The universe is filled with mystery — with things I will most likely never understand. Here’s one example we’ve all seen play out in the world: Sometimes good things happen to bad people, and sometimes bad things happen to good people. This sounds like a trite expression, but it’s one I’ve found to be true. You see, when my daughter Ally was diagnosed with glioblastoma, I didn’t blame God, even though that is a reasonable reaction. Instead, I attributed her illness to the randomness of the universe. Or maybe, to be a bit more coarse, I just understood that “shit happens.” Even the kindest of humans get cancer. Even the most loving people die much too young.
That being said, sometimes in the midst of a really difficult situation, a person is able to find some bright spots — small blessings that were gleaned from said horrible event — small gifts from the universe. This is true of my daughter’s illness and death. I know that losing Ally is the worst thing I’ll ever have to go through, but at the same time, I’ve met some amazing people through our family’s horrific journey.
I remember walking into the KU Cancer Clinic the first day Ally had radiation. It was a horrible day. I tried to be optimistic and stay strong for Ally. Her dad had to leave the room. And Ally — my amazingly tough girl — remained steadfast and strong. Afterwards, as we were leaving, we were stopped at a check out desk. The lady behind the desk handed Ally an envelope containing a dollar bill. You see, a donor whose wife had struggled with cancer noticed the number of kids who were fighting this disease too. This pained him. He decided to donate money so that each child received a dollar each time they came for radiation. He wanted to provide encouragement and hope. I don’t know this man. I’ll probably never meet him. But I admire him and his kindness. I feel like his seemingly small act is something that will impact me forever. I want to dole out acts of kindness like this anonymous donor did.
After Ally died, I’ve been able to connect with several other mothers who, like me, lost a child. I know that this connection probably sounds sad and maybe even morbid. But I feel like we’re all in the same club — the club that no parent wants to be in. If we must endure this loss, we may as well survive it together.
This summer, I was invited to speak at a children’s hospice inservice along with several other parents. We were talking to hospice nurses (angels on Earth) about our experiences during our child’s illness and death. It was a hard, but important thing to do. My words could potentially bring change to a program that will impact mothers just like me. My social worker friend Karen accompanied me so I didn’t have to do this alone. I listened to other stories, similar to my own, and I spoke about my beloved Ally, her life, and her time in hospice care. This event, even though challenging, was also cathartic. Afterwards, a mom asked if she could give me a hug. We hugged tightly, and without words, we shared a poignant connection. I will not forget this mother, even if I never physically see her again. I will not forget her daughter, even though I never knew her.
Recently, I met another mother who had lost a child. This is a new co-worker who I predict will also be a new friend. This woman overheard me talking to another parent about how I’m holding up. A day later, my co-worker came to me and asked if I had lost a child. She then said that she had lost her sweet son nearly 25 years ago and asked if I’d like to get together and talk.
This week, we met at a coffee shop. I’ve only known this woman for two months, and it feels like it’s been a lifetime. We have shared experiences — trauma, grief, mom guilt, and finding joy despite our circumstances. Again, it probably sounds weird to befriend another bereaved mother, but to me, these friendships feel like a small gift from the universe. There is another mother who feels what I feel and stands in solidarity with me through my pain.
I am certain that my daughter’s life and death have changed me. I’m not the person I was before she was born, and I’m not the person I was before her cancer diagnosis. But in some ways, I’m better. Stronger. More loving. More joyful. I understand the value of the small but significant gifts the universe has offered up to me, and I am grateful…for the small things, for friendships, for the short but significant life of my daughter.