As I enter deeper and deeper in to the world of child life, there are going to be many things that I experience. One most of the unfortunate and heartbreaking events will be the death of a patient. However given this field, that is a fact that I learned to accept long ago. In regards to my blog, the last thing I want is for this to be a place where I document each and every sad moment with patients, families, or siblings; I want this to be a place of positivity, encouragement and hope.
I would however, like to make one exception. I would like to take the time to write and reflect on a little girl that I had the pleasure of knowing, if only for a short time.
When I was in high school, one of our math teacher’s daughters was diagnosed with cancer – I believe she was 2 years old at the time. She was never my teacher, and I never met her daughter, but I heard nothing but wonderful things about their family. Living in such a small community, I often heard reports on the little girl and updates on how she was doing…she went in to remission at one point, then the cancer came back. I do believe she achieved remission once more, but came back again, this time, from what I understand, very aggressively.
A few weeks back I had the opportunity to work with this girl’s younger sister during one of my shifts at the Ronald McDonald House. She was hilarious – spunky, fun, and full of life and energy. We made friendship bracelets and that was the last time I saw her around…until this week. When I was at the hospital during my child life shift, I ran in to her and her grandmother. I was amazed that she remembered me, and following that we ended up spending a good portion of the afternoon together. We began making a craft together and she wanted me to go with her to bring it to her sister’s room. I’ll be honest, I was nervous to go there as I had never met her sister. Needless to say she was wonderful. She was tired and weak but we managed to have a few brief conversations – mostly consisting of her listing off what sorts of movies she’d like me to bring to her. I was so happy to have finally met her. Her sister and I spent some more time together during my shift, made more crafts, and had a lot of fun. That was Wednesday.
This afternoon I logged on to Facebook and was flooded with news that this little girl, my newest little friend, had died earlier this morning.
My spirits sank.
My head spun.
How is it possible that this little fighter died when I had just seen her not even 72 hours ago?
How is it possible that a girl who beat her cancer twice still managed to lose the battle?
But then I stopped.
I realized that this death affects me in more ways than any others have.
For one thing, this little girl has been one I have thought of over the years as a kid who would kick cancer’s a*s. Their family, from what I have seen and heard, is strong, tough, and has a support system that could help them power through this. As someone who has been in her shoes, I mentally and spiritually have rallied behind her and her family for years.
Now, as a child life student who had the opportunity to spend some short time with this sweet girl in a child life-specific capacity, I have realized that this is not going to be the last death I experience while working in this field. This will not be the last encounter I have with death and realizing the need to learn how to cope with the emotions as a healthcare professional. I am hoping this will come with practice and time, but I know it is not going to be something easy to learn.
How do you help a mother or father who has lost a child? How do you comfort a sibling who does not understand why their sister is no longer around? What can you possibly offer a family who is experiencing such grief and sadness?
There is nothing anyone can do or say to make things better – to bring back what has been taken. However, one of the big things that child life helps with is supporting families, and siblings after a patient has died. This is what I want to be – a support – and this is what others should strive to be for those experiencing a loss as well. While there may be nothing that can completely fix a broken heart, strong support systems can do wonders.
Thank you for coming in to my life, sweetheart. Though we only met recently, I have thought about you often over the years and am so honoured to have had the opportunity to meet you. Watch over your family and friends – you are their biggest hero and now their guardian angel. I will never ever forget you.