A Promise To Keep
As a child, Melissa always had her very own nighttime ritual: brushing her teeth, washing her hands and face, putting on PJs and snuggling in bed.
Before drifting off to sleep, she liked me to rub her back, sing "Puff the Magic Dragon" and talk about the day.
All too quickly, her childhood routine was history, as my little girl grew into a beautiful young woman, ready to make her mark in the world. It had been years since I sang her to sleep.
Yet, there I was, my daughter once again curled in my arms, singing of magic dragons which never die, in faraway places where the sun always shines.
Since Melissa had been sick, this part of the old routine, long abandoned along with baby dolls and make-believe ponies, had once again defined our nightly ritual.
Though no longer a little girl, Melissa folded into my embrace like so many years ago, safe and secure, unafraid of the darkness that filled the room.
I was fairly certain that it wouldn't be long. For two difficult years, chemotherapy, radiation, a bone marrow transplant and experimental drug treatments had taken their toll.
Melissa had exhibited dignity and grace, always living even when she knew she was dying.
She interrupted my song.
"If you have learned anything from me through all of this, make sure you use it," she whispered, seemingly ready to take her next and final step.
I told her I was proud of how she had lived her life and that I had learned many important lessons from her, especially her faith in God.
"Everyone says that to me," she sighed, weakened by the advanced stage of her disease, "but I'm not sure that anyone will really do anything differently because of it. "
"Promise me you will do something to make a difference, to make things better."
"I promise," I said.
Melissa died three nights later. She was nineteen years old.
Nothing can prepare you for the death of your child. No matter how much time you think you have to get used to the idea, the pain cuts deeper than any heartache you've ever imagined.
What should I do? Would she still hear my song about a dragon by the sea? My world had turned upside down and I needed to make some sense of it all.
We had agreed to bury Melissa's ashes in a new garden that we would build in her honor, just as she had asked. Preparing her garden gave my life short-term purpose in those sad days right after she died.
While I dug sod and raked rocks in our weedy side lawn, the July sun burned as brightly as her spirit, guiding each turn of my spade.
I had time to reflect on her last request, to figure out how to keep my promise. With every shovelful, I pondered, "What have I learned and what will I do with it?"
Slowly, my daughter's lessons became clear.
Live each day with purpose. Focus on what's really important. Value the friendship of others. Advocate for what you know is right. Keep your dreams alive. Seize every opportunity to be creative. Be grateful for gifts received. Never give up hope...Cherish each moment. Never lose faith.
In her own short life, Melissa had lived each day exemplifying these simple but profound truths. I needed to find a way to use what I had learned from her. An idea began taking shape along with her garden.
I had seen firsthand the effects of a cancer diagnosis on a teenager and watched as Melissa tried to navigate a health care system not designed for adolescents.
Though Melissa was no longer a child, she hadn't yet experienced life as an adult. She was only seventeen years old when she was first diagnosed.
Just as she was preparing to venture into the world, her plans were interrupted.
Instead of going to the Ivy League university to which she had just been accepted, Melissa found herself in the pediatric oncology clinic of our local children's hospital, sitting on chairs too small and staring at paintings of circus animals, with nothing to read but Highlights for Children.
As her disease progressed and she began experimental drug treatment at an adult cancer center, the surroundings were even less appropriate for this vibrant young girl who still believed her emerging dreams would come true.
After watching four children become teenagers, I had grown accustomed to the normal angst of adolescence, but it all paled in comparison to the suffering of being a teenager, like Melissa, with cancer.
Wasn't it enough that she was bald, pale, and physically exhausted? It just wasn't fair that she should be home with her parents on a Saturday night, instead of having fun with her friends at a concert.
There were absolutely no support systems in place that could help her feel normal.
As Melissa's garden grew, so did my plan to find a way to support other teens who were falling through the cracks.
Ten months after she died, I established Melissa's Living Legacy Teen Cancer Foundation with the hope of keeping my promise "to make a difference; to make things better."
Thanks to Melissa, we're doing just that.
Eight years later, time hasn't dulled the pain of missing her but I can now smile through my tears and be grateful for the gift of this incredible girl who inspires me to live each day with purpose, mindful of simple joys and small blessings.
Every morning, before I sip my coffee from the delicate china cup she gave me, I walk outside into her garden, thankful for all I've been given.
I ask God to protect my family and to keep my daughter's spirit alive. I pray for the strength to make at least a small difference, so that when I see my girl again, she'll welcome me home and say, "Good job, Mom."
How To Plant Our Garden
First, we come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses....
WE PLANT THREE ROWS OF PEAS:
1. Peace of mind
2. Peace of heart
3. Peace of soul
We PLANT FOUR ROWS OF SQUASH:
1. Squash gossip
2. Squash indifference
3. Squash grumbling
4. Squash selfishness
We PLANT FOUR ROWS OF LETTUCE:
1. Let us be faithful
2. Let us be kind
3. Let us be patient
4. Let us really love one another
NO GARDEN IS COMPLETE WITHOUT TURNIPS:
1. Turn up for where needed
2. Turn up for service
3. Turn up to help one another
TO CONCLUDE OUR GARDEN WE MUST HAVE THYME:
1.. Time for each other
2.. Time for family
3. Time for friends
4...Time for God
WATER FREELY WITH PATIENCE AND CULTIVATE WITH LOVE.
THERE WILL BE MUCH FRUIT IN OUR GARDEN BECAUSE WE REAP WHAT WE SOW...
One man's answer to cancer-download here.
"If you go as far as you can see, you will then see enough to go even farther." -- John Wooden
"Better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing flawlessly." -- Robert Schuller
Have a great day...