“Wa-errrrr! Wa-errr!” Last week, Adelaide saw a photo of the ocean. A little boy playing. We practice both saying and signing ‘water’…but there is always a prompt from me. For the first time, she initiated it. When I got down next to her, she turned to me and smiled. She grabbed my cheeks in her chubby little hands and laughed. “WA-ERRRRR!”
We took the kids to the ocean last summer. Their first ocean. We had no idea how they would react. I kept my expectations low. Graham and Adelaide were enthralled. The sun, sand, waves, creatures. I was in tears at their joy. Elizabeth spent most of the time nursing and sleeping. She was slightly overwhelmed by it all. But Graham and Adelaide, well, they would’ve set up a homestead and never looked back. We had just learned that my dad-in-law had been hospitalized. “Dave, do we still go to the beach?” My sister’s wedding, the reason we were on the East Coast, was still days away. We couldn’t head home until after the reception. But how could we go have fun when the possibility of losing him was on the table? We had already promised the beach. Kids were ready. Lunches packed. Sitting in a hotel room helped no one. As I watched Graham chase the waves and shout with abandon, I found myself praying for my only earthly dad. I sent him photos of his grandchildren playing in the ocean. I had suspected a brain tumor before we even left on our trip. He was acting so strangely. Emotional, forgetful, and cranky. As we said goodbye to leave on vacation, I suggested again that my mom-in-law get him in for a scan. She agreed. We all just knew something was off.
On that beach, we were still a few days away from learning that Stage 4 brain cancer was taking him away from us. Our ocean trip brings back my juxtaposed emotions. Being a grown-up means countless moments of smiling at a toddler tasting saltwater while thinking about the demon that is cancer. Tears of joy mingled with hidden-from-your-children sobs.
All those emotions rushed back like the wave that almost knocked me down last summer. Landlocked Adelaide was looking into my face. All giggles. She remembered those waves. The salt. The sand. I let a tear roll down my cheek and onto her tiny hand. My non-verbal daughter was trying so hard to tell me.
But then stinging tears fell. Because this word from Adelaide, this milestone, is the exact thing I would’ve called to tell her Papa Bob. But he is now sleeping all the time in a hospital bed in his living room and can’t hold a phone.