Climbing the stairs to the platform is one of the most anxiety producing actions ever.
Waiting to board, I chatter nervously.
Heart racing, hands shaking and knees wobbling.
A huge part of me wants to turn and run away as far as possible.
But, she’s at my side and our turn is next.
We’re in the first car. Ugh.
There’s no buffer between us and the unknown in this front seat.
Stepping into the car, I take the inner spot.
The metal bars come down around our shoulders.
They are heavy and inflict pressure.
We look at one another.
As the mom, I’m trying not to show my fear.
But I am petrified.
Her eyes say that she’s scared and I say, “Just hold my hand. I’m here.”
The roller coaster starts slowly…very slowly. Teasing us.
Then we ascend. Inch by inch.
A sound that tells me that we are headed for quite an experience.
On a 90 degree angle, we are in the hands of gears and brakes that I hope work.
My heart beats so hard; I can hear it loudly in my ears.
I swear I can see her heart beating.
A blue sky is all we see.
Can’t envision what’s on the other side of the incline.
As we level out, I look down – totally overwhelmed.
A maze of twists, turns and curves.
There’s no way to identify the route – no time to exit.
I’m not in control.
The descent is fast and furious.
Whoosh! Both of our heads hit the back of the car and our hair whips in many directions.
Whish. We descend in less than 5 seconds.
Lightening speed creates a blur.
She and I grab one another’s hands tightly.
We laugh nervously.
Whoosh again. Rounding another curve.
It’s happening so quickly that my mind can’t comprehend the full ride.
Where are we headed? When will it end?
In this moment, I am acutely aware of my feelings:
Anxious. Fearful. Curious. Protective. Impatient. Overwhelmed.
High doses of adrenaline keep me from passing out.
Trusting that this metal bar will hold us in.
Hold her in.
A dark tunnel approaches.
I think this means the ride’s almost over. Thankfully.
We enter the darkness, so black that I am comforted by closing my eyes.
Her hand still holds on to mine.
Ah – a speck of white light.
It’s tiny, but gets bigger and bigger.
Now total brightness.
Yes! We’re through. We made it.
The car slows down.
I look to my right.
Panic. Fear. Shock. Disbelief.
How can she be gone?
“Somebody, stop this roller coaster now and get me off. I have to be with her.”
But the ride doesn’t stop.
It starts over.
This isn’t happening; it’s a bad dream.
There’s chatter behind me so I know that other people are still on the ride.
I have to go through again without her by my side.
This time I ride with a broken heart.
Repeating the climb, the speed, the twists, the turns,
the dark tunnel – all without her.
Alone in the front seat.
I have no idea how long the ride will last.
The bar is holding me in – protecting me.
The slow ascent repeats – “click… click…click”
Here I go.
Trusting that she is ok without me.
That someone is protecting her.
Until my ride ends.
…And this is what it was – and is like – for me to lose my daughter to cancer.
Note: Trying to put words to an experience as painful as losing my daughter is difficult. I know some people try to enter my world and relate to my experience, but of course, they can only understand to a certain level. Unless, they’ve either cared for a child through a serious illness and/or lost a child. I often call our experience, of the last two and half years, a roller coaster ride. Dwelling on the roller coaster symbolism reinforces the accuracy of the metaphor. The moment we received the news Leah had cancer, we stepped onto this platform and our life experience changed forever. Leah will be gone two years in February and it’s hard to believe. Our second Thanksgiving and Christmas without her approaches.
I have faith and trust that she is in a better place. And I am here – continuing this ride called LIFE without her. Trusting in strong Arms that hold me tight, until I see her again. And grateful for many of you who have the courage to stay on the ride with me.
And the courage to move forward on your own rides wherever they take you.