Death is never easy, but when you lose a child death takes hold and never leaves. I recently lost my youngest daughter to death. She was twenty-seven, she had her whole life ahead of her, but death took her from the loving security of my arms, from her family.
My daughter became sick when she was eighteen and for almost ten years she refused to take her medication, for almost ten years she deteriorated. I didn't approve of her lifestyle and pushed her away. I pushed her out of my life. I pushed her to the point of it was almost too late to mend what was left of our fragile-thin relationship.
The phone call came five weeks before my daughter passed away. “Momma, I want to come home. I'm dying.” My heart wrenched, my stomach knotted and my throat closed. The tears fell like against my face. My baby was dying and I was helpless. I blamed myself for not believing her. She had a proclivity for lying and now it was probably too late to take back all the years of hurt and distrust.
I hung up the phone and turned to my husband. I didn't have to say anything. He took me in his arms and we cried together. “My baby is dying,” was all I could say.
When we arrived at the bus station my daughter was unrecognizable. She was a skeleton of the beautiful woman I had last seen five months before. She came home to die. I was angry at myself, with her and with God. How could He let this happen to my baby girl?
My daughter barely had the strength to stand. My mind was a whirlwind of emotions. Anger and sadness peppered my thoughts. I shook off my negative thoughts and reached for my baby girl. Her twig-thin arms wrapped around my neck and the tears flowed down my face. “Don't cry momma. I'm home. I'm home,” her rasped voice whispered against my tear-soaked face. I knew then my baby girl had come home to die.
We sat in silence on the long drive home. I didn't know what to say as anger boiled up inside of me. This would be our last drive home together and I couldn't even say one word to my daughter.
My family tried to cope with some kind of normalcy, but the tension and anger ran amok. My home was in a state of chaos. I shut down and refused to accept the inevitable. To me it was surreal, a bad dream that was slowly becoming a reality.
Within a week of being home my daughter was rushed to the hospital. Fear took over and I lost all sanity. I didn't want to hear what I already knew in my heart. I didn't want to hear my daughter had only weeks to live. I couldn't cope. I refused to make any premature decisions. In my mind my daughter would get better.
My family and I gathered in the stark waiting area and we talked about the good times. We talked about how much my daughter loved to sing and how she loved life. I just wanted to forget her frail shell of a body was lying in a hospital bed hooked up to machines.
The dreaded time had finally come. My daughters doctor approached me and placed his callused hand on my shoulder. “Mrs. Elliott,” his voice shivered, “Michelle's body is shutting down.” His words echoed in a distant fog. What was he saying? Words like metastasized, full blown AIDS, and hospice were flowing from his moving lips, but I didn't hear anything he said.
My knees gave out from underneath me and I crumbled into a chair. He was sending my baby girl home to die. Again my mind shut down and I went into denial. I refused to accept what the doctor said. I fell onto my knees and begin to pray for a miracle, but a miracle wouldn't come or so I thought.
While my daughter was in the hospital, my husband painted her bedroom pink and decorated the walls with butterflies. He didn't want her to come home to stark white walls. He knew she loved the color pink and butterflies. She always wanted to be free like a butterfly, but now her wings were clipped and she could no longer soar high in the sky.
She came home from the hospital and the moment she saw her room her eyes lit up. I could see a glimmer of hope in her clouded eyes. For an instant, I thought maybe there was hope, maybe she wouldn't give up on her life. But maybe's aren't enough when there is no will and my beautiful butterfly had no will to live. Again anger seethed in my soul and I blamed God.
It was hard to settle into what I begin to call the countdown weeks. Everyday, I grew more angry. I was angry with God, but more angry with myself for all the years I had lost with my daughter. I knew I could never make up for the wedge forged between our already fragile relationship. I didn't know how much time we would have, but I knew I had to made it special for my daughter. While she still had her faculties about her, we colored, we talked and we remembered the good times.
From what the hospice nurse told us the first day, it would be only a matter of days or weeks. There was no time stamp or exact expiration date. It was a cold reality I didn't want to face. I began what I called my count down weeks.
I needed a break from what now how become a waiting game. I went onto my back deck and sat in the silence of the morning. No birds chirped, just quietness. I closed my tear-stained eyes and looked toward Heaven and prayed. “Lord,” I said. “I know my baby is going to die. Please keep her safe in your loving arms.” Just as I finished uttering my prayer, I felt something on my hand. My eyes flew open and a beautiful butterfly was flitting its wings on my hand. I smile and knew the Lord had answered my prayer. I had to find the strength to get through my daughters last days.
The days became long, filled with sleepless nights, waiting and watching. I prayed my baby would give me one last Mother's Day together. She did and we made the best of those precious last memories spent as mother and daughter. Her laughter filled the emptiness of my heart.
Week one came and went, but it seemed like an eternity for me. I sat on pins and needles wondering if the breath my daughter took would be her last. She had become quite and withdrawn. Her body began to reject all of her pain medication. Three more weeks counted down and skeleton replaced what used to be my daughter. She drifted in and out of a medical induced coma. I sat by her side day and night, no sleep, stroking her face and rubbing her brittle thin hair. “I love you beautiful butterfly,” I whispered against her ear. No longer did she respond, but I knew she heard the words of love.
The nurse warned me. “Anytime Mrs. Elliott.” My baby girl could be gone withing hours or minutes. I tried to make myself accept the fact, but as a mother I turned off all rationality. I became greedy. I didn't want to let her go, although she was suffering.
My weekly countdown ended on Memorial Day. It crept into my life with full force. A feeling of dread swept through my soul when I woke up that day. The nurse came and didn't have to say anything
The pain was written on her face. The inevitable would happen anytime. My family gathered by my daughter's side and waited. We waited for her to die. I sat by her side and watched as she gasp for breath to utter her last words. “Momma.” I placed my arms around my baby. “I love you too Michelle.” Her chest heaved up and down several times. I counted each time, in and out, in and out one last time. It was over, my precious child took her last breath.
The five days that followed her death were a blur. I was sleep walking through everything. Arrangements had to be made, things had to get done, but I just wanted to crawl under the covers and sleep away what was happening. I couldn't be strong, I didn't want to be strong. I focused my anger toward God. How could He allow this to happen? How could He take my child from me?
I don't remember how I did make it through her memorial service. My other children, my husband, and grandson surrounded me as we said our final good-byes. When it was over, I just wanted to come home and be by myself. I didn't want to be surrounded my warmth and love. I slipped out onto the back deck once again. This time I had a lot of anger built up inside. I screamed at God. “Why did you let this happen to my baby?” I didn't expect Him to answer. All of a sudden several butterflies danced passed me, flitting back and forth. A beautiful black and yellow one landed on my teared face. At that moment, I knew God hadn't took my daughter from me to hurt me, but He took her so she would never suffer.
Whenever my grandson sees a butterfly now, he'll run up to me and ask, “Mawma, is that Aunt Michelle?” I smile and wipe away my tears. “Yes Cameron, that beautiful butterfly from Heaven is Aunt Michelle.”