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motherhood

Cancer Took My Daughter at 28, But I’ll Always Have This Moment

rachel minkove

‘Member, Rachie? Remember when they delivered those trees and you were so sick, but you laughed?

It was a magnificent day in late September. We were heading home after chemo. Somehow, those biweekly treatments were beginning to feel routine.

We made our way down Greenspring Ave., past stately homes, their lawns carpeted in autumn splendor.

You seemed aloof, other-worldly. I sensed your weariness setting in. You began to nod off. I wondered if you noticed the sunbeams dancing through the windshield. By then, I was so lost in thought that I almost missed the commotion ahead.

On the corner of Ken Oak, several men were halting traffic near the four-way stop. Dwarfed by the 10-foot-high bushes/trees they had just yanked from flatbed trucks, they led a parade of greenery.

I slammed the brakes, jolting you awake.

Two men signaled us to stop outside the corner house—you know, the grand white colonial with gray stone steps. Two more men limped across the street, cradling several more trees. Seconds later, they sank them into the front lawn, around the perimeter of this house I’ve passed so many times.

READ: 17 Things to Say to Someone Who’s Lost a Child

Dozens more trees lay on the flatbed. Would we have to wait for the men to plant them all?

Though it wasn’t rush hour, traffic started backing up. We sighed at the uncertainty of the wait, reminding us of delays at the hospital.

Too early for Christmas trees. Privacy bushes? Yes, that must be it. The owner must have ordered them to encircle the property so that the steady stream of passersby couldn’t peer into that lovely home, which curiously seems to go on the market every other year.

Then, out of nowhere, a chortle broke from your throat. It sounded like a hiccup. Oh no—were you about to be sick?

No, it was a deep belly laugh—the same delicious sound you made as a baby when I tickled you on the changing table.

Less than a second later, I met the sparkle in those luminous eyes. We exchanged surprise at the bizarre scene.

And then I laughed aloud, too—grateful for this unexpected event that roused you from the cancer fog.

Most days I couldn’t get you home fast enough to help you upstairs, pull down the blackout shades in your room, and let you sleep off your ordeal until dinner.

But on that day we had no choice but to stop and wait.

Time stood still as we watched. Minutes later, the ring of trees stood erect—proud—immediately assuming their position as guards. Only then did I notice that the FOR SALE sign had been removed.

Then, in what seemed like a blink of the eye, the men vanished.

READ: My Father Died Two Hours After My Son Was Born

Five years later, the sound of your laugh that day reverberates in my head. It consumes me every time I approach that intersection, just blocks from the hospital where you were born, 20 minutes from the hospital where you were treated, where I’ve worked for a dozen-plus years.

It’s been three years since you died. I pass the house twice a day, to and from work. And as I brake, I pay you homage, my beautiful, sweet Rachie. In my mind, that circle of trees has morphed into a shrine to you—proof that you existed, that we shared a moment of unbridled joy during our four-year nightmare.

rachel minkove

Thankfully, no one seems to notice when I say aloud:

Member, Rachie? Remember when they delivered those trees and you were so sick, but you laughed? And then I laughed, and then we went home, and I pulled down the shades and you went to sleep, and later I made you pasta, but you threw it all up in that awful yellow hospital bin?

Sometimes, waiting at the intersection, I force myself to recall your trajectory. Every two weeks for six months, the poison would drip into your veins and wipe you out. During the week in between, we saw you rally, your hopes restored, your blue eyes brighter. You had big plans and miraculously managed to follow through on some of them.

But then came the recurrence, the bone marrow transplant from your brother, eight different treatments, incessant coughing, infections, emaciation, radiation to your spine, dashed hopes, and, finally, the disseminated herpes zoster that invaded your organs—the virus that robbed you of a future and us of our incredible daughter at just 28 years old.

rachel minkove

READ: My Miscarried Daughter Rests in a Good Place

Since that day, I keep trying to count the stalwart trees at that corner, where every driver from all four directions is forced to stop. Sometimes I count 45; other times 50. It saddens me to see that five or six have turned brown and droopy. Did they, too, succumb to disease?

No matter: Flanked by the others, they convey a fortress, at least to me. And when the sun bursts through from behind, I want to believe you’re poking me, urging me to go on. I can’t help but smile, even as my eyes tear up.

rachel minkove

Another flashback surfaces: Abba and I are heading to the hospital early on a summer morning. You had just been admitted again with a high fever and pneumonia. As the light turns red at Northern Parkway—just a couple of blocks from that house that so intrigues me—Abba breaks the silence. Voice cracking, he says, “We just keep accepting another level of deterioration. She’s not getting better.”

I preferred denial, but his words, drawn from years of medical practice, shook me to the core.

Don’t know how you did it, Rachie, but two months before the end, as they intubated you, you mustered all your strength between gasps to exclaim, “I’m coming back! I know you’re sick of me, but I’m coming back!”

And then, as if reading our minds, you held off the team rushing toward you with the tube long enough to add, “You’ve been amazing parents. I love you.” Those would be the last words we’d ever hear you utter.

‘Member, Rachie? Remember when they delivered those trees and you were so sick, but you laughed?

I’ll never forget.

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