August 20, 2017: Unknown Miles

At 6:14 a.m., on August 20th, I responded to the forum messages I’d received in relation to my post from the day before. I wrote: I feel much more confident about Gamma Knife after reading [the responses]. Strangers had written me about their experience with Gamma Knife radiation. Strangers had helped me find that next glimmer of hope in the darkness when I’d begun to lose my grasp on the light.

I learned then that hope can be restored by a stranger sharing an experience, reaching out across an unknown number of miles and reminding you that the world isn’t as lonely as it may seem in the anxious light of early morning.

The text messages from one year ago today tell me nothing except that Matt and I hosted my high school friend and her family. The photos in my phone don’t add anything to the story beyond that fact. My imperfect memory draws a complete blank. Rather than turning to emails from two or three or ten years ago, I turned to my friend who’d come over with her family. I admitted that I didn’t even have a flash of memory.

Not lucky medically, but always lucky to be surrounded by the people who surrounded—and still surround—us. My friend shared her memories, filled in the blank spaces in my mind. Matt grilled. He laughed and hosted and made drinks for his guests. He even fought off an active beehive. The kids swam and drew with chalk and got along like they’d known each other their whole lives.

One of the hardships of brain cancer on the caregiver is this wild pattern of good days and bad days. How could one day be so good and the next so devastating? The unpredictable nature of our days often made it impossible for me to believe what I was seeing on the bad days. When a good day rolled around, it was easier to believe—more reassuring to believe—that I was overreacting. Maybe I was partially overreacting. Maybe I wasn’t.

Over the next five months, I expect to find as many blank spaces in memory as I find razor sharp edges. I think that’s because our world was spinning out of control so fast that I sometimes didn’t stop to make a memory. I ducked my head and steamrolled through the days. (The image that comes to mind is a football player curled protectively over a ball and running to the end zone without looking up, but I should never be allowed to make sports analogies.)

In hindsight, not slowing down was a mistake. In hindsight, not slowing down was inevitable, a necessary mechanism to avoid falling apart.

This project has evolved in ways that continue to surprise me. I’m grateful for all the good I hope it’s doing, grateful for the messages that make me hope I am that stranger reaching across an unknown number of miles to make someone else feel less lonely. But, also, I’m grateful that this project has given me a reason to slow down and piece together the moments I’d failed to turn into memories last year. For myself, and for G and H. Thanks to all those family and friends who’ve never left our side, I have the chance to turn all those moments I didn’t slow down for into stories for G and H. (Today: the time Daddy fought a beehive.) That’s a priceless gift for which I will be forever grateful.

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