January 7, 2018 was one of the most vivid days, one of the days when it was all but impossible to see Matt, even though he was right there beside me.
After G’s friend left, G and H curled up on the couch to watch Sunday morning cartoons. Matt sat in his favorite spot on the couch and dozed. I decided to use those few moments of precious quiet to get ready—we had plans to see my aunts, uncles, and cousins in the afternoon.
Not long into those few moments, G started shouting for me to come downstairs because Daddy needed my help. She didn’t sound alarmed, and I don’t remember any rush of fear. That morning, Matt had woken up knowing exactly where he was—he’d recognized our bedroom and our home. As far as I was concerned, last night’s episode was nothing but a blip.
In the living room, G and H hadn’t moved. They were in total zone-out mode, fully and completely focused on the television. But Matt had moved. He was now sitting on the other edge of the couch. And I immediately saw why G had called for me. Matt must have decided he wanted cereal. He had stood, walked into the kitchen, grabbed a box of cereal, a carton of milk, and a spoon. He’d walked back to the couch, presumably to hang out with G and H, and poured the cereal. Onto the carpet.
When I walked into the scene, he was holding the carton of milk, prepared to tip it over onto the cereal. He stopped when I walked in, looked at me, and said he wanted a bowl of cereal, but it wasn’t working. He asked, with that heartbreaking earnestness, “What am I missing here?” I remember his expression, that discouraged disappointment, when I told him, as gently as I could, that he’d forgotten a bowl.
I remember taking the carton of milk from his hands, kneeling down on the carpet and cleaning up the spilled cereal, and telling Matt it wasn’t a big deal–needing desperately for him not to feel discouraged, even though all I felt was discouraged. I reminded myself that the doctor had warned his cognition would suffer when we decreased the Dexamethasone, but the smaller dose was better for Matt, overall. I reminded myself that things could be worse, and had been worse. This was yet another blip.
I’ve written more than a few times about how behavior that once would have sent me screaming for the doctor, now became a reason to breathe easier; how what once was alarming, was now almost mundane; how, without realizing it, the abnormal became normal. The cruelty of brain cancer: I couldn’t even see how bad things were; from inside the storm, I couldn’t see the extent of the destruction on the outside.
But one year ago today, when we arrived at my cousin’s house, that veil was ripped away. I saw Matt’s decline through my extended family’s eyes, eyes that hadn’t seen Matt in at least two months—H’s birthday or earlier, in some cases. I saw all the ways Matt had changed—physically and mentally—that were obvious to others after just a few words. And that glass-shattering moment happened. And, in retrospect, I don’t know that I could unsee it after January 7, 2018.
And that day, I just let myself miss Matt—his humor and intelligence and charm—without feeling like it was a betrayal. That day, I let myself realize how long it had been since I’d heard him tell a bad joke, or smile with that gleam in his eye, or look at me like we were the only two in on the secret. That day, I saw the destruction the storm had created. In retrospect, it’s obvious that the ache I felt rolling in was grief. Already.
January isn’t easy. I warned as much. But the story of one year ago today, while full of heartbreak, is also brimming with this truth: grief can co-exist with hope. It always has.