My Husband's Answer to Our 4-Year-Old's Question, 'Is This the Part Where the Girl Dies?'

My husband is a man of few words, but that does not stop the deep thinking going on in his head — thoughts he rarely shares about his little boy we couldn’t save. So when he busted out some powerful words the other day, I was a bit taken aback.

We were getting ready to watch a video of a pastor whose daughter had died from a terminal form of pediatric cancer called DPIG… as Ron was setting up the video, Lily, my death-obsessed 4-year-old asked, “Daddy is this the part where the girl dies?”

Our youngest daughter goes in and out of understanding what has happened to her missing brother. Death seems to not only petrify her but also haunt her as she comes to grips with the fact that children get sick and though not all sick kids die, some do and somehow that happened to her brother and best friend, Matthew.

All very hard concepts for a little girl comprehend.

So when she inquired about the part in the video where the little girl dies, I cringed a bit hoping she doesn’t say that loudly in line at Target because she has been coming up with some good ones in line at Target lately… but it was my husband’s words that brought on uncontrollable tears and sent me out of the room in search of clarity.

Without skipping a beat her wise daddy replied, “No honey, this is the part where she has a beautiful life.”

His words just kind of hung in the air with weight and value that I needed to process alone — to better understand more about the part where you have “a beautiful life.”

Lately I had been stuck in the part where Matthew was sick and died — another
anniversary marking the day cancer took my boy was taking me to extra special places of negativity. Another first was approaching with a swiftness down our road of grief — “a first” I was trying to not let matter, but it kept etching away at my thoughts anyways. Last Monday was not just the day my boy died; it also marked a certain increment of time. Matthew has now spent more years out of my arms than I was allowed to have them wrapped tightly around him. He never got to be 3 years old, but he does get to be three years dead.

All hard concepts for a mother of any age to even want to understand.

I stumbled into a dark room feeling my warm never-ending tears fall. I let Ron’s words sink in and guide my heart towards healing. “The part where you have a beautiful life.” It seemed so loud and far more relevant than all the other parts of life — being born and having to die are experiences that will happen to each one of us, experiences in life that when they do in fact come we have little control over. But the part where we have a beautiful life, that’s the part we get to choose — the who, the when, the how — it’s where humankind still thrives no matter how ugly life is.

My Matthew was born with cancer. Everything about children having to fight cancer is fairly ugly in regards to how hard these little ones must fight, how it tears families apart, how cancer kills ones hopes and dreams. I despise and loathe that about cancer, but everything about the person my Matthew was and is I find very beautiful. His life was one that still radiates beauty into this world and somehow I was chosen to be the one to give birth to that most beautiful life force. Me. It was me who was chosen and given the privilege of being called Matthew’s mother.

It is a beautiful honor to be the caregiver to a cancer warrior.

When the third anniversary of Matthew’s death finally came, I woke up angry. As soon as my eyes opened I closed them and prayed to the God I know, reminding him of his promise he made to be near to the brokenhearted because my heart felt especially broken that morning.

Three years of being a mother to a child who does not exist in this world is just not what I envisioned motherhood to be. It’s all really just that simple. I want my baby back. It’s a want I can’t have and can’t satisfy. It’s like when you go without eating. You feel hungry and that can make you grouchy and left feeling unfulfilled. And on the third anniversary of Matthew’s death I felt famished.

I wanted to post something on Facebook that spoke about that hunger and of that wonderful child I got to call mine, but the words that came seemed cheap and ordinary… and I just felt like I had nothing good to say. Slowly I began to commit myself to just having a crappy day filled with crying, heartbreak and despair. It would have been loads of fun for a grieving mom like me, but then something beautiful happened.

I began to get text message after text message of encouragement and affection. Beautiful flowers arrived and Matthew’s Facebook page was filled with so many heartfelt messages of love and remembrance of my boy who spent nearly every day of his life in a hospital fighting cancer — the boy who hardly had the chance to meet anyone but whose beautiful life inspired thousands to live better.

Those powerful words of adoration and remembrance are a universal language
every grieving mother yearns to hear. Thank you for speaking them.

Ron also took the day to keep on his “saving the family” roll and decided he would close up his store and we would spend the day our family lost Matthew at the beach. The kids liked his idea for the day way better than mine, and in all honesty I was glad to follow his lead.

And what a day at the beach it was. The beach is always a new opportunity to add to my sea glass collection. The kids love helping, and for the last few months we have been on a special hunt for a piece of glass that is heart-shaped. Though I never turn down a piece of sea glass and will always have room for one more, I recently was exposed to another collector of sea glass who had the most exquisite collection of heart-shaped sea glass, with each piece was so unique and beautiful, tiny fragments of multicolored hearts. I instantly fell in love with the thought of my very own collection of broken heart-shaped sea glass. This specific quest had been going on for months without any success, but on that day glimmering in the water was a perfectly heart-shaped piece of green sea glass. My eldest daughter looked so proud when she placed it in my hand she — a gift for her mother, one she knew I had been searching for.

Lily also caught her first sunset. She patiently waited until not a sliver of sun was left, not wanting to miss a moment of its glory. Though there is something magical about watching the sun go down, it’s not nearly as magical as watching your daughter’s face as she discovers the splendor in her first.

husband and daughter on the beach
There are parts of my life I would not judge as being beautiful. Some days it all feels very ugly and dark, but every day, opportunity to find beauty awaits me. My circumstances are not what make my life beautiful; beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, and I am the beholder in my life, the only one able to appreciate the beauty still growing around me. Certainly, some days take an effort to find shimmery and beautiful moments, but
collectors are choosers.

It’s a choice I have — to collect these beautiful moments. Some days I come up empty handed, but other days I come up double fisted, and it is those double fisted days that have me addicted to finding more beautiful moments.

The Mighty, in partnership with Fuck Cancer, is asking the following: What’s the best advice you’ve gotten or a mantra that spoke to you following your diagnosis?  Find out how to email us a story submission here.

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