Robin, Camila's mom

A Choice I Didn’t Make

I’m on a train staring at an ad for M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. That’s where the Seattle doctors briefly considered sending Camila after her relapse. I don’t like looking at the poster.

It was a choice we didn’t make.

I am comforted by the concept of choice, by all the options that invariably present themselves and my power to choose, selecting just the right one, the strongest, surest one.

But now I’m sitting here literally facing a choice I didn’t make, trying not to ask myself, “What if.”

We use judgment, we weigh our options. Like her doctors, we all do our best based on the information available. But we can never know, in the thick of it, if we’re making the right choice.

We have to live with our choices. But we have to survive them too.



I’m now waiting in a train station and was just asked to participate in a survey about setting goals. One of the toughest questions: “How much randomness is involved in achieving your goal? In other words, to what extent is achieving it out of your control?”

The goal I chose to focus on for the survey was surviving my daughter’s death. The easy question was “How important is it to you that you achieve this goal?”

In an hour’s time, I have gone from confronting a choice I didn’t make to wondering if my choices matter. I have never subscribed to fatalism. I’m a free-willer. I believe my efforts matter because they matter to me. And I own my choices.

The young college student conducting the study encouraged his participants to select a real goal, an active working desire. I want to survive my daughter’s death. I want to continue to love her, think about her, and even long for her. I want to continue to love my family, and I want to love my life. This last desire is hard to master; it sometimes takes more effort than the others. There are times when I feel bereft, hopelessly sad. Sometimes I just miss Camila so much. And I cannot fathom, absolutely cannot fathom never seeing her again, calling for her and never again hearing her answer.

But I know that the voice I hear in my heart has to be enough now. The memories I have must become enough. I will craft these treasures I have into sturdier stuff. I will study my love for my daughter and learn new ways to celebrate her life. I will learn to be grateful more so than sad.

What may prove random, according to the survey, are the odd days of despair, the lonely sad bad days. But I don’t focus on those. I let them roll off of me and try to prevent a mark. Because I choose to survive.

I know that I am making that choice – probably not because of joie de vivre, at least not right now, but because of love, of family, of my love affair with the natural world, with the shape of certain leaves and the golden light just before dusk.

I also know I have the power to change, to adapt, to survive. But survive is an active verb: it demands diligence, a sustained effort. Right now, I have to work at it, have to locate my strength, my survival instinct (especially when confronted with the What If game).

So I keep looking for tools, for helpful memories and progressive practices, and I put my focus there. But sometimes, such as when I’m sitting on a train and looking straight ahead, I find myself staring with longing or regret into the past. It’s those moments I just have to keep moving ahead. Just keep moving.

Soon, I won’t even notice that it’s work.


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