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The Smile

Another month, another milestone. It has been eleven months since we talked, shared a story or a secret. Eleven months since I laughed with you, saw your eyes twinkle as you giggled. Eleven long months since I held you in my arms, pulled you close to my heart, never wanting to let you go. Eleven long months since I smiled… with you.

At times I can’t believe that it is only eleven months, it seems like yesterday. Too often, I get caught off guard, thinking that you will come in the door from playing outside; waking me from this nightmare. But then I realize I am not sleeping, this is our reality.

I miss you so, Julia. How will I ever smile without you?

This past month we have been keeping busy, working around the house and taking part in several pseudo-celebrations. It seems impossible to think that we could celebrate anything, but we try. In the past weeks, John and I both collected on our birthday gifts to each other; for John, a concert; for me, tickets to a Broadway show.

While in New York, John and I had dinner between shows with Michael McCorry Rose. Michael is in the cast of Wicked and he met Julia after she saw the show last year. Michael had also arranged for Stephen Schwartz, Wicked’s composer, to send Julia an email. It was one of her most prized possessions.

We have stayed in touch with Michael over the past year and a half. This past spring when the Foundation sponsored the trip to see Wicked, Michael also arranged for the special “talk back” with the cast and crew. At the end of the “talk back”, we presented each of the cast members a copy of Julia’s “10 things to make you happy”. It was small token of appreciation to say thank you for a memorable trip.

As we sat eating dinner, Michael told us how much Julia and her list have touched the cast and crew of Wicked. He said that you can find “Julia’s Grace”, as we refer to the list, hanging backstage; posted in the halls and dressing rooms, everyone reading it when they need a little smile.

I grabbed the locket I wear with Julia’s picture in it and held it tight, as if trying to hug her. So bittersweet. Julia wanted to sing on the stage, she wanted to be on Broadway. Somehow, in some strange way there it was, her dream. Julia sang at the American Cancer Society Gala and at Ronald McDonald Camp and now her message made it to Broadway, to Wicked. And I smiled.

John and I have spent more time this month going through Julia’s things. We have slowly given away her shoes and clothes; saving special pieces of clothing to have a quilt made. We have given away many of Julia’s toys and stuffed animals; hoping they will bring another child happiness. This has been so hard to do, so painful, so we do it in small waves, when we are able.

While cleaning out the drawers in her bureau this past month, we found Julia’s camera. It was given to her years ago and quite frankly, I had forgotten that she had it. We decided to see what pictures, if any, remained on the camera. We turned on the camera and there they were, three years of photos. We scrolled through the photos, slowly looking at them one at a time.

There they were, pictures through Julia’s eyes; of her room, of a stuffed animal on the bed, of her family. And then, as if hidden away for us to find, was that smile. There, in all the photos, was Julia smiling back at us; holding her camera and smiling into the lens. Julia had taken her own photo. There they were; three year of Julia’s hidden “selfies”. There were the photos, the “selfies”, found at that perfect moment, the moment I needed it most.

With just one smile, I was given the strength, the inspiration to carry on.

And I smiled back, once again I smiled with my Julia.

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