This blog post is probably one of the most difficult I will ever write. The pain is fresh, my heart is supple, and there are never the right words for something so incomprehensibly large. A love that runs this deep cannot be articulated. It is big and important, and I feel it with every fiber of my being… So, I’m just going to do my best to tell the story from start to finish and let it speak for itself. And hopefully it makes you feel something. This one’s for you Delaney.
My first weekend with Delaney was in April of 2015. She was fighting a ruthless battle with Stage IV Neuroblastoma, when the Truth 365 (a Washington, D.C.-based childhood cancer organization) brought us together, along with four other girls, for a special social media campaign. We all became instant best friends, and in a matter of moments these girls evolved from mere strangers to sisters, partners in crime, and confidantes. Our sleepover was epic, to say the least. Forever etched in my mind is the memory of Delaney, snuggled up against me on the couch, in a bout of hysterical laughter. Everyone had fallen asleep, but Delaney and I stayed up laughing, sharing secrets, writing our initials on each other’s wrists in permanent marker, and pulling pranks on our unsuspecting friends. We remained awake well past midnight, despite the impending 5 am wake-up call for the airport. It didn’t matter that I would be a zombie the next day or that my eyes would be an unceasing stream of tears the following week (because I loved this girl that much). I was going to be present, I was going to give her all my love and attention, and I was going to make the most of this precious time together. This was the start of something real and magical, and I knew I would never get the time back.
About seven months later, we received the devastating news that Delaney was out of treatment options. After several relapses and a mighty battle against an awful disease, she was sent home on hospice to die. It was excruciating to see her pain and feel helpless in my ability to alleviate it. However, there were glimmers of hope as Taylor Swift made a surprise appearance in her home, and she was able to take a few last trips with her family. We stayed in contact over text and Oovoo (similar to FaceTime but can include more than two people), and it was reassuring to know that our friendship, regardless of the distance, could bring her some form of joy.
In March, Delaney decided at the last moment that she wanted to be alive and present at the Celebration of Life she had spent some time planning for herself. So, my sister and I packed our bags and made the most important trek of our lives from Chicago to Grand Junction, Colorado to see our sweet friend one last time. When we arrived in Denver, an amazing family took us in for the night. The next day we made a long, yet beautiful and scenic, voyage through the Rocky Mountains to see our favorite girl. As hours of breathtaking canyon and mountain passed by, I had time to really process the weight of this moment. I thought about how the stars had lined up almost too perfectly for Delaney and these amazing people to enter my life. I thought about the way each soul has served as a mirror to teach me more about myself than I imagined humanly possible. I thought about life and death and everything in between. This was it.
When we saw Delaney, we all had to be brave for her. Even in the last weeks of her life, her spirit still shined. But she was tired. She was dying. There is nothing pretty about it. We rubbed her back and held her hand. We watched her best friend Bryleigh, with all the grace and dignity in the world, nurse and take care of her dying friend. We witnessed Delaney’s strong and beautiful mom Wendy, who not only did absolutely everything for Delaney but also made sure her two other children were loved and taken care of. When it was time for the Celebration, I helped untangle Delaney’s tubes and slip on her sparkly blue dress. I told her she looked beautiful, which she humbly and exhaustedly denied, but I meant it with all of me. Delaney mustered up all of the energy she could to enjoy the night. She slow danced with her boyfriend and ate cotton candy. She was surrounded by loved ones and best friends. The next morning, when it was time to say our very last goodbyes, I hugged her and kissed her cheek and told her I loved her. That was the last time I looked into her beautiful eyes.
My time with Delaney was beautiful beyond expression, and I keep my conversations and memories of her in a very special place in a very special corner of my heart. She was so beautiful, kind, radiant, joyful that my heart tripled in size upon meeting her and never quite returned to its old dimensions. In our short time together, a thirteen year old girl taught me a love so real and enormous that nothing in my life will ever amount to something of that proportion ever again. I miss Delaney so much. I miss her laugh, especially… But often I wonder what I did to deserve her friendship. She has touched so many people indirectly, but to be one of her best friends is the single greatest honor of my life.
I love you Delaney… You came to Earth on a mission to teach the world unconditional love, and you succeeded. Because of you, I see the importance of filling my days with joy and purpose. I’ve learned to celebrate each day. And dance.
You gave me something to believe in.