Losing a child was always a deep-rooted fear of mine. It started long before I actually had children of my own. I believe now that it was God preparing my heart for the tragic loss our family would experience when we lost our 20 month old daughter to brain cancer last year.
It is easy to be angry when you lose a child. It’s a loss of such a magnitude that it rocks everything you ever knew or will know again. The divorce rate after losing a child is around 95 percent. Just that statistic alone tells you how much this loss can rip apart families and destroy everything within yourself and your family.
I hear people often ask where God is in all of this. If God is loving why would he allow the loss of a child? Why would He allow a child to suffer with cancer and take them to Heaven so early? I don’t claim to have the answers to all of these questions, but in my experience, I know that God has been very present in our tragic loss.
In September 2013 Olivia’s health began to decline very rapidly. Her cancer had come back with a vengeance and our beautiful little girl was not doing well at all. One morning I was driving our family to Colorado as quickly as I could because Olivia was barely conscious but wasn’t severe enough that her doctor felt an ambulance or life flight was necessary. During the drive I was sobbing. The thought of losing my daughter was so real to me in that moment and I was devastated. I had KLove on in the car and on came the song, “He is With Us” by Love and the Outcome. In that moment as I cried and listened to the lyrics I felt God’s presence so clearly. I could feel Him wrapping his arms around me and telling me that it was going to be okay and to trust Him. I had never felt anything like that before. He told me it wasn’t her time yet. And it wasn’t. He knew that we still had another month left.
Olivia’s health that day wasn’t due to the growth of her tumor, but rather to a debilitating type of epilepsy that came on as a result of the damage done from the tumor. We were blessed with a stable MRI and took our daughter home to treat her seizures and continue treatment for her tumor.
Unfortunately though, God knew that our time with Olivia was running out. Just days after that stable MRI, Olivia’s health worsened again. She was barely interactive, you could see the misery on her face and slowly she lost her eyesight completely. It was heart wrenching to see her like that. Then on October 17, 2013 we received the news that Olivia’s tumor had grown exponentially in the past few weeks and she was sent home on hospice care. We were told to expect somewhere between weeks and months with her. In reality, she had 5 short days left with us on earth. Olivia passed away on October 22, 2013 at 7:09 p.m.
Olivia knew that God was calling her home. I firmly believe that she waited and began to let go and run to Him as soon as we found out she wasn’t going to make it. Just that morning of her last MRI she was smiling, trying to talk a little bit and even eating. We thought we saw improvement and became hopeful for her recovery again! But within a few hours of that horrible finding on her MRI, she started eating less and less and began to let go. She was 20 months old and couldn’t speak a word. No one on earth could explain to her what was going on or that her parents knew what was going to happen. This was another form of God’s grace and His presence during the worst time of our life. We could have easily walked into her room one morning and found her dead in her sleep with how large her tumor was. Or we could have watched her fight with agony to hold on through months on hospice care while her body shut down.
Instead Olivia spent the next 5 days with us constantly. She was never by herself. Either her dad or I or another family member had her in their arms at all times. She slept between her dad and I snuggled up in my arm closely so I could hear changes in her breathing. And when the time came for Olivia to say goodbye it was truly peaceful. She lay between us in the living room on a fold out bed and after not breathing for several minutes she opened her eyes and took the 3 most peaceful breaths I had ever heard. And this was after 24 hours of being unconscious and suffering from the labored breathing that comes when someone is close to making their final journey home. Without a doubt that was Olivia’s soul going to Heaven. After those breaths Olivia closed her eyes and it was clear she was gone. We gave her a sponge bath, changed her clothes, wrapped her in a blanket and held her for an hour until it was time for her to go with the coroner. Her skin glowed and her face looked so peaceful. She truly looked like an angel.
In the year since Olivia passed away life has been hard. It really does hurt like hell to lose a child! But I’ve also experienced a peace that I never expected to have. I fully expected to be devastated beyond words. To not be able to get out of bed and care for Wyatt. I expected that I would never be able to pick up any of the pieces. And the truth is I am devastated. And there are times that I don’t want to get out of bed and go on. But I also have this inner peace, knowing that my little girl is in Heaven and that she is whole and healthy. I don’t have to wonder if she is going to be okay anymore. She is! I wish things could have been different but my way wasn’t what God had planned.
Just last week my wonderful husband had a dream about our little girl. Usually his dreams involve her still being sick and in treatment at the hospital. They tend to be very haunting and upsetting. But this last week Olivia came to her dad in his dream and looked him right in the eyes and told him she’s happy. What more does any parent want then for their baby to be happy and healthy? Olivia has that in Heaven and we are grateful. We will always miss her every day of our lives and our family will never again feel complete. But we also know that Olivia is with Jesus in Heaven and she doesn’t have to suffer anymore. And with that knowledge we can find some peace. The truth is that God never abandoned our family and He never will.
Olivia Caldwell Foundation is a 501c3 nonprofit that raises money for pediatric brain cancer research. All proceeds benefit the neuro-oncology research team at Children’s Hospital Colorado. You can learn more and donate at any time by visiting our website at www.oliviacaldwellfoundation.org.