I have lots of things that remind me of how long Karen has been gone. My Timehop streak, over 200 days now, which I didn’t start immediately. The unread text messages on her phone, which it reminds me are from over 250 days ago. The now very numerous list of “firsts” we’ve had without her. But there are still some rare moments when my brain is tricked into thinking that she’s just away. Those don’t last very long.
Easter was another one of those holidays that Karen enjoyed. She was always the one to find a new way to dye the eggs, and the other kids liked being able to give her the black jelly beans that they didn’t like. I found a tie-dye egg kit this year, and we tried it in memory of Karen and David, both masters of the art. I’m sure they would have done it better, but we did our best! Last year, she wasn’t home for our egg dying (was she preparing me for the future??) so she found a friend in Philadelphia who had never dyed eggs before, and they had a great time. Even though she missed doing eggs with us, she certainly never missed the family dinner – we would pick her up at the train station on our way up to PA, and drop her off there on our way back. We went this year, and of course it was good to be with the family. I only cried a little. HA!
We went to California for Susie’s spring break. One of our destinations was Joshua Tree National Park, which was on Karen’s itinerary for the trip she didn’t get to go on. We were there at the perfect time, when the flowers were blooming, and I thought of her a lot. I tried to take lots of pictures of the flowers, because Karen always took pictures of the flowers, even though she wouldn’t have been there when the flowers were blooming. I thought of her while we were hiking, and wondered which hikes she would have done, and which would have been too long for her, and if it would have been too hot. She had trouble in the heat. We also went to the San Diego Zoo and the Safari Park, which I think also would have been on Karen’s itinerary. I took pictures there, too, but again, I know hers would have been better!
There is an annual Tribute Service at the hospital. It is a beautiful event, with pictures of all of the kids displayed around the reception room, and a remembrance service with a slideshow, and the names announced and candles lit for each one. As they call the names, the people who are there to remember them stand up. You can go to it as often as you want, not just this first year. The hospital staff sees a list of families who are attending the service, and there were a few nurses and other caregivers there, which was wonderful. Some of them make a point to go every year, so I’m already looking forward to going back next year, just to say hello. When you spend so much time with people over 4 years, it’s nice to see them once in a while to catch up. There were also some friends from Camp there, and it’s always great to see them.
Some of the kids were just tiny babies, and it broke my heart to see the pictures of them, all full of tubes. It made me wonder if those parents had a chance to hold their babies without any tubes. I was so fortunate to have Karen for so long, and to now have her friends. Karen had so many wonderful friends, from elementary school all the way through to college, and I’ve kept in touch with many of them. Some of them text me when they’re thinking of her, or I will send them things that pop up in Timehop. I appreciate the continued contact more than they can ever imagine!
This grieving process continues – what else can it do, I guess. Some days I don’t cry at all. Those are the days that I am busy doing other things, not going into her room (which still looks like she could come home and climb in bed!) and ignoring the bag on the mantel next to the TV. I am very good at not seeing the things that are here every day, like that bag, and the clutter everywhere (which explains the constant state of mess in our house!) and I can forget, sometimes, that this is Karen’s computer I’m typing on, even though it has her name, and I have to type in her password to use it, and the picture of her in Maine on the swing is the wallpaper. Most days I cry a little, just for a minute or two. I talk to Karen and tell her how much I miss her. Days like today, though, where I want to do a blog post, the tears just keep flowing. As a very wise niece told me, crying is completely normal, and memories are good.
I’m Karen. I was originally diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) in August 2004 when I was 10 years old. When I was working on my college and scholarship application essays two years ago, I wrote about my journey. Although it was a rough few years, it became such an influential part of my life that I can’t, and wouldn’t want to, imagine my life without having had cancer. I called it the worst best thing that ever happened to me.