It was encouraging last week to get an outpouring of love as we remembered Naomi’s birthday. I am usually a little anxious when her birthday comes up. But I think I’ve discovered that if I can just be as honest as possible, the anxiety is cooled over and the day goes by with less angst than I anticipated. And while the saying may bounce around that “the truth hurts”, it’s still can be the best thing to say and to hear.
Most people didn’t know how to react when they learned that we had a little girl with cancer. After Naomi was diagnosed, we got a lot of this: “I just can’t imagine…” followed by various things. People couldn’t imagine it happening to them, how they would react, what we were going through, all kinds of unimaginable things.
And while hearing these things became tiresome, at least people were being truthful. They were just saying what they felt, but I don’t know if it’s the best thing to say. It’s not the worst. Thankfully I don’t think we got “God’s will be done” or “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away”. I think the worst thing someone told me was right after Naomi was diagnosed. I was at a church gathering and he sought me out and went into a long story about the time his daughter was very ill and had to go to the emergency room. I managed to ditch the guy only to have him find me later and continue the story where he’d left off. I don’t think he was trying to one-up me. He may have been trying to tell me he understood how I felt or he may have been trying to say how bad he’d had it and made it through okay, so I might too. It was a confusing time thought and I don’t remember the point he was trying to make. I just remember not wanting to hear any more about hospitals, doctors, or hurting little girls.
But as I said, I think he was trying to help. And today I feel thankful. That’s all most people wanted to do, help somehow, even if it’s some encouraging words. Some were just more successful than others. I think one of the best things anyone ever said to Prajna was shortly after we learned how badly Naomi was doing, shortly before the end. Prajna was at church for a weekly event and just devastated.
One of the most Godly women I think I will ever know was with her. This woman had health issues of her own, though you would never know it from the joy she radiated. But despite the positive mood she always had, when Prajna told her how bad Naomi was doing, our friend didn’t offer any encouragement. She said two words: “Oh… crap.” Two words, not the politest to say at church, and they said to Prajna more than anyone might imagine two words could say. “Oh crap” meant that it hurt her and upset her truly. That was a statement of both indignation and camaraderie. And it was an honest expression of how much she loved us and our family.
That was from a dear friend. But even a stranger once touched my life. I’ve never forgotten this at the other end of Naomi’s illness. Her hair had first started coming out when she was in the hospital. She had been hospitalized in Honolulu for an infection. She and I were in the departure lounge of the airport waiting to go home. Naomi’s head was bald around the sides, like a little old monk with a fluffy blonde clump right on top. And typical of her, she was cavalier about it, refusing to wear the little white sailor hat. So she clutched her blanket and played around the window, pleased as punch to not be in her hospital room hooked up to anything.
I watched the airport tarmac and kept an eye on her and tried not to be self-conscious myself about her appearance. A woman came and stood next to me and watched Naomi play. I tried to imagine I was disappearing. Naomi and I, we are not in the crowd anymore. No-one can see the little girl who obviously has cancer now. There’s no hiding it. So how about nobody can see us, okay? I don’t want to answer questions. I don’t know how long she has to live, I don’t even know how she got the cancer. Please just leave us alone. Leave me alone. Don’t talk to me.
The lady turned from Naomi to me. “How old is she?” she asked.
“Three,” I said.
“She’s beautiful,” the woman said. And that was it. She didn’t say anything and soon after that, Naomi and I were able to pre-board for the short ride home.
She’s beautiful, the stranger said. And I can still hear her voice in my head saying that. I remember the warmth of the sun through the windows and feeling that warmth at her words. Suddenly the world turned nice. When the woman told me that, I was reminded of so much more than my little girl was beautiful. I learned to believe that people are beautiful too.
Like Naomi touching so many lives, this stranger at the airport did too.