All eyes on the Return

Summer 1985

Summer 1985

My southeast facing window filtered in the day’s new sun. I could feel it, even through the eye mask. It was the one he bought for me after we spent 10 minutes complaining about the pressure that most masks put on eyes. It was mutual frustration. He found the solution and had presented me, bright eyed and happy to be my eye mask rescuer, with a new, contoured eye mask. This was just weeks before the 911 call. I pushed the mask to my forehead and cringed at the light. I wanted to stay in the dark, aching sleep that had enwrapped me.

The emptiness was palpable. I clenched my white feather duvet in my hands and pulled it up to my neck, too tired to cry.

The pit of grief was setting up shop in my stomach. I knew I’d have to physically get myself out of bed, but I felt so heavy. The pit must weigh a hundred pounds, but the day had plans for me. Plans I couldn’t forgo because I was a mom now. Two two year-olds and a one year-old needed me. Snacks, diapers, arguments, toys in the toilet, they were all waiting for me. Calling in sick wasn’t an option. They brought me life and light, but when the darkness was calling me, begging me to curl back up with it, it seemed impossible. It was a craving, stronger than any, to sit in the void. To stare blankly and think nothing, only feel the pit, the pain.

I couldn’t see him anymore. I’d close my eyes and try. I only saw the face, the smile, and the glassy eyes that exposed cancer’s victory over the brain. His swollen legs and feet, the scar on his forehead that lined up with his wrinkles but was too wide and deep to be mistaken for one. It was the gateway to the temporal lobe. Dr. Woo had entered, taken cells and closed up, leaving the tumor to conquer.

I wanted to close my eyes and see bright blue eyes that sparkled, and a smile that lit his face. I wanted to hear him say, ‘Hi Sweetie!’ when I walked in a room. I wanted a hug that wouldn’t make him wobble or fall. I wanted my Dad. But, for the life of me I couldn’t conjure up an image of him.

That morning as I contemplated getting out of bed, all I wanted was to pinpoint and remember what his last words to me where. I couldn’t find them anywhere. I’d frantically search my memory and the pit would only get heavier. It was grief on top of grief. I lost him, I lost the image of him, and I lost those words. Cancer is a nasty force that claims more that just a life.

Maybe I got out of bed that day, I don’t remember. There where many days that the darkness called so hard, Sean had to step in and take care of the kids. Or maybe I had an ok day and with the Disney channel’s help, made it through.

Fast forward seven years, to a crisp October morning. The sun shone through the darkness of my mask and I pushed the newer replacement up to my forehead. I wish I’d never thrown the old one out. It was too worn to keep, but was a connection with my dad that I missed. It was the day before the anniversary of his passing and the pit that has never left was weighty.

I pulled that same fluffy duvet up to my neck. “Open hands,” I told myself.  The lyrics to a Deb Talon of the Weepies song ran my brain, “The best laid plans are your open hands. Come on, come on, lay it down.” I was doing a good job this year. I knew it was coming and had prepared all October. Halloween would be a good distraction, I could power through and hold my hands open.

I grabbed my phone, read a couple emails, and checked my Facebook. A memory popped up of a blog post I had written 7 years ago. I laughed remembering the blog that had been long since abandoned. I opened it up and read.

“He has been in bed the last few days. He didn't open his eyes at all yesterday and hasn't eaten in a couple days now. Tuesday morning he opened his eyes while I was there for a bit. He looked confused and his eyes are cloudy... He did mumble and move his lips in the motion of, "I love you, Katie," before I left…It is definitely on my brain that these may be the last words that I hear my dad "say". I think that I am at peace with that. They are the perfect words to hear.”

I put the phone down and pulled that duvet all the way up to my eyes and sobbed. It was a cathartic sob that shook my body. With my eyes shut tight, I saw his face. I saw those brilliant eyes full of love. It was what I had been missing. I couldn’t ever imagine how I would ever know what his last words to me where. There where no recordings I could search through, only my memory that grief had savaged. And here it was, in my own words. I was literally holding them in my hand. Something so precious that I had lost was returned.

There was joy in this sadness. I felt a connection to my dad far bigger than that old eye mask could ever give. His words swelled my heart.

Things come and things go, that I have no control over. I can’t claim to know what God is doing and I especially don’t know why He is doing it. I do know that he listens to our heartache and sits with us in it. He knows what our hearts long for. And the beauty of open hands is yes, things can be taken from them, but things can also be placed in them, and sometimes it’s the very thing that was taken that’s given back.

Kate Thomas