Two years. It is so hard to believe that Saturday will be two years since Julia left us. Two – it is such a small word, but it feels so big.
The days are difficult, but summer seems to amplify my grief – so much reminds me of Julia. She loved the hot summer sun and the long summer nights. I think of our summers together. Moments flash in my mind; playing in the yard, splashing under the hose, teaching her how to pick figs, and how to plant flowers, watching them grow, just as I watched Julia grow each year. So many memories.
So summer arrives again and I trudge through each day. Even on the sunniest of summer days, a cloud blocks the golden rays of summer, preventing me from really enjoying the warmth, the beauty. I relive in my mind my last summer with Julia, our last months together – the joy and the ultimate pain.
I often think back to the last night that Julia and I spent together. How I held her in my arms, holding on to every moment, every word. Remembering…
“You know I love you Julia?”
“Yes, I know.”
“You know that everyone loves you. So many people love you.”
“Yes mom, I know they do.”
“Good, now sweet dreams. Dream of puppies…, of the big, big boat…, of the ocean.”
“Okay, mommy. You dream of me and you.”
“I will Julia”
Two years have passed and I still wait for that dream.
This summer started with the realization that Julia’s friends are growing up, finishing their days at her beloved Brooke Elementary. I love seeing Julia’s friends and how they are moving into their “tween” years. I see a bit of Julia in each of her friends. I see her sense of wonder, her optimism, and her joy. But I was surprised at how their moving into the next chapter of their lives hit me. It was the reminder that Julia will always be eight years old. And I imagine what could have been.
July comes and with it a concert with friends to see Idina Menzel. Julia loved Idina Menzel, a direct result of her obsession with the musical, WICKED. I thought of how things could have been different; daydreaming about how Julia would have joined me on this adventure, sitting beside me, her excitement barely contained.
The concert began and with the first notes, the tears rolled down my cheeks. Idina’s first song was Defying Gravity, the song that reminds me the most of Julia. I think back to the day Julia sang this song for all the nurses at clinic, only a short time after seeing WICKED for the first time, only a few weeks after relapsing again.
The concert went on, song after song that Julia would have loved. I imagined her singing along, knowing every word. And then it was time for the encore. Idina Menzel came back on stage and stood in front of the microphone. “Now I would like to sing a song that I used to love to sing as a little girl”, she said. She began to sing a cappella and then the band joined her. All five of us started to cry – Idina was singing “Tomorrow” from Annie. The song that Julia sang for the American Cancer Society and at Ronald McDonald Camp. The song she sang for all of us.
As I wiped the tears, a smile came to my face. I just couldn’t help but think that Julia had some influence over the night’s play list. A wink perhaps.
August began and with it came this uncontrollable loneliness. I felt lost again at the close of summer. I pushed through each day – working, doing chores, trying to stay busy. But my thoughts of the end of summer’s past are bittersweet. So many beautiful memories accompanied by so much sadness.
Early in the month I decided to weed my neglected garden. To my surprise I found a single sunflower growing off the deck. A random seed brought by a bird or squirrel that went to bloom. I think of Julia, her favorite flower. I think back to the summer we planted sunflowers together, how I taught her how to sow seeds. I watched as Julia’s tiny hands pushed those zebra striped seeds into the ground. I think of her joy when the flowers grew and bloomed; beautiful golden blossoms as big as Julia’s face. I stood there daydreaming, thinking back to those happy times.
August brings joy for so many – family vacations, summer camp and then the start of school. But for me, it is a reminder of what would have been. I found myself withdrawing as the month progressed, trying to hide from the pain, a pain I can’t run from.
As I retreated in my sorrow, I watched as our garden grew. The almost dead fig trees came back to life, fruit growing again. And then, there along the deck, I watched as more deep green shoots rose from the ground. I watched as the large green leaves grew along the single stem, as the solo bud formed on the end of the tall sturdy stalk. Each day brought another plant. Soon more plants appeared along the front walkway and extended throughout our flower beds.
By the end of August, the house was surrounded; encircled by these plants we never planted. And then they began to bloom. The golden petals engulfed us, sunflowers surrounding our entire house.
And I smiled again.
I could not help but feel like Julia orchestrated this whole thing, somehow arranging for our special garden, for us to be surrounded by her favorite flowers, encircled by the beauty of summer.
And I smile again, smile with my memories of Julia, the thoughts of my little girl.
I smile now knowing that my long-awaited dream of Julia and I may never come at night. I smile with the realization that I will always be able to dream in daylight of my forever eight year-old angel.
And, as I told Julia that summer when I taught her how to plant seeds, I always smile at sunflowers.