Coming Out of the Closet

It’s time.  My daughter’s closet needs to be cleared.  In October, my daughter, the beautiful Donna, will have been gone from our home for four years.  Four years.  Those years have somehow mysteriously inched and sped by simultaneously.  By next January, Donna will have been dead more than she was alive.  I shake my head, the tears flow, my arms and heart ache.

On some very essential level, I still don’t believe that I had a daughter and that that beautiful girl died of cancer.  How is that even possible?  This is a hard time of year for me.  July brings Donna’s “would be/should be” birthdays.  This year, on July 20, my daughter would have been, should have been eight years old.  But she isn’t.  Instead, she is and will always be four. Just four.

Four years old, which is how old Mary Tyler Son is.  Four years.  A lifetime for Donna, and yet my boy is just coming out of the gate, so to speak, in the midst of his own fourth year in his young life.  He is growing, changing, different every day.  He is full of energy and mischief and play..  At four years old, Mary Tyler Son is full of life, while his sister, at four years, was full of cancer.  There is such a deep, profound sadness at this juxtoposition.

Donna was stylish.  She loved shoes and had whole wardrobes of hats and arm protectors (really baby leg warmers that protected her picc line).
Donna was stylish. She loved shoes and had whole wardrobes of hats and arm protectors (really baby leg warmers that covered her picc line).

Last weekend, my husband grumbled at the suggestion of trekking to the suburbs to look for a bed, a “big boy” bed for Mary Tyler Son.  I chided him, gently, and told him how lucky we were to be shopping for a bed for our son. I didn’t mean to be so blunt about it, but it was truth, our truth, and it needed to be said.  It is so very easy to get stuck in the muck of life.  Grrrr, a drive to the land of strip malls and chain restaurants, grrrr.  It’s easy to think that.  I did, too, to tell the truth.  I am tired.  I am recovering from pneumonia.  Two hours in a car to buy a bed that we may or may not find?  Grrrrr.

But we did it.  We found a bed.  A great bed, in fact, at a great price.  Hooray! There is much to be done — walls to paint and furniture to rearrange and sheets to buy and a Magic Tree House theme to coordinate.  There is much to do.  Busy work that should be a joy, a celebration.  Our boy is growing up! Hip Hip Horray!  Three cheers for the boy growing up!

Which brings me back to the closet.  Mary Tyler Son and his sister shared a room for the nine months their lives overlapped.  Kind of, but not really, honestly.  For three of those months we lived in Bloomington, Indiana, where we went for proton beam radiation treatment for Donna’s aggressive brain tumor (fuck you, fucking tumor).  For five of those months Mary Tyler Son slept in a car seat, as it was the only sleeping angle where he didn’t aspirate. For seven of those months, Donna slept in our bed, between us, eking out as much time together as we could before cancer took her away.

So the shared bedroom was more like a shared closet.  Donna had two drawers, Mary Tyler Son had one.  Donna had the left side of the closet, Mary Tyler Son had the right side.  Most of the upper shelves were dedicated to medical supplies.  So very many medical supplies.

When your child dies before you, there are many tasks you are faced with, most of them brutal.  One of those tasks is determining what to do with their things.  What to do with Donna’s clothes, her tutus, her coats, her boots? What to do . . . Some things went away right away.

We could not get rid of the medical supplies quickly enough.  Liberation is what it felt like.  Bottles and bottles and more bottles of medicine.  Bags of fluids.  Boxes of saline solution syringes.  Latex gloves.  Nebulizers with purple dinosaur masks.  Padded chucks for the night time vomiting and bed wetting brought on by overnight fluids.  Tubing.  More tubing.  A bright red sharps container, just like in your doctor’s office.  Gone.  Good riddance.

Some clothing and shoes went to a cousin of Donna’s.  I am still touched that my cousin accepted Donna’s clothing and dressed her own little girl in it.  To see Donna’s shoes on another child’s feet always brought me comfort.  But that cousin is long grown out of Donna’s things, as she is now older than Donna ever was.

The last clothing Donna wore I couldn’t part with.  We have whittled away at it over these four years and it has been condensed to a couple of shelves and half the hanging space in the closet.  Every time I open the door I am reminded, “Yes, Donna.  I miss you, girl.  You were here and I mothered you and dressed you and here is the evidence of that.  You were here, girl, and I remember.”  Every time I open the closet it is the same thing.  Donna wafts out at me, reminding me that once upon a time I mothered a daughter.

I don’t mother a daughter anymore and I never will.

There is no longer the need for dresses and hair bows and tutus and pink boots and silver sequined tiaras.  It is time.  Mary Tyler Son needs the space.  As we prepare to open our hearts and home to a baby boy through adoption, we know and feel that, yes, it is time.  The last of Donna’s things need to be packed away to make room for those of us in this family that are still here, still breathing, still growing.

Good Lord, that is cruel to type.  Forgive me, Donna. Forgive me, girl.

Tomorrow:  Coming Out of the Closet, Part II:  Donna’s Things

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