One year, four months and 20 days. That’s how long it’s been since colon cancer killed my daughter Queah. There hasn’t been one single day that I haven’t thought about her since. In fact, there was a point not so long ago when I felt I wasn’t going to make it through this – not in one piece. The pain at times just seemed to cut right through my heart. In the beginning I was as fast as an Olympic sprinter – I could outrun the pain. I found many distractions with the biggest being my work. But the faster I ran, grief was always on my heels. As I write this story I am still very much shaken, very much heartbroken. But recently someone brought to my attention — someone made something very clear to me through three important words that I now can’t get out of my head. These three words - “it gets better”.
There was a point where I saw myself sinking into a depression. Nothing was good. Nothing made me happy. The laughs that used to come so easily disappeared – and the smiles were barely there. Sorrow had become a way of life. I felt myself sinking deeper and deeper and there was no way to climb out alone. So I got help. I found a grief counselor to help me – as she would say – manage my grief. A term I now understand.
I remember one occasion sitting in her office. We would sit across from each other in round cushioned, comfortable chairs with a coffee table between us. I always had a choice of where to sit but each time it was in the same place where I could stare at the morning sky out the large window in her office. On this day, through my tears I told her the only reason I kept coming back was because I knew she could tell me what to do to get my daughter back. I somehow believed she knew the secret – a secret very few others knew about – but she knew it and I was waiting for her to tell me. What’s crazy is I saw Queah struggle to take her last and final breaths. I was right there when the funeral home attendants respectfully wrapped her body in a white sheet and then wrapped her in a blue velvet blanket. I saw them lift her body out of her bed and carry her down the hallway and place her on to a gurney. I stood there and watch as they wheeled her body out the front door – realizing that would be the last time she’d leave and she’d never again walk though that door. I saw everything and felt all the hurt associated with it that night but was now convinced there was far more to it than that. Certainly – there had to be some secret because how could it possibly end this way. So tragic – so final – so sad. My grief counselor said she wished she knew the “secret”. But she said something that stuck. She said relationships never die. She said I would reconnect with Queah. I took this to mean my daughter would be visible - there in the flesh – I would be able to see her. That’s not what she meant. She said it happens in many ways and when it does I’d know for sure..
Around last October I was trying to find somewhere to go for Christmas – the first Christmas without Queah. It was always an important holiday for us and I realized it was going to be a tough one for me. Queah and I were big on giving gifts. I’d go overboard every year – almost trying to make up for the lean years of raising her as a single parent. Looking back now it’s funny because even in her adult years we argued over when she could open her presents. I felt Christmas Day is when you open your gifts – but every year she’d beg me to let her open at least one on Christmas eve and every year I would make her wait. It was around this time her Australian friend Phil, convinced me take a trip to Sydney to escape the familiar surrounding of the holidays. A good idea for most people but not for me because Queah had traveled there not so long ago and spoke of it often. I have written about this trip in a previous post on this blog called “Trip of a Lifetime” so I won’t re-write the entire story but here are the highlights. There were two places in Australia that Queah spoke about many times – a small winery called Irongate Estate located in Australia’s wine country and the Sydney Opera House. Both of those places I was determined to see. During the trip I met many people but never mentioned my daughter because I was so far on the edge and could barely say her name without breaking down in tears. Midway through the trip – Phil took me about two and a half hours outside of Sydney for a chance to see wine country and Irongate Estate. This little quaint winery with Spanish architecture looked the same as it did in Queah’s pictures. I met the owner – Roger. He was the first person I actually mentioned my daughter to. I still don’t know why I brought it up but something just forced the words out. After he heard the stories – how she visited there, how she suffered with cancer and how she died – he told me that he too had lost his son Miles about the same time Queah died. They were about the same age. Then, on the last day of my trip Phil took me to the Sydney Opera House where I met tourists from all over the world – but there was one couple that every time I turned around there they were. Finally, for a second time I opened up about Queah – and wouldn’t you know it – they too had a son named Matt who died. These people I met in Australia later turned out to be key in helping me figure out this grief thing – or should I say manage it. We believe our children got together and connected us together. We have become a support group over the miles.
About a month ago I was at the elevator at my building and ran into a neighbor. I knew her husband had been very sick but I wasn’t sure if he had passed away. As she stepped onto the elevator I reached out and touched her elbow asking her if she was okay. She turned to me with tears in her eyes and said it had been exactly one month which let me know her husband was gone. She then put her arms around me and whispered in my ear “does it get better?”. Does – it – get – better. Until this point no one had ever asked me that question. I never imagined myself having to answer it. Don’t forget I’m a griever. They tell me I’m part of a community of tortured souls having lost a child – my only child. But when she asked me the question my response to her was immediate. I didn’t have to think about it and I know it came from my heart. My answer was comprised of many therapy session. My grief counselor told me I needed to cry one hundred thousand tears and I think I’ve cried only about five thousand so far which means I have so many more to go. It hasn’t been that long for me. It’s only been one year, four months and 20 days since Queah left this world. I think you get the picture – I’m not over this and I now know I never will be. The words I immediately whispered back to her have caused me to think about this journey over and over again. I whispered these three words from experience – “it gets better”…