How do I even begin to tell you what 2021 has been like? The last 3 years the calendar seems cruel, moving us further away from you and reminding us of all the unbearable days and spotlighting the days that you are not here but should be. Birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, diagnosis day, transplant anniversary, that trip to hospice, the last day you walked through our door, sat on our furniture, all those days still hit like jagged edges. Christmas, here we are again, this year it’s just your dad and I in Florida, but you know that don’t you? Leaving for Florida was hard this year. The anxiety about leaving home started creeping past my ability to cope. I felt it in my body. I can only explain it as the feeling when you hit your funny bone, the pain reverberates through my entire body. I realize I feel your connection at home and that is why it’s hard to leave. This connection we still have seems so fragile, it is so hard to trust what I cannot see. I search for you everywhere, in the sky, in the water. If only my heart could break free of my body I know it would run straight to you. My heart is always, always, reaching for you.
Your dad and I were walking Duval Street in Key West and I told him that even though I see your color everywhere, I don’t feel you and that scares me.
We walked into an art gallery and there was a picture hanging on the wall. The sky, the water, your color, and two mangrove trees. I just stare and must say something or my face shows such interest and curiosity because the sales person approaches us about sizes and that there is more art upstairs. We walk upstairs and again I see the mangrove trees, the picture both pulls at and calms my soul. The artist upstairs is a nice man, and he shows us other pieces. Silence of Serenity, a boat with your color catches my eye and that’s when I feel compelled to share you with him. When I tell him that you died three years ago and this is your color and how much I love the art, he immediately says “I am so sorry.” It feels genuine and I feel that he understands that those words are sacred. As Matt and I look to each other for direction he offers a free piece of anything in the gallery for free with the purchase of Mangrove Mantra. I tell him I know which one, the boat with your color. I am not sure at this point if I really thought we would actually purchase the art, but the thought of it hanging in my bedroom excites me. I feel that connection that only you bring. It soothes the part of my soul that misses you and longs to hold you and hear you laugh and just bury my face in your hair and breathe you in, that is the part that only you can satisfy, the Madi shaped hole in my life.
We decide to get something to eat and think about it. At that point the salesperson offers to write up a quote and send us with 5x7 prints. The artist, Alan, offers to take $300 off the total price if we will buy them now. We look at each other and say yes. Alan follows us downstairs and sits at the table with us and tells us that he doesn’t tell many people but he believes in the afterlife. We tell him we do too and that you have made good on your promise to reach out. I tell him what I just said to your dad about not feeling you here, but when I saw the picture I felt you near. He showed me his library of books on his phone he has been reading about the afterlife, he suggest one titled The Light Between Us, and all of a sudden a woman’s voice comes on, it’s the book, but it’s also pleading, sending a message….
“I am not gone, please tell them I am not gone.”
Collectively we gasped, and looked at each other. Alan told us that he didn’t cue it. Of course, how could he, how would he know we were coming in today, that he would have this conversation? I told him about your promise, the text I still get. All the while, my mind and heart are racing, trying to comprehend what just happened. I want to sob, laugh, and yell how much I love you. I know I have tears running down my face but who cares, you just spoke to us. In fact, there are tears in Alan’s and Matt’s eyes too. We know that something mystical and magical has happened.
Those words play over and over in my thoughts, “ I am not gone, please tell them I am not gone.”
I hear you Madi, I really do. Not long ago I was your mom, your friend, your caretaker and teacher, but now you are my teacher. You have taught me to be brave, lead with love and not fear. You have shown me that there is more to this life than we see, that death can take the body, but love lives on and grows.
I sit here now staring at the print, what is it about the mangrove trees that draw me? The trees are so close in the middle of the vast ocean, surviving and growing against all odds. The photo captured is one of serenity, the stillness of water, like glass, but I know that’s just one day. How many storms have they survived? How often do the waves come crashing, the coldness of the water threatening to end their life? How often does the summer heat curl up their leaves and leave them exhausted? Instead they support each other with confidence in the face of all life’s challenges. Growing together in the gentleness of water and all of life’s ebbs and flows. It reminds me of your motto that will be inscribed on the back of the picture: Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. You lived that, we are still living it, all of us in this ocean of grief and life. I see us as the trees, I am reminded of the tree you made me that hangs in our kitchen, we are the trees. Now I know why the piece of art spoke to me, because you were speaking to my heart.