Chapter 4: Avocado

“We got it down to an avocado,” her surgeon exhaled.

It was a surprise to discover that, underneath the gauze turban, her head looked like a clydesdale’s welcome mat, a giant horseshoe incised along the side of her scalp.

I remember the floppy red sunflower diaper bag Mama carried resting on the foot of the hospital bed because—on top of having a terminally ill member of our family— we also had an infant, my sister Fiona (the fairest of us all).  Mama’s breastmilk turned sour after Ellen’s diagnosis, and Fi stopped nursing.

I can’t believe that a God of Love plays some part in all of this.

Sometimes I slice off the top half of the room and float down from above.  We’re all gonna make it, guys.  We’re all gonna make it I whisper to us, still stuck in the trenches.  

In our hospital room I can see my mom struggling to release not only the dying daughter, but the not-nursing-newborn, too.  And an oldest daughter, me, raging, manipulative, lonely, and terrified.  Over there– my dad–divorced from my mom for two years now, afraid to go home to an empty apartment knowing his heart sleeps here.

Somewhere hidden under all that bloody gauze, under the crusty tears and the medical bills, something Good exists.

I look at Mama and Daddy and I want to tell them I see them, and I forgive them, and they didn’t fuck it all up.

I walk over to the blue-eyed beauty sucking her fist in the stroller and tell her she is perfect, I will never stop loving you. Not even when she breaks my nose in three years.

I look at my other sister smiling in the giant hospital bed with her horsey head.  Or maybe she is riding her IV pole down the hall?   “Thank you,” I whisper, teary and full.  She doesn’t know yet that Bruin Woods awaits because God miraculously heals her; or that she sings “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” at the talent show—and nails it.

Ellen doesn’t know she is a miracle or a prophet, yet.


Since I’m an honest woman, I will confess that chopping up the onions and sweet potatoes on my kitchen counter seems mighty tempting right now.  It’s not fun recounting the first of many post-surgical stays at the UCLA pediatric neuro-oncology ward.  I hate thinking about the staples in her head, until I smile & remember my irrational fear of them jumping out of her flesh in the night and sneaking into mine while we slept side-by-side.

I don’t want this life, this Gift.  Until I remember that I do.

Who wants to open up a care package wrapped in razor blades?  No thanks, I prefer something a little pulpier, velvety soft.  Ellen rarely saw the sharp.  Instead she saw God, a caring force pulling her deeper and deeper into peace, acceptance, and joy.  Now I understand, because I too have spent too many days trapped inside the walls of similar rooms.

My bird’s eye view of us helps me see this offering, one that I mistakenly thought God wrapped in razors and thumb tacks, as something so Loving now.

Would it be weird to say Thanks?

Ohhh, these aren’t razors…that’s the velvet—the sustaining, green, omega-3 Goodness.  That thing we all want, the closeness with our core, our Love, our Purpose and Place is never more visible and attainable and real than inside the gift we are most afraid to slice open.  If it’s possible in the post-op room of a dying 5-year-old, then it’s surely possible every and anywhere.

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