Friday, November 13, 2009
Twelve Days of Thanksgiving: Day 1
I've never posted about Ashley before, but after reading her mother's new blog, I realized I was holding back sharing the blessings of her life with all of you.
Ashley is twelve years old and succumbing to heart failure. If you want the details of what that means, you'd have to ask a member of her immediate family. All I know is that it means she spent many nights with us after hospital visits, I've held her in my arms as she's cried from the pain, and that someday far too soon, she'll no longer be with us. And knowing that, my heart fails me a little as well.
I've never known a child with a terminal condition before. All of my friends who have died have done so suddenly--tragic, yes, but sudden. And my family members who have passed on have died at reasonable ages--too soon, yes, but after living full lives. I have never watched someone I love fight a battle over so many years and slowly begin to fade.
When I first met Ashley, she wasn't even ten years old. I was living in Salt Lake City, roommates with an old college friend who is Ashley's aunt. I had spent years hearing stories about Ashley and felt like I already knew her. She and her family would make the eight-hour drive down from Boise to have procedures done at Primary Children's Medical Center.
Because I am a picture book fanatic, I'd always send a few books with Tammy up to the hospital to keep Ashley's mind off the sometimes painful procedures. From Mo Willem's Leonardo the Terrible Monster to Lady Cottington's Pressed Fairy Book by Brian Froud, laughter was a great medicine, until a mean old nurse had to ask them to put away the books because Ashley was laughing so hard she was having heart spasms.
Ashley would often come to stay with us so her parents could have some alone time. She'd sit at the kitchen table and tell me stories while I made dinner or entertain us by reading aloud from one of her favorite books. Or sometimes, she's be so tired we'd put in a movie and she'd fall asleep on my shoulder long before the closing credits began to roll.
When I moved back east, there were a lot of things I was sad to leave behind, but probably the hardest thing to leave was Ashley. I knew she was getting sicker, I knew Tammy needed someone to lean on, and I knew I might not have the chance to see Ashley again. But last June, I went to Idaho for a wedding and was able to spend an afternoon with Ashley and her family. And a few months ago I got a phone call from Ashley so she could read me the new book her aunt had bought her for her hospital stay. These little moments have meant the world to me and eased my heart.
Then over Labor Day weekend while driving back to DC from Chicago, I got a phone call. Ashley was not doing very well and there was nothing more the doctors could do for her. The PICC line would come out and Ashley would go home. All of a sudden, life had shifted from "if" to "when." I was grateful when I lost cell service in the Pennsylvania mountains so I could cry alone for a few minutes.
I have spent a lot of nights crying since then--after phone calls with Tammy, after reading messages from Ashley's mom, after a phone conversation with a friend who had just spent the weekend with Ashley. I cried from knowing Ashley was not going to get better. I cried from knowing I couldn't be there for my friend and her family. I cried from knowing there was nothing anyone could do. And I especially cried from knowing the next time I would go out west would not be as much fun as my trip in June.
But I've also cried from happy thoughts. Each day Ashley is with us is a blessing. It is another memory we can have for when she is gone. It has brought her family closer together and made them stronger. I often think of that scripture "For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning" (Psalms 30:5).
I don't mean to turn this into a "preachy" blog post, and for many of you who don't know me, you might be surprised to find out I have a deep faith in God, but that faith is so personal to me I have never felt right about sharing it in a public blog. The thing is, as the past month has progressed and my emotions have been in turmoil, I can't help but draw on my faith to keep me going. Ashley is like a niece to me, her mother like a sister, her three energetic little brothers like nephews. She and her family are never far from my thoughts, and when they enter my thoughts, the love of God enters my heart.
So if you believe in God--or you even have a glimmer of hope that there is some kind of higher power out there--I ask that you offer up a pray for Ashley. Not that some miracle will happen and we'll get to keep her for a little more time, but offer up a pray of thanksgiving that Ashley has been able to touch so many lives, and maybe, just maybe, she'll be able to touch your life as well.