By Emily Garibaldi
In my 30 short years on this earth, being Lucy’s mom is the single most defining aspect of my existence and identity.
On June 20, 2013, our life changed forever. It was the moment my husband and I prepared our entire life for. We went to college, got great jobs, saved our money, got married, bought a house, and planned a beautiful life for the family we were meant to raise, and on that June day we were given life’s greatest gift. All 9 pounds 1 ounce of Lucille Elizabeth did not disappoint; mild mannered, happy, adorable, and perfect. We were so lucky. An amazing, but way too short 14 months later, we were given the news that our perfect daughter had an imperfect diagnosis of AML leukemia. Those simple words “she has cancer” will bring you to your knees, gasping for air; but similar to every other cancer-impacted family, you pick yourself up, find hope, and fight. That is the only option.
For nine consecutive months, with the support of our very amazing companies, my husband and I lived with our toddler, Lucy, in a 10 x 10 hospital room, two hours from our home, never leaving her side for a single moment. She wasn’t your typical ‘sick’ child, and we are so fortunate. She played, ran, ate, danced, and pushed her doll babies in her stroller all while her caffeine-addicted mom and dad ran after her with her IV pole. She sadly came to know that surgeries, blood draws, transfusions, and X-rays were just a daily part of life. She survived five intensive chemotherapy regimens and three failed bone marrow transplants, far more than any child, let alone person should be subjected to, but we were desperate to give her a fighting chance at life. While you always hope you have a ‘special child,’ being a medical anomaly at the the world’s most prestigious children’s hospital isn’t a sought out accolade.
I could talk to you about the reality of living in a hospital for nine months, the vitals every four hours, the codes when the entire hospital floods into your room, the beeping pumps, the devastating news, but there was so much happiness in room 3 East 46. We had 24/7 family time and experienced what really mattered in life– love and appreciation for each other. We got to watch our daughter thrive despite being clinically sick for so long, and learned what being a mom and dad is truly about, a lesson that will forever be engrained in our DNA if we have the opportunity to be parents again.
So, on Mother’s Day 2015, when my sweet Lucy took a horrible turn, we mentally prepared ourselves for the devastation that was yet to come, and three days later on May 13, 2015, she was called home while cradled in our loving embrace at 22 months. We felt our hearts shatter at the exact moment that hers stopped.
As I reflect on those 9 months, I learned more than I ever anticipated learning in my lifetime, and I am so thankful for it. Lucy’s sheer will to live and be happy has inspired me to continue on, for her. Everyday that I wake up is for Lucy. She has added so much more purpose to this world, even in death, and that is yet another amazing gift she has bestowed upon me. Despite the broken heart, there is pride under this sadness. I will forever be fortunate to have felt a love that is so indescribably raw and genuine, one that many seek for their entire lifetime.
So when asked, “How do you survive?” it is because I am so grateful to call Lucy my own, and no amount of grieving can take her spirit from my soul. I survive because Lucy needs me to, and I made a promise to her that I was going to carry on her legacy in this physical world. The world needs to know she existed. They need to know her story and how she inspired so many, so much that we have raised hundreds of thousand of dollars in pediatric cancer support in a only a year’s time. I survive because I firmly believe she picked us to be her parents, and she fought everyday under the guise of a happy, curious, loving, sweet-natured toddler living every one of her 22 months and 3 weeks to the fullest. She gave us so much; those deep bright blue eyes that could cut through the tension and stress of life, the carefree belly laugh that could make a sobbing parent take a pause to smile, and of course her sweet curious nature– where she shrugged her shoulders, raised her eyebrows, and got silly with tons of ‘toddler’ ideas. She gave us so much in her short life that it is my duty live each moment of everyday in her honor, even if it takes every ounce (and then some) of strength in my body to put my two feet on the ground every morning and look in the mirror . Our surviving is never easy. We cry daily. We sleep with her blankets and live in a shrine. She is spiritually and almost physically surrounding us everyday, and that works for us.
I survive because I am choosing life, after her death. Lucy wasn’t given this privilege that she so wholeheartedly deserved, so I will live my life for the both of us.
To my sweet girl, I carry on for you everyday. We are so proud of you and thank you for giving us your unconditional love everyday. You will always be my greatest prize, and I would pick you in a thousand lifetimes. You are worth it.
Emily Garibaldi is a mother to sweet Lucy (6/20/13-5/13/15). A first time mom from New Jersey, picking up the pieces after the death of her beloved toddler. While she doesn’t claim to be an expert on grieving, she continues to be inspired and grateful by the beauty of life. Find her on her blog, on Facebook, or on Instagram.