Saying and Savoring

On my brother’s wedding day, mom had a plan to give a toast that was poignant and proud. She had written and rewritten it many times. On scraps of paper, here and there, but mostly in her head. It was not to be. She could not hold back her emotions on that day. And she was not one to share emotions easily. It was a beautiful event, of course, with much happiness. Many toasts. Dancing, laughter, love. What I remember most fondly, however, is the week following.

The day after my brother’s nuptials, mom, dad, and I set off on an adventure. It is a special treat to travel with your parents as an adult child. I didn’t know it at the time, but I know it now. In the mountains of Colorado, we rented a small cabin along a stream. During the day, we hiked and rode bikes. We sat by the water. Told stories. Read books. Dad would take the peppermints left at the hostess’ stand at the many restaurants we visited at night. He’d dole them out during the day to mom and me. Just one at a time, we’d have contests to see whose would last longest. In Estes Park, we toured the hotel where a favorite horror movie was filmed. We planned to see the movie together, sometime, next time.

The trip was a break from my reality of a career with which I was increasingly dissatisfied. A life that was different than the one I had planned. I was ready to leave my home in San Francisco, eager to get on with it but not sure of what it might be. And so we decided, mom and I, to take a break together. There were no expectations or grand plans. My parents did not ask about my adult life in my adult home. Instead, we were simply together, in the beauty of Colorado that surrounded us. Sleeping late, eating too much pizza.  The three of us. And it was fun.

There was little significance to this vacation. It was nice, of course, to spend time together, but was a relatively small blip in a life that was just heating up.  A me who existed before becoming the person I am today. And mom and dad were such a big part of that new life, with babies born and houses bought. Backyard parties and trampolines. It was so very busy and so very joyful and also fast. So very, very fast.

Then there was sickness. Losing words and forgetting names. Fear, anxiety. Shoes on the wrong feet. Nightmares. Night terrors. Hallucinations. Panic attacks. And worse. So much worse. It was messy and ugly and sorrowful.  My siblings and I had little guidance, great uncertainty.

I think a lot about the middle of the illness. Not the end, when she was simply a shell, struggling to breathe. But the middle, when she could speak, in jumbled words, from a mouth increasingly unwilling to cooperate.

“Will I be ok?” she asked when I visited.

I remember holding her gaze, those same blue eyes looking back at me. I told her I didn’t know. And it is true, that I didn’t, but also, we both knew. She would never be ok again.

It is this time that I regret. Because I am a storyteller and she’s given me so many stories to tell. Stories of childhood warm summer nights, sitting by the pool and looking at the stars. The feel of her warm arm around me. I could have talked about the dress she gave me, with the matching pocketbook, and how she didn’t mind that I liked to wear it with a wedding veil.  We could have laughed about her picking me up at my college dorm in the middle of the night, to soothe a broken heart. And also stories of the grandmother she was to my children, and how it allowed me to see how I was raised. The dinosaur names she’d relearn, the PlayDough she’d play, the books she’d read. I could have told her of this vacation, this vacation of long ago, of great memories. Sitting by a stream, sucking on dinner mints. But I didn’t. I sat with her in silence. In silent worry of what was to become. Instead of celebrating all of what once was. And regardless of how cruelly she was being pulled from me, there were so many things to remember, to recount. Such poignance and pride.

And I wonder if she felt that same way. After the speeches were given and the bride and groom were off. He knew, my brother, how she loved him. He would tell you that today.  It would have been nice to hear it. To say it. And, yes, although I know she’s listening still, it isn’t the same. Peppermint candied wedding toasts, so very delicious in the moment and so very nice to remember. I think about that.

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