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On Your Last Birthday

Joe and Mira on the grass

I wonder what that had to feel like.

You were sitting on the grass with your nine-month-old daughter. The shade of the tree cast across you as you watched her wiggly body pat her hands on the grass and clap with joy.

You smiled back.

How? Days before, we’d sat in a doctor’s office begging for clinical trials and another treatment. Well, I should say, I begged. The doctor listed all the risks and his concerns. I pleaded for him to let you in.

“You’re done, aren’t you?” the doctor interrupted me and stared at you. 

You nodded—your hand gripping mine.

Days away from turning 31. You were far from done with life. But you were done killing yourself to hold on to it.

I sat, shocked. A coach who had just been told her team was forced to forfeit.

Somehow I’d been pushing us so hard to “win” I’d missed the look on your face that you just wanted to sit and enjoy the game.

I wonder what that had to feel like.

To decide to end treatment on your terms, to sit there with your daughter and know all you’d miss out on, to smile at your frazzled wife and tell her she’d be okay, to lay in your mom’s lap like a little boy seeking comfort only she could give.

I wonder how you made it through your last birthday, knowing it was the last candles you’d blow out.

I wonder what you’d look like now. Laugh lines deeper around your eyes, stripes of gray through that beautiful long, thick black hair.

I wonder what you’d be like?

Would you be the strict parent or the pushover for our girl with the almond eyes and the wit that can talk herself out of just about any situation?

Would we have bought our boat? Or had more children? Would we have made it?

I went to a medium a few months after you died. Silly but spiritual, and in my desperate plea to feel you, it gave me calm.

I asked the medium if he could ask you what you thought of the paintings I’d cut out of the baby’s nursery to take with me. The strokes of paint you’d passionately painted on her walls as we waited for her arrival.

I sobbed as I watched the handyman cut out the only pieces of the massive mural I could take with me.

“Can you ask Joe if he loves it? Did he think it was okay I cut the painting out to take with us?” I skeptically asked the medium surrounded by strange figurines and crystals.

The man took a deep breath, shrugged his shoulders, “Eh,” he thinks it’s nice.

That’s it? Nice? 

I was suddenly furious at your heavenly spirit for a lousy answer you sent through this man in the polyester pants.

“The thing is,” he went on, and I held my breath.

“The art he did here is nothing like what he’s able to do there. The colors are brighter and so vivid our eyes here couldn’t even take it in. So, yes, he thinks it’s nice you did that for him, but he’s a little embarrassed by his talents now that he knows what he can do there.”

It was the most satisfying answer.

I know what it feels like to have watched you leave us, but I wonder what it felt like to go.

 

 

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