We’re now one of those families. Once four – now three. Still, we’re in the company of hundreds we’ve met – all affected by cancer and suddenly in a place they never imagined they’d be. Some we still talk with daily, while others have disappeared suddenly from our group. And you never know which one you will be until you get into that car the day after losing a child and realize there’s an empty seat.
I guess we all have a choice. After a loss, some run. They move, change jobs, change spouses. And I guess I can’t blame them (except for the changing spouses). In the end, they want to forget about the pain, move on with their lives and make new memories. I wonder if it really works. Do they keep the picture by their bed, skip over phrases like “my children” when they may only have “a child”, and wake up in the morning worried about work instead of whose missing? Or are they up at night just as we are tapping on the computer, avoiding their dreams and waiting for the first light of dawn?
Others are consumed by the loss. Four years they wonder what could have been, why me and in an effort to avoid saying “my children” avoid talking altogether. I imagine that their hallways are filled with pictures, shrines to the childhood that remained unfulfilled. And I know they lay awake at night just as I do. I can see it in the 2 am internet blog postings and the sudden rush of visitors to our website at 4 am.
I guess Brooke and I are a little bit of both. Writing this note at 2:50am, I’m sitting in a campground searching for new memories with our family of 3.5 (counting Pablo the ex-service dog) trying desperately to remember the sound of her voice and the softness of her cheeks. Brooke sits next to me punching texts to the other parents on her blackberry, arranging fundraisers, and cursing over her latest loss on solitaire. Still, somehow I think were different – and not just because we were the only camp lit by the glow of two laptops and a blackberry in the early morning.
There must be a third group. Elena’s pictures still wallpaper the hallway alongside the newer memories with Gracie. There’s a picture of the dolphin ride, the trip to the top of the Eiffel tower, even a photograph of the girl’s first time waterskiing. Bur scattered throughout are the pictures of Gracie’s first effort snow skiing (and Brooke’s), Gracie’s newest school portrait where she refuses to smile, and pictures of the first Christmas since. And in this way, we continue to make new memories. Gracie would never let us do otherwise. We live in the same house, our marriage remains strong despite the occasional camping trips and we still go to work each morning (and sometimes at 1am).
Still something is different. The time we used to spend with Elena is now spent working on the charity. Mornings that three years ago would have been spent making the second lunch are now spent checking other parent’s emails. Nights are spent organizing fundraisers, completing grant applications and creating web pages.
People ask us how we find the time. I reply how can I not make the time? Compared to these children, I have all the time in the world, but I can’t seem to move fast enough. And just because Elena’s gone, doesn’t mean that time is any less precious or the trivial matters of life any more important. Every obstacle is a speedbump after you’ve become fearless. And in this regard, we are the lucky ones.
The Cure Start Now isn’t about a legacy and it will never be about building empires. Instead it is about doing what I wished had begun sooner. Tonight as I write this, thousands of parents are awake, reading about cancer and swearing they will find that cure that has eluded researchers for decades. We join them – and not because we want to and not because we lost. Instead it’s about the living.
Everyday our memories are new. Gracie passes on the lessons that Elena showed us three years ago. And in this way, she is the legacy of her sister. A charity, a picture and a webpage will never do the same.