You’re gone and I almost can’t remember what it felt like to have you here. I miss you often, although less the further I get from seventeen and the more my life becomes totally unrecognizable from the time we were last together.
I am sorry to say that I miss you most when I am sick or scared because that seems selfishly about me. But when I am lying in a hospital bed in the dark I imagine you crawling in bed beside me and brushing the hair from my forehead. I imagine hiding my face in your chest and closing my eyes. I imagine feeling safe and not having to be the one who makes unwinnable decisions. I see you in me as I lie in bed with my own, sweet littles when they are sick or scared, when I brush the hair away from their foreheads and snuggle them in close. Someone once loved me with the same fierceness that I love these three, and knowing that makes all the ways in which I am not loved less sharp.
Other times, I imagine you all around me. When I am having frank discussions with the kids about growing up I see my own uncomfortable face as you talked with me, but I also see how those conversations have served me well. When the house is full of laughter I think how happy I am that they are having happy childhoods like I did because the humor will serve them as well as the talks.
I daydream sometimes about you showing up at my door suddenly. How would I introduce you to everything: my marriage, your grandchildren, smartphones? Ugh, smartphones. You wouldn’t believe how things have changed.
Today, on the anniversary of your death, I remember what it felt like to lose you. I remember the fear that you would go and how hard it was to dare take a breath because each moment seemed closer to the end. I worry that I will do that to my children. I have set them up to love me so and I will leave them someday, probably before they are ready. With guilt, I remember that there was some relief that mixed with the pain, and I imagine that they will feel that too.
I have tried to piece together the very best of who you were –and you were wonderful– into the puzzle of who I am. There are kind, compassionate pieces, funny and irreverent ones along with my own good and bad pieces. There are the huge pieces of unconditional love which I felt growing up, but didn’t really understand until I was a mama myself.
I don’t believe in Heaven or reincarnation, but I like the idea that each generation moves toward something better. You worked to give me what you didn’t have. We talked endlessly with no subject off limits and I have passed that on. Maybe in the way that I no longer have to worry about Polio, future generations of “us” won’t have to worry about being caught off guard by growing up the way you did because no one talked about such things. Maybe my descendants won’t need the approval of their spouse or others quite as painfully as I do. Maybe someday the puzzle will come together perfectly, the good pieces from previous generations carried along, the bad ones discarded. Maybe within the borders of that frame will be you holding me close, my boundless optimism, your mother’s strength, my childrens’ humor. Maybe.
I have worked hard to live a good life. I have tried to be kind, to be happy, to enjoy the time as I have it because I knew that you didn’t have as long as you would have liked. In the end, I might not get much more than your forty-three years, or maybe I’ll live to one hundred. Either way, I know it was a good life. I enjoyed almost all of it and I deeply loved the people I shared it with.
I hope you felt that way too.