The Widening Gulf

Published 9 years, 3 months past

So many people who knew Rebecca told us how they had to hold back tears, watching the Super Bowl halftime show.  “I wish Rebecca could have seen it,” they say.  “When Katy Perry sang ‘Firework’, all I could think is how much Rebecca would have loved it.”

Rebecca loved Katy Perry songs, you see.  She loved to sing and dance to “Firework”, so much so that her sister Carolyn made it part of the medley she arranged and performed at Rebecca’s funeral.  And Rebecca loved to sing “Roar”, and pretty much anything from Katy Perry.  Even “Brave”, which is actually sung by Sara Bareilles, but when your terminally ill daughter tells you a song is by Katy Perry, then it’s by Katy Perry.

But all I can think is, I wish I could be so sure.

Because yes, five-year-old-going-on-six Rebecca loved Katy Perry, and Frozen, and hula hoops, and so many more things.  But by now she’d be six-and-two-thirds, and so much can change so fast at that age.  By now, maybe she’d have moved on to Taylor Swift, and Katy Perry would be so last year.  She might be done with Frozen, and instead be into Big Hero Six or The Emperor’s New Groove.

I know that she would be different by now, just as amazing as ever, but different.  Some enthusiasms would have given way to others; her interests would have shifted.  How, we don’t know.  Can never know.

Every day, she becomes a little more distant from us, a little less known.  A gulf slowly widens with the passing of time, and what she would be now becomes ever more uncertain.  We become estranged from our own daughter, not by hurtful words or actions, but by the merciless passage of time, by the choices she never got to make, the changes she never experienced.

I knew that this would come, but for a time I could ignore it.  A month or two after she died, I could still pretend that I knew how she would react, what she would think, how she would behave.  Even though I never knew that with any certainty.  She was never so predictable as that.  Never so static.

Now it’s been too long.

And it hurts, knowing that I can never know the girl she would be now, never know the girl she would have become, never know the woman she would have been.

I miss her, sometimes more than I ever thought possible, so much that I can physically feel the absence.  But sometimes I think what I miss more than the Rebecca I knew is the Rebecca I never got to know.

Comments (10)

  1. perfect

    (your thoughts, your expression, how it resonates for me regarding those I’ve lost)

  2. Eric, Rebecca’s story and yours has made such a deep impression on me. Just this week I was reading some tekkie piece you wrote and saying to myself: Eric goes on and lives his life, writes and codes and lectures but whenever I read something he’s written in the background I see the spirit of Rebecca and his missing her in all the little and big things he does.

    Time can seem merciless but the fullness of time is merciful … we are not made to suffer sharply, forever … and time smooths the edges of our pain and loss.

  3. My heart breaks as I read this … for you, your wife and for Rebecca’s siblings. I used to think, they say time heals. But somehow this other pain, the gulf you describe, is exquisite in its own way.

    I am trying to figure out how to help my young nephew grieve in such a way that he doesn’t have to banish every thought of his mother in order to not feel pain. I know too well how much it hurts to think about her and miss her, but it also breaks my heart that he has felt he also has to give up his memories of her.

  4. Thanks for sharing this, Eric. It resonates.

    During the holidays when my family convenes from all its far-flung locales, invariably we remember Trevor, my younger brother whom we lost in an accident 22 years ago. It surprises me when some family members speculate as to who he might have become. “He probably would have invented Facebook,” one might say. On one level I understand that this lionizing is an attempt to honor him and his MacGyver-like tendencies, and I’m OK with that. But on another level it makes me a little queasy that such well-meaning projections become proxies for the hard work responsible humans have to do, to grapple with the vast unknowns of the Universe. I’m like you: my inner response is, “I wish I could be so sure.” He might equally well have fallen on hard times, like so many wonderful and talented people do. But I am growing to be more comfortable with the unknowns.

    What Kimi said is true–time does smooth the edges of our pain and loss. May it become so for you as well.

  5. Dear Erick. Although I do not know you, I have heard about you and read one of your books. When I knew about the fight of your little girl against cancer, your writtings got me on tears. How could I possibly understand the deep grief and sorrow, as I have 2 little kids and have not been on that situation. And then I read your further writtings. I always wanted to write some words to u, and attempt to give a message of hope. And I would have liked that you give this hope to your little daughter. There is a hope. There is a place where people go when they die. In Mathew 19:14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Know for sure she is in heaven now, and her life had a purpose on this earth. It’s written in John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God’s only Son came to this earth to die for you and for me, and to suffer for taking our sins on him in the cross. And only by knowing Him, accepting Jesus and following Him you will find peace in this earth, and Eternal Life in the other. You can see her again. This is a message of hope for you. May God bless you and your family.

  6. My own daughter died of the same wretched brain cancer in September. We are in the strange situation of leaving them and getting closer to them everyday. I often imagine her in the afterlife, rolling her eyes and saying “MOM, Enough with the owls already!!!!!” She died 2 months after her thirteenth birthday. Every day I miss the woman she will never be. Cancer took my life along with hers.

  7. We buried our son 22 years ago this month. I think about the man he would be today, how he would have graduated from college last summer. The ache of loss never goes away, but I will say that at the beginning it fills all of life and then if attended to, it assumes its right size, it’s rightful place among all the other hurts and joys. The grief is now a manageable burden.

  8. Eric
    There are times during my “Don’t Know Where It Takes Me” journeys around the web that I run smack dab into something that kicks me in the heart – your message and love for your daughter did that today.

    I won’t say anymore, I cannot afford to without getting all mushy and stuff, you see I’m one of those 65 year boys who’ve lived most of his life in a state of emotional logic and I’ve always had the pain of missing loved ones that I never got to know – I’m praying for you Bro, hoping you never lose the feeling or memories – they exist for a reason and that reason helps you go on!

  9. Eric,

    I got to know you through this website and your books from 2000 until 2007 when I stepped away from web slinging professionally. A big highlight was you chiming in on a CSS related post of mine somewhere. I was thrilled.

    I’m getting back in the game though, so I popped by to see what was news since we’ve left IE 6 behind and entered this brave new world of CSS3, HTML 5 and JavaScript.

    My heart sank to see this post. I’m sorry. It’s a terrible, terrible thing you and your family and friends have gone through. Continue to go through.

    I lost my sister on 10/13/2004 (she was 27) and have had and continue to experience the gulf you describe. It’s hard. It’s sad. Yet, it makes the pain more manageable for me.

    I wish you and your family peace and love.

  10. I lost my mom three years ago now, and the thing that still blinds me, that causes that out-of-nowhere griefball that you pray doesn’t hit while operating heavy machinery, is what she’ll miss.

    My son is now 4. She only got to be at his first birthday party. She never heard him say a word. She can’t see that he has her obsession with books, and she’s not around to teach him to play her piano that he seems inexplicably drawn to.

    I envy your bravery in expressing your grief in the wild-open nature of the internet. Thank you for sharing not only the good things, and the wonderful web, but also the hard things.

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