Do not be fooled by my cheery disposition or attempts at connecting with the universe through positive talk and action, at the core I am damaged beyond repair. I run out of the room silently cursing under my breath during childhood cancer awareness commercials in May – yes thank you I am very aware; I blink back tears when asked if I want to donate to St. Jude’s research hospital anywhere I shop during the month of November – of course yes just add it to my bill; and I turn on the radio and pretend to sing along when my brain wants to replay Gus’ last twenty-four hours on the anniversary of his passing in June. Every single day I am at odds with myself, one side going about her business in a state of peaceful acceptance the other saying over and over again that the happiness is false, a tenuous coping mechanism at best that will eventually crumble – just you wait and see. I loathe this persistent emotional conflict, it has turned me into what I never wanted to be – sentimental.
I had a single fictional hero growing up – Star Trek’s Mr. Spock. I wished more than anything to be like him – calm, rational, logical. Unfortunately, I was born with a heightened sense of justice that was easily offended not just for myself but for everyone else making me quick to rant and rave about unfairness and inequality. The only way I thought I could make myself more “Spock Like” was to avoid becoming overly emotional about certain aspects of my life. I promised myself that no one would ever break my heart, that I would never regret a single thing I did and that I would always barrel forward much like a bull in a china shop – heartache, remorse and nostalgia were all illogical. If a romance dissolved, even when that was my first marriage, it was my pride that suffered not my heart. I acknowledged my actions impassively and barreled forward without looking back, my mind always on the next goal. Even when my first two sons were infants I was already preparing for them to leave me and then when I married my best friend and saint of a man, I kept some distance in case it was for “now” and not “happily ever after”. Gus changed everything, he wrapped himself around my heart so tightly that his passing broke it, my helplessness during his illness filled me with regret and I can’t help but long for days past.
Terrifying illnesses and injuries alter our bodies, leaving scars that announce to the world that we’re survivors, that we’ve gone to the brink of the abyss and come back to tell the story. The most poignant struggle of my life however, would leave no visible trace, nothing to show that I have kept moving even though my feet are encased in concrete. I knew I needed to get a tattoo, it would be my mark of survival, but of what and where? Earlier this year my husband was doodling on a pad when it came to him, he drew a heart with Gus’ name within it like lightning bolts, it was perfect.
On June 24th, after that day’s yearly routine of early morning mass, visiting Gus’ niche and breakfast we drove to Broken Art Tattoo in Silverlake, a place my sister suggested if only because it sounded like “broken heart”. I was nervous, unsure if it would hurt too much or just turn out badly. After sizing it on the inside of my left wrist and selecting the colors, the inking began. I could feel the tiny little stabs as my tattoo artist (I now had one) traced around the heart and Gus’ name but it did not hurt and when it was done I realized it was better than I could have ever imagined. There is a comic book quality to the colors and shading that remind me of the emblem of a superhero (Gus), the bottom tip of the heart points to the main artery that goes to my heart and having placed it on the inside of wrist gives me the ability to either conceal it or flash it – like Spider-Man throwing his web or Wonder Woman blocking bullets. It is at once irrational and overly emotional, much more like Jim Kirk’s approach to a crisis than Mr. Spock’s. I suspect this was part of Gus’ mission, to force me to narrow the distance between myself and those I love. Is there space for me to still channel Mr. Spock? I certainly hope so, until I find out may you – LIVE LONG & PROSPER….
Having lost twins myself at birth and my husband in December to a negative outcome of cancer treatment, the coping methods that anyone develops are purely personal. I do think our culture promotes the idea that independence and strength, especially for a woman, are the best character traits, but these traits are not defined well. I think it takes more strength and confidence to share our sorrows and the realities that exist for a family that fights illness together, than to remain stoic. I also think that those of us who are perceived as strong do the rest of the world a favor by sharing our weaknesses and surviving. I heard the best quote a few weeks ago: ‘I did not know that all I needed was God, until all I had was God’. Remember Cecilia, God does not love us because we are strong and faithful. God loves us because He is strong and faithful. Forever. Love you.
Thank you for every honest word you’ve ever said or written, Cecilia. There is no rhythm to the waves, I’ve found. But the worst, I think, is when the water is still. I’d rather be waiting for the next one to crash over me than drifting without feeling the surge that can sometimes be overpowering yet, re-awaking, to what we never want to NOT feel. Do these marvelous, meaningful, expressive things…continue to awaken your senses to the love that is ever-present and ever-aching. It’s not the motherhood that we ever envisioned but it doesn’t stop us from being moms ..and care for them we will…the rest of our lives. While there is no celebrating the loss, we will never stop celebrating, remembering and cherishing their lives. I love you!