There are so many images that sometimes press themselves into my mind, pictures I do not want to see, moments in time I do not want to think about. My girl died of blood cancer, leukemia. It was everywhere – and so was the chemo then the radiation. It was a hard cure that, in the case of her very aggressive disease, didn’t work. And the force of that cure was measured, manageable – right up until it wasn’t.
Camila had this way of looking at me, direct, straight into my eyes. There was a certain tilt of her head. It was her “reality check” look – and she always directed it to me. In any crowd, she would scan until she came upon my eyes. That was where she would rest her gaze to look for confirmation, clarity.
One image: She was 10 days post transplant and we were walking again.
The transplant floor had posted a challenge and Camila had accepted it: Walk a mile, get a big sticker for your hospital room door. Camila’s goal was a mile a day and, for 10 days straight, she had met her goal and even surpassed it. There were 13 stickers on her door. She was the darling of the floor, the example all personnel pointed other patients to for encouragement and hope.
My girl was a trooper. The walking was never easy, often slow and laborious, but she knew its benefits could not be measured. The simple act of walking increased muscle strength, improved blood flow, fed the body and strengthened – everything. It was the one thing she could do every day to help herself, to aid in her healing, and she held up her end. She walked every day. Right up to the moment she couldn’t.
I remember her eyes, the look of confusion she directed toward me when she could not get her body to move forward one more step. She looked to me for explanation and comfort. I did what I do, said we’d find out then propped her against a table and ran to get a wheelchair.
A nurse followed me back, took a look at Camila and suggested she lie down for a while, see if she felt better soon.
She got up to walk again that afternoon. And at about the same place on the floor, her body stopped her again.
She died two days later.
There is little in those next two days that I want to remember.
But that isn’t true. It only feels like it should be true. The truth is that there are many things to remember, even amid all I hope to forget. I don’t want to remember her suffering – but I never want to forget her spirit.
Nurses began coming by. Each wanted to say hello to her, ask her how she was feeling. She asked each a specific question about their lives – had they done that, gone there. I will remember the sound of their laughter.
Her doctors came by and she turned the talk toward their lives. One had recently begun acting in local theatre, and she was quick to ask about his recent performance. I will remember the pleasure of their conversation that day, the recognition of something wonderful and singular that they shared, beyond the hospital, beyond her illness.
I remember Camila responding to a friend on the phone that evening by saying, “Today’s kind of rough, but I’m doing all right.” I will never forget her response, her strength and optimism. She didn’t indulge in feeling sorry for herself. She did not hold a grudge against her body. She believed in herself and she believed in her body and she believed in her doctors.
And she believed in the power of love.
It is that power of love that sustains me now. Even as I face the anniversary of her death, even as all these hard days come streaming back to me. What I want to remember, what I must sometimes manually remind myself to remember, is the power of our love. She was my girl and I was her mom and her love sustained me for 23 years.
The memory of her life, her spirit, and her love will sustain me for at least 23 more.
I love you, Camila. Thank you for giving me your love, for sharing your life, and for being such a generous, spirited, loving person. My life continues to be enriched by your love.