“Do we fly to heaven, Mommy? Or do we climb the stairs?” The words have been swirling around me all week, God’s gift floating out of a chattering, restless mover at Mass. “I would like to know that, my girl,” I whispered, the hallow space in my chest aching. Charlize is three. Between Easter and the anniversary of her aunt’s death, she is trying to figure out all this dying and rising stuff. Me too.
How has the earth moved a whole circle around the sun since Abbie drew breath here? How have I survived more than half a million minutes without hearing her laugh? Somehow, I can still feel her in the strangest ways. Almost every long drive I make, the sky is painted purple. Sometimes, I catch her reflection in a window across the street, but she disappears when I turn to look. I hear her speaking to me in the songs on the radio.
For the last month, the song “Landslide” (Fleetwood Mac/The Dixie Chicks) keeps showing up in strange places. The pop station and the country station are playing it when I turn on the radio in the car. It happens to be the soundtrack to the grocery shopping. It was even part of a wedding I attended. It’s simultaneously breaking my heart and healing it at the same time: “I’ve been afraid of changin’/Cause I built my life around you.”
She was afraid and she had reason to be. It’s not fair that the landslide took her out and left me here.
She’s gone and I am afraid of changing. Before I was born my life was built around hers. And the song keeps going, “Time makes you bolder/Children get older/I’m getting older too.” All those half a million minutes presses the changes and her children too. Eventually fear is not enough to keep me the same.
There is so much that feels wrong in living without her. I still pick up the phone to call her forgetting she won’t answer. My pantry has too much chocolate in it without her coming by to pick at it while she pulled out the spaghetti. No one else brings ripple chips when we have hot dogs; even if someone did, she wouldn’t come with them.
When my kids whine, no one teases them like she did. The new babies don’t have the nicknames she would have given them. Celebrity happenings, political idiocy, and general stupidity are just as awful as they have always been but nowhere near as funny without her sarcastic commentary. This year, there has been a hole where she should have been. This one-year mark just points toward the permanence of her absence.
Change is always coming. It flutters around, trying to lift me out of the past and fly into the future. Her boldness let her to fly to heaven and left me climbing the stairs. Figures. I have an impressive ability to fall up the stairs. Abbie always laughed at my klutziness. She got the coordination, the agility, the physical grace. She walked first and took my books and ran away. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised she got the wings too.
“Where is heaven, Mommy? In the sky?”
“In the sky and above the sky and beneath it too. Heaven is where God is, Charlize.”
Abbie’s loss is a mountain I keep falling down. But maybe I can fall up the stairs to heaven too. Maybe her wings will wipe away the tears as I climb back to my feet. Maybe she and God are at the bottom of the well of tears I have cried as much as at the gates of heaven, whenever I make it up the damn stairs. I bet her pants will still be four sizes smaller than mine too. I am going to be angry for awhile yet, I think.
Whether I am climbing or falling, fly close to the stairs when you think of it, would you please, Abbie? There are all these many routes we each take to heaven. I wish we’d been able to walk together longer on this side of things. I will settle for gracing the same rafters if that’s the only way to climb and fall and fly at the same time.
If heaven is where God is, then I will keep crying for Him and for you at night when I need to. I will meet you both in the pantry and unwrap the chocolate in there I have hidden from the kids. I will dream about flying and wake up and thank God again for the gift of you.
Missing you still.