as you know, your grandfather Billy lost a tough battle to brain cancer, almost two years before you were born. you hear me talk about him constantly, most of the time sharing happy or funny stories. one story i have not yet shared with you happened in the hours right before he died. i was a mess. it was clear Billy was so close to the end of his life, and i was desperate to hang onto him. i sat on the floor, next to the bed, my hands on his body. i read to him. i shared stories i had already told him a hundred times before. i cried. i told him i loved him, again and again. i would occasionally close my eyes and sleep for a few moments at a time. and then i would open my eyes wide, for fear Billy would die without me being awake. as the very early morning hours came, i started to read a prayer over and over, mostly because i had no idea what else to do. the last line of the prayer included the words “inspiring hope against all hope”. i adored those words in those moments, clinging to them as i clung onto Billy’s arm. at one point, i raised my voice, practically yelling that i wanted it to be ME. i wanted to be the one dying. i didn’t want him to suffer, i wanted to take it all away from him. and my little love, i meant it. i could say this with certainty then, and i still can now, after all of this time. i know that Billy wouldn’t have switched places with me, given the chance; he never would have wanted any of his children to die before him. but in my eyes, he had so much life left to live, so much goodness to give to the world, and he was adored by more people than anyone i have ever met. losing him was going to be a tremendous loss for so many. the feelings i had in those hours – the absolute desperation – was unparalleled to anything i had ever felt in my life.
in the weeks and months after Billy died, i felt like a hollow, empty shell of my former self. most of the time, my mind was in a complete fog. and if i wasn’t foggy, i was crying. i have vivid memories of sobbing on the floor, overcome with grief, on a very regular basis. there were so many more tears than smiles in that year following his death. and then, a little over a year after Billy died, i became pregnant with you. and that time, my little one, was pure bliss. i LOVED being pregnant. it was as if you pulled me from my cold, dark, empty hole and brought me to the light. as i reflect on that time now, i realize how grateful i am to you for being my bright shining star, when i needed guidance and strength in a very dark time.
and now, here we are, wrapping up the year of 2013. an incredibly challenging year that has brought many more tears than smiles. i have felt desperation again, different than when Billy was actually dying, but still that familiar yearning of needing my most primal, central, and influential person in my life. this past week, we were able to visit Billy at arlington national cemetery a couple of times. the first visit, i went by myself, knowing i needed to be alone with him. i sat by his stone and sobbed as if he had just died last week. my heart literally feeling broken open with the desire for him to be alive. even after all this time, i want my Dad. i want to go for long walks with him and tell him what is going on, and ask his advice. i want to hug him and for him to hug me back and tell me everything will be okay. and then yesterday, i return to the cemetery, this time, hand-in-hand with you. we have visited Billy together so many times since you’ve been born, and our visits are normally fairly upbeat and filled with happiness. so, this time, i thought i’d be able to keep my composure and not cry in front of you. i was wrong. the tears came and i grabbed Billy’s stone with both hands, those feelings of desperation washing over me. you held my shoulder, then my hand, assuring me in a soothing voice, “it’s okay, mommy. it’s okay, mommy.” your hand in mine, i thought back to those months that i was pregnant with you. how i was able to be blissfully happy, even though i experienced everything through a lens of grief after Billy’s death. i was still able to be truly filled with joy. because of you. and then, at the cemetery yesterday, i felt the energy of the three of us, connected in this way, and was overcome with gratitude for you being next to me. it was the reminder that i needed. Billy may not be physically with us, but i feel his love, and often times, it is through you. this is the way he is supporting me, long after that desperate time when i clung to him, repeating the words “inspiring hope against all hope.” yes, my little love, you are right. everything will be okay.