Here is what cancer teaches parents with youngsters: That our children are not actually our children, and that we were never meant to fill all the holes meant for grace, hope, love, service, prayer, hiking, and chocolate.
Whose are they then? Because entrusting them to a God who allows/causes/whatevers cancer, war, rape, etc. feels like leaving them alone with a babysitter who may or may not identify as a psychopath.
If God is in the fritos and the barf, in the grapefruit, the gauze, the lanyards, and the redwoods, does that mean God hovers over and oozes out of the death of a young parent? My friend Chrissy will tell you yes, God is there too. Her daddy died of ALS when she was seven, leaving a wife and six children behind.
That’s bullshit if you ask me. Maybe?
Once, I dreamt of God, a Lion, circling the canvas tent my family and I huddled in like meerkats keeping out the cold. All the jungle noises frightened us, but none more than that scary-ass roar.
He’s coming for us. We’re done. Aslan isn’t a Good Lion after all—Aslan is actually Scar.
The roaring, strangely, never crept closer. After hours of listening to the growly intimidations I peeked out. The lion wasn’t stalking my family, my dying sister, or me. She was protecting, keeping all the hyenas and all the jungle away.
That’s a God I can understand: A fierce protector of the holy clay called Good. I’m okay with scary, because I know I can do hard things.
Hard becomes Good after Love roars away all the fear & death. When we peek out through the worn canvas structures we built and see the safety and freedom and life we’ve co-created, that’s when we start to say Thank You instead of How Dare You?
Then we dance. The jungle howling never stops, but neither does the dancing. I can get behind a God who dances.
By eighteen months, Lucy developed an affinity for albacore tuna with mayo and minced celery, a combo my famous by my Grandma Jo. Tuna wrapped in a flour tortilla with melted cheddar cheese, shredded carrots, julienned bell peppers, and tomato cubes. Yum.
Don’t forget this Claire. In fact, write this down. Because when you die, David’s new wife will need to know Lucy’s favorite lunch.
So that’s what I did, keeping a journal filled with all her quirks served as a cheat sheet for any caregiver who might inherit my firstborn after my death.
8.31.11 “You love sucking on wet rags in the hot weather. It’s weird and little gross.”
1.17.12 “You are a lounger, Sweetie. Legs always up and spread eagle. I get it.”
10.21.12 “You hate cuckoo clocks, a lot.”
12.9.12 “You love dancing to Sesame Street music.”
Maybe I loved her so much that I wanted to remember everything, all her inner workings. Or maybe my fear wanted to spare her from the pain of being unheard & unknown, two subjects in which I majored. There’s a photo of us, I’m masked and she is new and we are waiting for an infusion in a waiting room. There was so much I wanted to say, but the mask kept me quiet. No words could unscramble the sloppy mess that cancer causes in a young parent’s heart.
When I die, who will Love my child?
She is only three-months-old and can’t communicate that raspberries give her diarrhea, I knew I should’ve taught her sign language. Looking at trees calms her down, I’ll write that in red. DO NOT OPEN THE DOOR ON THAT TREE IN THAT IPAD GAME, she will cry the saddest baby tears when that creepy bunny pops out. All these moving parts, these pieces wrapped up inside her being, they need naming so she stays healthy and smiling.
Claire, your kids love dance parties. Look! The Lion DJ is safe, and starting to set-up the turntables!
Her journal became an easily-digestible program that anyone could download. And it’s hard to acknowledge now, but that’s what I needed her to be, easy and digestible, because I was so flimsy. I was convinced that any other woman could serve and love her better than my bald, sorry ass. Please, take my girl, this journal I strapped around her neck will help. Here’s my husband, too.
I stopped writing in the journals when I realized that no amount of ink would bring me back. Remembering Chrissy and all the other stories I’d heard about the horrible blessing of losing a parent helped me settle into a fragile peace. One I still access and try to maintain today.
Making sense of the Goodhardgoodness is above my pay grade, Anne Lamott reminds me.
Instead of continuing to scratch the soil out of own grave with my fountain pen, I decided to try living for a change. Because now I wasn’t dying; I was one year, two years, three years into remission– Alive! (mostly…)
And ready to trust that the Babysitter could make a roll-up, too, maybe even tastier than mine.
Probably not though.