A couple of weeks ago I took the girls to the poster decorating party for the Dana Farber Marathon Challenge partner program — the program through which Clio’s ass-kicking partner runner Katelin is running her fourth marathon this year to raise money for cancer research. (Help her reach her goal!) We’ve gone to the poster party the past couple of years, and it’s fun for the girls, and there’s cookie decorating (which should really be called put a cookie under a giant hunk of frosting and sprinkles and candy and jimmies).
But we skipped the other event — a partner “meet-up” party — that’s part of the whole DFMC partner program, and are skipping the next one, too: a big banquet the day before the marathon to honor the runners and the patients and the partner patients who have passed away — which includes a slideshow of the faces of now-dead children. I guess it’s supposed to make people feel fired-up and verklempt and resolute in their commitment to raising money and running 26.2 miles. But you can imagine the effect it has on the many parents of children with cancer — both still here and not — in the audience. The first year I went, while Clio was back at the hospital, I spent most of that slideshow staring at the napkin in my lap. (And, you know, then the finish line got bombed the next day. So there was that.)
We are, however, planning to go watch the marathon at mile 25 again, and give Katelin hugs when she runs past. I’ve always loved watching the marathon, for as long as I’ve lived in Boston, and Elsa loves it too. (Clio, honestly, could take it or leave it, but she’s a good sport!)
But back to that poster party: There was a little girl there, decorating her poster next to us. A little girl with a fuzz of post-chemo hair and a turned up nose and chubby steroid cheeks and a sweet smile and she reminded me so much of the Clio of a year or so ago. I got tearful, and I had to go to the bathroom and collect myself.
What is that surge of emotion about? I can’t quite put a finger on it. It’s a strange mix of nostalgia (how sweet and resilient and brave she was through all of it; what a sense of purpose and clarity we had) and sadness and pain.
I think now that we’re farther away from it all, no longer in the high seas of our crappy little boat trip, it hits me in a way that’s almost closer to the way it hit when Clio was first diagnosed. The fear isn’t there the way it was then, but the pain and even a little shock are. A feeling of: what the f— just happened??
It rises up in both expected and unexpected moments. Yesterday we were over at Children’s for a follow-up meeting on neuropsych testing Clio had down (more on that later), and as we were waiting to go in, I looked out the window and could see across to another wing of the hospital, and saw crayon drawings and words on kids’ hospital room windows; saw toys sitting on the sills. Little kid scribbles and stuffed animals; teenage peace signs and books. I saw a couple of parents through the windows. I remembered what that was like, living in those rooms — the worry, the tedium, the paradoxical sense of powerlessness and determination. The grieving for life before.
Before, before, before.