When Amy was four, I taught her the eyelash game. You know the one. Find an eyelash, close your eyes, make a wish, take a deeeeeeeep breath, and blow it into the air. “If you’re lucky,” I told her, “your wish will come true.” Amy considered it for a moment, then announced it was a stupid game. I laughed and asked her not to say “stupid” anymore. I remember being glad she didn’t think Santa and the Easter Bunny were stupid. That would’ve been a problem.
Right around Amy’s 7th birthday, she got a very special present: a new baby brother named Michael. Amy adored Michael from day one. She’d always ask to hold him, which we allowed once we were sure she’d be gentle. She was. Michael was fond of his sister and if Dawn or I couldn’t get him to stop crying, we’d put him in Amy’s arms and he’d calm right down. Needless to say, we were grateful.
When Michael was a year old, he developed a high fever. We rushed him to the emergency room where they successfully brought down his temperature, but something else was wrong. Tests revealed the worst possible scenario: leukemia. He’d have to begin treatments as soon as possible.
We didn’t tell Amy the full story about her brother’s illness, but she was able to figure out it was serious. I did my best to put on a brave face so Amy wouldn’t get more upset than was necessary. For a little while, it worked. But a few months in, the emotions caught up with her. She descended into a sadness I’d never seen in her young life. One night, over dinner, Amy started crying. “Michael doesn’t think I love him anymore,” she informed me, as tears streamed down her face. It wasn’t a question. She was certain.
I felt like a terrible father. Caught up in the day-to-day living hell of my son’s illness, I’d neglected to help Amy cope with the feelings she’d been forced to endure. At 39, I was having a horrible time dealing with it all; I couldn’t imagine what it must’ve been like for someone as young as Amy.
After she went to bed, I called Dawn at the hospital and we tried to come up with something that might help. We decided she should visit Michael just to see that he was still okay and that the doctors and nurses were doing their best to make him better. We’d been reluctant to take her to the hospital because Michael was in such bad shape. We didn’t know how she’d handle the sight of him stuffed with tubes and hooked up to monitors, but we also knew too much time had passed. It was important for Amy to see her brother.
When we arrived, Amy was only allowed to look at Michael through the window. To our surprise, she perked up right away. She waved and talked to him, knowing he couldn’t hear her but still wanting to make the effort. I caught her smiling for the first time in a while.
I noticed two eyelashes stuck to Amy’s cheek. Hoping to add to her renewed sense of positivity and not caring if she thought it was stupid, I brushed them from her cheek onto my thumb. Then I asked her to make a wish, half expecting her to roll her eyes and go back to talking to Michael. To my surprise, she smiled again. She closed her eyes, thought for a moment, then blew the lashes away as hard as she could. Then she looked at her brother and grinned. I didn’t need to ask what she wished for.
A couple weeks went by and Michael’s condition improved. It was entirely unexpected and inexplicable; he just started getting better. But the relief brought by the improvement was short-lived. His condition deteriorated soon after. It was what Dawn and I knew would happen but were still unprepared for. Our beautiful son passed away on May 3rd, 2015.
Dawn and I were devastated. Obviously. But Amy was inconsolable. When she learned about Michael’s brief improvement, she got it into her head that he’d continue getting better. She refused to believe he’d taken a turn for the worse. Then, when we explained to her that he had died, all she did was scream. She screamed and cried for days.
Over a month later, when the reality of life without Michael had finally sunk in and the three of us were gradually returning to our normal routines, I made it my goal to be more active in Amy’s life. I’d been neither absent nor distant, but I wanted to be a force of positivity and support for my daughter. After such a trauma, it was what she needed. I made sure she was seeing the psychologist at school and I scheduled a family therapy session for the following week. I was determined to not let our family tragedy scar Amy any more than it had to.
The night before our therapy session, long after I’d fallen asleep, I awoke to Amy standing next to the bed. I could hear her crying. I asked if she wanted to sleep with us for the night, but she didn’t answer. Between her sobs, she was making a blowing sound. I could feel her breath on my face and bare chest. The crying continued.
“Are you okay, hon?,” I asked, fumbling for the lightswitch on the old lamp next to the bed. The crying and blowing sounds intensified. Finally, I found the switch and clicked it on. I gasped.
Amy’s face was drenched with blood. She glared at me with her eyes wide with a combination of terror and rage. She had her hand up to her mouth and was blowing into it. As my eyes adjusted to the brightness of the lamp, I shouted. Dawn awoke with a start and screamed. In Amy’s hand were two, bloody pieces of skin with hair bristling out of them. She kept glaring at me as she sobbed. No, not glaring, I realized. Panic bloomed inside my chest and I struggled to breathe. Ragged flesh dripped blood into Amy’s eyes as she blew hot, panicked breaths onto the amputated eyelids in her palm. The lashes swayed in the humid wind.
“I keep wishing Michael would come back,” she sobbed. “But I’m no good at it.”
“Can you help me wish? Please?”