I stood at the window in the lobby of my dorm waiting. It was an April day and I had someplace that I very much wanted to be, yet at the same time didn’t want to be at all. I watched intently out the window waiting for my ride to come. As I waited, I remembered.
She had been born less than 4 years before. A sweet new life, a second child, a little sister, a new granddaughter, the promise of dreams and a rich life to come entered the world on June 15, 1979. She was loved and wanted, and full of hope. She grew. She cooed and giggled and wiggled her fingers and toes. She learned to roll over and to sit up. Then one day the doctors discovered that something was wrong.
An awful diagnosis sent her parents’ world spinning wildly out of control. Leukemia. So young to receive such a dire diagnosis.
I remembered her sweet, energetic little being coming to the Awana Cubbies class that my parents led during our youth program at church. In a room filled with two and three year olds, dashing about, playing and exploring, I could see her bright eyes and her little bald head. She seemed so bright . . . and so vulnerable with her mesh shirt holding her chemo port in place. So tiny, her fair skin so white.
Her treatments were given in a city over an hour away. The schedule was grueling. Her parents were often separated as her mom stayed at the hospital with her and her father took care of the family business. Her older sister would later praise her parents for choosing to include her grandparents as co-parents for her during her little sister’s illness. This was a time of anxiety and fear for My Little Cousin’s immediate family and for our extended family around them.
I remember too her mother telling me that one lesson she sought to teach My Little Cousin was that pain is not an excuse for bad behavior. My Little Cousin was in pain, great pain throughout her short life, yet her mother saw with hope that one day she would grow up and that good behavior would be important and that pain was not an excuse to behave badly. Sadly, she did not grow up, but the lesson her mother sought to teach her was an important one for any person to learn.
The day came when My Little Cousin’s mom gave her daughter a bone marrow transplant. For a short time it seemed to work and then the news came that My Little Cousin was no longer responding to treatment. There was nothing more the doctors could do.
She and the other children in the hospital sang a song based on Revelation 4. “Worthy is the Lamb to receive . . .” and in place of the words of the song they would insert the names of the children that went to be with Jesus. On April 6, 1983 My Little Cousin’s name was added to the song as she went to be with Jesus. She was only with us for 3 ¾ short years, too short a time. Her passing left behind pain and devastating grief and loss.
My ride never came that day. I never found out why. I have always felt a little sad and disappointed that I never got to say good-bye to My Little Cousin, that I wasn’t there to support, to express my love on this very sad day.
We all struggled to make sense of this loss, yet it seemed so senseless. Her older sister questioned why God would take My Little Cousin and no one really had a good answer. My Little Cousin’s parents seemed lost in the face of this gargantuan loss, unsure how to navigate the grief, crushed and dazed. My heart ached with them and longed to somehow ease their pain, to somehow fill the huge, empty hole that had entered their life. But, I had no idea what to say or do.
With this loss, my questions and doubts continued to grow. I wrestled with “why” and it was a long time before I found peace with that question. I think this loss more than the others gave me a desire to learn how to comfort grieving people, to learn how to walk with those who have suffered great loss in a way that would console and encourage.