A series of writing by Jennifer Shields, one of seven women committed to raising awareness for breast cancer research.
I am eight years old. Christmas, my mother in her soft blue robe. I can feel that robe underneath my little hands…flowered satin border concealing the easy snaps. The morning smell of her; beautiful, crisp….precarious, feigning good health.
My father, almost shy around her. Hands in his pocket trousers. Dumbfounded as to how he could stop the withering away of his love; the mother of his nine children.
“Christmas Garland Remembered”
I remember her off in the distance, cautiously walking towards us. Her IV was decorated with Christmas garland; much like a Shepard with his staff arriving at the manger.
How did you get in?, she says to my father.
That was when children were not allowed. My father charmed everyone.
I was afraid to go near her. She was a wisp of a thing. Still had her beauty. Like a ghost caught in the morning light, she floated around us. Smiling tentatively.
I wanted to take her home now. Have her tuck me in, kiss me, turn out the light. We played a game with our goodnight kiss. Hummed with our lips locked together, holding our breath. The first to pull away loses. I would giggle. She would smile. Goodnight she would say.
And then she was gone.
The clicking heels of her penny loafers, rigid against the gloss of the black and white tile floor, reverberated on my heart as the sound became fainter. She was no longer close.
The lingering smell of her armed me with courage to fight off the demons and monsters that made use of her absence to torment and taunt. Creases in the covers materialized into slow-moving, venomous snakes. Shadows from majestic oaks appeared as long, willowy fingers ready to grasp me by the throat.
To steady myself, I pictured her busy with her chores. Her loafers still on, well past 9:00 pm. A crisp, white, button-down, oxford shirt, neatly tucked into a tweed skirt; intricately woven with blues, browns, and reds. A navy blue cardigan, “Deans of Scotland”. The small spherical buttons encased, womb-like, in matching yarn.
Every day, the same. No room for possibility.
Death was not a possibility.
“Heaven is Home”
Friday afternoon and the house is quiet, empty. I will make a snack. Some cinnamon toast and deliciously cold milk. I sit at the kitchen table devouring my toast, knowing I will call my cousin Susan to hint at my boredom and availability; hoping she would bite.
I always felt cared for there. I could loosen my shoulders, breathe; pretend all was right with the world.
This was my father’s brother. Partners together, they inherited my grandfather’s architectural firm, Shields Associates. Uncle Jim and Aunt Jean lived in the adjacent town with their five kids. Susan was my peer, just a year younger. I would call from the kitchen wall phone, nervously winding and unwinding my body in the long accordion wire. Apprehensive about covertly inviting myself, wondering how long I would need to fumble through small talk before they would extend an offer.
“Do you want to come for an overnight?”
I simply answered, “ok”, as if I had not really entertained the idea for my weekend plans, suppressing my relief and excitement. I did not want to come across as needy. It was embarrassing, needing somewhere to go and someone to want me.
I would leave a note and off I would go. Two days of feeling important, worthwhile. I was fed, nurtured, and loved.
Susan and I got along famously. We made each other laugh from deep in our bellies. She was silly like me and always up for a dare.
One of our favorite things to do was rile their crazy Irish Setter into a frenzy. We would get the dog to chase us, snapping at our heels, while we jumped to safety atop the pool table in the playroom. Around and around we would go gasping for breath, choking on hilarity while pulling each other up to the haven of the green felt platform, away from the chomping exposed teeth.
It astonished me that we were allowed to create such chaos.
Most Friday nights we would go to Michael’s hockey games. He was the goalie, the star, and I had a secret crush on him, my adorable, larger than life cousin. Those games were exciting. I truly felt a part of something, included; not to mention the frequent trips to the snack bar.
On Saturdays we went roller-skating at the big rink in town or ice-skated on a nearby pond. Everything was good and fun. Everything was as it should be, at least for those 48 hours. It made coming home on Sunday mornings after church that much harder.
This particular Sunday, we awoke to a blanket of fresh snow draped seamlessly, as if by angels, obliterating the barren greyness. The only thing that tipped the balance of my love for diving off Well Rock in the summer was a good, hearty snowfall; a vast, open canvas full of possibility.
To top it off, we were further elated with the fantastic and unusual change of plans. We were excused from mass that Sunday morning! Oh my stars, we were through the moon! No church and an entire morning to make fresh tracks in the pristine, unadulterated snow. I would learn later why we were excused from mass.
We fueled up on crispy, delightful Thomas English muffins plastered with butter and juicy sweet navel oranges straight off the plane from their last excursion to Florida. A perfect marriage between salt and sweet and then out the door we raced.
The air was clean and crisp on our breath and the whiteness, a vision of spectacular wonder. We pretended to be lost Artic explorers foraging for food and shelter. One of us would dramatically fall to the ground every so often flailing and muttering that we could not go on. It was the job of the other to encourage and pull up out of the depths of the snow bank their partner bereft of strength, hope, and fortitude to soldier on.
When my aunt and uncle returned from mass, it was time for me to go. I made my way to the car with a heavy heart, but not before broadsiding my cousin into the snow for one last frolic
Arriving home, I was surprised to find everyone in the music room, as if awaiting my demise. What did I do? Perhaps I should not have left a note. I should have waited for my dad to come home to get permission to go to my cousins’. I made assumptions on my own behalf without interference. Maybe I can’t go to Susan’s anymore and that’s why we didn’t have to go to church. One last hurrah. One last really good play before I was denied future visits for being so bold and forthright in my plans.
My father was seated in his grey leather chair wearing his yellow wool sweater with the brown reindeer prancing atop the chest. I never liked that sweater. He motioned for me to come over and climb into his lap. It was oddly quiet. I was really gonna get it, but I wasn’t sure why All my siblings were here. All of us in one room usually only happened on Christmas, during the tearing open of gifts, and then we scattered.
He held me tight, too tight, and kissed the top of my head.
“Mum is all better now, no more pain.”
For a brief moment excitement shot through my veins pulsing throughout; I was elated.
“When is she coming home?”
He is crying. Large, contained, hollow droplets falling from his eyes and cheeks like the first big circles of rain before a thunderstorm.
“She is in heaven now with God. Watching out for us.”
He is sad, so sad. Awareness slaps me hard. She must be gone. Never coming home. Never kissing me goodnight.
I tell him it will be ok. It will all be ok.
JerseyMomsBlog co-founders, Cristie and Teicia have joined forces with dear friends on a personal mission of awareness and funding for breast cancer research. There are 7 women committed to physical and funding challenges as a team – but individually we have unique stories and experiences related to cancer, loss and family.
This is one of them, powerfully written by Jennifer Shields who lost her Mother at a tender age. She’s also a gifted writer who gives her whole soul into every expressive word. Learn more about how you can support this mission: www.redbankbosombuddies.eventbrite.com