September 9, 2017: I Miss Them Already

I remember the photo of G and H that I sent to Matt on September 9, 2017. I remember his response, which came within seconds. I remember the ache that opened up inside my chest as I read the words he wrote.  September 9, 2017 was a forgettable and mundane day that is for whatever reason burned into my mind, that feels prophetic and momentous only in retrospect.

That morning, Matt wore his glasses to the airport and lamented the fact that the perfect vision he’d always prided himself on had been stripped away because of brain cancer. I dragged G to H’s first soccer game and a birthday party for H’s friend. In the late afternoon, I took G and H to a children’s farm, let them feed the animals and run around on the playground. Things felt very normal. After all, husbands left for work conferences and kids went to soccer games everyday.

I took a photo of G standing atop the playground equipment, flexing her muscles, and H, seated in a compartment below pretending to drive. It’s not a great picture. Their faces are hard to see. They are all but silhouettes in the photo thanks to the sunlight streaming in from between the rows of dark clouds. And yet, I sent it to Matt.

He wrote back within seconds: I miss them already.

His words resonated. I felt the vastness of the chasm that had already opened between him and them in that seemingly automatic response.

I’ve thought often about this day—that photo and Matt’s response—trying to untangle the knot of feelings his text brought up. I was sure he missed G and H, but I couldn’t help but feel as though he didn’t mean just for that afternoon. Since we’d come back from Duke after Gamma Knife, and even in the weeks before that, he’d had trouble connecting with G and H. Physically, the pain in his back and neck made it hard for him to play basketball and chase them around on their bikes; Too often he needed to rest upstairs while G, H, and I played board games downstairs. Mentally, the changes to his humor and processing made it difficult for him to joke and laugh and talk about their first week of school. And, I would guess, emotionally, he was exhausted from simply trying to keep himself from falling any faster.

One year ago today, I didn’t know that Matt would return from Chicago early, but wouldn’t see the kids for too long after. I didn’t know that his relationship with G and H would never fully return to what it had once been. I didn’t know how painful it would be to watch G and H miss their father, while he was standing right in front of them.

I didn’t know how prophetic his simple text would be.

The very cruelest thing brain cancer did was create that chasm between Matt and his kids.

The very best thing Matt did was create a relationship with G and H that could survive a temporary chasm, a foundation on which G and H could stand and never question how much truth existed in those four words—I miss them already—despite all that will happen as the story hurtles toward its tragic conclusion.

In Post Hope, that chasm, that vast space between Matt and his kids, is gone, filled in by memories bright enough to outshine the worst of what brain cancer threw at us.

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