Writing, for me, is a journey. It’s a way of learning – my own personal way of processing this world and the things I encounter and experience. This makes writing hard at times. At other times, it makes writing impossible. There are subjects I cannot touch, or ones merely skirt the edges of. I write about these things when I’m ready. I suppose that we all tackle our challenges one at a time. As much as I love writing and it’s a part of who I am, it’s also a place where I face my own demons.
For the last 6 weeks, I’ve been unable to write about my niece Riley. She isn’t biologically my niece. She’s the daughter of one of my oldest and dearest friends, Holly. Riley is my goddaughter. I saw her be born and I thought, “Oh. It’s you.” I still can’t tell you why I thought that but I knew it the same way I know that the sun comes up. As I’ve always known her.
I waited for Riley. I saw the love between my girls and their Auntie Holly and I knew how much we’d love her little ones when they arrived. I sewed her quilts and stuffed animals and towels before she was even born. I watched her while her parents went to Vegas. I made guacamole and cinnamon bread with her since she was a toddler. I’ve probably kissed her a million times. She calls me Auntie Michelle and puts her little hand in mine and this simple act never ceases to make my heart soar. Riley is a sweet, gentle little soul and she is my family. Her whole family is to us.
When we get together, Brice runs to Riley and her 4-year-old sister Addison and grabs them both in his arms so he can hug them at the same time. He calls them “his girls.” They all pick up playing and talking wherever they left off when they get together, as if no time as passed.
Addison, Riley and Brice.
Brice and “his girls.”
On May 1st, we found out that Riley had a malignant brain tumor that was pressing on her brain stem. The tumor was miraculously completely removed but Riley has a long road of her with radiation and chemo.
She started radiation today. It’s heartbreaking, all of it. And it’s caused me to wonder what kind of sense can be made in a world where a 7-year-old that I love so very much can get brain cancer. The whole thing has left me wondering what I could write or say about anything. There is no real answer to be found here.
Here’s what I have learned that I can finally say after 6 weeks:
When I see Riley, I see the little girl that I love and I almost forget that she’s sick. Not really, but I don’t think of her as sick. I think of her as Riley.
Her mother has shown me the strength we are given as mothers. She gets up and faces the direst of circumstances every single day. Her life is the stuff of nightmares right now but she gets up every day and keeps moving. This simple fact inspires and awes me, as I wonder how she can even be standing upright. It seems we are all stronger than we think, even in the darkest times.
The outpouring of prayers and messages and contributions and #RileyStrong photos on Facebook have been amazing. Riley has came out of the surgery so much better than anyone could have hoped for and we believe it’s all of the wonderful souls out there praying and sending healing thoughts her way. And I know that this gives her parents faith, that in the hardest of times, people come forward and help.
Thank you all for listening on this rainy afternoon. And for caring so much about Riley.