**** This is written by Renee, Unravels Executive Director. This blog is a worthwhile and humbling read for me because I can’t pretend to know what its like to have to bear witness to a families suffering the way Renee did. And I think its important for all of us bereaved parents to get a glimpse to the other side so we can try to understand and be better for it.. And important for others to read. To know how the impact of losing a child from cancer reverberates far beyond the walls of that child’s home. ***
I started writing this after I read one of Libby’s recent blogs. Here is an excerpt from that blog:
And I saw the picture of my Jennifer with one of her very best friends. They were wearing the matching pink minnie shirts Jennifer picked out for them in Disney World.
I smiled. Remembering how the girls were so serious about trying to match everything. Same color hair things.. and boots and leggings and blue skirts.
I smiled at how happy she was to be back at her preschool even though she should have been in kinder. How we gave her the choice of where to go .. and she gladly chose Ms Sandy with Maddie there too. And how I barely made it through letting her go there.. except that it was Ms Sandy.. with Maddie.
And I looked at how much had changed in that picture.. but also how little. And I started crying.
Angry bitter hot tears.
Jennifer hasn’t changed for me from that time. She is frozen as the little girl in that picture.
..so little has changed.
But Maddie.. that shirt that was so big on her .. purposefully big so it lasted. . Now I know it barely fits her anymore.
…so much has changed..
I remembered the rest of the day. Taking her to a dr appointment. Hopeful. Everybody had hope. We planned for her first follow up MRI. Hoping the tumor had shrunk from her weeks of radiation. But at the very least stayed the same.
.. time .. time.. time..
I can’t pretend to know how hard it is for Libby and Tony to watch Jennifer’s friend, my daughter, grow and change. The guilt I feel is overwhelming at times… Madison was 5 when her very best friend died. She is 7 now. She outlived her best friend last year on May 3rd. Every time Madison grows, changes, or tries something new, the words catch in my throat as I share with my friend. There isn’t a single time that Jennifer isn’t on my mind when talking about Madison in those situations. Would Jennifer have auditioned with Madison for the Cinderella play? Would they have been cast as birds together – flittering around Libby’s house in full costume giggling like maniacs? Would they be going to Girl Scout events together? Selling cookies with each other – toting a wagon behind them – house to house – as Libby and I hang back and admire how independent and mature they are becoming?! It is so hard to navigate all of this. But we all just push through. Push the thoughts away. Have to. Because I love those guys and not having them in my life would be something I would not want to face. I don’t honestly know how they do it. Libby took Madison aside at Jennifer’s funeral service and promised to love her and keep her in her life. HOW? All I know is that I am thankful for that. And for Libby. Truly.
Watching Madison get bigger and older is certainly difficult for me sometimes, but the person it is the hardest for me to see physically change is Charlotte, Jennifer’s little sister. Oh man… I love that little girl SO MUCH. When Jennifer was diagnosed, Charlotte was 5 months old. When Jennifer died, Charlotte was 9 months to the day. I spent so much of that time, especially the last month, with Charlotte in my arms or strapped to my chest in the ergo. I spent so much of my time nuzzling my nose into that insane head of blonde fuzzy hair. Or laying on the floor of the Kranz living room entertaining her with toys and funny faces – and that really odd Adventure Time toy dog that she was obsessed with.
To me, she is still Baby Charlotte. She is still frozen in time at 9 months old. She’s still the little girl I paced around her neighborhood with on February 11th – crying because she couldn’t nurse to sleep like she was used to because her mother was laying with Jennifer in the very last hours of her life.
She’s still the baby in the carrier on me on February 12th in the small hours of the morning as I sobbed – tears falling on her tiny head – hugging her to me for some source of comfort. Just the two of us standing in the family room while Jennifer’s family had to say goodbye to her physical form. The echoes of Libby’s wailing reverberating in my ears.
Every time I see her, it’s a small shock to me. Every time she runs up to me yelling with her arms flailing in the air to be picked up, I grab her, hug her, squish my face into her soft hair, and fight back tears. Basically every time. She isn’t supposed to be growing and changing. She’s still a baby. With her big sister there.
The only consolation is our relationship. Charlotte and I. Have I mentioned how much I love that girl? She’s incredible! And I know she loves me, too. Something strange happened in those weeks and months of helping care for her through that time. Through the death of her sister. It bonded us. Maybe it sounds odd; she was only 9 months. However, it’s just one of those things I know. We have a special relationship because of that. Looking back, it felt like she and I were going through it together. It definitely WASN’T just her and I the whole time. Libby was still breastfeeding Charlotte through everything and was never far. But it feels like it was. Like we went through this traumatic event holding on to each other for dear life.
And you know the kicker? I feel incredibly guilty for that, too. Guilt lurking around every corner. It shouldn’t have been me during that age in Charlotte’s life. It should have been Libby and Tony. I know they needed me to be there for her, but the irrational part of me still feels like that babyhood that Libby missed with Charlotte was stolen by me.
But however we got here, we are here now, and I am so grateful for the way Charlotte looks at me, hugs me tight, trusts me, and lets me swing her around in big up and down arches while she giggles maniacally – like her big sister used to. And I am so truly thankful that I will get to be Charlotte’s Godmother for the rest of my life.