I had an older sister. Her name was Michelle, but my parents called her Chellie.
I say had because Chellie passed away when she was three-years old.
Watching your child give way to illness is a type of suffering I think we all fear and cannot imagine. My parents had to navigate this unforeseen tragedy while just starting out their lives together.
They were two young adults with very little life experience, newly married, and first-time parents. If I had to use one word to describe their situation, it would be inexperienced.
Painful memories are often difficult to express. However, there is a special story about Chellie that I was told and want to share.
Chellie was born July 10, 1969. Soon after birth she began to show signs of sickness. Since her regular pediatrician was on vacation, Chellie was seen by another doctor in the practice. Being a young and inexperienced mother, he disregarded our mom’s concerns. He saw them as nothing but the rants of an overprotective, new mom. When her usual pediatrician returned and saw Chellie, he immediately sent her to the hospital.
Soon they discovered that Chellie had cancer. She was 5 weeks-old.
Chellie was diagnosed with neuroblastoma which is a rare form of childhood cancer that starts in early nerve cells.
Undergoing treatments took a toll on Chellie’s frail body. She was treated with chemotherapy and radiation. At one year-old, she went into remission. What joy!
At age three, she became violently ill.
It was cancer again. At which time, our young parents found out she previously had been given too much radiation. The new cancers may not have been the original cancer.
As Chellie’s life was coming to an end, my life was just beginning. Handling a new life and a young dying child, I can’t imagine the mix of emotions.
Our parents had to travel a few hours away to see an oncologist for Chellie’s treatment. In March of 1973, they traveled to an appointment for test results and to find out her prognosis. The oncologist said Chellie was dying, and she had two weeks to live.
My parents were left with the option of admitting her to the hospital or taking her home for her final days. The four of us went home. She died 10 days later.
One somber day before her death, our mom became overwhelmed with grief. Crying, she went to lie down in her bed.
Chellie was nearby, and became aware of the sadness that had overtaken our mom.
Softly she said, “Mommy, don’t be sad. I’m going to go see Jesus.”
I want to be like my feeble-bodied sister in her dying days. Chellie knew that she belonged to Jesus, and that she would spend eternity in heaven with Him.
In a little child’s sickness, Jesus was there.
In her dying days, Jesus was there.
In a mother’s deepest moment of sadness, Jesus was there.
I have never experienced the death of a child.
But God has. John 3:16-17 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
God made a choice to send his only child to earth to die as a sacrifice for our sins. When we believe by recognizing we are a sinner in need of forgiveness and committing our lives to him, we are given the gift of salvation.
My parents experienced something deeply painful, and God shares in their suffering. God has endured the loss of a child. The wounds from losing a child are unlike no other. And God understands. I’ve seen parents suffer the loss of a child and wondered if they will ever heal from the loss. I believe only God can heal their broken hearts (Psalm 147:3).
Not long after that, Chellie made the trip to see Jesus. She passed away in the middle of the night while sleeping between our parents. I imagine it was very peaceful.
“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3
Written in memory of my sister Michelle Renee Soles, and in honor of my parents Dean Soles and Karen Fuhrman.
Michelle was born on July 10, 1969 and died on March 27, 1973 .