This fall has been a series of difficult milestones. As a parent, you become so used to anticipating and celebrating all the firsts that children do, first steps, a first lost tooth, the first day of kindergarten. All those pictures and notes in baby books and calls to grandparents – so many ways to document those milestones.
After losing a child, those firsts continue, but they are harder to commemorate. They mark absences, first birthdays without her, first days of school without her, holidays and recitals and vacations, without her. In between those milestones there are other reminders of lasts, her last day of school, the last time you spoke, the last hug you gave her. For me, I feel it in the insignificant as much as the significant. The color of the changing leaves, the sound of post season baseball in the background, the Halloween decorations, the color of the balloons at the store. The milestones in this first year are too many to name, too many to number.
During her treatment, her mother would text updates to family every Friday. Friday’s were generally treatment days, and the messages would include numbers – blood counts, hours waiting, next steps. It’s been a year, but I still remember those messages. I still sit at my desk and work and check my phone for updates. My phone is too still, still.
We gather together now, at these milestones, as a family and broader community, to remember her. We walk in walks, we run in races, we release balloons, we remember her collectively. These are good things, and important things to do.
There are so many sayings in the cancer community that relate to big moves, big milestones. We walk for more birthdays, we walk for a cure. I want all those big things, I want them so much that it hurts. I want more Easters and more New Year’s Eves and more vacations with family where everyone is there. I want another chance to see her, I want to hear her voice, I want to rewrite all of last fall again, and be with her more, and damn it, I want to walk with her and not for her, for a change.
I walk for a cure, of course. But more than that, I walk for better treatments for this horrible disease. I walk for treatments that are more individualized, more effective, more humane. I walk for treatments that don’t push you as close to the edge of death as possible and hope that you bounce back on the other end of the seesaw. Cancer forces you into this new world of hard to pronounce and harder to stomach milestones. I’m so sad, and so tired of milestones.
I walk for ordinary, run of the mill Fridays, and we didn’t get enough of them.
We’re walking this Saturday, for Erin. Please join us in spirit if you will.