In February, after Jackie received the news that her tumor had stopped responding to treatments, a million different thoughts and feelings rushed through me. At night when I would lay awake, I kept coming back to my pain for her parents. One night at who-knows-what hour, I woke Mike up because I was just so overcome with horror for what her parents were about to go through. “Can you imagine what this must feel like for them?” I asked him, stupidly. “Yes, I think I can,” he said with (to his credit) no sarcasm, “I’m always surprised by how you seem to forget what we’ve been through when you’re thinking about other people.”

I’m not retelling that so you’ll be like, “oh, Heather is so selfless in her worrying about others!” I am super selfish. But for me to be able to function, I have to put the pain of the last three and a half years into a back corner of my mind and then basically ignore it. Otherwise, I’d just be a giant mess, 24/7. And sometimes I ignore it so well that I say stupid stuff like that to Mike.

So anyway, I felt really dumb after I said that to Mike. And then it all rushed over me, just truly how HORRIBLE things were about to be for her parents. Not imaginary. REAL. And I started to dread seeing her parents. Just a stomach-dropping terror at the idea that I would look into her mom’s eyes and see my own pain reflected back at me. Because how could I ever put my pain back into my mind corner if I had to look at it and acknowledge it?

When I saw Jackie’s mom three weeks ago, it was, truthfully, as gut wrenching as I’d feared. I wanted to have some sort of magical words of wisdom to take away her pain, to tell her how to get through. But all I could think about was how it was going to be in a few weeks…after she was gone, and everyone had gone back to their lives, and she and Jackie’s dad were left alone in their house. How their days, which had been so completely consumed with worry and doctor visits and caring for their daughter were suddenly going to be…empty. How they were going to just sit there shell-shocked and think, “What just happened? Where did my baby go?”

I said something practical like, “Take it moment to moment,” or “Do what you have to do,” but it wasn’t comforting. Here I am, three and a half years after Maddie’s death, and I nothing to offer to make her feel better. I can’t even make myself feel better.