Most of you know I'm a Mormon. This means (among MANY other things) that every 6 months, we listen to the leaders of our church speak in a world-wide conference. I have my issues, for sure. And I consider myself a "liberal" Mormon (combine this with my ADD and the critical actress in me and I can't listen to very many talks. )
But I digress. What I wanted to point out is one of the first speakers this weekend-- Elder Bowen. He specifically spoke to those who have lost a child. His words were powerful. And his story is our story. By that I mean his son died in the same sort of accident as Lucy. And when I say his words were powerful, I also mean that amidst Peter yelling upstairs from the potty for us to help him, Zoë screaming and the lawn care guys ringing our doorbell asking for access to our sprinkler system, Vic still had a river of tears running down his face and his body couldn't move. (Someone tell me this means it was ok that I answered the door in my pajamas without a bra on).
To all my readers who have lost a child, I strongly encourage you to listen to his talk HERE. And it meant SO MUCH to me that so many of you called, emailed, texted, posted on facebook that you were thinking of us during his talk.
So with this talk fresh on my mind, as well as the many emails I've been receiving informing me of other families losing a child, I remembered that I never shared the essay I submitted to Real Simple Magazine a year and a half ago. They hold a "Life Lessons" essay contest every year and I gave it a shot. I didn't win, but I still thoroughly enjoyed the process of writing. We were asked to write about a time we felt we learned the meaning of love. Below is what I wrote. I hope you enjoy it. Sometime I'll get around to fixing some things, adding, editing, what have you. But for now, I wanted to share my words as they are.
The Taste of Love
Lime sherbet spoke to me as a child. It spoke volumes of love to my heart and soul with every spoonful—sweet, tart, creamy, and all mine. It gave me my first taste of independence, when my father allowed me to choose it among all other frozen dairy goodness as our family treat for the evening. I learned about the love and respect my father had for me as he swallowed the choice of my 5 or 6 yr. old palate, which in turn, taught me to love and respect my father. How could I not when he was allowing the jumper cables of sugary lime deliciousness to rev up the motor in my mouth? Heaven to a child.
With the dawn of adolescence, a new character moved onto the scene: my mother's home-baked cheesecake. It saddled up next to the lime sherbet and eased its way into the #1 love spot as the object of my confection. I mean affection. It fulfilled desires and dreams I didn't even know I had. Home baked. Rich. Creamy. Graham crackery goodness. Bliss. Now this-- this is love. It represented not only the greatness of a God who would allow the combination of such flavors to exist, but the sacrifice and hard work of my mother...who loved me. I was sure of it. How could she not when she whipped and beat and blended this round and rich marvelous wonder for me year after year on my birthday? My palate was growing up, and I knew there was more to come.
In my college days I was filled with constant movement and motion. Yes, I was a Musical Theatre major, but we all know that college breeds movement and motion, no matter what your major. Parties, dancing, mad dashes to class, late night bike rides, and the constant swish-swashing of food in your mouth. The I'm- trying -to -assert- my independence- but- still -wish -my -parents- could- feed -me kind of food: pizza, cold cereal, inventive sandwiches and the sad excuse for delicious baked goods spit out of the vending machines. I swear I could hear a quick and squeaky apology with each swing of that metal flap. "I know its not as good as your mother's fresh chocolate chip cookies, but I'm trying".
But what experienced the most movement in those days was my heart. The parade of boys, the whiplash, the ups and downs of uncertain and young relationships. I was learning how to deal with major heartbreak in the love department and it wasn't easy. What I was sure was love, didn't always turn out to be so (much like my nutrition). College was not easy on me when it came to boys and my so called, "love life." I craved love but was very weary of getting hurt.
After skipping out on grad school at Boston Conservatory, I packed my beef jerky and baby carrots and moved to L.A. And that’s where I found them: buttery “love knot” breadsticks at C & O Trattoria in Venice Beach, and a boy who loved them just as much as I did. That's where we accidentally marinated chicken in vinegar so long that it pickled. Ewww. It's where he proposed to me on the beach, under a full moon, beside crashing ocean waves and we planned the desserts to be served at our spring wedding. Nothing but desserts. Tables overflowing with delectable éclairs, cookies, cheesecake, (of course)-and I don't remember for sure, but there may have been some lime sherbet on the list.
Now...this is love. This is the meaning of love. Two hearts, two lives becoming one and all that... But of course it doesn't end there. It never does. There is one food, one simple and universal food that changed everything-- an apple.
Two years after being wed, I gave birth to a perfect and radiant curly haired blonde cherub we named Lucia. True to her name, Lucy was a light. A light that blinded me at first, but my vision soon adjusted to a new way of loving, a new way of viewing the world. The transition to motherhood was no walk in the park for this freedom-loving performer, but I was making it. And I marveled at the beauty of my blue-eyed fiery angel of a child everyday-- everyday until the day I handed her an apple in the parking lot after church and she choked. She aspirated that small bit of apple right in front of me and my dessert-loving husband.
Her eyes that had just been filled with visions of Peter Pan birthday cakes locked with mine while my husband administered the Heimlich maneuver, assuring me that everything would be ok. Of course it would. We are a family, we love each other--Babies choke, then they spit it out. You have a scare, and you move on.
I followed as my husband ran with her body in his arms to the fire station next door, only to discover it was empty and locked. I watched as she went limp in his arms, as he pounded and pounded on the door. In slow motion I saw friends stream out of our church building and into the parking lot where her perfect little body lay. I lay on the cement in shock, listening as the head of Summit County Search and Rescue called out, “I found a pulse!” “I don’t have a pulse.” “We need a pocket knife. We’ve got to do a trache!" I listened as my brave and battered husband prayed over her with a scared but steady voice. I listened while the ambulance raced in and paramedics attended to her. I listened when the life flight helicopter landed and whisked her body away.
And then I tasted it.
Over the next four days, while Lucy lay motionless on life support I tasted all the flavors of love I knew. Father, mother, friend, companion. They were so sweet amidst the most bitter taste imaginable—grief. I was empty and they gave all they had to fill me.
In the harsh and painful emptiness, in my most aching hunger, I found the meaning of love like I had never experienced it when I was full. Love can be sweet, creamy, acidic, zesty, sour, tart, and every flavor in between, but its not until I sampled it all that I began to understand what it meant to me.
Now, as I sit in bed watching my son Peter ( a healing balm that joined our family 11 months after Lucy's death) dump diapers into his crib on the video monitor, I can't help but think about the tastes of love he'll experience at my hand today. The sugar snap peas from our garden which he calls "garden babies”, the "tweats" he asks for first thing in the morning and all day long. I hope I fill his hunger as others filled mine after Lucy's death. Not just the casseroles and cookies that showed up on my doorstep, but the meaning behind them.
Note: Lucy Jackson was an organ donor. Her kidneys went to a 35 yr-old father of four and her liver to a six month old baby girl. Molly Jackson is an actress and writer residing in Park City, UT. www.agoodgrief.com