A Tidy Sum

As my six-year-old daughter lay dying of cancer in the summer of 1978, she was always happy when she opened a get well card that had a dollar bill tucked in it. When her first grade class went to Stone Mountain on a field trip, she could not go. They brought her back a little brown vinyl wallet with Stone Mountain on it. She would put her money in that. The little wallet grew fatter as she grew thinner. I remember the last day she ever sat on her swing set in our back yard. She was almost seven and her birthday was just around the corner. She had a loose front tooth and cancer in her lungs.  I took her to the swing and put a pillow on it because she was so thin it hurt to sit without one. She sat there quietly and we both knew it was the last time.

We managed to have a birthday party for her. Our friend Joann made her a cake in the shape of a butterfly and gave her a red Mickey Mouse watch that looked gigantic on her bony little wrist. She lay on the couch as her first-grade teacher sat beside her. She managed her usual radiant smile. Soon she would go on oxygen and require a night nurse who came to our home and allowed me to get some rest.

“How can you have a Do Not Resuscitate order on her?” the nurse asked me with bewilderment in her voice. “Because everything has been done that can be done. That is what the doctors have told us.” Freya, the nurse, had one daughter, and was clearly not in favor of the DNR. After she had been with us for a week, she said to me, “I understand now…about the DNR. I am fully in agreement.” She was now carrying Laurie to the bathroom in arms of pure love. Her doctor came to the house soon after and said to Bob and I, “If you want Laurie to die in the hospital, she has about three days left.” And so we took the long last drive.

The drive home from the hospital for the last time was even harder. We had gathered up her belongings and carried them from her now empty room. She had slipped into a coma after a three day stay in the hospital. Four years went by. One day it was time to get the dollar bills from the little brown wallet. I put them into a box and sent them to my teacher’s foundation, knowing that the money would be put to good use. It was a gesture of faith, a mother’s longing for better things to come.

To write of these small things is huge. Just as the dollar bills are rough and passed around as tender, so are hearts rendered by their sufferings. But within the heart is a larger One. Somewhere there will be unbroken peace; but not on this small planet. We only get glimpses of it.  Through the eyes of a child, dollar bills in a plastic wallet seemed to be a tidy sum.

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