Today is Friday, April 27, 2007.
Today, she would be 20.
Ashley Jean O’Rear was born on April 27, 1987, in Corpus Christi, Texas. I was 25 years old, Susan was 22, and Ashley was our first child. We were young, and we were so excited to have been blessed by God with such a beautiful child. Ashley was the classic “bundle of joy”. Her presence in our lives would cause us to experience life, and love, and joy from a whole new perspective and at a much deeper level than we had ever imagined before becoming parents. In the words of a song that I wrote in Ashley’s memory shortly after her death, “The day you came into my life, my world began anew. I didn’t know that love could run as deep as I love you.”
There are so many wonderful memories floating around in my heart, many of them accompanied by photographs that were taken through the years as Ashley grew. Even in those snapshots that encapsulate only a split second of time, there is an infectious enthusiasm in her eyes and in her smile that reaches out and grabs you and will not let go. There was something almost magical about her spirit that stole the hearts of most people who knew her. I miss that magic.
Ashley was nine years old (almost ten) when she was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. She went through a year-and-a-half of treatments – surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy – followed by a three-year period during which she was cancer-free. In September of 2001, at age 14, the cancer returned. She fought it hard once again, and continued to live every day to the fullest, right up to the very last day. On Saturday afternoon, November 24, 2001, Ashley’s struggle ended, and our struggle to go on living without her began.
Life is not the same without her. Life will never be the same without her. I learned so much about life, about love, about faith, and about hope by watching my Princess struggle courageously and with incredible grace as she faced, literally, the battle of her life. Our lives are better because she was here. There is something missing in our lives because she is gone. But it is not a hopeless emptiness. We will see her again, and that hope gives balance to the emptiness, and makes it possible for us to approach life with the same fervor and zeal and enthusiasm and joy which characterized her short time on this earth.
Today she would be 20.
But in my mind and in my heart, she will always be 14.