Although from my distance I could not see it, I knew the young mother wrangling her kids into a formation had sweat beading up on her forehead. It was likely also running down her back underneath the white linen blouse she bought just for this beach picture. She maintained a controlled level of stress as she fought the wind blowing her hair and the baby’s hair upside down with one hand while holding the four-year-old’s hand with the other. She wasn’t so much holding his hand as she was locking it down on his lap to keep it from digging in the sand while the photographer specializing in beach sunset family photos took an eternity to press a button.
Today, August 5, Eli has been gone three years. We are at the beach again this year for this week taking some time to change our scenery before school starts. During Eli’s first treatment in 2012, we came here between his radiation treatment and the start of chemo. It was only the second time we had ever been to the beach as a family, and I had arranged for us to have a family picture made on the beach as so many other families do. Caleb was not quite four and not a fan of sand. He was a bear. In fact, I would have preferred a bear over Caleb after a nap and before supper in the sand for a family photo - not a fun scenario.
Yesterday, I sat in my little beach chair watching this mom fiddle around, pat down, fluff up, brush off, and yell through a smile so that a moment could be frozen. We don’t take the fancy professional photos much any more, although we are due one, but taking any kind of family photo feels so strange without Eli, still. The kids always had their “spot” in an arrangement for a photo that made the photo complete and harmonious. They knew their spot and figured out the faster they stood in their spot, the faster the picture was over. I think when Eli passed, his omission from photos created the starkest void of all.
I was reading something recently about the difference between void and emptiness. Void is the presence of absence. Something filled the space and is no longer filling that space. Empty is a space that has never been filled or still could be filled. And, I think that’s it, there is always a presence of absence in everything we do. It’s like you can feel the absence. I don’t know if that will change over time or not. Sticking with the photo example, Caleb will overtake Abbey in height very soon and then Hg not long after, so he will move to the back for pictures at some point. So I expect the kids’ “spots” for pictures to change from where their individual spots were when they were little but as long as they are in the picture, they are... well, present. Eli's spot is there in the picture filled with his absence.
I don’t know if that’s good or bad, and I don’t think it has to be good or bad. I think a void just is. I think it moves around. I think sometimes it is suppressed and other times it is dominant. I can’t imagine filling a void, which is something you hear people say, because as mentioned it is not an empty space waiting to be filled. It is filled with absence. And to feel the presence of absence continually is wearing. It’s heavy. It’s work to drag around a void while you are living your life. For me, Matthew 11:28 comes to mind, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Vic, Hg, and Caleb arrived back home today while Abbey and I are staying at the beach for a couple more days. Hg had to work, so Vic traveled back with her. Caleb went back because he purchased some model train pieces while here and just could not stop thinking about getting home to his tools to work on them. As I said, he has never been a big fan of sand, but at least he will play on the beach now… but if the choice is beach or trains, he’s going to go with trains. It is extremely crowded this year, but we've had a fun few days, even watched Sponge Bob, Eli's absolute favorite. I've even had opportunities to bike ride and walk, and STILL get out on the beach. The kids have turned into minimalists over the last several years as I gave up being the maid, cook, and designated pack mule for all the pool toys, beach toys, and peripherals. Suddenly, they don't need to bring so much stuff or need to eat so often. So, my vacation feels more like a vacation.
We are planning our third annual cruise in memory of Eli August 15th. We had put off announcing the details because COVID just kept stirring things up. But, we have the plans set now, just visit the Eli’s Block Party Childhood Cancer Foundation facebook page for the event details.
Thank you all for your continued prayers for us and for Eli’s legacy that continues to encourage people and contribute to childhood cancer research.