Sunflowers

5 Oct

When I see her, I see sunflowers. They were her favorite. I was at the funeral before anyone else in her big Italian family arrived. The room was empty, except for the casket at the far end. I watched as her mother walked to where she lay. She leaned over her daughter and tucked a sunflower behind her ear. The yellow was even brighter against her dark brown hair. She stood there for a moment, and it looked like she was stroking her little girl’s cheek. She fixed her Laura’s clothing, tugging her shirt down a little where it had risen up and situated the cloth around her. It looked like she was getting her ready for school, making sure she had her lunch and backpack before boarding her on the school bus.

I’ll never forget hearing her talk about the cancer treatment center…

“These kids lug oxygen tanks around, with hearing aids and leg braces and no hair, going as fast as they can to the play room,” she stops as tears fill her eyes. “The toxins just kill them. They’re just kids. They just want to play.”

She watched as the treatments killed her slowly, beginning when she was eight years old. But if it wasn’t them, the cancer would eat even faster. She had to decide which way her daughter would die, and she knew there was nothing she could do. She knew it would happen. In the last few months, there were only stolen happy moments, like the time Ryan Miller from the Buffalo Sabres visited her at Roswell Park.

“She knew their game schedules forward and backward,” said her mother, Christine. “When he came, she went out of her mind. She flipped.”

They brought her favorite movies, ones with Sandra Bullock in them. They bought her pizzas that she ate with her family.

And then she began crying soft, soundless tears that fell down her own cheeks, dripping onto the casket. They could never end. They came from spot deep inside her soul that had been ripped away, and now the grief flowed. I wanted to go to her, to touch her and say that she was loved. But I did not. She pulled out a tissue and daubed at her eyes before fixing her daughter’s photo on a table, making it straight again.

People began trickling in, and I moved into the room with them. I stopped at every poster board filled with her pictures. They showed her in goal during the soccer season. She was tough. They showed her Christmas morning when she weighed only 70 pounds. They showed her a few days before June 3, 2010, when she died at 13 years old, surrounded by her family. In the photo, she’s smiling. A scarf’s wrapped around her head. Always, she wore a crucifix, her family being devoted Catholics.

The worst times for Christine were when she had to leave her daughter in the hospital. They had three other children back home who needed parents. But Laura stayed back in the beeping room and the strange sounds. Her mother would say to her, “Wrap Jesus’ light around you when we leave. He stays.”

“It was the only thing that would calm her,” her mother later says.

Before she died, Laura told her mom that she had big plans. She wanted to go with her friends to high school and then college. She wanted to keep playing soccer.

“She never gave up,” her mom said.

But her body could no longer fight the disease. She could no longer defend goal. Before her heart quit beating, she told her mother Jesus held her one hand, and Mary held the other. They would take her finally into the light, she said. The light that had sustained her when she was most lonely would now guide her home.

 

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