"Layla went to play with the angels early this morning. Rest in peace precious Layla. 11/26/2007 - 3/9/2010"
My Twitter feed was blowing up with messages - Layla has gone home to God.
It hit me like a punch in the stomach -- I kid you not. I don't know this little girl, I only know her story through websites and emails and Twitter and Facebook. Yet I feel like I know her. I know the story of cancer all too well, and the fact that this time it was a sweet little girl; WHAM. What a sucker punch.
I've grown up hearing stories about loved ones losing their battles, but I feel the world of social media has brought this to an entirely new level. We now experience this WITH people; thousands of people around the world come together through the computer and live this nightmare with Layla's family. You see people and businesses coming together and hosting fundraisers; prayer circles being formed; the emotions of all those hoping and praying shouted out for the world to see. It's amazing, in my opinion.
I think the biggest part of following Layla and her family on their journey was that this time, it let me grieve in a way I never did for my mother. It let me cry and hope and pray in a way that I just couldn't let myself before, because I knew what the end result of our journey was going to be. I focused only on finding a cure; on not crying because it would upset others; on spinning what was really going on in the day-to-day to spare people the pain. With Layla, I could grieve for her, and with all of the people following her. I could cry because I didn't have to be strong for those around me. I could feel the heartbreak because I didn't have to hold it all in.
And while I am devastated at her loss, I am grateful to this brave little girl for bringing me some semblance of peace and a renewed hope in the people of the world. This little girl made me stop in the moments I'm home with my children and just be with them. And I found that my two sweet babies are more beautiful than I'd ever imagined. Watching their faces light up at the simplest things, experiencing new learning curves every day - Layla Grace has allowed me to become the mother I want to be. That's no small feat.
Now multiply that by over 35,000 - because that's the number of followers Layla has on Twitter. Just Twitter. She has touched 35,000 lives. And if each of those lives has become a better person to just two people (in my case, my two cuties) - that's 70,000 people. And on it goes...this sweet two-year-old has touched more lives in the last month of her life than most of us will throughout our entire journey.
My heart was broken the moment I read that tweet. It was like being there with my mother all over again. You pray for weeks that God will just take them, because you don't want them to suffer. Those last few days as their body shuts down are a total nightmare, and all you want is for them to be at peace. And while it might seem selfish, I wanted peace for myself - I just didn't want to watch her dying anymore.
Then they are gone. One last breath, then stillness and quiet. You hold them, you pray, you cry. Then you realize that this is it - there will be no more praying, no more caregiving. The last weeks you've spent praying for their peace all of a sudden seem so stupid, and you would give anything to be taking care of them again. And my heart breaks yet even more because Layla's parents are there now.
The first week was hard. Probably the hardest part of the entire journey, surprisingly. They are gone, and all you have is time. Whereas your life was filled with a purpose before - caring for your loved one - now there is emptiness and quiet. There is no more schedules or tasks to complete, no more love to dote on them. There's just time. And your head fills with thoughts of could have/should have/would have's, and days and nights mix together. My heart breaks knowing that's where they'll be next.
I'm so tired of cancer. I'm tired of good people being lost to it. I'm so tired of bad stories on the news, talking about the bad of this world, and newscasts ended with one cutesy story. Why aren't they filled with stories about people like Layla's supporters, who banded together to raise money for the family? A family we are close with is about to lose their dad to cancer, after a very short battle - where is the justice in this? It's like one degree of separation - because that's really all you need to pinpoint someone you know that is dying of cancer. Just one connection in between. It's awful. Where is the cure?
I cried today in Target. Partly because of Layla, and partly because I saw a grandmother shopping with a little girl who was about 3 - she looked so much like my daughter. It made me lose my breath, because all I could think was that this was a sight I would never see - my mom shopping with my daughter. It's gut-wrenching and unfair, and I lost it and started crying in the store. Insanity!
I don't have answers, all I have are questions. All I can do is hope that one day, someone comes up with the answers...so Twitter isn't needed to share the stories of people who are dying of cancer - because there won't be any.
Thank you, sweet Layla, for sharing your story with me. May you rest in peace.