over some flowers and ran up the curb. I thought for sure I had failed.” He said “But when I was done – he congratulated me, and said I passed. It wasn’t the problems I occurred, but rather how I handled them – that mattered.”
In the middle of the frustrating, hard, mundane tasks – Stop. These are the moments that matter the most. The ones that seem to have no meaning, and are full of frustrating, dead end leads. This isn’t saying I won’t be frustrated when its 1am and the kids still aren’t asleep. Or when I get phone calls that make my head spin. This doesn’t mean I won’t fall down. It doesn’t mean you won’t get hurt. It just means that life – is full of meaning. Even in the midst of the mundane, seemingly hopeless tasks.
I’ve spent a lot of my spare time lately, thinking. Even in those moments where I am incredibly busy – I like to stop, and look around. Take it all in. Memorize it. Freeze it. The other day I stopped eating, and looked around the dinner table with the people I was sitting with. Voices were muted, smiles frozen – and for a moment in time, I was watching the lives of people unfold around me.
This older couple, who have been through more than their fair share of trials – divorced yet remain good friends, sat side by side telling old stories about their son. Their son: who tragically had died many years ago. Their faces held the scars of stories from the past, their bodies old and worn. But the memories. They smiled as they recounted them. Together. Years later. Both in agreement of how the day had unfolded, all those many years ago when their son was small.
The story was ordinary, yet they both laughed and smiled. His name rolled off their tongue with no problem. No remorse. Nothing held back. I studied their faces, worn with time, for hints of sadness. But both being of the strong type – neither showed anything but sheer happiness. Perhaps, for being able to talk about their son with others. Sharing him with others. Sharing his memory with others.
Later that night, as I walked home, I thought over the story they had told. The story that conveyed so much detail – details that otherwise might have been forgotten, but due to the circumstances – will forever be remembered. The sun, the clothes, perhaps even the color of the soap. Preserved perfectly forever.
I often wonder what it would be like – to have someone to toss memories around with. “Remember when?”
Memories are quickly fading. Replaced with more relevant ones. Ones that are current, up to date, and remembered by more than just me. It’s kind of funny, that way. The mind can only remember so much – and more relevant information replaces the old. I don’t talk about her all that often, and maybe that is wrong. Maybe I am doing it all wrong. Keeping her memory to myself – only sharing pieces of her with those who really want to hear.
I don’t randomly burst into stories about her, and while that has a lot to do with my fading memories and the fact that I only have so many stories – stories that mostly everyone has – a lot of it has to do with me. Wanting to hold what is left of her back. And maybe that’s wrong. Maybe I should be willing and open and ready to share like it was yesterday.
With a smile. And an unguarded heart. One that isn’t crushed when someone turns her memory down. Maybe one day. One day I will be ready. Ready to share the stories I hold close out of fear of losing them. Ready to share her with the world. Ready to smile when I talk about her with others. Ready. To share her.
But until then, I will smile when others discuss their loved ones, knowing that while they may be scar covered wounds, healed by time, deep down – the loss of losing a child, of losing a loved one, of losing someone close to your heart, no matter how much has been healed by time -is still there. And will never completely, go away. Even though in time, you come to accept this.
And one day – I too will share.
I’m not the same person I was, seven years ago. Quite honestly, I’m not the same person today as I was yesterday – it’s just been a more gradual change and I have yet to notice it. It’s hard, today, to even write anything. My thoughts swing back and forth on a major pendulum. Life is good. Life sucks. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. In fact, I know I’m not. So often however, the “Life is good” part of me wants to take over. And the “Life sucks” part jumps in to try and save the day. I wish I could say that both parties do well at keeping me somewhere center bound, but more often than not – I am left confused.
You see – Life isn’t the same as it was. Seven years ago. It’s very much different. In the past ten plus years, things have changed from one extreme to the other. And through many of those years – I wrote. I wrote my way out of the ever changing days that kept my head spinning. I wrote my way through the difficult moments, and the days when I didn’t honestly want to see another sun rise. I wrote my way thought a lot of difficult moments, and yet – I am finding it increasingly difficult to write my way through the seemingly good.
Because it seems almost as if I am cutting ties with the past – and moving forward. Which is exactly what I am doing. I just don’t want to admit it. If I am too happy – then I should be sad. But if I am sad – Then why am I not happy? The ever constant pull to be the person I am not is taking a toll on who I really am. Which is really quite sad. Because for so long I have fought, to be here. To be who I am today. To be happy. To have to right to smile. And crash on those days that just simply suck.
Life isn’t always good or bad. There isn’t always black or white. There won’t always be a yes or no answer. Life won’t always be good. But it won’t always be bad. I won’t always be on one side of the pendulum – in fact, there is a lot of times that simply just are.
Moments that are, quite frankly, ordinary.
Seven years ago, was one side of that pendulum. It was one of the full extremes. Up one side, and down the other. Life was filled with moments that I didn’t honestly want to walk away from – even if there were better days out there. Seven years ago I didn’t have to wonder at the pain and sadness imaginable in this world – I knew it. I lived it. I breathed it. And I knew that if there was a day that would come where it would no longer be so intense, that it was always possible to relapse to that time.
The darkness. The pain. The sadness.
It was never something I wanted. Yet strangely, neither was this.
I never wanted to see the other side. The side of life that is full of ordinary moments, with crappy days sprinkled in, and blue skies every so often.
Seven years ago, I couldn’t imagine being happy again. But seven years later – I can’t imagine never being broken. I can’t imagine not living through those dark days. And maybe, that’s the point of crappy days, and broken hearts. Maybe, just maybe, they are there to show you what life could be. Maybe they are there to let you know that yes – crap happens. Coming out the other side won’t be easy. You will never be the same.
But once you go to hell and back – you really don’t care. You are just glad to be where the sun sometimes shines, and life is sometimes ordinary. And that’s enough.
It’s enough to make you smile. And it’s enough to keep you from going back there. Even when life throws you curve balls and threatens to take you deep within.
Seven years ago, I said good-bye to someone special. Someone who gave me what I needed to make it to where I am today. Her death took me to rock bottom – but it also gave me the will I need to not go back there. To that place that will forever haunt my dreams, and bring me down pleading to never leave this place: Where ordinary, is ok.
We miss you Molly, today and forever.
Tiny arms wrap themselves around me as far as they can reach. The arms of an overly happy one year old that has just spent the past ten minutes dictating what I could and could not do. Pleased with my ability to follow orders, and satisfied that I gave into her demands, finger jabbing, and babbling that made no sense. She gave me a quick cuddle while her parents ooh’d and aww’d over her random gesture.
I remind myself, almost daily, that running from memories will never work.
For a while, memories were what kept me going. And then a short while after – memories were too much. Now? They come and go. Fleeting moments that race across my mind, giving me a glimpse at what was, what could have been, and what never will be. My life. A fast-forward of up’s and downs, ins and outs. Nothing ever connects or makes sense, until one day…
Some days, it doesn’t matter how much of a pep talk I give to myself.
Her picture catches me off guard – and for a moment, I think I can see the sparkle in her eye. The one that always made me smile. The shy smile that gave the impression that she was a timid child – when she was anything but. It brings me back to a different time in life. A time that wasn’t good, but certainly wasn’t bad – because how could it be bad?
I scold myself for judging. It wasn’t something I was going to do. I wasn’t going to become one of ‘those’ people who judged everyone for doing ‘wrong.’ They are trying their best, doing all they know how – yet somehow, I feel cheated. Justifying my judging acts, I tell myself that if only…followed up with a quick I would never.
It’s easy for me to say I would always love her, never get angry, and only give her the best without being selfish. Of course I can say that. The only thing left of my daughter is the dim lit memory that fizzles out like a broken light bulb. The only memories left of her, are with me. Hardly anyone knows her, and hardly anyone wants to remember her with me. So yes, I would be the most patient, caring, loving person in the world – except that I know I wouldn’t be. Should the tables be turned.
Instead I accept the hug, and for a few seconds I imagine life a little bit different. And then I turn her back to her waiting, doting parents who love her more than life itself. And retreat to the memories. The ones that flip past too quickly, and turn off before I am ready.
Sometimes, the missing runs deeper than it should. It pulses through my veins like my own blood. Spurred on by the flickers of life that don’t belong to me. One day I will learn to stop running, and embrace the memories that are my own. And when I do, I will wrap my arms around her – and never have to let her go.
To be completely honest, these past few years have been anything but easy. But I remind myself, almost daily, that things could be worse. It keeps me going, in some ways. Knowing that no matter what I am facing, things really COULD be worse, and I shouldn’t be complaining about the speed bumps we are hitting, when in reality – life could be crashing in around me. While a lot of times it feels as though life really is caving in, I am forced to remind myself that its not.
I spend so much of my life wondering if I’m living up, meeting standards, impressing the right people – brown nosing, I suppose. I live with reserve, I hold back, Im not as adventurous as I would like to be. I live with fear, and regret and guilt. I let people down and spend years trying to repair bridges that I should have burned years ago. I wander the line of being selfish and taking space for myself. I read things and agree, and then go out and live the opposite way. Im a horrible friend, a terrible uncle, and an even worse person – and yet I try again and again to redeem myself.
This life is so…complicated. At times I wish I could just fast forward to see. Is it worth it? Does life eventually pan out? Do things ever make sense? But I suppose much like reading the end of the book before the beginning; it takes the enjoyment and magic out of those rare days when everything is going ok and there isnt a care in the world.
Im always waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting for the blanket to be ripped out from under me, waiting…for the next big breakdown. I spend so much of my life close to the ground out of fear of falling. Out of fear of being hurt. I spend so much of my life living the way I don’t want to – just to avoid the possibility of something that may never happen.
I want to let go of the self-imposed way of living. I want to let myself enjoy life, I want to live without regret, without fear, without being held back. I want to be a better person. I want to be the kind of person that lives freely, openly, and adventurously. I want to. But I cant. For so many reasons. Reasons I cant explain. Reasons I don’t care to understand. Reasons. Or are they excuses? Excuses to keep from being let down. Excuses to keep what little sanity I have reserved, intact. Excuses. Because its easier.
Easier to live the on the well beaten path of life, and never venture out. One day, I will be adventurous. One day, I will rip the perceived notions I have of people down. One day I will stop caring how people see me, and start showing them who I really am. One day I wont be so afraid to be hurt. One day I wont be so weak. One day.
But until then,
I will hang onto this piece of ground that is well worn and familiar. I will hold it close like a welcomed security blanket. I will file away these things like sky diving, back packing cross country, jumping without thinking away, or talking to someone I like. I will remember these things. Much like a digital scrapbook, and one day, perhaps when its too late, I will take it out – and regret not doing more. Regret not jumping on the opportunity.
Because Im nothing, if not a regretful person who is guilty of letting opportunity slip away, all in the name of fear.
With coffee in one hand, and the other hand empty – I look over the balcony. The smell of the sea air, mingled with sunscreen. It happens to be one of my most favorite smells in the world. It brings back memories. So many memories. Carefree happy days spent on the beach. A time in my life that I didn’t have a worry in the world. Its not that things were much different then, its just that my mind was too small to comprehend just what was going on. All I knew was that a day at the beach – was a day at the beach.
The sun shines hot, the sky blue, the sea green. Its just the way it is here. Atleast, for the moment. And for the moment – life is ok.
Its not always this way. Its not always calm, and relaxed. Free and worriless. Infact, it rarely is. But for this moment, this frozen instant in time – everything is alright in my world, and Im free to think of nothing. Much like those carefree lazy days on the beach as a child, my mind doesn’t comprehend anything other than what is circling in my immediate world, which at the moment, happens to be alright.
Im relaxed. Something I haven’t been in months. Ive tried, to relax, that is. And for a few moments, maybe a few hours at a time – I am. But the worry always comes back. The fear of forgetting, hurting, loosing, leaving. The fear of betrayal, the what ifs, the how to’s, and maybe nots. It all gets to be so much sometimes. The worry of routine, of work, of life in general.
I have always heard people talk about taking time away to do absolutely nothing – but to me, that has always seemed painful. For once in my life, perhaps for the first time, I have not worried about the night at hand. I haven’t fought out the dinner plans, or forced my way through the bed time schedules. I don’t even know what I dare to do tomorrow. Even the rain seems calming here.
Maybe part of me left the worry behind. Maybe its just the country. The way the people live here. The way the sea washes in. It’s the way of life that so many people crave, yet few find. The suntanned backs, burned faces, white beaches, green oceans, rocky cliffs, and breathtaking views.
For once, I don’t worry about those I left behind. I don’t worry about those who Ive lost. I don’t worry about those I might lose. Or those Ive worked so hard to hold onto. Its freeing.
I just hope its something I can hold onto…
Just a few short weeks ago I opened my email to find a picture of you. But you weren’t alone. And you weren’t looking as grown up as you have looked in your past few pictures. Infact, you didn’t look a day over six. And there, beside you, was the devil himself – with his arms. Around you. Maybe I am exaggerating, but not by much. The truth is – you are growing up faster than I can keep up with. One day you were six, and the next your turning seventeen and I don’t know how that’s even remotely considered fair.
It sounds so old, so grown up, so mature, yet strangely – so…you.
You are branching off into things that I don’t even know what mean. Colleges, boyfriends, scholarships, awards – your future. Its bright. So bright. And while I know you know that, I still worry that you don’t see your full potential. That you will get caught up in the things that are coming your way, and forget, momentarily.
In a way, I want to remind you of all the things you said when you were younger. Especially that part about boys being “Yucky.” Because I liked that phrase. I really was hoping you wouldn’t lose that. But I guess, you too, must find your way to the next stage in your life. I don’t know if ‘he’ will be in the picture next year, or even tomorrow. I don’t know where your life will take you, or how you will take life.
I do know, however, that whatever you do choose – you wont settle for less. Which is what allows me to sleep at night, knowing that no matter how far you are, no matter who has their arms around you – you have a good head on your shoulders. Just don’t forget that.
You pushed your way though being a “Kid” you dealt with the “Childish” things, and brazed your way to where you are today. While a lot of kids (and grown ups) struggle with being the age they are, you have always embraced it, and worn it well.
There are some people in this world – that make the world a better place for everyone. They stop and help without thinking, they give without a second thought. They make others smile and laugh, and never stop giving or trying. They power through. They might not finish first, but that’s because they stopped along the way to lend a hand to others. They genuinely make the world a better place – without even trying. They are an inspiration, a challenge to others to be more. They are like rare jewels – always sought after, but rarely seen.
You, happen to be one of them.
I will probably always see you as a toothless six year old, or a grown up eight year old. I will probably always cringe when I see someone else with their arm around you, and might not ever let you live it down that at one time in your life – matching socks were the most important thing to you. But I will always be proud of you. No matter where life takes you, no matter what paths you choose.
Don’t lose your sparkle. Don’t stop being you. Because the world without you – is a bleak and lonely place. Don’t lose your fire, and what makes you, you. Don’t ever settle for less.
Happy Birthday Kiddo,
- Your Uncle
For the most part, I like to think that I have come out the other side of this whole…grief thing. I can navigate life fairly well, and it’s the very rare day that Im taken down by thoughts. And even then, its more of a bad moment – instead of wondering when the end will come. Every so often, I pause. To remember. A song, a smell, a person. Most times I can smile. Smile and see the other side. I can push aside the anger and the guilt. And for the most part, I can be happy for others who have what I don’t.
The list of things or places I avoid, grows smaller everyday. And while a day not too long ago – I would go out of my way to avoid stores, and people – I now manage to grocery shop one day a week. I interact with people. I love the kids with a love that is no longer reserved, and while I do have the fleeting thoughts of “What if” and occasionally pull back from something because its going too fast, and too far – I like to think I have made it out the other side with a well rounded view of the world.
I can enjoy sunny days, I can laugh at jokes, I can make friends – and sometimes – if needed – let them go. I can find happiness in the small things. I can smile at others, and partake in their happiness as well. My heart still knows, as I suspect it always will, when certain days roll around. But for the most part, life is…good. We have our bumps. Our ups and downs. Our bad days. Our rough patches. Everyone does, and I am not exempt. As strong as I try to be, I do admit to falling victim to crappy days. It happens.
But that doesn’t change the fact that, not too long ago, I too loved someone. Very deeply.
I have swung to different extremes on the pendulum. I have tried forgetting, and I have tried forcing everyone in my path to remember with me. Both have gone as well as one might assume. No matter how hard I try to forget – it simply will never happen. Because what the mind forgets, the heart remembers – and will never forget. Forcing people to remember only leads to frustration on my part. Because no one will remember them the way I do. And while that’s not wrong, its not right to force someone into it either.
So often I wish someone would say her name, unprovoked. And for so long, that bothered me. That no one, would ever say her name. That no one would remember her with me. That no one would know her the way I did, or ever care to. As time has worn on, I have come to accept this. And become ok with this. She didn’t mean the world to anyone else, and that’s ok. She shouldn’t.
But every so often, life has a way of surprising you. When you least expect it. This afternoon, I checked my mail. It wasn’t until I ripped my way through it did I find an envelope. With a letter. And one of those simple gestures.
Something that will mean absolutely nothing to anyone else – meant more than I can honestly say with words. A small gesture, unprovoked, and nestled between the words and in the story of how said gesture came to be: was the word I have been looking for, for years. Her name.
Life has a funny way about it. Taking and giving. Pushing and shoving. Coming and going. But every so often, its like life takes a break from pushing people down – and offers a small something. A token, In memory. For someone that meant absolutely nothing to one person, and means the world – to another.