The Courage Cloak
Happy Birthday! Today you would have been 68. Wow. That is still so young. I can’t believe it has been eight years since you left us. I can’t believe you died at 59 – that‘s only eight years older than my husband is now. You were so flipping young.
I keep wishing the hurt and the pain will somehow diminish, but over the years, I find my heart yearns for you even more. Especially on your birthday. Which, of course, happens right after Thanksgiving and just before Christmas. So, not to blame you or anything, but God, the holiday season is just not the same anymore.
Today, I’m just writing to let you know how much I miss you. People tell me if I write about “it,” it’ll get better. I mean, after eight years, I’m really willing to try just about anything to help with the pain. Somehow it just hurts so much I don’t really want to participate in this whole thing called a holiday season.
Take Christmas cards. After you died, I stopped sending them. I sent a few out last year to test the waters, but it still just didn’t feel right. It was as if I was just going through the motions, and this isn’t how I want to be. I don’t want to send out Christmas cards with a “fake” sentiment.
Before long, I find that my sadness and grief turns to anger and frustration. Of course, the fact that you simply died far too young is something that spurs plenty of anger. But really, my anger and frustration is aimed at myself. I am so tired of feeling sad and lonely. I am tired of missing you and Dad. Why did you both have to die so young, and so suddenly?
I still need you. A lot. Like right now. RIGHT NOW. The tears are streaming down my face as I write this, wishing somehow my fingers could bring you both back to life. Even just for a brief moment. Just one more Thanksgiving. Just one more birthday. One more Christmas. Just one more minute. But it’s too late, and you are both gone. The moment has passed.
Now I am sad AND angry. Angry that I can’t just get my shit together and stop grieving for you. And for Dad. Oh, and for having my leg cut off – I think that must also be part of my grief. I’m angry that in my head I know how lucky I am to still be here. To have one more Christmas. Yet my heart hurts so much. It’s like my brain knows what to do but my heart won’t follow. It makes me so frustrated that I can’t just BE HAPPY.
How did you do it Mom? How did you always smile in the face of the biggest challenges? I wish there was a direct line to Heaven so I could phone in a lifeline to get the help I need.
But then I remember our bond. We don’t need language to communicate. Our bond is far deeper than that. Whether you intended to or not, you embedded infinite messages in the memories we created together.
Some days, like today, I need the pep talk you used to give me. You were the BEST cheerleader and supporter ANYONE could ever wish for. You always let me raise up my pity-party umbrella, but after a short while of feeling sorry for myself, you found a way to turn it around. Somehow you would convince me that no matter what, we dust off our knees, put a smile on our face, and just KEEP GOING. No matter what.
You showed me the bravest face of courage even in your darkest hours. Do you remember when you were at home, in hospice, and nearing the end from your pancreatic cancer? To date, those three weeks we spent with you at home generated some of my most incredible memories.
I remember you as a brave warrior. You were really getting tired and we could all see that your body was giving out on us. We could feel that the end was near, but none of us could utter a word about it. We all wondered when “it” would happen, but we didn’t want to talk about it. But you, you weren’t afraid.
It was a Thursday – September 12 to be precise. You were really struggling with breathing due to your pulmonary embolisms. The hospice nurse came in to check on you, and, with a smile on your face, you looked her straight in the eyes and said, “I know I am not a can of tuna with an expiration date, but I feel like something is happening.” We all busted out laughing.
Then we realized what you were asking. What you really meant was, “What day am I going to die?”
At first no one knew what to say – we all knew you were worried you were going to die before your sisters arrived the following day. The hospice nurse assured us you were close, but not that close. But close. Like 48 hours close.
When she delivered the blow, I really couldn’t imagine what that must have felt like – being told you were literally about to die. How do you manage that? What do you say?
I remember Sean taking the hospice nurse out of your bedroom and then you and I just sat there. You started sobbing, but the damn embolisms made it so hard to breathe that crying was impossible. So you just looked out your window for a minute, and you gathered yourself. Then you turned to me and put on the bravest display of courage I have ever witnessed. You held my hand and wiped MY tears away. You smiled that beautiful, radiant smile and said “It’s okay, Buggy. It’s really okay.”
My head was reeling – how could you say this? You were going to die in, like, a DAY! How was this okay!? You could sense my confusion, so to clarify, you grabbed my other hand and looked me straight in the face. “Buggy, really, it’s okay. C’mon, I never really wanted to be fucking 60 anyway!” Immediately, we laughed at the absurdity.
And BOOM. There my memories are again, doing their job. I have been crying – sobbing at times – writing to you today. And I then I share this memory with you here, which brings it back to life. I can literally feel your strength filling my soul with courage. My tears are turning from acrid, bitter, cold stones to a blanket that covers me with warmth, love and bravery. I call it my Courage Cloak.
You aren’t even here, but you are still working your magic. Helping me to be just as brave as you. I’m reminded that I don’t need a line to Heaven. Even though I would prefer to have you here with me in person, you are literally within me and all around me. And when I need you, I put on my Courage Cloak. Some days that means lighting a candle; others it’s sharing a story. Sometimes I write you a letter. And, on occasion, it means smiling and finding the gratitude in the simplicity of breathing pain-free.
So today, Mom, I light one of your candles from your Christmas collection to remind me of your light and courage. Even in the darkest hours of finding out the expiration date on your can of tuna, you still could find a way to ease the pain of others.
You are truly my hero. You and Dad are the bravest people I have ever met. I am so grateful for the time you both shared with me and for the memories we made. I think you knew all along that the only way to live on forever is through our memories.
I honor your memory today, Mom, by being grateful for being 43, being present in my grief and then finding my own solace in the courage and comfort of your memories. While there are moments during the holidays that are full of grief and sorrow, there are also moments that are filled with life and love. It’s up to me to ensure that I don’t miss the beauty because my pity-party umbrella is shading out the light. I simply have to remember to don my Courage Cloak – whatever any day may bring. I sure don’t want to miss out on creating more beautiful memories.
Thank you Mom, thank you. You were truly an angel walking among us. Happy Birthday, Boots.
I love you so much,
Photo at top: The last time my nuclear family was together, in 2007. Pictured from left, Boots (Mom), my brother Sean, sister-in-law Karen, niece Ava, soulmate Jim, Charlie (Dad) and me, Buggy.