August 26, 2017 adds another last to the story. One year ago today, we (Matt, G, H, and I) packed the car and drove down to the Jersey shore for our annual vacation with Matt’s family.
I don’t remember much of the morning. The text messages reveal that we got a late start. I wanted to get in a workout, we needed to pick up Matt’s Dex prescription, and Matt’s back was bothering him, which meant he couldn’t help packing the car. The pictures reveal that we arrived at the shore and went down to the beach. But the morning is a blank in my memory. I don’t remember loading the car, whether Matt needed help packing, or how much traffic we sat in on the Garden State Parkway (apparently a lot).
What I do remember is every pre-GBM road trip Matt and I took together. Memories I can summon without even needing to close my eyes fill that blank space. I can picture him at the steering wheel, sunglasses on, driving just a little too fast on the highway. We had some of our best debates while on the road, driving somewhere, anywhere. Political, social, economic. I never failed to be amazed by the depths of Matt’s knowledge. I never failed to hope he couldn’t tell that I couldn’t keep up with him.
Later that afternoon, I texted a friend and told her that Matt’s symptoms seemed unchanged, but that he was having a good start to beach time. We sat by the ocean in the late afternoon, he enjoyed family time and the break from the relentlessness of our real life. A little light. A little love. We put our feet in the water and watched the waves rolling toward us crash against the shore.
I’m struggling to find the words to finish the story of today in a way I haven’t struggled in quite a while. There are a dozen reasons for the struggle. Solo parenting two kids with no school or camp as a distraction is lonely and exhausting—mentally, physically, and emotionally. We’re approaching Matt’s birthday and what Matt and I called “present season”—something I’ll explain when it officially arrives. The story is heading into unforgiving days and the lasts will begin to compound. And McCain.
Today, I am heartbroken for his wife and his kids and the brain tumor community as a whole—I had hoped he might be the one to find a cure.
I didn’t know him (obviously). Despite a (not so exhaustive) Google search, I don’t know how his tumor manifested physically or mentally. I don’t know the treatments he underwent or how he walked the thin line separating hope from despair.
But I do know what those first bleak hours of Post-Hope feel like. I know that taking that first breath after he takes his last feels like a betrayal. I know that the darkness that closes in when hope officially extinguishes makes it easy to forget that light ever existed at all.
I know that it’s okay to burrow deeper into the darkness, let the waves knock you down and hold you in their current for a while. But it’s also okay to hope for a light, to reach for a glimmer of joy when it appears, to recognize that sometimes hope can exist, even in a post-hope year.
I know only that I don’t know much. I’m making it up as I go along and hoping I’m getting it right once in a while.
So I’ll end with this: soon, G, H, and I will stand on the beach—without Matt—and it’ll hurt. We will put our feet in the water and watch the waves crash against the shore. We will undoubtedly be pulled into that darkness while the incontestable truth of his absence roars around us. But I don’t have to hope we’ll find our way out. I know we will. There’s too much light and love left in Post-Hope to be lost in the darkness for too long.