We just finished making gingerbread houses and everything is sticky…everything. The table, our hands, the floor…well, we won’t talk about the floor, or how much cleaning we will now suffer through for the five minutes of chaotic activity we just endured! The kids are excited and running around like wild animals, while my mom and I are trying to keep ahead of the mess.
Welcome to craft night with my mom! My mother and her crazy ideas! How did I get suckered into this? I was only showing up for the fun stuff!! I love you Mom (and of course Dad), you (and Dad) gave me the best gift of all as a child, the passion and love of making and creating. You gave all of us kids this gift and we, in kind, passed those precious gifts to your grandchildren. I just wanted to thank you for that. For me, it’s been a saving grace by way of effective therapy, a priceless skill set and memories of moments I will never forget. Years later, and here we are. Pulling out all the stops at Lea’s house to make the holidays special for the littlest ones in our family.
It’s early evening, and I’m sitting in Lea’s living room. I really have to train myself to start saying Wade’s house! I’ll get it one of these days, there’s hope for me yet. I can’t help looking around at the things that remind me that she once lived here. I think the things that hit me the hardest, are the pictures hanging on the wall. In particular, the pictures of Lea on the beach in Mexico with her family, only a few months before she died. The photos, each captured a moment of untamed wild happiness stretched across her beautiful smiling face, equally matched by her boys’. It looks like a normal family having the time of their lives while on vacation. Lea doesn’t even look sick. These pictures are a reminder of the pipe dream turned reality that she thought she’d never have.
Originally, we set out to have Lea and her family, join Clem, myself and our girls on our vacation, but they decided to go somewhere less expensive so they could take a second vacation if things took a turn for the worst. Lea also wanted to save some money to travel to another country for treatment, if necessary. My brother and his family also wanted to go but they didn’t have their passports in order, and time was of the essence, so they didn’t end up going. Needless to say, the second trip didn’t occur and neither did travelling to another country for treatment. That said, Lea and her family did make it to Mexico for an amazing family vacation.
I remember messaging Lea back and forth while we were both on our separate holidays. She’d had a rocky start with kids getting sick, but the rest of the week was nothing short of phenomenal. We told her to stay an extra week, but she was adamant about saving money to have a second holiday. We all wish she would’ve stayed and had the extra time to be normal and give her kids more amazing memories with her. I cling to this captured moment, allowing myself the few seconds of solace it provides. It’s a bit comforting to know that she had the chance to do that before she left us all.
There’s also these different feelings I get when I look at the photos and realize she’s gone. They are haunting and sad in many different ways. You feel sad for not only losing her, but the shit she had to endure. It’s sad because her kids lost their mom, the pain she suffered and even the fear of having no options and having to accept the scary inevitable. I have that unsettled panicky feeling that sometimes hits me at the same time as the sadness. It really throws me when it all collides. Maybe I’m still having the feelings of impending doom or maybe it’s all just sadness? I’m not sure yet.
It’s funny how my feelings have changed. They’re much deeper and certainly more defined. Take the sadness for example. I acknowledge that I experience different types of sadness, but I didn’t pay attention to the fact that each one accompanies such a different feeling. Especially the slightest of differences that I can feel now. It’s difficult to explain, but it’s certainly a new experience for me and one that I am attempting to understand.
Many of my feelings are confusing and can be difficult to deal with. When I talk about what has happened in my life, I don’t always have sad feelings. I’m almost numb. Sometimes, it’s just blatant anger. I really don’t enjoy the numb feeling though. It makes me feel completely disconnected, and that’s not the way I want to be. I want to be present in my life and sometimes I have to fight really hard, just for that. Maybe, it’s just that my own brain is removing me emotionally from situations and it’s just protecting me from more trauma, I just don’t know. It’s completely foreign to me. I’m working on my own understanding and I often wonder if it will all eventually fade and I will be myself again. Maybe I will understand it one day. Only time will tell.
The dry erase board that still has her writing scrawled all over it, is filled with the dates and reasons for appointments that have already passed, is definitely a trigger for me. The large urn that holds her ashes, placed high in the main living area is also one. All that said, we chose a beautiful urn, one that, if she saw it in a store as a piece of home decor, she would’ve bought it to display in her home. It symbolizes not only her amazing personality, but the beauty and uniqueness of her soul. It’s a beautiful reminder of her, but also a sad and horrifying reminder of her story.
Many of the things in her home have changed, but the feelings of her presence still linger. I feel like she’s still sitting on the couch in front of me, covered in heating pads while dealing with pain and being annoyed by the pain meds screwing with her head and not screwing with the pain and nausea itself. Her spot remains, in the same place, a reminder of the space she occupied in this world months before she died. Anyone who walked into this room and had nowhere to sit, was offered this spot immediately. Even in sickness, she always put others before her. I still don’t sit there when I come in. I have been here maybe four or five times since she’s been gone, and I can’t seem to sit there comfortably or without watching and waiting for her to walk down the stairs, in anticipation of moving, so she can sit.
It’s difficult to walk in here and not feel. This particular evening feels bittersweet because she should be here, celebrating with all of us and complaining about the mess. I miss her shit talking about whose gingerbread house is better or the lewd comments about decorating ha ha! That’s a huge part of what defines us as family. We’re a little different. We always trash talk each other and laugh, and many of the things we tease about, are repeatedly brought up over and over until a new joke emerges during another family gathering. It’s truly the little things! I just have to accept that things are different now.
Right now, her kids are having a happy moment. I’m struggling to try and allow myself to indulge in this moment as well, but I still have that emptiness and sadness. She should be here. It feels wrong that she’s not. As much as we try, we are not ‘mom’. I know that I am going to do all I can to make the holidays special for her boys, but I know that I will never replace Lea and all she did for them. It won’t be easy, and I’ll do this gladly. I just hope that I can keep myself together in front of them.
We need to move forward and create new and happy memories without her physically present. It doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten her and that we are leaving her behind. We’re always going to reminisce and remember the time we had with her and incorporate those moments with the new. She will be the driving force that leads us to making these fond new memories because as we move forward in time, just like Lea, we are all destined to become nothing more than memories…hopefully good ones.