There’s not too much to tell from the story of one year ago today. Matt’s work drama, camp theme days, and the Nordstrom’s Anniversary sale dominated my text messages and emails. Matt and I ended the day with a glass of wine on the deck after the kids went to bed.
As has become the routine on these quiet days, I cycled back through my email and text messages. Most of what I found was the static that fills in the time between the big, memorable life moments, but two years did stand out. 2014, the first time an agent requested to read one my books—my first novel, which was, and is, admittedly terrible and was rejected within four months—and 2012, when Matt and I ventured into the city and tried to have a public meal with a baby and toddler in tow.
Unsurprisingly grief vibrated through both memories—I re-read the email and vividly remembered calling Matt with shaking hands, knowing his excitement would rival mine; and I couldn’t stop staring at the picture from 2012, when our family had been so young and innocent, and adorably overwhelmed—but no particular story emerged to link those years to our tale of hope.
I stared at this half-written post for too long and tried to think of something to write. Nothing came. The problem was that the story dominating my thoughts was not one from a year ago, or four years ago, or six years ago. What I wanted to write about could not be found in any text message or photo or half-remembered conversation I had with Matt over a glass of wine after the kids went to bed. The story I wanted to write today is brought exclusively from post-hope, in looking back at the things Matt and I left unsaid.
A few days ago, I finished reading (listening to) the memoir When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon who was diagnosed with terminal cancer just as he was on the cusp of achieving all his dreams. Too often I had to stop the story to blink back tears because the similarities in our tales scraped the surface of raw grief. I saw too much of Matt and me in his story, from his description of how his patients and their spouses reacted to the news of a newly discovered cancerous brain tumor (pgs. 91-98), to the utter terror I know his wife must have felt when she heard the word leptomeningeal (pg. 203). I related to the story on nearly every level, except one.
Dr. Kalanithi and his wife discussed mortality. They stared tragedy in the face and searched for deeper meaning in a way Matt and I did not. We never had a sweeping declaration of love conversation. We never talked about what he would want our life to look like if he couldn’t be here. I never asked him to write letters to G and H for the big events in their lives.
But after I read Dr. Kalanithi’s words, I wondered if we should have. I wondered if it was my fault that we didn’t. Had we—I—kept our gazes so firmly pinned to hope—that distant light on the horizon—that we failed to find some deeper meaning in our present? Should we have found a way to nurture hope and stare tragedy in the face?
I suspect the answer to that question isn’t easy and more complicated than is appropriate for a single post (which is getting too long). I have a feeling this idea of things left unsaid and missed opportunities will become another theme that I circle back to as the story slips into those dark days I keep warning about.
For now, it’s enough to introduce this new theme and end with this thought.
In 2014, after I told Matt about the agent request, he didn’t temper my excitement by reminding me it was just one agent who’d likely merely skimmed the first ten pages I’d sent in a cold query. Neither of us thought maybe it was a bad idea to get our hopes too high. We both started dreaming about best seller lists and movie deals. The highest star in the sky.
When the doctors told us Matt had terminal cancer and then 60 Minutes showed us there was a potential cure, Matt and I didn’t do anything but what we always did: we let our hopes soar to the highest star.
The blank space of things left unsaid will always be there, but so will the knowledge that given the choice, Matt and I reached for the very highest star in the sky every time, and never worried about falling. Maybe that means, for us, our deeper meaning is not found in the things left unsaid, but in the way we approached our truth.
*Fun Fact: Things Left Unsaid is also the title of the first short story I wrote. Matt encouraged me to submit that story to a contest where it won honorable mention.