Willa was in treatment for cancer eight months before she died. We knew she was going to die. We knew before we began treatment. We fought it: in our hearts, in our thoughts, in the choices we made for her care.
We fought the truth that she would die in everything we did over those eight months. I bought her clothes. I made plans for a family vacation to Massachusetts with all her grandparents. I found books I knew she would love when she was a little older. They did not stop the clock however. I have shoes in her drawer she never grew into. We never made it to Massachusetts. The books have pristine bindings and collect dust on the shelf. She still died, or I should say, regardless.
Before the morning of July 9th I was haunted by what that day would be like. I thought about the possibilities, the scenarios, the furniture in the room, who would be home. How would she die? What would I do? Would I crumble? Would I scream? Would I just go dead? I wondered all the time about that day, what it would bring, how we would survive it. It consumed all my dark hours at night. I was haunted by my fear, my panic.
And then that day came.
It was a beautiful day, sunny, summer. The kind of day people wake up and are thrilled about for all that it promises. It was a Friday. And our daughter died right in front of us.
I remember thinking, “so this is it, it’s finally the day. “ But this means nothing. You don’t even know what’s happening. And you won’t for a long time. Sometime after the funeral, maybe a week or so after, that’s when you start to catch up. It’s the worst time. Because the pain is a kind of cushion. You go into a coma of grief that muffles what you really feel. You are barely even functioning. But there comes that time, about a week after the funeral, when your body starts to want to catch up. When the truth of what happened starts to come into focus. Then you’re really in trouble.
We were in Maine when that happened. When I am in times of worst pain I go to the sea. I grew up on the water and must have learned it there. When I am most in need of care I have to be where I can see the ocean, sit next to it, hear it, smell the salt and perhaps be reassured by its incredible, permanent power. This force that is so much larger than me.
This time the sea was no match for my grief. But I am glad we went. I was glad that when I was first feeling the truth of Willa’s death I was not home. I was in a place where I could just let it wash over me. Let everything wash over me, in wave after punishing wave. For me it had to be this way.
You realize that on the day she died there were still molecules in the air that had been in her body. That we were in a room filled with air that we were sharing. That her breath still hung about us, holding us. Its last embrace. Things still smelled of her. Her voice was still in the rooms. Echoes of her life immediate.
These molecules are all gone now. We have only ghosts of all these things. The loss is stupefying. All the preparation, the hope, the blind desperate hope of parents who do not want their children to die, the clothes that were never grown into, the books unopened, all the things that lay for us in a future we knew we would not have eat at me like cancer.
I live in Pennsylvania. There is no ocean here. I want to go to the sea again. I want to look at the water and talk to Willa. I want to feel the spray from the waves on my face and imagine that they are a kiss from my girl, salty yet sweet and powerful. So very very powerful.