How do you reassure a friend that her children will be loved, even after death?
'I think back a lot on our conversations about what would happen after you died.'
After six years in treatment for ovarian cancer, 46-year-old Liz Laats died, leaving her husband Andy and her children Margo, Gwen and Dru, as well as many grieving friends, including Kelly Corrigan, who writes about Liz — and to Liz — in her new book "Tell Me More."
I’m writing from my chair in the nook off the kitchen where I always sat to talk with you on the phone. It’s been a year and a half since you were alive.
We’re just back from being with Andy and the kids. We’ve seen them a lot — I think five times in the last year. (My husband) Edward flew down a couple of days after you died. When he got to your house, the four of them were sitting at the kitchen table, stamping and addressing holiday cards — two hundred and twenty- five of them The cards said “Counting Blessings.” When Edward got home he said to me, “Are you sure we ‘don’t have the energy’ to send cards this year?”
We were all together recently in Montana. Edward and I took the master — Andy made us. He slept with Dru on a big mattress on the floor. The girls had the bunk room downstairs. So many things went right.
Dru at 10 years old is impossibly lean and muscular and gorgeous. He’s still a madman on the slopes, always first to the bottom, but he makes turns and seems more controlled in every way. When I look at him, Liz, you are right there. He holds my gaze, he lets me fall in.
Margo is settled in her new school. At 14, she’s getting busier. Volleyball, parties, days at the beach. She started lacrosse this year. Her mind still wanders. She gets that dreamy look and I laugh, thinking about how happy it would make you that she hasn’t changed, that the loss of you hasn’t snapped her out of herself.
Gwennie is planning her twelfth birthday; she wants to go to the library to celebrate. I know, so perfect. The three of us talked on the ski lift this winter. Smart girls. Deep. Gwen was wearing your purple helmet. Later that afternoon, back at your house, Gwen let me hold her for a long time. I was laying on the couch in long johns in front of a fire Edward made and Andy fixed. I reached out my arms and Gwennie came over and got on top of me and I held her for you. It was sublime.
I think back a lot on our conversations about what would happen after you died — your fears that Andy would hide at the office or drink too much or yell at the kids. But he’s not, Liz. He’s reading C.S.Lewis and going to grief counseling and swimming three days a week. He’s taking time off and learning to cook and slowing up on the Manhattans. He says he can’t afford to be hungover now that he’s a mom.
Andy has a big list of the things he can’t do yet but knows he must. Your closet is untouched. Your dresses, your shoes, your socks and old workout clothes. Your lotion and perfume. The last time I was there, I went into your bathroom to touch something of yours. There was a hoodie on the hook, hung so casually it seemed as if you’d worn it that morning. Andy knows he has to clean the closet out. We’ve talked about it. I told him I’d do it with him. He said thanks, but he was holding off for now. He did let me borrow an old pair of your sneakers, the ones with all the crazy colors, to go on a walk. I wanted to take them home but he made me put them back.
In all the times we worried about whether Andy could be mother and father, whether he could endure the loneliness and frustration and thousand tiny failures, we forgot: He’s an A student. He’s diligently learning how to be you. He works from your journals. He is your apprentice.
He cries a lot. His eyes get red and fill up and spill over and he keeps rights on talking. He doesn’t look away or apologize. It’s so wonderful, the way he lets it happen. You are right there, on his lips, at the top of his throat, all the time. Like recently I caught Andy in the kitchen making beet juice with the kids. He took out your giant metal juicing machine, the one that irked him so. The girls fed purple beets and ginger root and cucumber through the grinder. Dru dumped out the pulp. They clinked their little glasses, the ones you kept on the low shelf by the sink. Andy saw me across the kitchen simpering and said, “Yeah, yeah, I know.” They drank it all, Liz. They had beet-juice mustaches.
He and the kids are moving onward, not away from you but with you. You are everywhere they are.
I love you through them.