Laura died last Wednesday night.
I wish I could say I knew Laura well. But I don’t know what her favorite food is, or when she got married. I couldn’t tell you if she wanted more children or even if her parents are living. What I do know about Laura is that she was a favorite teacher of many first graders. Her smile rarely left her face and even after her worst bout of chemo she stayed positive.
I also know that she gave my son one of the best gifts of his life ~ her son Fernando. They’ve been best friends since the third grade and even when Michael went to another school, they kept in touch. When Michael decided to return to our district, Fernando was totally psyched.
Fernando is the kind of kid parents love to have stay over. He’s quiet and polite, likes literally everything I cook (even when it’s an experiment and kind of nasty), and he’s pretty darn smart, too.
Five years ago when we first met Laura, she’d just finished with chemotherapy treatment for ovarian cancer. She looked great. Her short spiky hair was super cute on her and that smile, it just radiated happiness and positive vibes. It was easy to believe she’d beaten cancer and would live forever.
But that was only a dream. Laura died last Wednesday night and I didn’t even know about it until the next night when a friend sent me a message on facebook. I was shocked. Not because of her death, but that Michael didn’t tell me.
He didn’t tell me because he didn’t know. Fernando didn’t go to school on Thursday and even though he and Michael were texting back and forth all night, he never said anything.
Fernando’s silence baffled me and I was perplexed how to handle it. After all, Laura and I were not best friends, it was Michael’s friend’s mother who had died. I didn’t know what my role was or how to deal with Fernando’s mourning.
My instinct told me to hold back, to not rush over to his house with toys and food and good intentions. While all I really wanted to do was give him a ginormous hug and tell him how sad I was that his mom was gone, I knew I had to respect his feelings.
He came over Saturday and hung out for a few hours and I was able to give him a small hug, tell him we love him and are here for him if he ever wants to talk and even if he just wants to escape his house for a few hours. Fernando comes from a large Hispanic family and he’s had about 20 people camped out on his couches for the past few days. There was music and food and a lot of praying. For a thirteen year-old, that can be overwhelming. If we can offer a refuge where he can just be a kid and have some semblance of normal, then that’s what we’ll do.
Even though I didn’t know Laura all that well, I think of her often these days. At odd moments I find myself crying for her loss. All the small moments we take for granted, she’ll never have again. I woke Michael up for school Friday morning with a big snuggle and thought how awful it was that Fernando would never get to be woken up like that ever again. Even when Michael is angry at me, at least he’ll have his mom around to argue with. My heart aches for all the times Fernando and his little sister won’t have Laura there to share a moment, be it large or small, like a snuggle before bed.
Laura had cancer for a long time, but it never stopped her from living. Each morning when I wake up and think of what I’m grateful for, I’m going to remember Laura and her beautiful smile.
As for Fernando, we’ll be here for him. Always.