Emily, the Soccer Star

Emily, the Soccer Star

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Create Your Best Future

Emily, the Soccer Star

The love we give away is the only love we keep.

~Elbert G. Hubbard

“BZZZZZZZZZ.” The sound of my alarm clock was enough to make me jump. I turned over with a groan and stumbled out of bed. From the second my feet touched the carpet, I could tell today was going to be another scorcher. I pulled on my hospital pants and white T-shirt. Although I tried to eat, the butterflies in my stomach won the battle, and I settled for apple juice. Today, I would begin my summer job. I was volunteering at the hospital. When I had decided to work there I had been excited, but now I was very anxious about what I would be doing.

At the hospital I learned that most of my job would be to take patients to their rooms and to do other odd jobs. On Fridays, however, I would spend time in Pediatrics, visiting with a child. The first few days passed quickly. By Friday, I had forgotten about my date on the Pediatrics floor. So when I was instructed to go meet Emily, a leukemia patient, I tried to plaster a calm smile across my face, but inside I wanted to cry. Even with her lack of hair and an IV in her arm, she mustered the strength to smile and speak with me.

I soon learned that Emily was eight. She loved going to the beach and playing with dolls, and she had an older brother named Ryan. She was on the town soccer team and proudly informed me that she had scored more goals than anyone else on her team. With our incessant chatting, that first Friday very quickly came to an end.

When I told her I would be back in a week, she begged and pleaded for me to visit on Monday. I couldn’t resist her toothless grin, and so I “pinkie-swore” to be back after the weekend. It wasn’t long before I was spending lunch breaks with Emily and leaving the hospital long after my shift had ended to spend time with her in the game room.

On days she felt strong enough, we played soccer, even though it was not allowed. It was hilarious to see the nurses turning their heads away, pretending not to notice when Emily’s infamous and most prized possession — her black and white soccer ball — would fly through the air. On rare occasions, her illness would get the best of her, and we couldn’t play. On those days, I would read her favorite children’s books to her or we would play Barbies on her hospital bed. On one occasion, we even cut off Barbie’s hair so she could be Emily’s twin.

I discovered many things that I admired about Emily. I was most impressed with her will to live. Not once did I see her shed a tear over the pain she must have been hiding behind those clear blue eyes. In addition, her constant optimism, along with her contagious laughter, made her unlike any eight-year-old I had ever met. She was wise beyond her years, and her incredible physical and emotional strength made her an inspiration.

Toward the middle of the summer, her “yuck days” (as she called them) began to outnumber her good ones. I can remember one particular day when I arrived at Emily’s room to find her in an unusual state: she was quiet and in a deep sleep. After talking to her mother, I learned that Emily had been given her life “sentence”—she only had a couple of weeks left.

I went home that night with a pit in my stomach and a lump in my throat. I retreated to my room without dinner and cried for hours. I felt so helpless and would have given anything to take her pain away, but all I could do was hold her hand as she vomited from the medication being forced into her tiny body. Even more, I hated this disease that had wreaked havoc inside her and cut her life far too short. It was then that I decided to make the best of these weeks with Emily.

Even during her last few days, Emily brought joy into the lives of those around her. She laughed and giggled with everyone who visited, and she marveled at all the cards and stuffed animals she received.

One evening after dinner, we played soccer — a special occasion because it was something she hadn’t had the strength to do in quite a while. Ending the night with her favorite book, Cinderella, I once again “pinkie-swore” I would be back the next day for another round of soccer. She gave me the biggest hug that her frail body could muster.

The next day, I sprinted down the corridor to see my favorite patient but instead was greeted by her mother. Through her tears she told me that Emily had passed away earlier in the morning. Her mother told me how wonderful I had made Emily’s last few months, but that didn’t help ease my aching heart. Just as I was about to leave, her mother handed me an envelope with my name written in red crayon. I knew immediately it was Emily’s handwriting because of the backward S scribbled across the front. Opening the envelope in the car, I found a drawing of us playing soccer. On the top was written “To my favorite soccer player.” The tears that I so desperately tried to keep inside sprang from my eyes. At that moment, I realized I had been truly blessed by the presence of this amazing eight-year-old.

Even today when I start to forget, I take that folded drawing from my wallet, look at her tiny body, clad in that teddy-bear hospital gown, and smile back at that toothless grin that taught me about life, love, and friendship.

~Suzanne Timmons

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