August 29th, 2017 was the last day Matt and I had left at the beach to make the most of our vacation with the kids. We had less than twenty-four hours to make lasting memories. And less than ideal weather for the beach.
The cloudy skies and cool temperatures from the day before devolved into soaking downpours and miserable moods. We struggled to find something to do and finally decided on the arcade. Along with most of the other families staying in the beach town.
The arcade was crowded and loud. Bright lights blinked on and off, kids screamed, games blared and boomed and buzzed. And at the end, the line to claim a prize circled the entire arcade. It was too much for Matt. He was frustrated—I blamed the Dex—and left to wait for us in the car. (Though to be fair, every parent there would have preferred to wait in the car.)
That night, we (Matt and I) said good night to G and H and made the lonely trip back home. (Our flight to North Carolina was early the next morning.) I texted a friend to tell her that I was struggling leaving the kids. I knew they’d be fine with Matt’s family,—more than fine— and we’d left them in order to travel to Duke for treatments before, but leaving them this time tore me apart. Even a year ago, I understood why leaving G and H was more difficult than it had ever been.
I wanted to be the fun parents at the beach. I wanted to go to the arcade and look for seashells by the shore. I wanted to go out for ice cream and point out the colors in a sunset. I wanted to be who we once were, who we simply couldn’t be anymore. Too much of our mental energy was spent on brain cancer. Conversations and thoughts revolved around medications and appointments. Matt wasn’t himself—often withdrawn, plagued by double vision and pain, afflicted with bouts of confusion—and I was lost in my own worry and anguish and anxiety.
I remember the moment we (Matt and I) closed the door to the beach house where G and H would finish out the rest of their summer without us. it I’m not sure how to describe that feeling. I don’t know if there is a way to describe the feeling of a heart ripping into two equally distraught halves.
The single idea that made it possible to pull that door closed was this: G and H would still make happy memories. They’d have each other and grandparents, aunts, an uncle, and cousins.
I fought back tears for most of the drive home. I hated for Matt to see, but I couldn’t help the ache in my chest, the worry that I was failing G and H on some fundamental level. I texted a friend—for comfort and distraction. She offered up a funny (cringeworthy?) story from her own day. It worked wonders. I found myself laughing at the text, sharing the most unbelievable parts of the story with Matt, and finding some common ground with him on a night when he was particularly symptomatic and I was particularly emotional.
On a night fueled with anxiety and heartache, a night when I was missing G and H, missing the Matt I married, and missing our old life, I turned to a friend who offered an ear and a distraction.
That night, Matt and I went to bed, anxious about the early morning flight and the procedure to come, but grateful for the family we knew would step in to make those fun memories with G and H, and the friends who were always willing to listen and serve up a funny story.
A little light and a little love in a story gaining speed as it presses deeper into the darkness.