CPN | The One With No Choice

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The One With No Choice


It was on a Thursday, in our living room, when the phone rang. It was my son’s sixth birthday and just as we were preparing to leave for Chuck-E-Cheese the doctor called. A scan earlier in the week had revealed my daughter’s cancer had returned, spreading throughout her bones. He said words like: ‘metastatic disease’ and ‘resistant to treatment’. Words I didn’t understand. Words I would learn to never forget.

Two weeks later, I packed our car for her treatment in another state. I came inside to tell him goodbye, making promises I didn’t know I wouldn’t be able to keep. “Mommy has to start staying in a hospital with Izzy far away. But it will only be for just a little while and then things will go back to the way they were before.” But it was not just a little while and things did not go back to the way they were before. Weeks turned to months turned to years and she died nine years later. On a Thursday. In our living room.

People often say it must be hard for him now that she’s gone. I smile and nod, accepting their sentiment. But all I think is how hard it was for him when she was alive. All I think is that he grew up never knowing if his mom would be home and came home from school never knowing if his sister would be well enough to play. All I think is that he learned to read and write and tie his shoes while I sat in a hospital bed with a bucket for his sister to throw up in. All I think is that our lives were saturated in trauma and chaos and fear for all those years. And that it only went when away when she did. All I think is that it’s so unfair, but I can’t fix it for him anymore than I could fix it for her.

We do the best that we can with what we’ve been given. And we teach our children to do the same. The one with the diagnosis and the one with no choice. We tell them both the truth: that life is cruel and unfair. But we tell them the whole truth: that life is beautiful and sacred. We show them that to be fully alive means to experience all of it.

After my daughter died, I had another conversation with my son. I told him that I would find a way to be okay and that I would do it for him. He looked me in the eyes with the heart of someone that has known only selflessness and said: “thank you – but I want you to find a way to do it for you.”

There are some things we cannot teach our children. Things they can only find in the absence of what should have been. For my son, where security and innocence should have grown, resilience and compassion blossomed in their place. And while I would give anything to make our story something that it wasn’t, how dare I take from him what he cultivated from what it was.

Molly is a Writer, Speaker, and End of Life and Grief Coach in the Indianapolis area. She spent a decade in Pastoral Care before spending the next decade caring for her daughter throughout her cancer journey. She has combined both experiences to help others navigate unimaginable journeys. You can find her writings and teachings on IG at: the.grief.writer, or online at: mollymattockscoaching.com.