I remembered the time period well. I had been keeping in touch with Sylvia as much as possible, but I was enrolled in an intensive course, had a heavy workload at school, and spent most of my time poring over my books. When I called, she was rarely at home. When we did talk, she told me she was seeing a gorgeous guy and couldn’t wait for us to meet each other. Then, all of a sudden, it was over. She was obviously devastated, but I wasn’t able to get her to talk to me about it. She would only tell me that she had fallen for the wrong guy. He had lied to her and he wasn’t to be trusted. When the school term was over and I returned home, she told me she was four months into her pregnancy.
“So now you know all the sordid details, Becca. Will you do it?”
“Sylvia, you know I’ll do whatever you want me to, no matter how difficult it may be. And, believe me, this will be very difficult. I’ll do my best, that’s all I can promise.”
“That’s all I can ask.” She hesitated. “Becca, don’t worry. It’ll all work out for the best. You and Melissa will always have each other.”
I smiled, but I was afraid I wasn’t pulling it off. I wished I could feel confident but, for her sake, I would try to put up a good front. I could see the entire conversation had taken its toll on my friend. Her breathing was weak and she had trouble keeping her eyes open. I squeezed her hand gently, placed a kiss on her forehead, and told her to get some rest while I prepared a cup of tea. She fell asleep immediately.
I took my tea into the living room and sank into the old comfortable sofa. Unfortunately, I wasn’t spending too much time dwelling on how comfortable it was. My mind was reeling from the promise I had given Sylvia and all of its implications.
I would be Melissa’s legal guardian but I’m not a blood relative. Michael Walters was her father, and if he wanted to, with all his money and influence, he would be able to take her away from me. Maybe Sylvia was right and he wouldn’t want to have anything to do with her, but what if she was wrong? I could feel the anger starting to well up inside of me.
Sylvia hadn’t wanted to inform him of his paternal rights when she was pregnant because of the possibility that she would lose the baby to him and his family, but now she had put me in the same position. It wasn’t fair. Life wasn’t being fair. I was about to lose my best friend, and I was going to have to offer up the only other person, apart from my mother, that I truly loved in this world on a silver platter to a man who didn’t deserve her.
The next three weeks were the bleakest of my life. Sylvia’s condition quickly worsened. I tried to convince her to go to the hospital where she could have proper care, but she insisted that she wanted to die at home. Her pain was intense. The nurse came three times a day to administer morphine just to make her more comfortable. I stopped going to the office entirely and spent all of my time with her.
We had decided that Melissa would continue going to school. It wasn’t healthy for her to be surrounded by sickness and oncoming death all of the time. She always spent time with Sylvia in the evenings, telling her about her day and her friends. On the weekends, Ellen, from next door, would take Melissa on outings to provide her with some distraction.
I was eternally grateful for our wonderful neighbor and what she was doing for us. Ellen’s teenage sons were also great with Melissa and treated her like a kid sister. Melissa adored them and relished her time with them. I thanked my lucky stars that we were surrounded by such nice people, someone we could count on when times were difficult.
Of course, Melissa had been told her mother was dying. At first, she had trouble grasping what it implied. She thought people simply died for a short while and then they came back home. I tried my best, without being cruel, to explain that when someone died you would never see them again. Admittedly, it’s a difficult concept for a young child to understand. She had never known anyone who had died, not even a pet. Her grandmother had passed away before she was born. Her grandfather was alive, but suffering from Alzheimer’s disease in a nursing home. She had rarely seen him. He didn’t even recognize Sylvia most of the time.
“How long will it take before she comes back?” Melissa had asked.
“Sweetheart, she won’t be coming back. Not to us,” I replied gently.
“But where will she go? Why can’t she come back after she’s finished there?”
“Melissa, when someone dies, they go to heaven, and when you go to heaven you don’t come back,” I responded.
“Where is heaven? Can I go visit her there?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, sweetie, but we can’t visit people in heaven.”
“Why not? Where is it?”
“Well, heaven is in the sky, higher than the clouds. Only people who die can go there.”
“How will she get there? Is there a bus or something?”
I had to smile despite the grief I was feeling.
“No, Melissa, her body stays here on earth and the angels come down and take her soul to heaven with them.”
“Her soul? What is that?”
“It’s like your spirit. It’s who you are inside and it’s the best part, the most important part of you. It’s the part of your mommy that will be going to heaven.”
“Becca, will I go to heaven someday?”
“Yes, you will and, hopefully, so will I.”
“Will we be able to see Mommy then?”
“Oh yes, but in the meantime, you and I are going to hang out around here on earth together for a long time yet.”
“Promise me that you won’t go to heaven without telling me first so that I can go with you. We’ll go see Mommy together.”
She was looking at me with those beautiful green eyes, so earnest and innocent. My throat was so tight with tears I could barely speak. I pulled her into a fierce hug and whispered hoarsely, “I’ll do my best, honey.”
I didn’t consider myself to be a deeply religious person, but I did believe there had to be some sort of life after death. To think otherwise was too depressing. There had to be hope, something to comfort us as we faced our mortality. I wanted Melissa to have hope also. She had to believe her mother was going to a better place, without pain, and would be surrounded by people she loved and who loved her in return. That was all I could give her as she faced the fact that she would soon say goodbye to her mother forever.