When your granddaughter dies from cancer, a grandmother’s loss is twofold. There is the loss of your granddaughter, of course, but in addition there is also the loss of the person your daughter was before she buried her child.
It is impossible to measure the loss of a granddaughter. Where do you begin? I could begin with all of the hopes and dreams I had for Olivia’s life before she was even born. Dreams of playing dress-up, teaching her about flowers, birds, hiking and camping. Watching her learn to ride a bike, fall in love, and become a successful, happy woman. But there are also the memories of Olivia that I have from her short 20 months on earth. Middle of the night play sessions when chemo or steroids made it hard for Olivia to sleep, cuddling during bottle feedings, and playing peek-a-boo. I miss Olivia’s sweet disposition, her strong determination, infectious giggle and silly playfulness. I wanted and needed much more than 20 months with Olivia, but that is all that I got.
The loss of my granddaughter was so staggering that at first I wasn’t completely aware of the other loss in my life; the person my daughter, Katie, was before Olivia’s death. The loss of a child changes someone forever. When cancer is involved, the change probably begins even before the child draws her last breath. The stress and anxiety surrounding battling cancer is debilitating and relentless. There are medical appointments, chemotherapy treatments, tests to measure the cancer, hopeful moments followed by utter desperation when you are told your child is out of options. It would be impossible not to change when you have gone through those experiences. When your child dies, you no longer have the luxury of believing that everything is going to be all right. You become a person who understands that even when you fight as a hard as you can for your child and pray to God with every ounce of your breath, sometimes God has another plan and your worst fears become a reality.
Katie works so hard at coping with Olivia’s loss that the changes in her personality might not be apparent to most people, but I can see a difference. It is as if a dimmer switch has been installed on Katie’s spirit. I am sure that it takes a lot of effort to get through each new day for Katie when she knows it is another day to face without Olivia. Over the years, it may get easier for Katie to get through each day, but I don’t imagine I will ever regain the carefree daughter I once had.
The Olivia Caldwell Foundation for Pediatric Cancer Research was created by Katie and Brett to honor Olivia’s life and to work towards preventing other families from facing the pain and heartache left by cancer.