I promise I do more than just watch animated movies and visit amusement parks.
Even before my husband, Brian, was diagnosed with heart failure due to the cancer treatment he received as a teenager, we liked to take road trips to see new things or visit family and friends. Once our daughter was born she was taken along for the ride, too.
Sometimes that meant trips to see my Grandmother in Pennsylvania with a side trip to one of the lovely little amusement parks they have in Western PA. My daughter is tall for her age, and so around five years old she was tall enough to ride the Skyliner roller coaster.
Brian watched as we got on the ride, and I soon realized that maybe this was not the smartest parenting decision. Her forty pound body started to lift off the seat during the first drop. I quickly put one arm around her to hold her down as I held on myself. I was terrified she would get hurt. What had I been thinking? When the ride came to a stop she exclaimed how much she loved the ride. I was relieved she was not panic stricken but deep down I was terrified of not being able to protect her.
Fast forward to a trip I took with my daughter, my sister and my best friend to Walt Disney World several months after Brian died. I cringe to type that Walt Disney World taught me how to live in the moment, even horribly painful moments.
I am not sure how I got through the moment I had to tell my daughter that her Daddy died.
I do look back and question if I did the moment justice. I was so calm I am afraid she may think I that I was not broken. My heart still breaks thinking about the confusion, pain, fear and loss that she must have been feeling. She was six years old. I was thinking, “How do I not tell her we are done for? Daddy is gone.” Those are the words that were in my head, “We are done for.” But I didn’t say that, I told her that the doctors did all they could, but Daddy’s heart was not able to continue to work. The man I loved completely was gone. He wanted to be here for himself, for me and especially for our daughter.
As I rode two specific rides at Walt Disney World, I was reminded of those feelings of wanting to protect my daughter at all costs, of wanting to get out of the situation I was in but knew I could not. I won’t single out the two rides at Disney that I will never go on again (by the way, the Seven Dwarfs ride is amazing) but what I found out while strapped in a ride with crushing G force is that I wanted no part of it and I wanted to get my daughter out of those rides immediately.
I was terrified that she was crying, scared, stuck in the ride like I was. But I couldn’t change any of it. There was no stopping the ride to get your kid off. As the one ride was in motion, I felt like I would lose it, much like when I had to tell her that Brian had died. In that moment of extreme G force, in physical pain from the force of the ride and wanting to unbuckle myself and get her, I stared at the ride’s video projector and somehow I told myself, ‘Breathe’.
It hurt to breathe.
I knew I was stuck on that ride until it ended, and it reminded me I was terrified for myself and my daughter. How would we survive Brian’s death? All I could think about was I want off of this ride, I want Brian back, my daughter needs her father! But I slowly took a breath and kept telling myself, breathe, breathe. When the ride was over, I was shaken and wanted to cry but I held on and just told my family, ‘That ride is awful, if you all want to ride it again, I am happy to sit and wait for you.’
That’s how this first year has felt like to me, being strapped into a very forceful and painful ride. Yes, I know those rides are just rides and they end in like three minutes, but being on it helped me to see that during the incredibly terrifying and painful parts of life, really the only thing I can do is try to breathe, to just breathe and that I am not going to be able to protect my daughter all the time, like I wish I could. Brian died, I wish more than anything I could get him back just to be a Dad to her but I cannot.
Mara Larson lives and works in North Carolina. She happily wears the different hats of Mom, Sister, Daughter and Friend. She loves to bake and is trying to learn how to be a good cook. Lover of Edwin McCain and Zac Brown music (and almost all beards).