I have been privileged to be given 5 of Heavenly Father’s precious children as my own, as well as a beautiful step-daughter. After a move to Colorado in the fall of 2014, life was good. I was closer to family after 11 years out of state. We were in a new home. My oldest was in her Senior year of high school, and my youngest was turning 3. I was able to be a stay-at-home mom with my children for many years, and my hands and my heart were full.
Then, in the spring of 2015, my world came crashing down. My middle child, Maddy, then in 3rd grade, started complaining of knee pain. It quickly progressed from soreness to pain, to a limp, and finally, to being completely unable to walk without crutches in less than 2 months. We went from an orthopedic doctor (and x-rays that didn’t show anything) to a pediatrician to another orthopedic doctor to physical therapy. They all thought she had a soft tissue injury. We tried everything. Wrapping it. Ice. Heat. Essential oils. Ibuprofen for the pain. Her knee continued to swell and cause her pain and frustration.
Finally, on June 1, she got a nosebleed that wouldn’t quit. I took her to the local ER, with the grim determination that I was not going to leave this time until someone figured out what was happening to my little girl. After a few tests and vague responses to my questions, we were transferred to Children’s Hospital in Denver. That was the first time I’d ever ridden in an ambulance, and it was excruciating, watching my child panic every time the ambulance hit a bump because it caused her pain. And I was panicking, imagining all of the worst-case scenarios.
After the longest night of my life and hers, at about 6 am, several doctors came in, and I heard the word cancer. Bone cancer, specifically. Osteosarcoma. And I knew. The Spirit was telling me what was about to happen. After two more days of awful testing and watching Maddy lose weight and deteriorate rapidly, the oncologist confirmed with us what the Spirit had already been whispering softly to me. In two months, it had spread from her right knee to her other leg and both of her arms, and it had spread throughout her lungs. There was nothing they could do. It was very aggressive, and she was already dying.
We brought her home on hospice on June 8th, and she passed away June 16, 2015. Yes, that was exactly 2 weeks after her diagnosis. It was like watching a freight train barreling down on you and being powerless to move out of its path.
I’ve been through all kinds of trials in my life. Infertility, a miscarriage, two premature babies, unemployment (multiple times), a special needs child, and much more. After all of that, I can still say, at least for me, I don’t think there will ever be a greater heartache than saying goodbye to my beautiful child. The body I helped create, bring into this world, rock at night, and console while crying – I had to bury. The joy that I felt on seeing her take her first breath was equally matched with the tremendous, searing pain I felt when I watched her take her last. I have never been so devastated, and I did not think it was possible that my heart could still be beating and bear up under the weight of this enormous loss. I didn’t know that a broken heart could be so literal until that day.
And yet, the Lord was there in powerful ways. He would use her story to touch thousands. We set up a Facebook page while Maddy was in the hospital, and by the time we posted the news of her passing, we had over 250,000 people reading her story. We were interviewed twice by two different news stations in Denver. The local newspaper wrote at least 4 different articles about her. Her story made it all the way around the globe, and onto sites like CNN and People.com. We had people commenting and sending messages from New Zealand, South America, Canada, Belgium, Germany, and more. It inspired a movement, Maddy’s Might Minions, that is still going.
A year and a half later, I still write on Maddy’s page. My grief is perhaps a bit more manageable now, but I will never be the same. So I continue to write. About grief. About loss. About love and hope. And my faith. The reason I am still getting out of bed every morning. The reason I keep taking steps into the dark when I don’t know when I’ll see the light again.
I have been able to share my witness of the reality of eternal families and the power of temple covenants to thousands of people who still follow our page. I have been able to bear my testimony of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and the power of the Atonement to heal all wounds, whether now or in the eternities. Because no matter what they say about time, some wounds don’t heal in this life.
Things are still not easy. I now find myself a newly single mother due to the agency that Heavenly Father grants to all of His children, and I and my 4 children are getting through this experience the same way we have been with the loss of our sweet Maddy. Cradled in His love.
I don’t understand why we are called to pass through the things we do in this life. Like Nephi, I do not know the meaning of all things. But I know the Lord loves His children. I have felt it and I have been able to share that knowledge with others because of the depths of sorrow I have been allowed to pass through.
When we feel like we don’t have the strength to stand, and we will all feel that way in our lives, then we can try kneeling for a while. Somehow, that opens the door to heaven’s grace. This is not a path I would have chosen for myself, but it’s a path I’m grateful to take because my Savior is walking beside me. He stands with me. I would not have it any other way.
Author Jessica Grayless is a 38-year-old mom of 5 children, a writer, a genealogist, and a Relief Society sister. She lives in Longmont, Colorado, and currently, works for a private equity firm in Boulder. Her oldest daughter, on the autism spectrum, just completed a mini-mission and will be going to BYU-Idaho this fall, along with Jessica’s 2nd daughter who is graduating in May. Maddy would have been 11 this July. Jessica’s only boy is going to be starting 3rd grade this fall, and her youngest daughter is going to be starting kindergarten. For more information on Maddy’s story, please visit Facebook.com/maddythemighty.