Tunnels and Time Capsules, Part 1

There is light, but there’s a tunnel to crawl through

There is love, but it’s misery loves you

We’ve still got hope, so I think we’ll be fine

In these disastrous times, disastrous times

Frightened Rabbit, “The Oil Slick”

To my Audrey, Lucy and Jack,

On a Thursday afternoon in mid-to-late March of 2020, we all needed to get out of the house. Unfortunately, we couldn’t really go anywhere. All of the restaurants were closed and social distancing narrowed down the places that we could go to significantly. So Daddy had the idea to jump in the van and drive around Dayton playing a game of rubberneckers. If you recall, this was basically a scavenger hunt with points for things that you see while traveling. Shouts of exaltation were pronounced with every find, and every tough item (station wagon, weather vane, etc.) was complained about excessively. It was a typical scene for our family. There was a lot of laughing, a great deal of sarcasm and a bit of trash talk. It’s a scene that most would look upon and think that we were a normal family on a normal day. They wouldn’t be able to see what our family has been through so far, and that the toughest times are still ahead. A casual observer would have absolutely no clues that our family, and seemingly the whole world, is currently on the verge of some very dark days.

I know that it’s quite likely that you won’t remember this day, or even this game. But you will remember these months to come as one of those “before and after” periods of your life. You will frame events in your childhood as, “Was this before ____ or after?”

In the past two weeks, it seems almost as if the rest of the world is starting to catch up to where we’ve been for months: First the disease, then the false hopes of resolution, the panic of realizing impending doom, and then waiting; hanging on to the news for increasingly pessimistic developments. Most will eventually emerge to brighter days at the end. But some of us won’t. And some will be left grieving for someone that they love. It’s a dark, miserable tunnel, but it’s one that I am afraid that you must go down. As much as I would give anything to protect you from it, I cannot. And so you must emerge, wiser and stronger, when you get to that light on the other end.

What is a tunnel for you is more like a time capsule for me. At some point, the lid will be sealed and I will become stuck somewhere in your past. I will become memories that fade a bit with time, photographs, and Facebook postings. Because I do not know exactly how long I can walk with you, I need to finally do the hard work that I’ve been avoiding. I have to carve some words into this wall with hopes that some day you will come back with a flashlight to read them. There is so much to be said, and most of it will result in me crying buckets all over the keyboard. Part of my avoidance has been due to struggling with where to begin. No more. I will have to just start writing and decide where to go from there.

First, know that I didn’t want to leave you. I fought like hell to stay here longer, but the universe reminded me that I was not special. At times, I want to scream from the rooftops, “This isn’t fair!” But doing that doesn’t change anything. I can’t change what’s going to happen to me, or to you, or to your Dad any more than I can change a world that seems to be falling apart all around us. I’ve bargained and pleaded. I’ve lined up planes on the runway. I’ve screamed into the void. I’ve cried deep, mournful cries. I’ve had to live with the mantra of trying to change what I can, but accepting that I can’t change everything. Through this process, I’ve been able to get to a sort of sad place of peace with all of this. I know that these weeks and months will stay with you. I hope that I don’t disappoint, fail or scare you . I hope that I can teach you that it’s okay to be human. That it’s okay to be sad and vulnerable at times, and okay to brave and resilient at others.

Secondly, know that despite everything that is going to happen over the next several months, you are going to survive. It will be very difficult and very messy but you will survive. Our family will survive. No matter what the world throws at you, you will always have your Dad. And he is the best dad, husband, and overall person that you could possibly have in your life, just like you are the best kids that he could have in his. Dad’s love for you and Dad’s need to take care of you and keep you safe runs as deeply as it can go. You will also always have your siblings. As your Mom, I can tell you that I see it. I see that you love each other. And I know that no matter how different you are or how much you argue, the Stokers are a unit that will always look out for each other. Because you are mine and Dad’s children. Because you are resilient. And because you have each other’s love. Please don’t ever take that for granted or lose it.

You will always have my love too. I can guarantee that mom’s love for you is so big, so dense, so bright white and glowing that there is no way that it could ever dissipate with death. It will wrap itself around all three of you and around your dad for as long as you walk the earth and beyond.

I can barely contain how incredibly proud I am to be your mom. I have had the pleasure of watching all three of you grow into the young people that you are right now. I love to watch you get lost in play or wrapped up completely in a creative project. I love to see you work towards a goal. I love to hear your emerging and growing thoughts about the world. I love to see you stand up for yourselves or for someone else. I love watching you become more of the you that you are every day. You get to decide exactly who you will be by the time you grow up, and how you will change as you continue to live and grow through life’s experiences. I do not know where I will be when you become what you become, but I promise you that if there is a way for me to keep watching you I will. Because the very thought of missing out on all of that aches me.

I don’t get to know what the future will hold for either the world, or for you. But I want you to know that I know that you get through it. To yell and cry when you need to. To not get so stuck in the bad that you miss the good. To courageously be yourself when the world tries to change you. To make mistakes and learn from them. And to either conquer or make peace with whatever challenges fall before you. You are all already imperfectly amazing human beings destined to become even more imperfectly amazing adults.

The keyboard is beginning to get very wet, so I should probably pace myself. There is so much more that I want to say to all of you and each of you, but I have to stop for a bit.

More to come. Love, Mom.

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