Come What May

It was a cold, gray, January day.  All of the other kids were in school as it was a Thursday, but Kid A had checked herself out early.  It was her 18th birthday, so she could do that now.  She climbed into her newly-leased electric car and turned on her iPod.  The passionate and emotional voices of Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman spilled from the sound system.  The words blasted her ears and bombarded her heart.  The song lasted the exact length of time it took her to drive from parking lot to parking lot.  She took it as a sign, like a cardinal at the window or unexplained feathers.

Sheepdog and I arrived together.  We held hands as we walked into the waiting room.  I noticed a giant eel slithering inside a 75-gallon fish tank before I even saw Kid A in the corner.  The building smelled faintly of rubbing alcohol and burning things.  We all hugged and walked over to meet with her guy.  She gave him a piece of paper that had been folded and unfolded and looked at so many times that it had the worn feel of soft leather.  They spoke to one another in the language of creative people.  Then he scanned her paper into the computer and pulled it up on the big screen.  A lone sob escaped from my throat before I could pull it back.

Seeing his familiar handwriting up there, larger than life, I was caught completely off guard.  But seeing it a few hours later, permanently inked onto the slight wrist of my oldest child, it actually felt good.  After all she had seen and experienced and lived through the past few years, it felt right.  Well, as right as a tattoo can possibly be.

"I will love you until my dying day."

“I will love you until my dying day.”

His life story will always be a part of hers.  He left his mark on her heart.  Now his handwriting is marked on her forever as well.

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Today is the first anniversary of Braden’s death.  One whole year has gone by.  An entire year of holidays, and birthdays, and Mondays.  One whole year passed of experiences, and change, and growth.  One whole year of the regular and mundane too.  One whole year of memories made without Braden.  I feel like that is one of the worst parts.

I have thought of him so much over the past year.  Sometimes I think of him intentionally, like when I plant flowers in his memory.  I talk to him as I’m doing the work, updating him with new funny stories as well as the regular day-to-day stuff that’s been going on.  And when these plants inevitably die, I think of him again because I know he is playing a twisted joke on me.  All of my other plants thrive.  It’s just the ones that I tell him are “his” that end up brown and crispy.  I like to think that Braden enjoys our conversations so much that he is just making sure that I’ll keep checking in with him.  So I guess I’ll keep buying him new plants.  And I’m good with that.

Other times he pops into my consciousness accidentally, like when I recently came across the milk shake recipe for cancer patients that I used to make for him when his stomach could tolerate them.  It was made with protein powder and coffee and chocolate sauce and Haagen-Dazs ice cream.  It always made me so happy when he would finish one, because he was losing so much weight and what else packs on the pounds but the best ice cream on the planet?  I also find him popping into my head when I’m listening to music in the car, wondering if he got to hear that really great song before he died.  Or was he around for that game?  Or did he get to see that movie?  Or look at that blood moon?  As more and more time passes, the answer is almost always ‘no.’  Not while he was here with us on earth.

So, to officially and reverently mark the passage of one whole year without Braden, Sheepdog and the kids and I went on a short hike up the Indian Seats Trail at Sawnee Mountain this past Sunday.  When we reached the top, we found some rocks off the beaten path and we sat together as a family.  We overlooked the valley below and Sheepdog said some nice words and reminded us that Braden is happy and healthy now and we shouldn’t ask for anything more than that.  He also reminded us to be thankful for our own health and happiness and to make each day mean something.  Some of us spoke about happy memories and fun times with Braden.  Some of us weren’t able to speak at all.

There was a placard up by the Indian Seats that said mountaintops are considered sacred by Native Americans because they bring us closer to Father Sky.  I don’t know about that, but I certainly felt closer to my God and to Braden that day.  It was sacred and it was good.  Well, as good as it can be when somebody is taken away before we are ready for it.

Wish me luck for tomorrow… come what may.

Six Months

Hey, B.

Just checking in…

I’m sure you have lots and lots going on right now.  I figure that you are still going through an orientation kind of period, where you get to learn about all of the amazing options available to you in the afterlife.  Kid A likes to remind us about the things you planned to do after you were done being sick.  Did you learn to speak Arabic yet?  For some reason, the thought of that always makes me giggle.  السرطان لا يزال يمص حتى ولو يمكنك التحدث باللغة العربية الآن.  In case you haven’t gotten around to learning it yet (like me with my Pimsleur Spanish lessons), that says “Cancer still sucks even though you can now speak Arabic.”  At least according to Google Translate it does.  I sure hope I didn’t just write something offensive.

I talk to or text with your mom and dad now and then, and I also see their posts on Facebook.  They miss you something fierce.  Everybody does.  And your brothers and sisters are still figuring everything out, too.  Hell, I can’t even say this silly little prayer to you without crying.  And now I just said “hell” in a prayer.  I am not very good at this, dammit.

I loved, loved, loved when you gave us a tour of “your spots” when we drove through Washington, D.C. this summer.  We don’t normally even drive through the city (we go around), so I knew something was up.  And then Sheepdog got turned around in the same exact place that I got turned around when I was driving to my 25th high school reunion just a few weeks earlier.  Once was “whatever,” but twice couldn’t have been just coincidence.  Then I looked back from my seat and saw Kid A happy-crying as she whispered, “Braden is here.”

Thank you for that.  It was amazing.

Dear God,  That's a very important Kid you've got up there.  Please make sure he is adjusting okay... sometimes he like to play tough.  Oh, and thank you for beautiful orange sunsets.

Dear God, That’s a very important Kid you’ve got up there. Please make sure he is adjusting okay… sometimes he likes to play the tough guy.  Maybe you could give him some extra hugs or something.  Oh, and thank you for beautiful orange sunsets.

I worry about Kid A sometimes.  She still marks your symbol on her wrist every single day.  Then she traces “Come What May” in your handwriting over top of it.  She wants to get it tattooed, but I am making her wait until she turns 18 to do that.  Sheepdog offered to take her across state lines to Alabama (mostly because he is also campaigning for a new tattoo… you remember the biohazard one he wanted you to get because of all of the chemo?) but I put my foot down.  Yes, I am still a rule follower.  And yes, I am still putting my foot down about stuff.  Tattoos are FOREVER.  But I guess that you will be with her forever too, so I get it.

Over all, she has been handling everything pretty well.  She has the distractions of her senior year to keep her busy.  We hardly see her at home.  But I worry about her most when the busy stops.  And every once in a while she will say something that gives me pause.

Like when she said, “I am afraid to get close to anybody because the people I love die.”

And honestly, I didn’t know what to say back.  Because – technically – she is right.  You died.  Everybody dies.  Some die later and some die sooner, but we all die.  It is one of those yin/yang facts of life.  Yet, we can’t guard ourselves so closely that we never let anyone in, either.  So, I hugged her and let her cry about you and I reminded her that she can’t let fear dictate her choices in life.  We keep encouraging her to do more counseling and therapy.  And she has been trying hard to do fun things and meet new people this year, so I think she is going to be okay.  But I will continue to keep an eye on her just in case.

And maybe you can keep doing your surprise drop-ins, too.  In between your Arabic lessons, of course.

I miss you, Kid.

xo