Growing up, my great grandmother lived with us. She had her hair done every Wednesday, this lovely halo of white curls around her head. When I was eight she had a stroke, and needed to move to an assisted living facility. Visiting her was hard. Not because she was in a home or acted different because of her stroke…no, it was because she looked different. Instead of her beautiful curls, her hair was straight, pulled into a ponytail. I hated seeing her like that.
When I was pregnant with Annabel, I would have lunch with my friend and former co-worker Desiree. Her hair was growing back after it all fell out from chemo. It was curly and thick, different than it was before she was diagnosed. Desiree rarely wore a scarf over her head, and she gave her only wig to my friend Jackie! to use. She didn’t care if people looked at her bald head. She wanted to be comfortable. At our last lunch, she had about two inches of curly hair, and a huge smile. I close my eyes and I see it.
My Aunt Kathy had the best collection of earrings. They were always sparkly, dangly, creative. They were always “on theme.” Holidays, birthdays, wine tastings, she had the perfect pair of earrings. The last day I saw her, she had on purple earrings. She told me she was channeling Madeline’s bravery through them. She was off to an appointment with another doctor. I never saw her at the end of her radiation, when she was thin and lost her hair. I’m grateful.
The last time I saw Madeline, she was swollen from fluids, her body covered with tiny oozing marks where the doctors had pierced her skin in an effort to keep her alive. She was cold and naked. I wanted to put a diaper on her, it didn’t seem natural to look at her without one. But nothing about the scene was natural. Her nose was running, the fluid tinted red. Something in my mind told me I had to leave before it got worse.
Two days later, we were at the funeral home making arrangements. Madeline’s body was in the next room. My body screamed, I wanted to see her, I needed to see her. But my mind kept me firmly planted in the chair. I kept telling myself she would look worse. She wouldn’t look like my girl. There wouldn’t be any light in her eyes. I would regret seeing her that way. My heart wanted to hold her and touch her one more time.
My mind won.
I want do-overs. I want to hug them all one more time, and tell them I love them and how much they mean to me. I want to be able to close my eyes and not have the bad images. I want them all back. My great-gram, my aunt, my friend, my baby. I want them back, smiling and happy again.