When the sun rose this morning, my eyes popped open, and instantly I was anxious, my belly full of panic. I took a deep breath and acknowledged the day: August 20th. The day everything changed. Seven years ago, this was the worst day of my life thus far.
As I lay there, my daughter sleeping next to me, I curled into myself, tried to control the anxiety, tried to find what I was to do with this date. My mind would flit toward the trauma, edging now and then toward the phone call or the ambulance ride, and then back to the now, back to the biting anxiety in my gut. Too long I have worked on not reliving that day. I do not need to sink back into the feeling of standing in the thick August heat outside of that Santa Rosa ER, chilled and shivering uncontrollably from the shock. I don’t need to place myself in the moment of sinking to the cold hospital floor as the enormity of the ambulance ride and the paper signing and the oncology wing pulled me down. Those moments of terror were awful the first time. They are awful each time I plunge into them, and while in the early years I thought that I had to relive them to remember him, the wisdom of time with my grief tells me otherwise.
Still, without all the reliving and the retelling, what is a diagnosis day? What am I to do with one of the worst, most dread-filled days of my life?
My daughter woke as I stared at her, pondering all of this. She was hungry, wanted waffles. Her brother wanted waffles in the hospital. I told her so. We made them while I cried silently, her expert whisking of the batter in the blue bowl, her favorite and his, swinging me between then and now.
Yes. This is what we do now. We make waffles. We tell stories.
But still the date sat, unsettled, and as I made my way through it, trying so hard to be normal–to plan my classes and have lunch with my mom and even drive down the road, I was pulled so heavily to my grief, and my grasping for normal felt fruitless. I came home and slept, awakening again to the aching, sinking tugging of grief.
Some years’ anniversaries have not been this forceful, but this year, I found it was not just my grief for Caemon that weighted me down. Rather, it was the grief for me, for that mom I was then who had to endure such agony and still had so much more to go. It was grief for me now, for the innumerable struggles that began with that day and continue now. That day formed a snowball that became such a devastating avalanche, one that mowed down my self image, my marriage, my sense of security, and, yes, of course, my little boy.
I ended the day with a big cry as I made my daughter’s lunch for tomorrow. I wept as I packed some of their shared favorites–the pumpernickel pretzels, the yogurt, the watermelon. And then I sat, sunk all the way down to the floor like I did seven years ago. I sobbed as I grieved for my daughter, that she will never know the mother I was to him because today, seven years ago, I was wholly and irrevocably changed. I let tears pour down for my precious boy and all this day forced him to endure and forced me and his mama to endure and all we will always endure because of cancer. I cried until I couldn’t anymore.
I still do not know what to do with today, but in three minutes it is over. As I did seven years ago, I survived, and sometimes that is all one can do.