Email to Mom.
Can you believe it’s been two years? Of course you can’t. You couldn’t believe any of this was happening to you in the first place.
That’s all I could think when everything finally stopped. I looked at your face, blank, and felt outrage on your behalf. She would be shocked to see herself like this.
But I want you to know that when I think of you, I don’t think about that version of you. In a way, the date I actually mourn is that Thanksgiving night in 2010 when you told us about the scans. Before you broke the news, you let Drew and me enjoy the day and another of your delicious dinners, blissfully ignorant of the elephant weighing on you and Dad.
As we ate, you set up a story about a ridiculous gift someone had given you, then exited the table to make a dramatic (or rather, comedic) re-entrance wearing what I suppose could technically be defined as a hat.
“Isn’t this perfect for me? Can’t you just see me going out in this?”
We all doubled over as you strutted around, playing us for laughs until we couldn’t breathe. That feels to me like the real ending. That was the last moment we were the family we always had been, before we became Mom Has Cancer.
But enough about all that. We have to talk about Archie.
This kid, Mom. THIS KID. Not only would you love the experience of being a grandma, you would love THIS KID. He’s curious, confident, silly and sweet. I swear he already understands our jokes, and gives us an appropriate smirk at the corny ones. He’s drawn to music and loves to dance. He eats like a champ and his poops are disgusting but I don’t care because I LOVE HIM SO MUCH, MOM.
Dad was just here with Drew for my 40th birthday (which, as an aside, is weird because I distinctly remember when you turned 40), and I think Archie is finally starting to recognize them. Even if he doesn’t specifically know they’re Grandpa and Uncle Drew, he at least knows they’re not strangers. We went to a storybook performance at Archie’s daycare, and I finally understand why you used to cry at our school events. Archie was the Yellow Duck, and dare I say, he nailed it.
I think a lot about the things you always said I wouldn’t understand until I became a parent. The whole “it’s like a piece of your heart beating outside your chest” thing? I get it. Cutting up his food into subatomic particles to avoid choking? Guilty. How frustrating it is when you pour the last splash of milk, which means you now have to pull the annoying little plastic ring off the new carton, which always spills a few drops so you have to wipe the counter, and then you have to wash out the old carton to put it into the recycling bin, which is full so now you have to stop and empty it and change the bag but you haven’t opened the new box of bags yet so now you have to find the box cutter to get a new bag, and while all of this is happening the kid is crying for his milk? I feel you.
When Archie was first born, I had a day where I literally started crying at the thought of him leaving for college. I imagined me turning to Alan and saying, “Well, we made it,” and I burst into tears on the spot. Dad said after you guys dropped me off at Northwestern, you cried the whole way home. I’m gonna be such a mess–and it’s only 17 years away!
Speaking of time going by too quickly, I want you to know that as unfair as it was, your death was not in vain. I won’t let it be. Some people start new charities, others plan yearly fundraisers. And maybe someday I’ll get to that. But for now, for me, the best way I can honor you and what you went through is not to wait until I’m dying to appreciate all that life has to offer.
After you were gone, we found the list you made of “The Blessings of Cancer.” I’m trying to apply these lessons now, every day.
(1) Has made me a better person
(2) Negates VANITY
(3) Makes your goal a chance to grow OLD.
(4) Have met so many wonderful people.
(5) Surrounded by LOVE
A friend just gave me this for my birthday, and it sums up the sentiment nicely:
I also got a lot of wine.
For a while after you died, I felt guilty if I was happy or having what I thought was too much fun. Was it disrespectful to enjoy life again? Then I realized: quite the opposite. What you wouldn’t give for a new chance to laugh loudly, to celebrate your body’s good health, to energize the people around you with joy and generosity. Living our lives to the fullest is the *only* way to respect what you went through and the memory you leave behind.
I think most of us imagine death as something we’ll somehow plan, that we’ll wrap up all of our loose ends, have our to-do list all checked off, say our final good-byes, then somehow be ready for our time to come. And that all of this will happen in some ethereal, far-off future.
But now I know that’s not the case. Instead, Garry Shandling’s heart stops beating in the middle of the afternoon. One of my writers at work sees her husband off to a routine surgery and he never comes back. On an ordinary autumn Wednesday, you find out you have stage 3 lung cancer.
I promise you I’m not taking anything for granted anymore. And trust me when I say Archie will know his grandma. I’m going to keep writing letters like this one, so he’ll understand how much you mean to me. I have pictures of you up in his nursery that he looks at every day. When he’s older, he’ll hear your jokes, eat your recipes, learn from your advice. I’ll tell him all of the good stories (there are plenty) and your spirit will only grow stronger–no matter how many years go by.
I’d like to end with a few random topics I wish we could discuss:
· That photo of David Letterman looking crazy old. Wow.
· Kelly and Michael–WTF happened?
· Garry Shandling–can you believe it?
· I auditioned for “Jeopardy!” last year! Still waiting for the call.
· What’d you think of the finale of “Mad Men”?
· I miss Grandma.
· Last time I made your hot fudge, it turned out kinda gritty. What am I doing wrong?
· Seriously, Mom. Archie. The best.
Love you always,