What a dying mother taught me about living

You may have seen her in the news. And if you haven’t, you likely will.

Her name is Ashley Bridges. She’s 24. And she’s dying.

Ashley and two-month-old daughter, Paisley, in their California home.  Image courtesy of CNN.

Ashley and two-month-old daughter, Paisley, in their California home. Image courtesy of CNN.

What caught my attention, other than the precious image of Ashley and Paisley, was the story’s title: “Mother’s Ultimate Sacrifice for Newborn”.

I thought of those words. I thought of the daily and hourly sacrifices mothers make. Then thought of the sacrifices mothers-in-heart make for babies that will often never be: round after round, poke after poke, loss after loss. And I had to know hers.

I watched a short news clip about Ashley: how last November she found out she was expecting, just 10 weeks before being diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a malignant bone cancer. How the doctors told her to terminate her pregnancy and start treatment. And how she’d immediately refused.  Her response was complex in its simplicity:

“There’s no way I could kill a healthy baby because I’m sick.”

Ashley kept herself as healthy as possible.  She made plans, tried to live normally, and shortly after reaching 8 months gestation was given another diagnosis: a terminal one. The cancer had spread. Delaying chemotherapy had robbed her of time. And hope.  Her doctors suggested inducing labor, followed by aggressive chemotherapy, but warned it would gift her a year, if that.

So there she sits, as the camera zooms in: blue-eyed, lovely, and dying, with little Paisley nestled sweetly at her side. I watch, feeling guilty for my intrusion, and wonder:

Will she ever realize what a supreme sacrifice her mother made?
And more…
Will she ever understand how it’s possible to be loved that much?

As the extra chambers of my mother’s heart swell, I hear the answer. It taps at the door of my soul and solemnly whispers: Yes. She will understand. When she is a mother.

The truth is this: whether we believe it or not, whether we accept it or not, we are all terminal.  Sure, we may not walk the same path as Ashley. And perhaps our hourglasses will have a few more turns than hers, but we all have an expiration date. Her doctors know hers, just as the Great Physician knows ours.

I don’t pretend to know cancer intimately. And I don’t pretend to have the answers. But maybe Ashley does. Maybe living in and loving through every second is hers. Maybe being here, heart-tethered to this space, this moment, and this unique “blessing” is hers.

Those answers don’t mean she hasn’t cried, cursed and cowered. I’m sure she has. But she is confronting her choice, her ultimate sacrifice, with a lion’s heart…a mother’s heart.  And her answers are her own.

Her closing comment about Paisley is heartrending in its clarity:

“Maybe I’m not supposed to be here and she is.”

Maybe not, Ashley.

But know this: you personify the greatest and most noble of gifts: love.

And that gift will outlive us all.

If you’d like to see the interview, click here

And if you’d like to donate to Ashley’s Recovery Fund, follow this link: https://www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/wl34/save-smash-ashley-s-recovery-fund

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