There is a little girl in our community who is dying. She is a carbon copy of my little girl. Eight years old – sweet, smart, precocious and brave. She is a real person – angry and confused – not the glowing angel depicted in childhood cancer literature. She cries, rage-filled. The family is strong. They are hunkered down, weathering the storm, but also raw and vulnerable. Their hearts are breaking and they have invited us on the journey. They write about last words and how to have conversations about death with an eight year old. They are trying to dispel her fears; their fears too I suppose. They want to cram all of her life’s events into a week but they also know there is wisdom in balance. There is something beautiful about quiet, ordinary times. They take her to the mall and buy outfits and accessories. When she gets tired, they carry her home. They put her to bed and stare at one another, knowing that this is how it will be – pieces will be missing – forever, soon. They sit near her as she sleeps, putting a hand on her heart, memorizing the beat, fantasizing about having magical powers that can simply draw the disease out of her. They grow tired of it all, but cling tight.
Their invitation to be part of this end is an honor and is overwhelming.
We all watch from the sidelines, innocent bystanders. We throw cups of water their way as they run by. Some of us hold snacks for replenishment at the end of the race. We are unbelievably intimate and yet, so separate. We are helpless to run this race for them and so we are alone with our thoughts. We think about these people – relative strangers – pondering their most intimate moments. We think all sorts of “what ifs” and wonder how we would run it if handed the baton. Would we train differently? Would we regret not running that extra mile on that one day years ago? Would that have helped us prepare? Did we use our time as efficiently as possible? Should we have started strong, leaving nothing for the finish line or perhaps we should have moved slowly, leaving strength for that last burst of energy at the end.
And we become voyeurs. We gobble the updates, hungry for the next one. We think about these people when the weather is warm, grateful that they will be able to enjoy the outside. We stare at pictures of their daughter in swimming pools, thinking about how how much our daughters love water. We think about them at 4am when we’re holding our babies, knowing that they are also holding theirs as fluids seep from her body. We shake our fist at God and question his very existence on their behalf. We happily clean up our children’s messes knowing that one day they will ache for mess. We do the cliche and grip our children tighter.
And then we feel guilty. Why does it take this kind of tragedy to make us scrutinize our actions? Did I need a little girl to die so that I would hold my child whenever she asks for it? Is it some kind of macabre sacrifice that has to happen for us to gain a little perspective?
None of it is right. Tomorrow is Mayday.