Taylor Swift and Other What Ifs

What if my daughter Donna had survived her cancer?

I don’t ask this question often, but at birthdays, when the days are long and the calendar turns to July, I can’t help but think about the what ifs. This year they are consuming. This year, on Monday, actually, Donna would turn ten.

What if Donna were still living?  What would a ten year old Donna look like?  Be like? Act like? What if Donna had survived?

Tonight and tomorrow night, Taylor Swift is playing sold out stadium shows at Chicago’s Soldier Field.  Ten year old girls and their 45 year old mothers both like Taylor Swift. Would we have made a girls’ weekend out of it and celebrated double digits at the concert, maybe splurging on a downtown hotel?

Taylor Swift

If Donna had survived, she would be in the thick of tweendom.  She didn’t, and instead I am changing the diapers of a not quite two year old boy — my second son, Donna’s second brother.  I sometimes wonder what the challenges would be of raising a girl.  I know the parenting issues are different for girls and boys.  And a tween?  All I know about that is what I read in blogs.

Would I have a girl with sass and eye rolls asking to wear too short shorts?  Would I have a nerd totally into steam punk?  Would I have a ballerina pining for point shoes?

I don’t know.  No one knows.

I sometimes allow myself to go down the rabbit hole of what ifs.  I don’t indulge these what ifs often, as they are brutal and painful and in the end, not very beneficial to anyone.  But these past few days, the what ifs have been hard to stop.

What school would Donna be in?  She was so very bright, so smart.  Would she, like her younger brother, have tested into a “good” Chicago public school?  Would they be at the same school?  I took pen to paper a few months ago (and was so sad it required pen and paper) to figure out what grade Donna would be in.  If she were alive, she would be starting the 5th grade this fall.

What would Donna’s friends be like?  Would there be sleepovers?  Drama sessions? Do ten years olds have phones these days?  Do they text?  Have the mean girls asserted themselves yet?  Surely Donna wouldn’t be a mean girl, would she?

Would she have liked Frozen, asking for Princess gowns and all things pink?  Would we have seen Inside Out together?  Would she have cried like I did?  I’ve seen it twice now and both times the tears rolled freely when Joy finds herself lost in the Memory Dump, frantically realizing that she is surrounded by discarded memories that are fading and disintegrating as she helplessly watches.  Poof, there goes another.

I cried so very much at that part of the movie, just as Joy did, because that is how I feel about Donna — my too few memories of her are fading and disintegrating as I helplessly stand by.  What can I do?  Time passes, it moves forward, without Donna. Poof, there goes another.  The memories fade with nothing to replenish them.  Poof.

I am a weepy, leaky mess this weekend.  I’ve stopped trying to make it anything different.  I miss you, girl.  I miss mothering you.  I miss teaching you and learning from you.

What if you had survived your cancer, but were left with scars, internal and external? What if the treatment had changed the things that made you so much you?  What if you could not talk or could not walk?  What if you felt self-conscious and awkward about not developing like other girls your age because of what the chemo did to you? What if you hated being a cancer kid and all the things that go along with that?  What if other kids made fun of you because you looked or acted differently?

Would I embarrass you now?  Would now be the time where pulling away from me and your Dad was developmentally appropriate?  Would you have long hair?  Would you let me braid it?  Would you still have curls?  Would you hate them if you did?

So many questions, girl.  So much to think about and sit with.  So much time and space without you.  The days are long when you grieve, but never so much more than in July.

I miss you, girl.  I’ll meet you there, okay?


A special fundraising page for St. Baldrick’s has been set up to recognize Donna on her tenth birthday, Monday, July 20th.  Please consider being part of $10 for Ten, and donating to honor the memory of Donna while helping to raise funds for childhood cancer research.  You can find the page HERE.  

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