After Camila died, I found a journal on her nightstand at home. I had come home after living with her in hospitals for ten months, so finding this felt like a discovery: something I hadn’t known about and was so happy to find.
The last time Camila had kept anything like a journal was in third grade when she wrote into a diary for a few weeks. (In her college years, that diary proved to be a ready source of entertainment when certain childhood friends would visit.) This new journal was totally unexpected. I knew that she must have written in it the last time we were home, at Christmas time.
When I opened it, I discovered that it contained only one line of text, written like a banner across the top of the page:
Love life! Love life! Love life!
THESE WORDS have proven to be one of the best gifts Camila gave to me and my family.
We choose our banners, our mantras, philosophies. They often change because of time, age, and experience. Sometimes these changes are gradual, other times, abrupt, unexpected. Sometimes, as everyone in the circle knows, change comes of necessity.
The first major decision I had to make after Camila died was whether or not I would choose to survive her loss. Was I going to die – figuratively or literally (I didn’t really care which at first) – or was I going to survive, rejoin the throes of life and learn how to live with this loss?
I imagine my girl wrote those lines in answer to a similar question of her own. In the midst of a hard-won remission, with more chemo and radiation and the transplant ahead, Camila chose to keep loving life.
And the least I can do, the very least I can achieve on her behalf, is to fly that same banner as I learn what it is to live without her. But I must first give myself permission to learn, and then I must remember to live.
These are some of the things I have learned so far:
She is with me.
I am still her Mommie.
She is still my Buttercup, my Monkey, my Flower, my girl.
I can still talk to her, anticipate her laugh, her taste, her likes and dislikes.
I still connect to her memories, anecdotes, discoveries, mistakes, and glorious victories.
I still get a kick out of her life. I still love the life she lived – love her humor, her heart, the way she would keep me in line just by saying “Mom” with her particular mix of irony and laughter.
I love that she knew me so well and I love that I knew her so well: all her moods, beauty marks, fingernails and feet. Her intellect and her laugh, her stand and her spin.
I have also learned that I can still love her friends and care about their lives. And they have helped me learn that they still love her and care about me. What I have with her friends began with her, and that also makes me happy. That happiness is something to hold.
This is perhaps the most important thing I have learned: I can still hold on to the happiness Camila brought into my life. I can continue to connect to it, feel it, live within in.
I am still myself, still her mother who loves her. That is something that will never leave me. And I’m glad I’m alive so I can keep feeling it.
In a very roundabout way, I came upon a poem that comes close to reflecting the philosophy I have chosen at this time in my life, this time of loss and learning. It was written by David Whyte. Just as he chose his subject and his form, he chose the words of that last stanza – and I am grateful.
Above the mountains
the geese turn into
the light again
on an open sky.
has to be
so you can find
the one line
Sometimes it takes
a great sky
to find that
wedge of freedom
in your own heart.
the bones of the black
sticks left when the fire
has gone out
someone has written
in the ashes of your life.
You are not leaving
even as the light fades quickly now
you are arriving.
by David Whyte
from his book, House of Belonging
Listen to David Whyte read and discuss this poem here.
Visit David Whyte’s web site and read the title poem from his House of Belonging collection here.