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My daughter, Cameron Patterson Lord, died on May 9th, 2001. On May 19th, 2001 friends and family gathered at a church in Cambridge, Massachusetts to remember her and to celebrate her life. Months later, in December of 2001, I felt her death as deeply and as painfully as at any time before or since. At the suggestion of our family grief counselor, I decided to transcribe her memorial service as a project for Advent. Advent is the Christian version of an ancient ritual for the darkest time of the year. We sit in quiet and reverent contemplation in the dark, waiting faithfully for the return of the light.
So begins Beloved, my biography of my daughter Cameron.
We had never celebrated a Christmas with Cameron free of the fear that she would soon be gone. And yet, her two Christmases were beautiful affirmations of the triumph of joy and love over fear. Her first Christmas with my family had a heaviness about it, no doubt, but I remember so clearly my father, facing the knowledge of two terminally ill grandchildren, nonetheless decorating every inch of the house as he had done every year for decades. I will never forget the look of stubborn determination on his face and in his eyes that Christmas would come no matter what. Cameron’s second Christmas was also sweet and brave. Her cousin Hayden had died three days before. Our Christmas in Vermont was full of the knowledge that her time was short and still Blyth’s family rallied around Cameron and Taylor and all of us with a calm and loving presence.
I am not certain that the weight of her death felt so heavy in December 2001 because of Christmas alone-I think as with so many parents it just gets harder before it gets easier and there we were, seven months out and the shock had worn off. Still, Christmas and indeed all celebrations are harder when there is a child absent. And so, we faced the question of how to face this darkness and weight. As always, our grief counselor helped us see that we needed to sit with it, to live into and hold it up to the light. I needed a project. I needed to be more with Cameron not less.
I began transcribing her memorial service and, in the process, I recalled story after story and memory after memory from her life. I wove these into the narrative and now we have a memoir of her life, called Beloved, that Blyth and I can share when we want to reconnect with her and that we read on May 9th every year.
Like so many of us, I never really knew what Advent meant. I ignored it with an eye towards Christmas. But every faith tradition and every culture has an analogue. We wait in the darkness with faithful hearts and we look for the return of the light. Thanks to Cameron and to our counselor, I have lived Advent. I lived Advent and indeed I waited out the darkness and slowly a new time dawned in my life.