As parents, we all know that safety comes first, and a big part of that is making sure that when we put our children into the car, we buckle them safely into their car seats. But earlier this week, when Sarah Walton shared a photo on Facebook of her daughter Ellie — strapped safely into her car seat, with her tiny sunglasses placed next to her — the world cried.
They cried, because Ellie had died two months ago, and she was coming home in a box.
“I was scared, but buckling you in felt normal,” Walton writes to Ellie in her heartbreaking post. “Even though [None] of this is normal, none of this is right. You should be here.”
She should be here.
After Ellie was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor at just 4 months old, cancer was a constant presence in the Walton’s life, up until two months ago.
“It’s been two months since I last kissed your cheek or played with your hair,” writes Walton. “It’s been two months of pure torture, agony, and despair.”
But sadly, Ellie isn’t coming back. And it is tearing people apart.
“Sitting in the car waiting for my boys to finish Wednesday church and my tears will not stop,” writes one commenter on the Facebook post. “I cannot even for a moment fathom your pain. I do not know your pain because I’ve not been in your shoes. But I miss your baby girl.”
And although many of us will thankfully never experience what it’s like to lose a child, we have all buckled ours into a car seat, in the hopes they stay safe — which is precisely what makes this image tug on our heartstrings just a little bit harder. We know the act of wanting to protect our children all too well. And just because Ellie is now gone, it doesn’t mean that Walton’s mothering instinct towards her daughter is too.
“Death is so selfish, baby girl,” Walton writes. “My heart is broken. I’m literally hurting and torn, I know [you’re] in a better place, and yet no place is better than in my arms.”
But Ellie isn’t here, and she isn’t coming back. With only 4 percent of all cancer funding going towards pediatric cancers, there weren’t enough trials, drugs, or treatments to save Ellie. And at just 4 years old, she left this earth.
“I know [you’re] happy and pain free, and yet I want you here,” Walton says.
As a mother reading these words, my heart absolutely breaks for her. I can’t even imagine.
“Life’s not fair baby girl, you know that better than anyone,” Walton continues. “I do know that your life brought me so much joy, and looking back, I’m thankful that I made sure to tell you every single day just how much I loved you. I will forever be grateful to have been your mommy.”
“Baby girl, I don’t want you watching over me thinking that your passing only causes me pain. You see baby girl, I would gladly take this pain over and over again, if it meant that I got to be your momma. [Because] had I never known you, I would have never known pure happiness, I would have never known to live every moment as your last, and I would have never known what true bravery, strength, and courage looked like.”
It’s only been a few days since Walton did what so many of us have done a hundred times over, by buckling her daughter into her car seat. But unlike all the times the rest of us have done that this week — rushing because we were running late, frustrated at their refusal to hurry up, already — this mom buckled her daughter into the car seat for the very last time. Silently, and without protest.
“All I want back is our daily life, whatever [that] entailed, I want it back,” she begs in her post. “I want your laughter, and your joyous heart back. The things that brought my heart so much pain, only a few months ago, I so desperately want back today.”
But today, she won’t be able to have that, and she isn’t alone. With 40,000 children in the U.S. undergoing cancer treatments in just 2016 alone, many of them will also be buckled into their car seats for the very last time this year.
“This will change baby girl, I will make it change,” Walton promises Ellie at the end of her post. “I never want another mom to feel this way, and I will fight for these other kids so that no other mom has to buckle in ashes of their babies. Because you have always been worth #morethan4.”
Ellie’s fight for her life may have ended, but Walton’s fight is far from over. If you want to join her in making sure that Ellie’s life extends further than the four short years she had with her family, you can start by realizing that 4 percent of cancer research is simply not enough.