On April 15, 2017, we celebrated Matt’s grandfather’s 104th birthday. Yesterday, we celebrated his grandfather’s 105th birthday. In the same room. With (nearly) the same small group of people. But this time, the man of the hour sat by the wall, not in front of the window. This time, there was strawberry shortcake instead of an ice cream cake. And this time, we didn’t try to take a picture of four generations.
I know that in going through the year I’ll come across days that are wildly difficult to revisit. I suspect there will be many days that are just plain boring. I hope I’ll find a few days that are a little fun. But I didn’t consider that there’d be days when I’d be in the same place on the same(ish) date. That it would feel as if I was stepping back into 2017, proving that theory about time being nothing but an illusion.
I could almost see us, Matt and me, in that room a year ago, mingling and eating and wrangling H to stop being a punk and just take a picture already. I could see us pretending we weren’t terrified by the subtle changes that grew less subtle everyday. Duke wasn’t concerned, so neither were we. Or at least that’s how we operated. Because we’d had a tough morning. I don’t even remember why, probably Matt was frustrated (struggling to read, write, and speak could do that to a person) and I was anxious (watching your husband struggle to read, write, and speak could do that to a person) and the stars aligned so that the combination clashed. I remember we were late and both crackling with tension, even as we mingled and ate and wrangled, and pretended that we weren’t on a train with no brakes, hurtling full speed toward…something.
The kids ask me often how it could be that their great-grandfather is 105 but their daddy, who was younger, isn’t alive anymore. Obviously, I don’t know, and while I stumble over some words that I hope will at least not make them feel any worse than they do, they ask another question along the theme of dying too young: but a kid can’t get cancer, right? They’ve asked me now a few times. With every breath in my body, I want to lie to them, preserve whatever innocence they have left. Last year on April 15, I probably would have lied. But they’ve been through too much and they are aware of too much and I owe them truths now. I add though, this other truth: doctors are making advances everyday, and kids are resilient and strong and remarkable.
All this is to say, I stepped back into 2017 yesterday—not anxious or crackling, no longer feeling like I was hurtling forward. A little (a lot) less innocent, a little more truthful, still kinda late, and still not completely hopeless.