The first time I ever really had to deal with death was when I was in middle school. I will never forget that day. It was in the summer and I was at my best friend’s house practicing cheerleading routines. We were outside and heard a ton of sirens. I remember we referenced them in conversation, wondering what was going on, but didn’t realize those sirens were heading to try to rescue one of our classmates from flood waters.
I remember my mom sitting me down and telling me that one of my friends fell in the water while playing and he did not survive. I pretty sure I went into shock. How does a kid die? That doesn’t happen to my friends? We are a small community. This has to be a joke, right? I was scared and heart-broken. I got mad inside, screaming “That isn’t fair!” We were close. Our parents were close. We rode the same bus. Got in trouble together on the bus. (We could make the best fart noises, which our bus driver did not find as amusing.) My mom took me to visit his mom and brother and I remember feeling scared, weird and sad. I can still picture his grief stricken mother, laying in her bed, sobbing. At that age you don’t understand the depth of sorrow a parent goes through. It was like a part of her spirit was gone. She was never the same. Besides going to my grandpa’s funeral when I was a small child, his was the first I remember. As I entered the church, I saw the casket and the top of his lifeless body. He looked peaceful. I was sad. All our classmates were there. Some cried, some looked afraid, some had no idea what was happening, and some said nothing. For months I would dream about him. I would secretly cry because I missed him so much. I would hold the paper footballs he had made for me and I would stare at his school picture. Going back to school was hard. He wasn’t on the bus. I often wondered what he was doing in heaven. I thought about if he was scared or felt alone? It is said that time heals, and it does, but to this day he still crosses my mind from time to time. He is definitely one of the first few people I want to see when I get to heaven.
I tell you the above story because yesterday it was like reopening the past. But this time, I was the one having to deliver the news to my middle school daughter about a friend of hers passing away. One of Mallorie’s friends from Camp Quality passed away a couple of days ago. Mallorie, at first, thought I was joking. She said, “No, that can’t be true because she had been cancer free for 10 years. Mom, please tell me you are kidding?” Then the tears came. She kept saying, “No, no, no. It’s not fair. She had a great attitude. She wasn’t sick anymore.” All I could do was hold her in my arms. I didn’t know what to say. What do you say? Sometimes saying nothing is all you can do. All my feelings I felt when my mom told me my friend had died came rushing back to me. I knew how confused and mad Mallorie was. I found myself getting mad too. I got mad at this broken world. I got mad because my daughter has been through enough. All of these kids have. Not only do Mal’s “cancer” friends have to deal with their own illness, now they have to try to understand death. Then I started thinking about this little girls family. Her mom, flashbacks of my friend’s mom laying in that bed whipped in my mind. I now grasp the heartache she was feeling and got nauseated thinking of the pain and sorrow Mallorie’s friend’s mom was going through. It was unbearable.
After the tears stopped and time had passed. Mallorie was sitting in the kitchen with the lights low staring off in space. I knew she was thinking. I sat down beside her and asked her this question. “Do you ever stop and think why you are going through this? Like, what is the purpose?” She looked soberly at me and said, “Mom, I have thought about that. And the only thing I can say is God does not give you more than you can handle. And it has been a struggle for all of us, but I am ready to start making a difference. I want to do more. I just don’t know where to start.” I was moved by her wise words. She continued to tell me she was tired of being different. She said that any time, like at school, she gets picked for something, kids say it’s just because she has cancer. She said people look at you different and you don’t really know if they want to be your friend or do stuff with you because they really like you or just feel sorry for you. She confided that all we want (her friends with cancer) is to be treated normally. We don’t want special treatment or accommodations. We may look different, but inside we are the same, just like everyone else. Yeah, we may get tired more easily and might have tubes hanging out of us, but that shouldn’t matter, right? I broke inside.
I really don’t know how to close this entry. I guess it was just an eye opener on so many levels. One, I am thankful that my mom raised me to believe in God and to trust him and to have compassion for others. Second, I never really thought about how different or odd Mallorie felt. To me, I don’t see anything weird about her or any kid with an illness. But people who haven’t experienced something like this do see sickness. I never noticed people staring at her. I just see a beautiful fighter doing what she needs to do to survive. Lastly, I am reminded life is so short. For me, I am not afraid of cancer, but I am scared out of mind for the complications that come with it. See, I know that death is not the end. And what is funny is my Pastor just gave a message about death this past weekend. I know when people die, they are physically gone and that hurts more than words can express. We ache to be with our loved ones. And just because I know this doesn’t mean I don’t morn those who have passed or wouldn’t dearly miss my children if they died. I know there would be a deep yearning to hold and touch them again. My world would never be the same. And would I be mad? You bet. Would it be hard to go on? Absolutely. But I know what heaven holds. I know this world is temporary. That is what gets me through. I hate that I have actually had to sit down and process what would happen if Mallorie died. I have thought about it many times. Especially that first night riding in the ambulance, not knowing what the hell was going on inside her body. Life stood still, yet was moving so fast. God gave me peace and for that I am forever grateful.
I know Mallorie does not fully understand about life and death. Who does at 12? Actually, none of us truly do. But my hope is that one day, Mallorie will be able to use these experiences to help others. To witness to them about struggles and show how awesome our God really is. But for now, we morn the loss of a beautiful girl we feel was taken home way too soon. She definitely left a mark on Mallorie’s life that will forever be treasured in her heart.