Dear Trish, I just miss you. It’s been almost exactly 22 years since we first met, and when I listen to a new band or travel to a new country or hear a new joke, I want you to be there to experience it. And to see the girls. I always want you to see your girls.
It doesn’t matter anymore that I’m devastated that you’re gone. I can bear that. I just want you to feel and experience more life — to see things change. You deserved that. And you didn’t get it.
It’s been more than three years since you flat-lined, your bed encircled by your mom and sisters and daughters, as I held your small hand. (You had such small hands and feet.) Those last days and hours were precious, but you were long gone by that point. Thank you for letting go. We couldn’t have handled more.
Only much later did I realize that my grief started long before the day you died. I lost you as my companion, friend and equal years earlier.
Cancer is cunning and surreptitious. It took us before it took you. It denied us the equal footing needed for a normal relationship, and it denied you the chance to be whole. As early as 2010, maybe sooner, I was taking care of you emotionally and physically, as if you were a dependent and not my wife.
You really hated that. I know. But you let me. Thank you for that privilege. Toward the end, as I was giving you my final goodbye, you said, “You are the only person I could let love me.” It’s an honor I carry forever and a debt I owed you for struggling with me for so long.
And I was so powerless anyway. I still feel guilty about the time we were flying back from Africa the year you died. I begged the flight attendant to let you sleep on the floor under our seats, but he said it was against the rules. You writhed in pain from the cancer entering your bones. We both knew what it was, but we didn’t want the girls to know, so I didn’t stand up to him and protect you. You suffered.
You weren’t sure you wanted to have a child, to be so responsible for someone else. I remember the day Emma was born, and you held her, mystified and teary, saying, “Yesterday I didn’t want to be a parent, and today I would throw myself in front of a bus for this tiny sack of skin and bones.”
You were such a patient mom. Lily can’t get enough hearing about the way you carried her for two years — pretty much nonstop. I don’t think you complained once about that. You just held her constantly.
Often we joke about the way Lily would beg, “Up, up, up,” or for her “tippy tup” and Emma, the strict sister, would bark orders at Lily, a Disney princess. “LILY, YOU ARE NOT DOING IT RIGHT! I’m Cinderella and YOU are the fairy godmother.” Lily and I laughed the other day about that horrible zebra couch the kids had. They watched Disney movies endlessly as we tried to build our little household. And then, cancer.
Lately, Lily has been dealing more with the grief of your death. Being 9 when you died, she struggled to understand what it meant. Of course Emma struggled, too, but those three developmental years between 9 and 12 are huge. Lily wasn’t quite capable of her own grief then, but now it’s hitting her and she’s being forced to grow up quickly at 12. She’s doing it beautifully.
Late last spring, she and I sat outside the new gelato place in Takoma Park. She was feeling a little lost, no longer wanting to be a kid but still wanting to be the smallest and youngest. She had been prompted by her therapist to ask me about her role in the family and how she fits.
So we talked. We decided that she is the bravest in the family because she’s the youngest and we always push her. We can go only as far as she lets us go. We adore her humor and how affectionate she is and how much she values family.
You won’t be surprised that she has become a fashion diva. No one in this family comes close to Lily in that regard — maybe not even you. (She’s started wearing your shoes, by the way; she’s a size 6.)
You would be surprised at how capable she is. She is always on time, finds homework easy, and even does grocery shopping and cooking for us by Ubering to the local supermarket and making dinner. She does a mean tomato cream sauce.
Not that she’s perfect. The summer you died, she stole at least a thousand bucks (yes, grand larceny) from friends and family; most of it was spent on makeup from CVS. She’s had intermittent trouble with this issue, and it remains her burden. (She gets that impulsivity from me. You already know that I also was a stealer as a teen. It’s painful to watch her make my mistake.)
Emma is a magical kid. She’s a thoughtful, sensitive-but-not-emo teen who, like you, loves her TV and is unwaveringly loyal to her friends and family. Emma is unflappable and amazingly wise. How many teens are wise? I don’t know where she got it from, not me.
And she’s got your cool. People just want to be around her. She’s figuring out life as a teen slowly, enjoying being young rather than trying to grow up too quickly.
You would have loved her recent response to a stressed-out friend worried about getting into the “right” college. “I’m not stressing,” she said. “I’ll just get good-enough grades, go to a decent school, and be happy.”
But she isn’t always happy. In fact, she struggles with depression. One wouldn’t see it if she didn’t have the therapist to talk to — thank God for that. Like you, Emma is stoic. It breaks my heart to see her quiet sadness. How does a parent protect a child from that suffering?
We travel still. I haven’t forgotten our promise to each other, to travel a total of a year with the girls. We think of you every time we board a plane together. We did Brazil, Iceland and Scotland, just the three of us. It was so difficult to do the first trip without you eight months after you died. Every evening as we went to bed, I relived the night the girls found out they would lose their mom. At times it was excruciating, but it has gotten easier.
Just today, as I drove the girls to theater rehearsal, we were laughing hysterically about that first trip, to Iceland. Without a second adult, I did some really stupid stuff, like buy baking soda instead of salt to make the girls pasta with butter. Even funnier, they ate it, wincing.
So, um, I got remarried.
Stop laughing. Yes, I remember the time we talked about it, right before you died. I said, “Maybe I won’t remarry,” and you chuckled and said, “Nah, you will. You love too much.” It was sweet, but also a bit of a dig at me. I know you would have preferred me to be less intense. (Sigh, I would prefer that, too.) And, of course, you were right.
And indeed, I’m madly in love. Amanda is great for me, and she loves Emma and Lily deeply. She’s embraced the challenge of living in a home with a ghost. This is hardly a storybook situation for any of us. We’ve all had to stretch to make this work.
Your whole family from California came to the wedding to support us and welcome Amanda into the family. It was gracious and loving beyond belief.
Trish, I feel fortunate to have met you — what a present that was on my 25th birthday — and loved you. I would choose to bear the grief again knowing how it would turn out. But I would try to be a lot less judgmental and a lot more patient — more like you were to me.
Life’s too short. I had to lose you to really understand that.
You are not forgotten. We move on because we have to, not because we want to.
Creekmore blogs at creekmoreworld.com.