December 17, 2017: Vital Spark

One year ago today, a friend, possibly sensing the disappointment I’d felt about missing out on yet another night out, possibly just realizing any thread of normalcy was wildly appreciated, invited us (our family of four) out to dinner. Another family joined us.

I don’t remember much of the dinner. I have a few photos of G and H smiling at the restaurant, a few text messages received after dinner letting me know Matt seemed good, and a vague memory of calculating the tip and signing the check—something that had always been Matt’s job, but had now become mine. That renegotiating relationships.

Two years earlier, on December 17, 2016, about a month or two before the tumor in Matt’s left parietal lobe was discovered, in the time when we believed a recurrence was something that wouldn’t happen for another half a decade at least and the poliovirus was just an exciting news story on 60 Minutes, we could not go out for dinner, or anything else. We were snowed in. Matt took G and H out to play in the snow and I stayed inside in the warm house, taking photos from the playroom window. We (Matt and I) had a clear division of labor—he played in the snow and I made hot chocolate.

One(ish) year ago, H—no doubt thinking of snow days like the one he’d had the year before—asked me who would play in the snow with him because Daddy couldn’t even understand what he said. It’s an echo of a question he’d ask again in the early days of Post Hope—who will play in the snow if Daddy isn’t here? Both times, I answered him the same way. I would play with him in the snow. Both times, he reminded me that I hate snow and being cold, that I didn’t own snow pants or boots. He had a fair point. That cruel transition. (I’ve since bought snow boots and played in the snow–though I guarantee I’m less fun.)

I don’t have much to say for today’s post. The story of today brings up many themes I’ve already written about and I don’t have anything new to add to the topics of renegotiating relationships or that cruel transition, yet. I knew I might encounter this kind of struggle in December—what to say when every day is difficult, but difficult in the same way.

So, maybe today’s post is a reflection, a chance to stop and breathe and consider all I’ve hoped to accomplish with this project. I had wanted to find the day that I lost Matt. Was he gone by December 17, 2017? When I scour my memories of December 2017, I am reminded that, in many ways, most ways, even, he was. Everything from his smile to his anger wasn’t his.

The cruelty of brain cancer: we (G, H, and I) had already lost so much of our person.

But if I look deeper into the story, I know some invincible part of Matt remained on December 17, 2017. At dinner, he’d tried to follow the conversation and he’d tried to crack jokes. At bedtime, he climbed the stairs and into bed with me, G, and H to listen as I read them a bedtime story. After the kids went to bed, he sat with me to watch a show as he always had, even though he couldn’t see the television or follow the plot. And I know that Matt wasn’t lost, not in every way.

It’s only in looking back, in realizing we had forty-eight days left, that I realize how incredible these small acts were. It’s only in knowing how viciously Matt’s cancer lashed out that I can understand the depths of Matt’s strength, all that was required to keep that vital part of his spark alight.

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