Whenever she sees a white butterfly, even at 16 years old, Lily texts me.
And for me, the fact that they mean something to my almost grown up daughter means the world to me.
White butterflies appear and suddenly, my daughter who has fought the darkness so many times, is lighter than ever. It is magical and divine and marks meaningful things. It marks spring and summer and the end of school year. For our family, the butterflies coincide with June Lemonade Stands and all the hope that lives in every cup, every donation and every research project. For Lily, I think the butterflies are sometimes a reminder that she isn't alone in childhood cancer. I know that she knows she has us; but we haven't faced what she faced.
Lily's battle with childhood cancer belongs to her.
It also belongs to the other kids who've faced cancer. For Lily, those other kids are truly her peers. They have experienced things that most parents try to shelter their children from; but cancer takes away that choice. Lily loves all these kids she meets; they love her in return. And all this love is done knowing--knowing full well how short time is.
It is short, friends. And for some of us, it is even shorter.
Especially for Lily's friend Brooke. I don't know that I've ever written about Brooke. It's never felt like my place; and it still does not. But, also, it feels necessary to write about her. If I asked Lily what I should be writing tonight, she would say I should write about Brooke.
Lily became friends with Brooke through ALSF--meeting at lemonade stands and hero parties and Lemon Balls. Brooke had neuroblastoma; but even more, Brooke had a sparkle. Lily loved her.
Brooke died 5 years ago today.
There always seemed to be an invisible thread pulling Brooke in our lives. There was ALSF and cancer; but there were other things. Brooke's grandmother is a member of our church (and once came to my yoga class there). Her mom grew up in Haddon Township; a fact I never realized until we moved here. Her mom's friend is a teacher at the Middle School; and in fact was Lily's teacher the year after Brooke died.
When Brooke died, Lily was shattered. We had prepared her. Lily was a baby when she was in treatment so the loss of a friend was new for her. Lily was just 11 years old and in 5th grade; but she handled grieving with such maturity and normality. She was sad and mad and continues to have moments when it sneaks up on her. She lit candles for Brooke all over France. She sleeps with her prayer card on her bedside table. She rejoices when a photo of her and Brooke comes up in her memories on her iPhone. She demands that I check in with Amy at random times--telling me to text Brooke's mom. She worries about her grandmother. And I know she prays for everyone Brooke loves.
This friendship has moved my daughter in ways that are heartbreaking, yes, but moreover, this friendship has given my daughter the gift of receiving and offering unconditional love. It is a honor and a privilege to be the mother to one of Brooke's friends. It is a privilege to love Brooke and remember her time with us. I am forever grateful for this beautiful child in our lives.
And of course, this brings me back to the butterflies.
When Brooke died, Lily would not go to her funeral. She demanded Mike and I go and then demanded I detail every moment. Every year, her mom Amy plans a butterfly release. Lily has refused to go; until this year.
Her little sister, Chloe, had just attended a butterfly release for her classmate who died at the start of the school year. Chloe came home and told Lily all about it--how it was sad, but beautiful and scary, but felt good to remember a life.
So this year, Lily was ready.
And today, those butterflies emerged and fluttered and Lily had a chance to remember her friend, again. I don't think she's ever forgotten; but the butterflies she sees every year now mean more than ever. They are a reminder of her friend, Brooke, who isn't here; but whose friendship changed my daughter forever.