I am guarding life. I’ve seen it decay and be devoured by cancer. Twice I watched it disappear. So I guard it like it could melt away in a moment.
Once upon a time, to guard life was to sing to my growing belly for months and then hold the warm wriggling creature I birthed like I was holding the moon. Guarding life, I rose each morning earlier than I wanted to feed and carry and keep my beautiful helpless one from ruin. I caught the sun for her, made every day the best day, and collapsed into bed at night to sleep with one ear always awake.
Later, when cancer hit home, to guard life was to wait at her bedside and rub my daughter’s feet. It was to find favorite foods or a puppy, anything to bring sunshine back. In the end, I looked into her unconscious eyes as the nurses peered in with flashlights. They asked the family to leave but I stayed. I watched her take her last breath and felt my heart seize when her pulse stopped. Still I stood guard. I sat there until it sank in that the life was gone out of her.
Then lifeguarding became gathering up the prom dresses, the photos and journals, the bottles of bath gels and body lotions, the twenty pairs of boots, sneakers and sandals. It became learning about the parts of my daughter’s life I hadn’t known about. I looked for ways to keep her close and wondered what would get me to rise all the next mornings of my life.
After Marika died, I had to become my own lifeguard. I kicked myself up and out of bed. First I lived for her. Then I tried to live more like she did: like life was to be loved. Like my own life was worth something.
I guess I didn’t do a great job. My next three years were riddled with accidents, illness, sleepless nights, falls, and broken bones. And now there were worrisome symptoms.
The test results came back one by one. Each phone call from the doctor resulted in new pills, things to avoid, more to take care of, and mostly, gratitude. Iron deficiency. A dangerously low vitamin-D count. Giardea. Lymes disease. Each diagnosis was a blow.
But it wasn’t cancer.