"Mommy, see that cloud? It's an angel. It's Grandma Bailey."
These moments bring a smile followed quickly by my holding back tears. I love that she talks about her grandmother - my mother - but my heart aches that she will never truly know this beautiful woman. I regale both kids with stories about her. There was the time I pledged the hardwood floor and she slid along it. There were all the nights she told me her made-up bedtime stories that I cherished. There were the days and nights spent bundled up and watching whatever athletic activity I had going on.
She was my heart and soul. Ten years ago, I suffered a break up no boy or relationship could rival. I lost her to brain cancer.
I remember the days of crying over first loves and bad dates as she comforted me during what I thought were the worst times that could ever find their way into my life. (Those were the days, right? When break-ups were the worst part of daily living!) Then when that moment - truly, the worst moment of my life - found its way into the depths of my heart, the one person I needed comfort from was gone.
I think about this a lot now, mostly because of my babies and the one year anniversary of my friend Katie's passing. The kids know Katie was my age. They're starting to ask questions. What did Grandma die from? How did Katie die? Could mommy get that? Could mommy die before she's old?
Me (left) and Katie (right) back in 1997.
The woman I'd usually run to for answers to such difficult questions is no longer here to answer them and I'm forced to be a grownup (even though at 34, in these moments I don't want to be). The answers to all those questions are yes; but I would never want to put that idea into their head. I would rather they worry about what's for dinner or whether soccer practice is still on. I assure them that this is why we eat healthy and exercise and go to the doctor when we're supposed to; so that mommy can be here a very long time with them.
It's funny how quickly life changes. At twenty, we feel invincible, like nothing can happen to us. I know I did. I know I wasn't always as kind to people as I should have been and I broke rules I shouldn't have broken. I put myself in situations that I cringe thinking my children would put themselves in someday. (Now I totally understand why Mom always waited up for me. She probably did the same stupid things and hoped I would be better. Oops.) And I learned a great many lessons about life that I wish I'd learned in much different ways because those lessons have a lasting impact.
We don't know what life will bring. I certainly didn't wake up that August day last year expecting a call that my 33-year-old friend had passed away. A friend who had, just months before, designed the beautiful cover of the book I put together with other brain cancer caregivers about our journeys (you can see the cover here). A friend with whom I'd been meaning to make dinner plans to catch up with, but we always had to reschedule because of life. A friend who I'd lost touch with for many years, after being best friends through college, and had just begun to reconnect with.
As I sunk down the wall in my kitchen after hearing her sister's broken-hearted voice tremble on the other line to say the unthinkable, I again felt that heartbreak that comes with such a loss - as did those who knew her. I reconnected with old high school friends and reminisced about the good old days in the weeks after Katie's passing, and then went on with life. Just like with mom, I found myself not talking about Katie much because it can be uncomfortable to bring the topic up with those who knew her. And talking about it to people who didn't (like my husband, even though he is so kind-hearted) just isn't the same. I wanted someone who could remember our silly stories, crazy movie marathons, love of cheese popcorn and Ace Ventura, and driving in her convertible with the top down. But at the same time I didn't want to talk about it, because it was a reminder of just how fragile life is.
I write this because this is the time of year when life changes in our household. We get caught up in school and work and activities and running everyone around from this practice to that one. We rush through dinners and fall asleep in front of the television and go through the days instead of actually live them. We chat with friends when we find a spare second. We - well, at least me - only stop to think about how we can live life differently when, sadly, a phone call comes that shatters the invisible peace surrounding us. And after awhile, when the memory has been pushed aside for brighter things, we go back to going through the motions and forgetting to live in the moment.
Moments like those where you're rushing from picking up kid 1 and rushing kid 2 to something, and your daughter notices a cloud that looks like an angel.
An angel that reminds you just how fleeting life can be, and to take advantage of every moment and opportunity to show people how important they are to you.