Mom heard the bad news on Good Friday.
For the last year, every time the phone rang, Mom worried that her sisters called to deliver bad news about her niece’s daughter. Jenny drove Alexandra all over the country to try different treatments for brain cancer. Doctors performed surgery to remove her tumor and claimed the operation a success. Alexandra improved for a while, but soon deteriorated. Her life became a cycle of good days and bad days. Our hopes were raised and crushed over and over again. Good news never felt trustworthy.
How does this happen? Last year, we received Jenny’s photo Christmas card of Alexandra wearing a red taffeta dress—three at the time—and Samuel in his suit. A holiday letter up-dated us of their current news: Samuel loved baseball and chess; Alexandra loved gymnastics and preschool. They were happy. In this year’s Christmas card, the entire family, smiled bravely, including Alexandra who was now bald and frail. The card read: “Here’s to health, happiness, strength of spirit in facing all of life’s challenges.”
Alexandra joined the current statistics on children battling cancer. What were the latest treatments; which hospitals had the best results, the highest survival rates? How does a family handle the emotional stress? These questions mattered now in a personal way.
The caller ID said Liz Carrol, Mom’s older sister, but the line was silent. “Liz? Are you there? Liz? Say something.” She could hear sniffles. “Is it Alexandra?”
“Yes . . . this morning . . . she never woke up.” Then Mom’s end went silent until she could gather her words.”
“I know she’s at peace, but this is so sad. How are Jenny and Reggie? …Sam must be devastated losing his little sister.”
“Jenny said she would’ve been five years old next month.”
Mom started packing the next day. She hung her black dress on the stairs by the front door, but the sight of it reminded her of death. When the doorbell rang, Mom dabbed her red eyes with a tissue to hide the tears.
A group of eleven teenage girls stood before her wearing red softball uniforms. “Um, hi, we’re from the North Shore Rebels Softball team, and we’re trying to raise money to travel to our championship game in Pennsylvania.”
Mom nodded, distracted by thoughts: Jenny would never see her daughter grow up. Would Alexandra have played sports too?
“We’re collecting donations…excuse me for asking, but are you okay?”
“I’m sorry. I just found out my niece’s four year-old daughter died from brain cancer yesterday after suffering for a year. I’m packing for the trip to Maryland to her funeral.” She pointed at the dress.
The girls had tears in their eyes.
“I’ll be right back.” Mom returned, fumbled through her pocketbook, and pulled out her checkbook. “Listen, you girls have a great time at the championship.”
“Thank you so much.”
Everyone who signed the guest book was given a pink paper heart pin with a silver cross at the center and a prayer card with a photo of sweet Alexandra. Tears and sorrow led us down the aisle to the miniature coffin draped in pink. Jenny and Reggie greeted each friend with a hug and a smile. How could they be so strong? I wondered.
After the funeral, they had a reception back at their home. Friends and family connected to share their grief. Pink toys and photos reminded us why we were there. We were there because we love Alexandra and her family; we could support them and care for their needs, but we couldn’t take away their pain.
Only God could ease their pain and use this tragedy for good. Jenny was given strength and compassion to help families who lose everything trying to pay for their child’s endless treatments. She told me: “I could never forget about those families going through what we went through. Never.”
Alexandra touched more hearts . . .
Mom arrived home to a bonsai tree with a bow tied at the stem and a card placed at the door.
We were very sorry to hear about your niece’s daughter. Please plant this in her memory. We’ll always remember the kindness you showed us. We’ve learned what being part of a community really means.
The North Shore Softball Team
Jenny presently volunteers for the Alliance for Childhood Cancer. With the Lord’s help, she can make a difference in other children’s lives.
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