Toby nearly bumped into Nurse Hawley as he left his mom’s hospital room, his eyes shiny with tears. The lights looked bright, splotchy, and shimmery.
“Hi, Toby,” Nurse Hawley greeted him. “I see that your mother is back in the hospital. Christmas is still a week away, though. Maybe she’ll be able to go home by then.”
“I don’t think so,” Toby said, trying to swallow the big lump in his throat. “I really don’t.”
“Well, we’ll see. What would you like for Christmas this year?”
“For Mommy to die,” whispered Toby.
“What a thing to say!”
“You don’t understand …” Toby began, but Nurse Hawley was already marching down the corridor to the nurses’ station.
If Mommy dies, Toby thought, she won’t hurt anymore. And when she’s in heaven, she’ll smile and laugh again. It seemed to five-year-old Toby that his mom had had cancer forever. She had gotten sicker and sicker and had laughed less and less. And she almost never smiled anymore. Toby couldn’t hug her very often, either, because it hurt her too much.
I bet Jesus will love Mommy, too, thought Toby. She always listens. And she tells really good stories if you have a bad dream and can’t sleep. She always smells nice too.
Even in her hospital room his mom smelled like the flowers in Grandma’s garden. Toby didn’t like the strange medicinal smells of the hospital that Daddy had told him were necessary here. He wished that Mommy’s cancer was just a simple germ. Then they could splash around some disinfectant, and WHAMO!—it would be gone, and Mommy would be better.
But Toby knew that that wasn’t going to happen. He sat in the big, red plastic chair opposite the elevators and waited for Daddy. Most of the time Toby wanted to visit Mommy. But there were times like tonight when he had to leave her room, times when Mommy hurt so badly that she twisted and turned and looked as if she was trying to crawl right out of her skin.
That’s why Toby wanted Mommy to die. Then she wouldn’t have any more pain. She could smile and laugh and be happy. She could hug without hurting. She could sit up and walk and run. The doctors had said that Mommy couldn’t get better, but Toby knew that she’d be well in heaven.
Toby curled up in the chair and rested his head on the smooth arm. Thinking and waiting sure make you tired, he thought as his brown eyes closed and he drifted into sleep.
It seemed to Toby that someone was calling him from far away. He was tired and didn’t want to answer. No, that wasn’t it really. Sleep was safe. In his dreams, Mommy was all better. They played together and had fun.
“Wake up, Toby. Come on, Big Boy, wake up.”
Toby blinked his eyes open. Daddy ruffled his short brown hair. “Come on, Tiger, Mommy wants to see you.”
Toby suddenly felt scared. Daddy was smiling, but he looked sadder than Toby had ever seen him. Toby’s heart started beating fast and hard.
Daddy scooped him up and walked toward Mommy’s room. Daddy hadn’t carried him like that for a long time. Something was terribly wrong. He didn’t want to go in Mommy’s room …
His mother was sitting up and smiling. She was wearing the blue nightgown that he and Daddy had bought her for Christmas. That wasn’t right—Christmas was still a week away. But she looked really nice! Toby couldn’t remember when he’d last seen her look so pretty.
“Come and sit with me, Toby.” She patted the bed by her side.
Daddy sat Toby down beside her. Toby barely breathed. He didn’t want to move and hurt her. But Mommy hugged him tightly and kissed him on the forehead, both cheeks, and the end of his nose. Then she snuggled back so that they were both leaning against the pile of pillows. Toby rested his head on her shoulder. He was happy. It seemed longer than forever since he’d been able to cuddle with Mommy like this.
Toby giggled as he thought about how scared he’d been. He was still holding tight to Mommy’s hand when he fell asleep.
When Toby woke up, it was morning and he was in his own bed. He didn’t remember coming home from the hospital, and he began feeling scared again. Not waiting to put on his slippers, he ran to find Daddy.
Daddy was sitting in the big chair, the one that Mommy liked best because it felt fluffy and had big, bright flowers on it. Daddy’s eyes looked red and puffy, as if he’d been crying for a long time. Toby climbed onto his lap and hugged him hard.
Toby understood why Daddy was crying. Mommy had died. Toby was smiling as tears filled his own eyes and slid down his cheeks. He was going to miss Mommy so much! Mommy and Daddy and Toby had talked about this happening. Toby knew that it was OK to feel strange, to feel happy and sad and confused and even angry all at the same time.
Then Toby remembered something very special. “Mommy got better, didn’t she, Daddy, for just a little while?”
“Yes she did, Toby. We were given a very special gift, a chance to see Mommy feeling well one last time before she left us.”