by Em Catrin
A young woman's journey of grieving life before it's over and finding hope.
|243 days left|
“If I had to give an estimate, I’d say you’re probably looking at anywhere between eight to ten months.” The words sent a bolt of ice through her veins, and she stared, unblinking, at the doctor in front of her. She knew he was still speaking, the sound of his voice surrounding her, but none of it made sense. Eight to ten months. The words ricocheted through her, and she felt pressure building behind her eyes. The ticking of the clock seemed to be growing louder and louder, the little metal hand inching along. At best she had 304 days, less than a year to live. “Brenna?” The doctor had spoken her name again, this time in a more hushed and sympathetic tone than before. “I know that this information is jarring, and that you may feel like everything ends now but I promise you we will try to beat this.” She had acknowledged the words but with every beat of the clock they felt less and less true. Her eyes flicked up and she watched the seconds bleed away and a heaviness settled in her chest. They would bleed away to minutes and the minutes to hours, hours to days and before she knew it, she would be dead.
“No. No way. This is a joke, right? There’s no way this is real.” She stood in a rush, the chair nearly falling over.
“Bee…” Her father started but she took a step back, her head shaking furiously.
“No. No.” Her voice broke and she turned and fled, her feet eating up the floor until she was outside, her stomach heaving and emptying its contents on the asphalt. Her breath came in stuttering pants and tears slipped down her ruddy cheeks. “This can’t be real.” She whispered to herself.
215 days left
There was a knock on her bedroom door followed by the creaking of hinges and Brenna glanced up from her spot at the desk, her pen tapping furiously against the flier for a senior trip she would never take. Her dad peeked his head in and gave her a smile, not a real one, but a wary upturn of the lips. Anger slammed into her so suddenly, roaring through her like a wildfire: burning, consuming, destroying. This wasn’t the smile of a loving father to his daughter, it was the smile one gives to a snarling dog.
“How am I doing? Well, I’m going to die and I’ve never flown on a plane or gone to the beach or kissed a boy or,” she paused, her mind frantic, latching on to anything it could when she glanced down at the poster that boasted about ‘The Land of the Midnight Sun.’ “Or seen the Northern Lights! I didn’t even know I wanted to see them until just now!” Brenna shouted, waving the flier at him before crumbling it into a ball and dropping it. Defeat and pity shone in his eyes, and she wanted to gouge them out. She wanted him to stop looking at her like that; like it was over, like she was already dead.
“Bee, honey, I know you’re scared right now but none of those things are impossible. You’ve only been in treatment for a few weeks. Things like this take time to get results. I think it would be a good idea for you to make a list of all the things you want to do. Who knows, maybe we will make it through the whole list.” Her dad’s voice was steady and sure, as always, and she despised it. Why wasn’t he incandescent with fury, burning everything and everyone within reach like she was? How could he be so calm when she felt like the whirling, churning seas in a storm?
“You’re one to talk about ‘these things take time’ when you aren’t the one with a time limit! What time do I really have? The doctor said I won’t make it a whole year. I’m not even going to live long enough to graduate! Do you know how that feels? Of course you don’t! I’m not going to waste even a second making a list of things I will never get to do.” She was seething, her nails biting into the palms of her fisted hands tearing through the delicate skin. Time, she laughed to herself. There was never going to be enough time.
“I know Bee, I get it, really.” His words were like a knife in her chest. She wanted so badly for him to get it. To understand the fear and the anger that burned inside of her every second that she was awake.
“No, you don’t get it because it’s not happening to you!” Tears carved paths over her hot cheeks and she swiped angrily at them. “It’s happening to me and there’s nothing you or I or anyone else can do to stop it.” Brenna let out a bitter laugh, running a hand over her head and pulling loose a lock of mousy brown hair. She stared at the clump and there, hovering just below the surface of her skin, the inferno that had been spreading through her exploded and threatened to set the whole world alight. She clutched it tightly for a moment before throwing it at his chest and they both stilled, their gazes falling to the hair had fluttered down and landed between them. She let out a single hiccupping sob, turning her face up to meet her father’s gaze. “Maybe when you’re the one that’s dying, I’ll take your fucking advice. Now get out.” The words were lethally soft, her fists clenching and unclenching at her sides. Her father stared down at her for a moment longer, his gaze shuttering, before he turned and left the room, Brenna hot on his heels. The second he crossed the threshold, she slammed the door, pressing her back to it, sobs wracking her chest.
173 days left
The air in the church was cold, causing Brenna to pull her beanie down lower over her smooth head and her frozen ears. She wrapped her arms around her torso and let out a steady breath, taking in the cavernous room. Moonlight trickled in through the massive stained-glass windows, painting the pulpit and several rows of pews in a muted rainbow. Brenna’s gaze flicked around before finally settling on the whole reason she had even showed. With less steps than she had anticipated, she was standing before the altar, its candles burning bright. Brenna had never been religious but, as it turns out, cancer tends to make you a little more open to the idea that there’s some higher power out there that can save you. The flames danced and flickered, and wax slowly dripped and pooled onto the table. She glanced around, thankful that she didn’t have an audience for her desperation. What was she even supposed to do here? Did she get down on her knees and recite every prayer she could remember from the Sunday school her grandma made her attend when she stayed with her during the summer? Did she speak out loud or was she supposed to do this in her head? Was she supposed to light the candle before or after? She took a step back with the intention to leave and forget that she’d even thought this was a good idea, but something stopped her. Maybe it was desperation or the need to have the trip not be a waste of precious, precious time. Maybe it was the universe, or God, pushing her to stay. Either way, she stepped forward again and reached out, snagging a match and lighting a candle before letting her eyes fall shut.
Uh, hey God. My name is Brenna. She shook her head, feeling stupid but pushed on regardless. I know it’s been a while since I prayed. I think I was like, eight and praying to become an astronaut ballerina princess or for a pony for my birthday. It also could have been something about getting a cat. Whatever, not the point of me being here. The point is that this time, I have a real prayer. An important one. I want you to stop this or even just to give me more time. To let me live. Let me go to college and meet my soulmate and have a family. Everyone says that everything you do, you do for a reason but I’m gonna be honest, I’m not sure what the reason behind giving a random 17 year old girl cancer is. I know I’m not supposed to question you but cut a dying girl some slack, yeah? I know… I know I haven’t always been the best person, but I swear, if you make this all go away, I will be the picture of perfection. I’ll come to church every Sunday and Easter and Christmas and everything. I’ll devote my whole life to you and move into the mountains where I do nothing but worship you and never drink or smoke or do anything bad or mean ever again. I’ll do anything.
The words seemed to explode from her, and she felt her heart kicking in her chest. Taking a calming breath, she resumed her prayer. Sorry. I got a little over excited there, I think. But seriously, please don’t make me die. If it’s too late, then just… I don’t know, slow it down or something. I can show you I’m worth saving if that’s what you want. I’m scared. I’m so scared of dying. I’m scared that there will be nothing waiting for me. I’m scared that there is a Heaven and Hell, that I might not go to Heaven. Obviously, I did something wrong, and this is my punishment but if I die, I can’t fix it. I can’t show you that I can be better. Please God, if you’re out there and hear this… Please save me.
Brenna opened her eyes and the tears that gathered behind them fell out. Taking a steadying breath, she turned away, walking through the big oak doors and into the freezing night air. Behind her, the bells of the church sang.
124 days left
Soft words drifted form the kitchen, her parents’ low voices dragging her from the twilight haze between sleep and wakefulness. Her gaze, unfocused, was on the snow falling just outside the window and she considered that her parents didn’t know she was here, out of her room. Brenna herself was shocked she had found the energy and motivation to leave the darkness of her bedroom. It had been a week since she’d been out of bed and her parents resorted to bringing her food after two days of her showing no signs of coming downstairs to eat. She couldn’t even remember the last time she’d showered but from the way her skin felt, it had been far too long. Brenna closed her eyes, willing sleep to come but instead, her ears snagged on her mothers broken voice speaking about her failed treatment. The sound of her fathers slippers, his soothing murmurs drowned out by her heavy sobs surged in and filled the hulking emptiness inside of her and finally, she felt. Days of numbness gave way to an overwhelming sadness limned with the licking flames of her incandescent rage. Tears leaked from her, soaking the coarse fabric of the throw pillow under her head, her watery gaze still unmoving from the window. The gentle snowfall was now a howling blizzard. She wished that it was all over already. That she could just be dead and her parents wouldn’t have to cry over failed treatments or their daughter wasting away before their eyes. She wanted to be dead so the pain would finally go away and she wouldn’t be so weak anymore. Death, she had decided, couldn’t be any worse than this. In death, she wouldn’t be counting the seconds she had left.
5 days left
The breeze nipped at her cheeks and whipped the gently falling snowflakes into a little whorl just beyond the safety of the porch. Brenna closed her eyes and sucked in a deep breath, or as deep as she could take one these days, enjoying the moment of peace before the rest of the family woke and thundered down the stairs. She could see it now, as it always happened. Her siblings would tromp down the stairs and fling themselves onto any available piece of furniture, sleep still crusting their eyes and whining about the early hour, all the while scoping the pile of gifts that was gathered under the tree with glittering, greedy eyes. Her mother would come sweeping in wearing her favorite pink robe that had a hole in the pocket and her special Christmas mug full of coffee and a splash of Bailey’s, muttering after her siblings to hush. Her father would be the last to make it to the living room- despite being the first awake- arriving armed with a trash bag and a stash of cookies he would secretly share with her. Brenna smiled sadly, looking out at the glittering snow now swathed in pinks and yellows as the sun crested the hill. She always knew one day there would be no more pink robe and Christmas mug, no more fighting over who got to open the first gift, no more stealthy sugar intake. She had just always figured there would have been more time. That she would feel the loss of her parents on Christmas morning and not the other way around. Time, the wretched, fickle beast, cared not for the pleas and prayers flung at its feet and merely laughed as it strode on. Her breath clouded in front of her as she let out a heavy exhale. This snow, the last she would ever see, would melt, spring would come, and she would be gone before the first bloom of the bellflowers. The knowledge that there was no stopping it settled heavy in her chest but somehow, it didn’t weigh her down anymore. There was this sense of freedom in knowing what the future held and not fighting it. There was peace. The sounds of life trickled out into the early morning, and she smiled, a real smile for the first time in months, before turning and entering the warmth of her home.
“Good morning Bee. Merry Christmas. Everything okay?” Her father greeted as he wrapped his arm around her shoulder and pulled her into his side.
“Merry Christmas Dad. Everything is gonna be just fine.” She replied easily, wrapping her arms around him for a hug. He grinned brightly at her, moving towards the entrance to the living room but paused when Brenna called out to him. “Oh, Dad, I forgot to tell you… I think I know what I want to put on my bucket list.”