As I mentioned previously, this is a continuation of my sister’s story.
I watched from one of the back rows on the opposite side of the room from her. I couldn’t see her but I knew and felt her emotions in this moment. As she would always say, she’d sometimes fall into some feelings.
Well this, this was a whole barrel of them. Raw, unfiltered and amplified by the past few month’s ordeals. It was bittersweet sadness mixed with an unfathomable reality and disbelief. Deny all we wanted, there was no telling what was ahead nor how long before we’d encounter it.
She made it
Lea’s little guy, Finn, was so excited to know and see his mom at his graduation ceremony. You really don’t need to do much to excite a child when you’re a mom (admittedly, I’ve always been a little over the top and my kids aren’t too keen on it now, ha!), you merely just have to be there…until they hit the teenage years…well, for me anyway. Lea was beyond dedicated and doted on her 2 kids with fierce abandon, often to the point of ridicule from us…in good fun.
The years that she had with them, secured a permanent place in their hearts forever. Despite being so young when they lost her, she will never be forgotten. We also won’t let her be forgotten either.
I couldn’t look in her direction, nor at her. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to keep it together if my suspicions were confirmed. I knew that I’d be a hell of a mess, so I didn’t even consider looking that way.
A moment to remember
As each class walked out on to the stage and did their performance in their cute little graduation gowns, some wearing their hats and others toying with them nervously, we waited anxiously for the moment to arrive. I think Finn’s class was last, and I watched as he took the stage with his class, eagerly searching the crowd. As soon as he caught sight of her, his face lit up and his quiet, tense demeanor dissipated.
As the music began and the teacher orchestrated the kids through their short routine, Finn followed. I could tell that all he wanted to do was to get off of the stage and be free of his show pony status. My family isn’t too enthusiastic about being center stage and entertaining, except for my brother, who fronted a band a number of years ago. You can’t tell when you first meet him because he’s a bit quiet, but once you get to know him…
Once the class finished doing their thing, the teacher called each of her students up and presented them with their diplomas. I’d brought my camera and was snapping furiously, every chance I got. I think I took 100 plus photos and all the video I could for Lea, in case she didn’t remember this moment and wanted to reflect.
Every picture tells a story
Once Finn had his diploma and the ceremony wound down, I ran over to Lea, Wade and Finn and snapped a photo of the 3 of them together. It wasn’t the best photo, due to poor lighting conditions and the fact that Finn couldn’t stay still for one second, but at least I had it. Lea was too weak to stand, and the emotional toll from all of the tears shed during the ceremony, exhausted her.
Lea wasn’t comfortable sticking around for long, and I think she was trying to avoid certain people. I can’t say I blamed her, but there’s one particular person who I haven’t mentioned in this story yet, who was sort of left on the sidelines unknowingly. She was the one Lea was trying to avoid. Her name is Riley, and her son Jackson, is Finn’s best friend.
After Lea was diagnosed, Clem and I did everything we could to help get she and Wade settled with the boys in our community. Lea always had people coming and going for coffee back home and I felt that she would do much the same, once she settled here. You only need to take your child to a park here to make friends with other parents. It’s easy and I will continue to say that many of the people who’ve touched our life who live in this community, are nothing short of phenomenal.
She needed a friend, and the universe delivered…big time
I didn’t know that Lea had zero plans of engaging and meeting other people after she relocated. She never did say why, so I am left to assume, but I feel like the reason she didn’t want to reach out was because of the stigma of being ill, especially with lung cancer. I think she possibly felt that she wasn’t going to be around long, so why involve another human being in her suffering. I knew Lea very well, and I think these were some of her thoughts.
If you knew Lea, she was the type of person who attracted people of all ages and from all walks of life. She never passed judgement, and always offered an ear and support to anyone that needed it. Needless to say, she was loved by many and always had people dropping in or calling her and enjoying her company. She was a people person.
Once Clem managed to get Finn enrolled in pre-school at our school, Lea didn’t stay in hiding for very long. It was only a matter of time before Finn attached himself to his new bestie, and Riley came right along with him, like a packaged deal. I think Lea and Riley’s friendship was meant to be and the boys were the catalyst that began this chapter.
A human who will always have my gratitude
I’d offered to have playdates at my house for Finn if Lea wasn’t comfortable, but of course she slapped my ass back down and told me to shut up. She was feisty! Ha!
Anyway, I’m not certain as to how it all went down, but before I knew it, Lea and Riley were texting and talking after school while waiting for the boys to be dismissed. The two had much in common, including their crass sense of humor and laid back view of life. As Riley began to fill the void that my sister had, I didn’t hear from her as much and was happy to see and hear that she’d found a new friend who was at the same place in her life with her kids.
It was difficult because my 2 kids are older and we were on a different tangent, so having someone who was going through the same things as Lea with their kids, was a welcomed occurrence. I didn’t know Riley, but I’d heard a few things about her and often laughed at how she and Lea were so nonchalant about the boys’ class and all it entailed. It wasn’t until Lea had tanked to the point that I was taking Finn to school each day that I’d finally had the chance to meet her.
I remember the playground at the school being wet from the rain that day and hoping that Finn would attempt to stay dry. While waiting for the teacher to arrive to collect the kids, Finn ditched his backpack and took off for the equipment as soon as he saw Jackson. As I stood there watching, I spied Riley (I didn’t know who she was at the time) standing just a few feet away, looking at me and trying to figure out who the hell I was.
I offered a friendly smile and said hello, then went back to making sure my nephew didn’t get soaked or muddy before class. It wasn’t long before I heard and saw the school doors open and I called to Finn to come down to get his backpack and head to his class. He ran up, grabbed his stuff and took off in a flash, with me standing there, as I did, calling out that I’d pick him up after school and to have a good day.
As I turned and started walking to my car, I could feel Riley’s uneasy gaze as she went back to her vehicle with her younger daughter. After I saw Jackson run from Finn to get his backpack from his mom, with the two boys joining up to walk into school, I knew with certainty that that was Riley. It was in this moment, I knew that Riley had no idea what was happening with Lea or knew very little.
Being brave for my nephew’s sake
I wasn’t going to pursue her, but thought that maybe I should catch up with her after school to see if Jackson and Finn wanted to get together one day. It was around this time that Lea had had the PleurX catheter placed and she had gone downhill to the point that I was running between the 2 households daily. I felt that Finn needed to have some normalcy and was willing to have the boys over at my house, away from the cancer stuff, just to have some normal interaction.
That afternoon, I left a little bit earlier to pick up Finn and my girls from school, in the hopes of maybe revealing my identity to Riley. Again, I’m no extrovert, and meeting new people or having to be in situations involving people are not my forte and often invoke crippling anxiety and self-consciousness. I decided that I was going to be brave because this was for my nephew’s sake and the whole reason for putting him into school a bit early.
Lea and Wade decided, after we all had a few serious conversations, that getting the boys out and away for a period of time, should things go bad, would be beneficial to their well-being. As it was, Ash, Lea and Wade’s youngest, was always at home and never away from his mom, even when the shit hit the fan. I knew he was young and probably wouldn’t remember much of the goings on, but to have a reprieve for at least Finn as he got older, might protect him from being immersed in such a negative and depressing environment.
Introductions initiated by introverts…enough said
We wanted the boys to have friends, especially if things got bad and to have a routine instead being stuck at home where time seemed to stop sometimes. We felt that this would also potentially help navigate the future waters. As it was, our decision to enroll the boys the earliest we could, was not only beneficial to them, but Lea as well.
As I left my car, I gathered my wits. I was beyond nervous about walking up to someone I didn’t know and introducing myself like some weirdo. I remember thinking erhmagerd this is gonna be awkward…
I saw Riley immediately and attempted to casually walk over like I had no intention. Yup, I’m that awkward. When I got over to her, I decided to try and stand close, but not too close…but close enough to try and strike up a casual and unforced conversation. I can only imagine what I looked like.
Awkward introductions…by an introvert
As I stood there unbearably uncomfortable, waiting for the kids to be dismissed and wondering when to strike, I suddenly turned toward her and asked if she was Riley. It’s all about timing, isn’t it? I swear I’m not totally weird, but I was determined. Ugh, I know, I need work.
Anyway, she looked at me a little bewildered and said that she was indeed Riley and I introduced myself as Lea’s sister. Phew. I was glad when that was over.
I can’t remember the exact conversation, but it did eventually lead to us talking about Lea and why she hadn’t been around as much. I couldn’t tell if Riley knew much or anything at all because she has an exceptional poker face, but I let her know that if Jackson wanted to play with Finn, I’d be happy to host them because I desperately wanted a friend and normalcy for Finn.
I despise playing the role of the informant
Riley was in agreement and I saw that she was attempting to digest what I’d told her about her new best friend. It was heartbreaking to see but I instantly knew that Lea had someone amazing in her life. I wasn’t wrong about that, as you’ll see later on. As I’ve said before, people like Riley are the ones that restore my faith in humanity.
As time rolled on prior to the pre-school graduation ceremony, Clem and I spoke to Riley often, giving updates when we could. I don’t know if she called or text Lea while she was in the hospital on her deathbed, but I feel certain that she did. She never ran away or turned her back on any of us during the toughest times and was there right to the bitter end.
I can’t imagine what it must’ve been like to be in my sister’s shoes. She never wanted to hurt anyone, and just being in that state caused those around her, who cared about her, excruciating pain and suffering. I hope she knew that it wasn’t her fault because she didn’t inflict that upon any one of us, that pain was inflicted by this shitty disease itself, not her.
I’m certain that Riley had stuck around after the ceremony to see Lea, but Lea wasn’t ready to face her. As we quickly made our exit through the lobby, I glanced up at one point and saw Riley. When she saw Lea, her face fell and the sadness filled her eyes like an overflowing teacup.
She appeared to want to look away but couldn’t and the conflicted look on her face, told me exactly what I’d figured, they’d shared a special bond. It made me want to breakdown and go hug her…not very introverted of me, but that was my first instinct. Riley was devastated and I knew then that Lea had been mainly trying to avoid her.
Despite any sort of description of what Lea had gone through and what had happened, nothing truly prepared or could prepare Riley for what she saw. I understand that shock because my sister would drastically change in 24 hours when she was dying. I can only imagine how Riley felt after not seeing her for a couple of weeks.
Heading into a future full of uncertainty
Upon our exit, Clem and I loaded up our girls and went home, with my parents and Wade doing the same with Lea and the 2 boys. Lea was luckily on the road to a recovery of some sort but was completely wiped out and needed to rest. What sort of recovery?
That was completely unknown and we knew the road could potentially be long. I wondered if it would be too long of a recovery to enjoy any more quality time, or if that ship had sailed. She was so young and had so many things to experience, but time was definitely running out.
We all knew that this was a kick in the pants and a wake up call, to remind us how precious time and life really are. In life, there are no future tellers, and the cards Lea strategically saved and held, were being played whether she wanted them to be or not. It just goes to show that we don’t have the control we think we have over how our lives will play out. We can only control our thoughts and feelings about the time and life we have left and how we choose to spend that time.