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  • I was surprised to see M's name on the census that Tuesday afternoon. The doctor's notes said she had been admitted the previous evening with a fever. My eyes scanned the rest of the census for the other children on the floor that day, their ages, what art project did I think they might be interested in, and which children I knew would not want to do art at all. But I knew I'd start my rounds with M.
    M always wants to do art. She was game for any project that I or any of the other volunteers would throw her way.

    M had these blue kind of eyes you find in tropical waters. You could look into them and peer to the bottom of the ocean. She was also sassy. At six years old, she already knew how to work those baby blues. Full of spit and vinegar too. Nothing could get passed or around her that she didn't want to get passed or around her.

    When I knocked and entered M's hospital room that Tuesday, I knew something was different instantly. She was slipping in and out of consciousness and her father, a kind and gentle man that I had come to respect and enjoy as much as his daughter, was in the vinyl reclining chair, the only other chair in the room, with his head relaxing swollen eyes and face. He had been the parent present at nearly all of M's hospital stays, while his wife had to stay at work. Sensing the sombre state of the room, I said would go and come back at a better time, but M said "no" and her dad said "no", so I stayed, leaving all promise of a prepared lesson plan behind.

    "Well, hey M, I haven't seen you in a while? Hey, how about some art?" I said matter-of-factly.
    "K", she softly replied from behind cracked lips.
    "What'll it be? Watercolors, pastels, do you want to make a mobile? We can hang it from your IV pole?" I said reachingly.
    She said the strangest thing. She said horses, like the horse she had on her farm. Her dad added on that she didn't think she was strong enough to do the drawing herself, so we all agreed that she would watch me draw horses and tell me what colors and designs she wanted them to be.

    "Ok, I'll be right back. Lemme go to the supply room and get all the stuff." I said.
    Fuck. Just fuck. I hate drawing horses! I've always sucked at drawing horses, the breakdown of their shapes is just so odd.You have to love horses in order to draw horses and I just don't!
    "Oh, God" I prayed "help me to draw horses for M!"

    When I went back to the supply room, the storage facility where all of the program's art supplies are kept, I searched for a quick picture reference for horses but couldn't find one in a book or magazine. Then I went through some old supplies, but nothing. Then I looked in a box of some prepared art supplies and what was sitting on top but a horse template cut out in white card stock.
    Amazed. Thankful, I walked the halls to M's room. When I think back on it, I'm still amazed and still thankful for this immediate provision.

    When I returned, M's dad had left the room with his wife to talk with the doctor. M was still laying on the bed, with eyes half opened, and her Dora blanket wrapped tight around her.
    "Ok, M! We're in business, I'll draw and you tell me what color to use."
    "Purple" was her first choice.
    She watched me trace and draw the horse, adding purple lines, polka dots, a nose, a mouth, a gorgeous pink mane and tail. As we were working alone in the room I had a very deep sense of the presence of another. The kind of feeling that you have when you know someone has entered the room behind you. It wasn't evil, or kind, but necessary. It was Death.

    I continued to draw while M with her soft words directed me. Death watched us, patiently and intently. The strangest sense overtook me. I became jealous of Death. I knew Death would be the playmate that would be chosen on the playground, the stronger force. What I learned was this: Death was not the enemy, but the necessary agent of Mercy. Death wanted me to know she was as sacred and beautiful as birth itself.

    Other than our love and time, there wasn't anything any of us could do or give M now. She was so weak, so half in this world, half out. I wanted to break the rules. We aren't allowed to use glitter for any of our art projects. It's messy, gets all over the floor, into ports and tubes. But I thought this time, maybe, glitter... but I could tell M was exhausted. I very quickly wrapped up our art therapy session. Her parents entered the room tearfully. I handed the art work to them and said my goodbyes. It happened as cleanly and quickly as that.

    M was released with Hospice care that evening.

    She died the next day, at home, in her bed.

    Knowing this would be my hardest one yet, the program director called to tell me the news. Knowing because she circles this ground everyday and because she knew how attached I had become to M over the past month. It was the never-coming-backness, the never-hearing-her-voiceness, the wanting to rip open and the sky and scream that no one thought this was a good idea, that got me. M, in all her sass and wonder, was gone, like the other children, so many of them. Cancer, the true enemy, had won yet again.

    Where did Death take M's hand the day cancer killed her body? I can't say for sure but I believe she is sitting with hair long and brown at an art table, hands smeared with pastels, playing with all the sparkly glitter a girl could want while her horses run free.
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