Sometimes the empty is so consuming, sometimes the reality that she is gone slaps me. Sometimes my ache for her is more subtle.. and another persons wound more crucial to attend to.
This weekend was a bit of both. We went camping… without her… well without all of her. I had the keepsake of her remains with me. We stayed at the same place with the same people we went with last year. Because it was supposed to be a yearly tradtion.. it mattered a lot to Jennifer then and now to Tony. We really believed we would get one more trip in..
I was 8 months pregnant then, we almost didn’t go because of that, figured we could go this year. I am so thankful we went since so much changed in such a short amount of time. As we were checking in we got a flier for a nighttime showing of the movie Frozen.. I was taken aback by it.. and wasn’t planning on showing the kids. But Jonathan spotted it from the back of our mini-van.
I said aloud ok Jennifer girl, I get it. You are ok with us being here.
I remember watching Frozen in the theaters with her a few times when she was in treatment at Stanford. What precious memories.. I learned so much just sitting in the chair next to her. She wanted to go see it everyday .. I said no. Wish I hadn’t.. that coulda been a “no into yes” for her.. but she wasn’t lucky enough to have a mom that realized how simple that could have been.
I remember watching previews for upcoming movies.. counting out the months til they would be released.. Thinking some we could all go see together… and my stomach lurching for the ones I thought she might miss.. As it turned out that was the last movie I saw in the theater with her .
And I remember watching it with her while she was on hospice. Early on in those final weeks. How happy she was when the first song came on and she knew what movie we were going to watch. I haven’t watched it since. . I want to..
When we pulled up I got out and walked into the yurt we were staying in and just sobbed. I suddenly felt like the room was spinning around me. .. and I sobbed into my own hands. I took out the cold metal heart filled with her.. and held it tightly and talked to her. 5 beds in that room. 5 beds we were so excited to have filled this year. This year though one was empty.
Jonathan had picked out her sleeping bag and camping chair for himself. We had buried her the day before and I think the realization of what has really happened is hitting for him.. the numb is starting to wear off. I think he is starting to need to insert her in his own way into our experiences. When he opened up the camping chair he found something of hers. The rush of joy he had when he came running up, it just helped me pick myself up and remember this isn’t all about me.
But I remembered her.. so much this trip. Watching my boys it was like a shadow of our past was always playing for me in the background. Seeing them eat their s’mores and drink hot cocoa.. How happy she was to get to eat s’mores and drink the same gluten free hot cocoa as everybody else. So much so that even when a raccoon pooped in it she still wrestled with me to try to drink it! I enjoyed hearing that story retold this year. Having her brought into the present again from somebody other than me.
The first night Jonathan struggled.. it was so obvious how much he was missing his sister.. his best friend on this trip. So when he acted up I scooped him aside and to a private spot. He looked me square in the eyes and told me I made him remember, that I made him remember Jennifer had been here with us and told me not to do it again. And he cried. Real grown up tears in my shoulder. His arms still to small to really reach around anything other than my neck he struggled to hold onto me.. I don’t think I will ever forget the way his little hands felt clawing into me in that moment. And I wondered if he saw the same shadow of our past that I did .. At that point nobody including me had talked about being there with Jennifer. .. And he hadn’t seen my crying.
How twisted grief must be in a 5yr old mind.
We went with some of our best friends.. which also includes one of Jennifer’s best friends. A little girl. Jonathan clung to her. So desperate for her.. for her attention.. her approval .. but mostly just her touch.
He was trying so desperately to find his sister in another little girls hands..
But it doesn’t work that way. And sometimes she wanted space.
Her mom and I both struggled watching his heart leaping out.. yearning.. looking for the girl that will never ever return in the girl that was right there in front of him.
I think it was a relief for him to have 2 days where he wasn’t the oldest. Somebody he could copy. He wouldn’t put on a jacket of she was wearing a sweatshirt.. the first words out of his mouth both mornings was.. is she up?
It was amazing for me to be with the old Jonathan and Nicholas. Part of me died with her.. and part of them did too. But being around a gentle girl for a full weekend brought it back to life.. Tony and I are both grieving the loss of our sons tonight. To witness who they really are again.. who we all once were.. only to lose it again.
It hurts. Its worth it. But it hurts.
I watched Charlotte often this weekend with a lump in my throat. How much her big
sister would have enjoyed getting to see her out of my tummy running and playing this year. Before we left I took a final moment in the yurt. To tell her thank you.. for all the memories I share with her.. both the ones she lived through and the ones she shared with me this weekend.
We went on a hike and played tag. I was truly so appreciative of being able to raise my 3 surviving children. A constant trip of no’s into yeses and knowing little from this weekend other than great memories will matter in a month.
During the hike Jonathan had a few tough moments.. and us girls hung back with him and we tried our best to help. Me with my words, touch and understanding and his big sissy.. with her unmistakable signs.
I think it helped him. Because the 2nd night we snuggled for a long time in his bunk.. the one that she slept in last year. He wanted to be sure he had that one. And we talked .. I asked questions and we talked. In a way I hoped to one day with him.. A real and open conversation, the kind a mom hopes to have with her sons.. Not now though.. not with my newly 5 yr old. A talk that he questioned circumstances and people in our lives. Where he shared what was hurting him and helped teach me what he needs from me . I mostly listened and asked questions. And answered the ones I could. .. Like exactly how she positioned her body in the same sleeping bag.
And we laid silently together.
My new eldest and I …
sharing the same unspoken thought
…until there is a cure..