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Mother Prays for Dying Daughter

A mother must find strength in her faith to face the truth of losing her young daughter.

We moved back to Oklahoma City on Memorial Day weekend in 1982. I was delighted to be among old friends again. Most of all, I was happy our children, 4-year-old Angie and 3-year-old Tate, would grow up in the place I called home. Life is good, I thought as we drove up to our house in historic Mesta Park.

Just a few weeks later, my world was shattered. A pediatric neurologist diagnosed Angie with a brain tumor. “I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s inoperable. I’m afraid there’s not much we can do.”

Almost by reflex I prayed: “God, please make Angie well.”

Now, on a warm summer night, I tucked Angie in bed, stroking her soft blonde hair. “What would you like me to read?” I asked.

“The bunny book, Mommy,” she said.

It was one of our favorites. But this time I had trouble concentrating on the words I read because I kept thinking about all the things Angie would never experience. She would miss so much. I could picture her in nervous anticipation on the first day of kindergarten. I could see her big brown eyes glowing as her date awkwardly pinned a corsage on her dress before her prom. I could hear her laughter as I taught her how to drive. I could imagine her in cap and gown, walking down the aisle at high school graduation.

I still hardly believed it was my little girl the neurologist had been talking about. Angie, who had never had more than a minor ear infection since the day she was born. She hadn’t been her usual buoyant self lately, but I had chalked it up to our move. Her balance and coordination seemed off. I had assumed it was an awkward growth spurt. The doctor visit had been a precaution, but I had never expected…

I begged God to do something. I wanted to believe he could heal my daughter—that he had the power to make the tumor go away. But deep inside, true faith was hard to find.

Why Angie?

Angie was pure—pure sweetness, pure goodness, pure innocence, pure love. Her disarming smile penetrated the most cynical walls of adulthood. If this could happen to her, nothing made sense anymore. Nothing felt safe or sure—not even God.

As Angie drifted off to sleep I closed the storybook and kissed her forehead. I followed all the rules, I thought. I had used car seats from the day each baby came home from the hospital. I had dressed them in flame-retardant pajamas, and put safety plugs in all the electrical outlets. How could this happen after I’ve been so careful? Tell me, God. How? I thought I had been such a good mother.

In July, Angie underwent radiation therapy. Much braver than I, she took the daily hospital visits without complaint. I kept praying for a miracle.

The radiation therapy brought some results. One day shortly after she finished the six-week course of treatment I asked her, “Would you like to go shopping with me?”

Excited at the prospect of one of her favorite activities, she squealed, “Just girls, no boys!” It was her way of letting me know she wanted my undivided attention.

“Of course,” I said, laughing. I turned and bent down to hug her. She giggled and hugged me back. I wanted never to let go of her.

The next four months we lived as close to normal as we could. Angie rode her tricycle up and down the sidewalk with her little brother, Tate, and outfitted her dolls in elaborate costumes. She seemed so much like herself again that at times I cautiously allowed myself to wonder if a miracle had happened after all. I was afraid to ask God if it could be true.

But on Christmas Day, as I watched Angie open her presents, I noticed the dreaded signs—an uneven gait, a slightly crooked smile. The tumor was growing again.

My dim hopes were extinguished. Fear and then anger took over. “God, how can you abandon us?” I demanded. So many prayers—from me, from our family and friends, even from strangers who had heard about Angie’s illness—and all of them unanswered. What use was it to turn to God?

Angie began experimental chemotherapy in January, a last-resort treatment.

Balloons, gifts, games and friends filled the house as we celebrated her fifth birthday, knowing it would probably be her last. The day after, Angie and I sat down with a box of note cards. “We’re going to send cards to your friends who came to your birthday party,” I explained. “On the front of the cards, it says, ‘Thank you. What would you like me to write on the inside?”

Eyes sparkling, she answered without hesitation, “For all the love.”

A month of chemotherapy did nothing to slow the growth of the tumor. Angie’s speech became slurred, and she was losing mobility in her right side. When I asked the neurologist what to expect, he told me as gently as he could that Angie would gradually lose the use of her limbs and the ability to speak and swallow.

As her condition deteriorated Angie was content to spend time with me on the living room sofa, reading, dressing her collection of dolls and filling a scrapbook with stickers. She loved playing with my makeup and earrings, and looked forward to visits from friends. Really, Angie adjusted to her limitations better than I did.

She never complained about having to spend her days in the house instead of being out playing in the snow, but I felt enough frustration for both of us.

With help from friends and family I was able to take care of Angie’s everyday needs. But the responsibility of helping her understand what was going to happen weighed on me. Her doctor referred me to a child psychiatrist, who told me what Angie needed was the truth—honest information coupled with love and reassurance. It was time to talk about death.

How could I help her accept the fact that she was going to die when it was impossible for me to accept it?

My faith might have wavered, but I had always believed without question that in heaven Angie would be healed, whole, safe. In my desperation I clung to that thin thread of belief and made one more appeal to God. “I can’t do this alone,” I prayed. “Please, I need your help.”

That night, I tucked the covers around Angie’s chin and gently touched her cheek. She piped up. “Mommy, can you read The Runaway Bunny?”

“Of course,” I said. I picked up the book and launched into the familiar story. A spirited bunny tells his mother he’s going to run away, and she says she will run after him. Then he says he will become a fish in a stream. Mama Bunny replies that she will become a fisherman and find him.

So the story goes…if he becomes a bird, she will be the tree that he flies home to; if he turns into a sailboat, she will become the wind. Each time the bunny imagines a different guise his mother steadfastly assures him that wherever he is, she will be with him.

Then Angie interrupted. “Mommy, when I die,” she asked, “will you die, too?” I felt my heart break. Taking her hand in mine, I struggled to stay calm. “A part of me will die when you die, Angie,” I answered carefully. “The part of me that you need will go with you, wherever you go.”

She gave me a questioning look.

“You know, the same as in the story,” I said. “No matter where the bunny went, his mama followed him.”

I squeezed Angie’s hand a little tighter. Her speech was impaired, and within a few days she would no longer be able to walk. But that night she spoke about her death with more courage than the bravest of men could display.

I knew finally where God was. He was with Angie, giving her strength and courage and hope, and also with me, giving me the words my daughter needed to hear.

When she asked me about heaven, I told her I believed there she would walk again, dance and play again. She snuggled close. “If I have to die,” she said, “I want you holding me, and my family around me.”

One month later that’s how it happened. It was hard, but faith made my grief easier to bear. In time I came to understand that God had done for me exactly what the mama bunny did for her runaway.

God hadn’t abandoned me at all. He had been with me—every step of the way. And he would always be there for me. Just as the love Angie and I shared would never fade, neither would God’s love.

I am not going to pretend that I don’t miss my daughter every single day. Or that in the years since her death I have learned to handle all problems gracefully. I have good days and bad, but far more good.

There have been occasions I felt bereft and alone, just as I did when she was sick. I have questioned God because he didn’t immediately answer my prayers.

At times like those I think about what Angie taught me: God is here, right here with me.

Then I picture my daughter, happy and healthy in heaven. I remember her words on her final birthday, and I say a grateful prayer, “Thank you, God, for all the love.”

Download your FREE ebook, A Prayer for Every Need, by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale

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