In anticipation of the upcoming release of my novel, Call Me Daddy, I asked for stories about family: the fun, the inspirational, the heartwarming moments that make us part of a family. Author Avy Packard shares her thoughts and tackles a subject that is a parents nightmare: the thought of leaving our children too soon....
This is not an original blog topic. I am not the first person to know someone who has unexpectedly passed away. Still, I am shaken by it, and every menial task I do has a little extra weight pushing back at me today.
But let me back up.
We went to our lake cabin this weekend, which on any given weekend in July, is usually a safe bet for summer heat and water play activity. We had a lot of water, but not of the playing kind. It drizzled, and then it poured. We couldn’t get dry and we couldn’t get warm. We burned through our propane heater fuel within a few hours and we couldn’t get a campfire to flame anything past a sickly wet smolder. As you can imagine, our sleep quality was cold, damp, and intermittent.
We cut the trip early and took off after breakfast the following morning.
When we got home the following evening, I felt romantic and giddy about my warm king sized bed and wanted nothing else but to fall into a rock hard sleep. Before I rolled over to intersect with dreamland, I heard my phone receive a text. It was from my teenage daughter. She asked if I read the email about Sarah’s mom. Sarah who? Sarah from dance. No, I hadn’t. I pulled it up and discovered a mass email sent from the dance program director informing all the parents that Michelle, Sarah’s mom, a dance mom, one of us, had suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm and had been in a coma for the last two weeks and that her family had made the difficult decision to take her off life support tomorrow.
I couldn’t even pretend to want to sleep anymore. I tried to distract myself with TV for a while, but my legs were twitchy. I left my bed and stumbled around the kitchen. I absently ate a crescent roll while staring at the floor. I went back to bed and eventually did fall asleep and dreamt I had cancer but didn’t know what kind or if it was fatal. When I woke up this morning I wondered if it had already happened, if it were over, if she were already dead. And every time I looked at the clock throughout the day, I again, wonder the same thing.
Michelle is one of several fellow volunteers that work the trenches of backstage dance recitals, which is far more frenzy and sweat than sparkles and lipstick. We are Dance Moms, for better or worse, and we follow bun-headed girls around with dance bags and bobby pins and fluff their skirts and tell them when it’s time to line up. When we’re not being recital warriors, we’re resigned to being taxi drivers, shuttling our kids back and forth to dance class six days a week. She and I chatted many times, mostly small talk-----what time is the next rehearsal, are you going to NUVO this year--outside the doors to one of the dance studios as one or two of our daughters rehearsed to the point of blisters, tears, and impressive calf muscles in the name of ballet.
As I write this, it is nearing eleven o’clock PM, almost twenty-four hours since I’d read the email, and unless a miracle has occurred, Michelle is surely gone by now. It’s hitting me a little hard. Not because we were great friends, we really didn’t know each other that well, but because we could have been the same person. We went to the same high school. We graduated the same year. We both have multiple daughters in the same dance program. We both know what it’s like to be “plus sized” in a room full of agile and thin size-zero dancers. And now she’s gone. And if she can leave that abruptly, if she could log in her volunteer hours at the recital, then two weeks later become reliant on a machine to breathe for her, and then to stop breathing, her last breath snatched away, gone by consensus, then so could I. How easy would it be to interchange our names on the mass email sent to the parent committee?
Who knows why I get to live another day, to see my daughters faces, to lecture them on the price of gas, leotards, and leather ballet slippers, and then to watch them completing a perfect pirouette, and she does not. I am blessed that I got to spend a rainy weekend with them hunkered together in a tiny cabin instead of squeezed tight in a hospital room. I am saddened to the depths of my soul to know that while my kids are in their rooms right now listening to music or snapchatting with their friends, her kids are grieving at a level I cannot even begin to comprehend.
I am sorry this happened to you, Michelle. I hope your girls keep dancing. I know that I, along with the rest of the dance moms will cheer them on and clap as loud as we can in your place, because we know you would do it for us. We also know it won’t be enough.