I still remember the day as though it were yesterday. I was sitting in my recliner, reading a book and killing time before work. My phone rang. It was my aunt. She doesn’t call often, so I was definitely curious as to why she was calling.
“Sydney is sick.”
The words dropped in my stomach like a 10 ton weight had settled in. My cousin, only 12 years old, had a brain tumor. An ugly thing known as DIPG. A deadly thing. She would be facing chemotherapy and radiation – surgery was not an option.
When I hung up the phone, I didn’t know what to do. I tried to read but couldn’t keep the words on the page from swimming. The tears were there but struggled to surface. I was expected to work in a couple of hours. How the heck was I going to be able to work after that phone call? There was the denial that she was actually sick with a terminal disease.
My parents came home. I walked to the top of the steps as dad approached.
“Sydney is sick.”
The tears flooded me then. I could barely speak. I could barely breathe. The weight continued to sit in my stomach, making it incredibly hard to think.
Grief settled in almost immediately.
The questions of what will her life look like? My God is mighty to save, but what if He doesn’t? I struggled with the question of “why?” I like to know the answers and like a two-year-old asking the question on repeat, I began to ask God for answers. I expected Him to give me the answers that I sought.
I expected healing. I expected my will be done. And I expected God do things my way.
Except, that’s not how He works. Not in the slightest.
I was given the gift of spending 4 days with Sydney just a few months after the diagnosis. I went with her to a radiation appointment, which almost felt more painful than hearing of her diagnosis the first time. I imagine it would be incredibly difficult for an adult to go into a room, be tied down to a table by a mesh cage over their face with screws and told not to move. How much worse for a 12 year old girl?
Those four days had to sum up a life time of emotion, sentiment and happy moments.
We did as much as we could with the little time we had that weekend. We went shopping, visited the aquarium, had a BBQ at a friends house and enjoyed the pool.
It was hard to relax. Hard to enjoy the moment. When you are so focused on knowing that the moments won’t last, and that they will end before they barely had begun, you want to take each moment by the hands and hold it close so that you never forget.
It wasn’t the story we wanted.
No parent should have to lose their child. No sibling should lose an older sister to such an awful disease. No one should lose a cousin who though mentally is still the same fun loving girl she always was, can no longer physically take care of herself in the way other girls her age could.
I was shielded from the end. I didn’t see Sydney again after that too brief visit the summer of 2012. But I read the journal entries, and I saw the pictures. I sent text messages of love.
I struggled to make sense of it all.
I read books to help point me back to joy. I tried to praise God, though worship became a struggle. I continued to read my Bible, though I found myself asking more questions than I was receiving answers.
And then, in the summer of 2013 (June 26 to be exact), I got the phone call I never wanted, the call I never dreamed would be a part of my story.
“Sydney is gone.”
I couldn’t speak once again. I was sitting in the living room on mom’s floral couch when the call came. I hung up the phone and folded in half. Mom had been visiting with friends in the family room, and her friends heard my sobs first. They all knew it was a matter of days before the phone call was going to come, so they knew what happened without me having to put it into words.
The wrapped their arms around me and held me.
“I’m so sorry” were the words that were continuously repeated.
Sydney was the little sister that I never had. Though we didn’t see each often at all, we had a bond.
One of my favorite memories was of her the night we were getting ready to go out for dinner and she told me that we had to match outfits. She meticulously went through my suitcase and her closet finding clothes that were similar, made sure our hair was done up the same, and finished by declaring we were now “twins.”
I texted Eric and said, “she’s gone.”
“What do you need?” was the response.
There was nothing tangible that anyone could do that would make a dent in the pain, take the pain away, or make things okay again.
I needed to be in the presence of others. And that afternoon, as I sat in his parents backyard while he worked on a yard project with his dad and brother, I silently fell apart.