No one wants to think about a child dying, or to consider what it must be like to be a parent watching your child suffer and not being able to help. I’ve struggled to find the right words to say to friends and family who have lost children–nothing is ever right, every word or phrase comes out like some God-awful platitude or cop-out or worse. I don’t know how people who have experienced this kind of loss even continue to breathe, day by day, let alone live full lives, but even saying this much somehow cheapens their experience: who the hell cares what I can comprehend? What difference does it make what I think in the face of their suffering?
I don’t have any answers to those massive and not at all rhetorical questions. But, reading Donna’s cancer story is helping me to think about them with more complexity. The story is part of Mary Tyler Mom’s blog, and it has been serialized as 31 segments, each representing one month in this little girl’s cancer treatment. It is intended to honour Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and it is an opportunity to learn how a family copes with a child’s debilitating illness and what I can only characterize as the ultimate kind of devastation. Nothing I say can possibly approach the power of Mary Tyler Mom’s own words, either in this interview or in the blog itself. So I encourage you all to read it and share it. As I read each day, I’m starting to understand that witnessing a child’s shortened life may be the best way to support the family that outlives her. This story gives us all an opportunity to acknowledge that Donna was here, and that her life continues to matter. From the small amount I know from my friends whose children have passed away far too soon, continuing to acknowledge their lives and deaths even when it is incredibly painful because it stirs up the worst fears in any parent’s heart seems to be one of the most important things any of us can do.
So, if you can–even more importantly, if you think you can’t–read Donna’s story. It’s well worth the time and the sadness in ways I think will take a long time to fully understand.