Death has been a reoccurring topic around our house ever since my Uncle Leonard passed away in September. This morning, Isabelle asked if her cousins were driving up from Georgia for Thanksgiving, as they had two years ago. I told her they weren’t.
“Well, if Uncle Leonard was still alive, do you think he’d come this year even though he didn’t come last year?” Isabelle asked from the back seat.
My throat constricted as I drove south on the highway. “Yes, I think he would’ve come up this year, honey.”
“Why didn’t he come last year?” she asked.
“Because he was sick. He didn’t know he had cancer, but he was feeling terrible last fall,” I replied.
Then the conversation took an unexpected turn.
“Is Sophia still alive?”
I gripped the steering wheel tightly — bracing myself for the news I was about to deliver.
* * * * *
We met Sophia and her mom at a mommy-and-me type class about three months after Isabelle was born. Sophia looked itty-bitty the day I met her, though she was only a couple of months younger than Isabelle. I remember Sophia being a delightful baby who always seemed to be happy at the classes. As the months went on, and Sophia’s mom went back to work, we only saw her and her mother occasionally out in the community. The last time we saw them was when we were shopping at Target last winter. Sophia was much more talkative than Isabelle. As expected, neither girl remembered their earliest days together.
Imagine my surprise when I read one of Sophia’s mom’s Facebook updates less than five months ago, which informed about a nasty villain invading Sophia’s body. Sophia was in the hospital with a rare and aggressive form of cancer. I cried as I remembered our girls laying next to each other on their backs when they were just babies. Even though Sophia’s mom and I hadn’t been close friends, knowing that her parents might lose their only child shook me to my core. I left a comment — that I crafted over and over again before clicking “send” — on her Facebook post. A few hours later, Sophia’s mom wrote back and informed me my husband had been one of the doctors who visited Sophia (for something non-cancer related) soon after her diagnosis.
A few days after this revelation, I remember sharing one of Sophia’s mom’s Facebook posts with my husband. (He’s not the kind of doctor who mixes work with home-life, but I felt compelled to share what I knew with him. Isabelle must’ve seen me crying since I remember telling her about this little girl who she was a baby with and how she was gravely ill.
* * * * *
I found out Sophia passed away when I was waiting on an exceptionally long elevator line at NCTE last Thursday afternoon. Even though I had known the end of Sophia’s life was near, I let out an audible gasp and began to cry when I read her mom’s Facebook status update. The woman in line behind me asked if I was okay. I shared the basics with this unknown English teacher. She wrapped me in her arms. I pulled myself together and we talked about losing people before their time until we went our separate ways once we finally reached the 15th floor.
* * * * *
Marc and I had planned to tell Isabelle about Sophia’s passing tonight since I returned home from NCTE right before Isabelle’s bedtime last night. However, I couldn’t lie to Isabelle. So, right there, as I barrelled down the interstate, I answered Isabelle’s question.
I felt my voice get small, “Isabelle, Daddy and I planned to talk to you together tonight, but I want to be honest with you. We found out Sophia passed away when I was in St. Louis.”
“Oh,” she said.
I let the news sink in for what felt like an eternity before I spoke again. “How do you feel right now?”
“Sad,” she said.
“That’s how I feel too. Do you have anything you want to ask me?”
Isabelle thought for a minute. “What are her parents going to do now?”
I answered through my tears. “I don’t know, Isabelle, but I have a feeling they’re going to feel sad for a very long time.”
Finally, Isabelle, who recently donated the money in her Tzedakah box (100% her idea since she wanted to do something to “help kids like Sophia”.) to the children’s hospital, said: “Maybe no one else will die since I gave my money to help kids with cancer.”
I could barely speak after that. Despite being naive, it was the most genuine thing I’ve ever heard her wish for. Somehow, through my tears, I said, “I hope so, honey. You did a real mitzvah.”
30 thoughts on “Gone Too Soon.”
What a touching slice, Stacey. Being honest can be such a raw emotion and you captured its essence in your conversation with your daughter. Isabelle’s words bring hope in a time of deep sadness. One can make a difference.
She certainly gave me hope when she said that. Thanks for noticing the same thing, Patricia.
Oh, Stacey, how sad. My heart aches for Sophia and her family. I’m so glad you shared your painful conversation with Isabelle. What a lovely little person you’re raising.
Thank you, Molly. It is my hope that she grows into a wonderful adult.
Man. How to explain loss like this to any child of any age is enough to wrench the gut. Peace and kind thoughts.
Totally gut-wrenching. But every time I even felt the slightest bit bad for myself, I remembered that I was having a conversation, albeit a painful one, with my child who is (Thank G-d.) living and breathing.
I admire your honesty, Stacey, as a response to grief. I admire Isabelle turning her sadness to constructive action. Thanks for sharing these moments.
It’ll be interesting to see what she chooses to do when we make a gift donation on Chanukah. I have a feeling it’ll relate to kids with cancer. (But I could be wrong. She’s concerned about people who don’t have enough food to eat too.)
Isabelle’s thoughtful response is a testament to the way you have raised her. It has been an Autumn of hard conversations for you, but I thank you for sharing this difficult journey.
Thank you, Adrienne. Sometimes I don’t know how well I’m doing with this parenting stuff, but when she comes out with something like that, I realize I’m doing better than I give myself credit for.
She may have more questions as time goes on. Such a difficult thing. Thinking of her family and sending prayers out to them.
Thank you, Mary Ann. Such a terrible loss for them.
I wish I could have met you at NCTE and I wish I had been that woman in line with you. You did a magnificent job talking to Isabelle, letting silence and love fill the space. But even more creating a world around her so she can flourish as a compassionate, accomplished and loving human. Can a literate one be anything other and be truly literate. This was beautifully written, too. I may start to Slice soon. I admire this community you created. I asked Linda Baie to tell you about me. She is a dear fb friend and we have been at Hightlights together.
That’s so kind of you, Janet. Thank you for that.
Linda is wonderful! How wonderful that you’ve been at Highlights together. It’s a magical place!
Thank you for sharing this sweet and raw story. Your Isabella has an incredibly generous heart. Hold her tight and keep the course!
Holding my kids so tight these days.
Such a beautiful slice, Stacey. Your compassion brought tears to my eyes. As always, Isabelle never ceases to amaze me. I think it is difficult for young children to feel empathy. Perhaps she is making connections with Uncle Leonard, which is also amazing. She is a remarkable child. Hugs to you both.
Thank you, Rose. That means so much.
This has been a rough season for her. I don’t remember really having to think about death much until I was 12.
It’s beautiful that you were able to help your daughter process through this, as you also process it. Sending love and light to all those affected by this tragedy.
Thank you, Kimber. How kind of you.
Thank you for writing this Slice. Although difficult to talk about parents who have lost their children continue to be their parents. Others sometimes take that away when they avoid talking about them for fear of sadness. Trust me the sadness is there, please talk about our loved ones – we need you to!
I believe talking and sharing stories keeps the memories of loved ones alive — even when it hurts.
Oh, what a sad slice. And hard for you that Isabelle asked about Sophia prior to your planned discussion with her. Your words reflect your thoughtfulness and empathy. And Isabelle’s words and actions are a reflection of the parenting you do. Hugs.
She amazed me with her action… even if it was small in size (it was big in heart).
Oh, little Isabelle. I wish you hadn’t had to deliver the news to her in that way, such a stressful moment I’m sure. Her words though, so much sweetness and innocence. A little blanket of comfort at that moment to reassure you of her beautiful little soul.
We had a much more peaceful drive to vision therapy today.
I try to shelter her as much as I can. But this fall, it’s been impossible to stay silent.
Oh Stacey, I am crying reading this. I’m so sorry for Sophia and Isabelle’s reaction was so kind and sweet. Life is so incredibly cruel sometimes. I’ve been feeling so guilty of late for having healthy children- which is so stupid I know- but it seems like a crap shoot as to who gets sick and who doesn’t. A colleague from work’s daughter has been battling brain cancer. The little girl isn’t even 4 yet. I can’t even fathom how parents go through a situation like that and then to have the very worst happen- your child pass away. Illness seems to pop up out of nowhere. Every night when my head hits the pillow, I think of families who have lost their children or who are dealing with serious illnesses. I will pray for Sophia’s family. This was a heart-wrenching slice.
As long as you don’t take what you have for granted (and I know you realize how fortunate you are), then you shouldn’t feel guilty.
Walking through loss is hard. Walking through loss with other humans is difficult. Walking through loss with children both brings tears and perspective. Hugs.