Thoughts of Lauren.
“I can’t imagine what I would do if anything happened to one of you girls.” This was something that I had heard my morn say as I was growing up that would elicit the usual rolling of the eyes a child does after a parent says something “too lovey”. After I had my own children, though, it became less of a cliches. Recently with Lauren, it has become reality. A parent is physically unable to simply “imagine” the death of her child. The mind has a self-defense mechanism to automatically switch to something else in order to shield itself from that kind of pain. As I look at my own little girl, I am sure that if she had to deal with anything like Lauren has, that I would.be there with her as her body slowly deteriorated. I would cling to any hope for her recovery. I would hold her in my arms, sing to her and kiss away her fears-like I did when she was a baby until that moment that at last she was free, And the key that would open the door to her freedom, the end of her pain, would be the samekey to lock me away and ensure that mine would be unending. The moment of her death would become my prison and all the love of all the people in the world couldn’t free me.
I know I can’t free you from that moment, but I hope to take a moment to turn your thoughts backward and share a few happy moments when your precious, beautiful baby touched my life.
I don’t really remember the first time I met Lauren. It was during those early teenaged years in one’s life where nothing really matters except the dramas and romances of best friends and what happens at school. Meeting my step-uncle’s elementary school aged daughters hardly registered.
However, my first clear, distinct memory of Lauren was at a Christmas party at the house on Stillwell. Christmas parties were always loud and joyous gatherings. The family gathered to enjoy each other’s company and share treats that only came out at Christmas time. I remember that even though I was a typical brooding teenager, I loved these parties and being with my family. This year, in addition to the annual gorging on sweets and exchange of gag gifts culminating with the bestowal of the family shoes, Lauren, Sarah, Christina and Mark had created a Christmas play to entertain the guests. Lauren was the director and the other kids were the players. It was one of those cute plays that children create; not great in a literary sense or even made of memorable subject matter, but endearing because you love the children and admire their creativity. A few years ago we were reminiscing about the event at another Christmas party. In a moment so typical of sisters who will forever be childhood adversaries and best friends, Sarah teased, “You were very bossy.” “Well, you needed it,” Lauren replied in her typical lighthearted way. This was the Christmas party marked the first year after Lauren’s tumor had disappeared. The mood was light and it was like old times. She complained about the verbiage in the annual Banasky Christmas letter. “Gee dad, thanks for telling everyone I’m homeless and unemployed.”
Lauren was a Leo, a fire sign, but I would swear she must be an air sign (let’s clarify – air sign, not an air head). My first impressions of her left me seeing her as something like a butterfly; floating around the room from. person to person. Stopping quietly to give a hug and hello and then lightly moving to the next person in some unchoreographed ballet. Shehad a gentleness that was calming, was tall and wispy with light hair, a pretty face and kind eyes. Even the affect of her speech was airy and soft-spoken.
As we grew up, I would hear about this trip and that cruise. She lived the life I wished I could; international jet-set explorer with countless stamps in her passport and enough pictures of exotic places to keep National Geographic going for years. She had some French friend that had been an exchange student that she would go to visit. I had taken French language classes for years and dreamed of living and working in France. I imagined how cool it would be to pop in to my French pal’s house and explore the countryside. In my early college days I overheard her and Sarah discussing the names they liked for their kids. “Isabelle,” said Sarah in that teasing sing-song voice.a bratty little sister uses to torture her older sibling. “Isabeau,” Lauren sternly corrected. I remember sitting back and looking at her, imagining her life as an adult. She would go to college in Paris at the Sorbonne and study international business, On weekends, she would visit her French friend and they would travel all around France together. During some break she would meet a Frenchman, maybe an artiest named Pierre, fall in love, and be married in an ancient cathedral. They would have a little daughter named Isabeau. Lauren would travel around the world doing big business deals while Isabeau, Pierre and the dogs stayed at the family’s home tending the garden and waiting for her to come home with presents and stories of far away places. I smiled to myself, realizing that I, whether she liked it or not, had her perfect life all planned out for her.
Years carne and went and we all went about the business of living our lives.
In September 1999, we all walked together in the Race for the Cure. It was the day after I had been to some party. I was frustrated that I was “so old” (nearly 26 with no prospects) and seemed to be completely unable to find a mate. I asked Lauren about her life and loves. No one special she told me. What!? I wondered why. I always imagined that a girl like Lauren would have no trouble finding a veritable stable full of suitable boyfriends to pick and choose from. Oh well, I thought, she’s still so young, so beautiful, there’s plenty of time.
More years passed. I finally met someone special and got married. In 2003, both Alice and I became pregnant. Alice’s daughter, Emma, was born in September and came to the Christmas Eve party at Steve and Jay Dees. It seems so strange to think that that party was so recent; it seems like a million years ago. That Christmas will forever be one of the most precious in my life, How could any of us imagine that in a few months we would lose nana and Lauren would be diagnosed with cancer? But, at the time, this party was business as usual; funny presents, lots of food, conversation, and togetherness – my favorite time of year. Lauren and Sarah sat on the floor playing with Emma for what seemed like an hour. I marveled at how good they were with her (especially considering Emma later acquired the nickname “Diva” and did not want to be spoken to, looked at or touched by anyone other than her mama)„ she squealed and kicked and smiled and they squealed and smiled back at her. These two beauties in their early twenties were completely enthralled not with libations and merriment, but with causing a three month old baby to laugh. “Any day now,” I thought, “Lauren and Sarah will be getting married and having kids.”
Then came the diagnosis. Sadly, the loss of nana and birth of my Max made me less attentive to Lauren’s progress than I would otherwise have been. The up and down roller coaster of opinions, treatments, results, prognosis took a heavy toll on the family. What would I do if I were Lauren? Row would I cope? I remember during that time feeling apprehensive about seeing her. How does a person act around someone facing such grim news? Do we tiptoe around fir? Pretend we don’t know? Talk about the weather.?
But the times I saw her, I wouldn’t have guessed anything was wrong with her. She didn’t cringe in the corner feeling sorry for herself, she talked about it frankly. I was amazed. Was it possible that I been wrong all these years?
This little butterfly had unleashed her lion’s heart and the the of her unbreakable spirit was as big and limitless as the sky.. She was someone who looked death squarely in the face andsaid., “Who in. the hell do you think you are? You have some nerve trying to take MY life! I won’t let you have it without a fight. No, I won’t let you have it period?”
And so it went. She fought and fought. Endured surgeries, cherno, and radiation. Up, down, up, down. No one and nothing was going to rob her of her dreams. And then the miracle came; the tumor was gone. I remember mom telling me. It was like waking up from a bad dream. You know it’s over, but you still feel scared. and unsettled by the experience. But unlike a bad dream, it wasn’t over. Just a few short months later we learned it was back and this time to stay.
I remember the last time.I saw Lauren. It was at lay Dee’s 5e birthday. My little baby Eve was six months old and I didn’t get away from her often. I sat quietly in a chair (those of us who have had kids understand the importance of the word quietly) surveying the scene. Here was Lauren floating around the room with a new air about her, This was the party I met her Sean. (Sean, who as it turned out is worth more than ten million Pierces). I realized I was staring at her. Why? Why was she so mesmerizing? Then I realized why I couldn’t stop watching her, what it was that had caught my attention and held it to her in the midst of all this activity. It was her face. She had that look that only someone just starting her own life has. An unconntainabie excitement and pride that ‘ shown though every pore in her face. Excited about her fixture, excited to be in love, excited to be pursuing her dreams after being held captive so long, excited to be alive and to live and to dream again., What a beautiful sight it is to see someone standing on the threshold of achieving her dreams: dreams of a master’s degree, dreams of a good job, dreams of a husband, a home and a baby. And for the first time I saw her as a real person. That’s how I will remember her. Not living as some idealized superwoman realizing my childhood fantasies, but as nothing more than an average person. Someone who would never be famous, but would be happy with her husband and her children and her life.
I think children are a lot like butterflies. From the second they emerge, you can’t believe anything could be more magical and beautiful. But with each passing day, they change and grow a. nd. become even more magical, more beautiful, and more free. And now Lauren has changed again and achieved the ultimate freedom and we mourn the loss of something that was so cherished.
I hold you in my thoughts and prayers and each summer day when the butterflies float and dance freely and carelessly around my yard l will remember beautiful Lauren and her unbreakable spirit.