“Still here, Eleanor Rose,” she said.
I exhaled in relief. “I was nervous.”
“It’s okay.” She slowly opened her eyes and raised a hand to my cheek. “Can I have a minute alone with Ellie, Kevin?”
He cleared his throat and sniffled. “Yeah, of course.”
Dad walked away, and I sat down next to Mom’s wheelchair. The light breeze brushed against our skin. She was so tiny, nothing but skin and bones. Sometimes I worried if I touched her even softly, she’d just shatter into a million pieces.
“Do you need another blanket?” I asked.
“Maybe you’re thirsty? I can get water.”
“Ellie, it’s okay. I’m okay.”
But you’re not.
We sat there, staring out at the afternoon sky in complete silence. Hours passed, and the sun began to set. The sky was painted with vibrant colors, and it was beautiful watching how they blended into the ocean.
“Your father’s going to need you,” she said. “More than he knows, he’s going to need your light, Ellie.”
“I’ll be there for him.”
“I know you will.” She inhaled deep and exhaled slowly. “I once read a tale about dragonflies, life, and death. Can I share it with you?”
She closed her eyes, and I watched each breath she took. “It spoke about how the dragonfly is born a larva, but when it’s ready, it sheds its casing and becomes the beauty we see flying around us. In many stories, this is seen as the process of both life and death. The dragonfly emerging from its casing is just like when the soul leaves the body. There are two stages to the dragonfly. The first stage is when it is an insect that lives underwater. This is their life on earth. The next is when they emerge and find their flight. They become airborne and find a new freedom. That’s when their soul is freed from the restraints of their body. Isn’t that beautiful, Ellie? Isn’t that an amazing thought? That even after death our spirits live on?”
Tears were rolling down my cheeks, but I was quiet.
I couldn’t reply.
It hurt too much.
“I won’t be in pain,” she promised. “It won’t hurt anymore. I will be freer than ever before, and you know what? I will still be here. Whenever you see a dragonfly, I need you to know it’s me.”
“Mom…” I kept holding her hand, and the tears kept flowing. “It’s too soon.”
“It’s always too soon, baby, but I just want you to know…” She tilted her head in my direction and opened her eyes. “You are my heartbeats. You are my masterpiece. In a way, I feel as if I cheated death, because I get to live on within you, in your smile, in your laugh, in your heart. I’m there for it all, Eleanor. I’m eternal because of you. So please, do all the things. Take risks. Find adventures. Keep living for me and know that it has been the greatest honor being your mother. I am so lucky to have loved you.”
“I love you, Mom. More than words, I love you.”
“I love you, baby girl. Now, can you do me a favor?”
“Can you walk me to the water?” I hesitated for a minute, and looked back toward the house where Dad had headed. I was positive she wasn’t strong enough to make it to the shore on her own. She’d been so weak lately, yet she placed a hand on my forearm. “It’s okay. I know you got me.”
So, I bent down and took off her slippers and socks, and then I removed my shoes and socks, too. I took her hands in mine and, slowly but surely, walked her to the edge of the water. It was freezing that afternoon. The water was chilled beyond words, and we both squeaked as it touched our toes and rose to our ankles.
We laughed, too.
I’d never forget that, hearing Mom’s laughter.
At one point, she asked me to let her go, and she stood where her feet met the ocean. Her eyes shut, and she held her hands up in the air, her arms forming a V, and tears rolled down her cheeks as the setting sun kissed her face. “Yes, yes, yes,” she cried, feeling every part of the world around her, seeming to feel more alive than she had in quite some time. Then she reached out to me, and I took her hand in mine. She leaned on me, and I was strong enough to hold her up on my own. We stared out into the night, finding a new kind of comfort.
She was okay in that moment.
She was happy.
And I swore, for a short period of time, the water healed her soul.
Two days later, Mom took her last breath.
Dad held her right hand, and I held her left.
The clock in the bedroom ticked, but time stood still.
I thought there would be some kind of comfort that came from knowing she was no longer in pain. I thought since we had seen it coming, it wouldn’t hurt as much. I thought I would be somewhat okay.
But I wasn’t.
Every single part of me ached.
Nothing can prepare a person for death.
You can’t speed past the hurt to reach the closure.
You are simply overtaken by sorrow. Grief shows its face and it unforgivingly drowns you, and for a while, you wonder if staying under the water would be better than ever breathing again.
When my mother took her last breath, I wanted to take my last one right there beside her, but I knew that wasn’t what she had wanted. She wanted me to emerge from the darkness, to swim again.
And I would.
Just not that night.
That night, heartbreak won the battle as I steadily fell apart.
FROM: [email protected]
DATE: May 1, 4:33 PM
I ran into Shay at school today, and she told me about your mom. She said she and her mom were heading down to Florida to help your dad and you out. I’m sorry, Ellie. I’m so damn sorry and I know that doesn’t do anything or change anything, but I just wanted you to know. There’s not a day that passes that I don’t think about you guys, about you. I just wish there were something more I could do.
I remember when my grandpa died, I just sat around, uncertain of what to do. I’d never lost anyone before, and it fucked me up for a good minute. People told me to pull myself together and man up about it. “Death happens, kid. Better get used to it,” my uncle Tommy said. “Real men don’t cry,” my dad echoed.
I think that’s bullshit, though.
Be fucked up for a good minute.
Don’t pressure yourself to feel better until you’re ready.
I just wanted you to know I’m sorry.
She was what every kid dreamed of having as a parent. I know I did a million times over.
I’m just really fucking sorry.
FROM: [email protected]
DATE: May 2, 2:02 AM
SUBJECT: Re: Sorry
It’s two in the morning and everything hurts. By everything, I mean every single thing.
My legs ache. My back is sore. My throat is dry. My eyes burn.
I can’t breathe.
Every time I think about it, I fall apart, and I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s just a nonstop cycle of falling apart over and over again.
I just want her back.
I’m going to be fucked up for a good minute…maybe even for quite a few.
“Hello?” My voice cracked as I said the words. It was three in the morning as I answered my cell phone, and after a day of crying, my vocal cords were exhausted.
“Hi, Ellie.” Greyson’s voice was low and tired. For a minute, I thought I was dreaming. “Were you sleeping?”
“No.” I sat up a bit in bed. “I can’t.”
“Yeah. That makes sense.”
“What are you doing up so late?”
“I couldn’t sleep. So, I checked my email and figured I’d call. I just wanted to make sure you were breathing.”
Tears began rolling down my face as I clenched the phone to my ear. “I can’t talk, Grey. It hurts too much to talk.”
“That’s fine. We don’t have to talk. We can just keep our phones pressed to our ears. Okay?”
I nodded as if he could see me. “Okay.”
I lay back down and kept the cell phone glued to my ear. His breaths were light through the receiver, but I was thankful for them. At some point, I fell asleep, and when I woke up again, his snores were still coming through the speaker.
It was quiet, and he was snoring, and tears were falling down my cheeks as I listened.
That was the very minute I knew I loved him—when I was broken-hearted at four in the morning and he still showed up for me.
Even though he hadn’t said it, I was certain he loved me, too. People didn’t have to talk about love to know it existed. Love wasn’t only real because someone said it out loud. No, love just kind of sat there quietly, in the shadows of the night, healing the cracks that lived in our hearts.
Dad hadn’t left his room in days.
I’d lost track of how many times I’d checked on him just to make sure he was remembering to breathe. Camila and Shay came down to help with the funeral service, and I was thankful for that. Without my aunt, nothing would’ve gotten done.
Shay stayed by my side day and night. She made sure I was eating, even though I didn’t want to, and she’d check on Dad for me when it was too hard for me to see him like that.
There was a bottle of whiskey that sat on his nightstand, and each time I looked in, more of it was gone. He was self-destructing, and I didn’t know how to help bring him back to life.
Truth was, the only person able to keep my father grounded was now gone.
The love of his life had left his side, and he didn’t have a clue how to live in a world where she no longer resided.
There was no Kevin without a Paige.
There was an eerie quietness that filled our house, an uneasy feeling over everything. So, at night, I’d go stand by the water and listen to the waves crash against the shore.