Tina Seguin lay on the floor in the living room, soaking in every picture beaming from the Walt Disney World vacation catalog. Her eyes, bright and blue and aglow with hope, reflected the colors bursting from the pages. Thirteen and maturing like a spring flower, she wanted now more than ever to live out her childhood dream.
But her dream, to visit Disney with her mother, was too much to ask. Not because she was getting old for Mickey and Mini, and Goofy and Pooh. That wasn't the problem at all.
Her dream would never come true because her mother had two months to live. But this she did not yet know. It had only been hours since the doctor had delivered the grave news to her mother, and her mother and father were still trying to accept the inevitable. They agonized over how to tell their daughter, and how to spend her remaining time. Time dwindled fast and her father found himself with another question. How was he going to move on?
Dot, terminally ill, and her husband Paul, who relentlessly stayed by her side, holding her hand, praying a prayer he knew wouldn't be answered, attempted to garner the courage to tell their daughter. Eventually they'd have to let Tina in on their not-so-little secret. It didn't seem fair.
They agonized: how does a parent tell a child her mother has two months to live?
Many tears later, Dot spoke up about how they should inform Tina. "What Would Jesus Do?" she asked her husband under a strained, weak smile.
Paul smiled. The question – more of a comment – provided evidence she was emotionally still with it.
"What Would Jesus Do?" was the question they'd ask themselves every time they faced a decision or circumstance where they were in a bind and didn't know how to proceed. It helped them look at the situation objectively, as if from a distance. "What Would Jesus Do" they'd ask themselves, "if He was in our shoes?"
There was always an answer, and they were able to move on.
Now, faced with the same question, the only thing that came to them were tears. There was no answer. It wasn't in their hearts, which were numbed and saddened by truth.
Staring quietly at each other for a long moment, neither said a word, while hovering over their heads was the question, "What Would Jesus Do?" Each searched for an answer – any answer.
There was none.
Finally Paul called Tina into the room where Dot had spent the better of two years crept up in bed, and the three embraced, something they'd done all too often for the wrong reasons. They remained close for a minute, then broke and held hands in a spiritual vigil. The flame of life – Dot's life – flickered in their eyes.
Paul broke the news.
Tina's face paled, matching the pallid dire in her eyes. The flickering flame in her eyes was blown out as a thick, black smoke drifted upward from her wick. Her mother's time had come, as it was bound to. How could this be happening?
In silence, she asked herself something she learned from her mother and father. What Would Jesus Do?
There was no answer.
Drifting internally, she dug deep, searched for an answer. But there was none.
Her mother lay in bed, her face without expression and her eyes staring into Tina's.
Tina's hopes for the future, for her dream, for her mother to get well – all hopes – faded before her. Like billowing smoke from a wick, they drifted to the ceiling.
Mickey or no Mickey, Goofy or no Goofy – nothing mattered to Tina anymore. Not even Winnie the Pooh. Life was colorless, without shape, without direction. It wasn't fair.
Cancer was about to tear her mother away… It just wasn't fair.
The Disney catalog, filled with vivid pictures – the golf ball-globe at Epcot Center, Cinderella's Castle, a Winnie the Pooh Character Breakfast – sat in the very spot she left it last. Collecting dust, it was the furthest thing from her mind. Forgotten. Her dream: gone.
It was sad: In Tina's thirteen years, there wasn't really a time when her mother hadn't been sick – so it seemed. Her mother, diagnosed with cancer five years earlier, had always been sick; the time they had she took for granted, not knowing the severity of the cancer. Not knowing her mother's life would some day come to an end. Over those five years, all Tina wanted was to go to Disney with her mother.
But now her mother had two months to live.
Disney was the furthest thing from her mind. It didn't matter anymore.
Two days later, while her daughter was at school, Dot decided how she wanted to spend her remaining days. So Paul obligingly packed the family camper and then took Tina, his daughter, out of school early. He told Tina to pack, that her mother decided she wanted to spend her waning days in Virginia with her parents.
Tina worried about all the time she'd miss at school but kept it to herself, thinking it was selfish. Confused, she reverted to what she'd learned from her mother. She asked herself, What Would Jesus Do?
There was no answer.
Remaining silent, she thought about her mother, she thought about death, and how none of it was fair. She didn't understand. It was one thing for someone to pass on, but it was entirely another for someone you know pass on. Like her mother.
Not knowing what to think, how to feel, what to do, or what to say, she withdrew, faded into her self. She became unusually quiet. She blocked out her feelings, ignored them as if they'd go away. But they wouldn't. Drifting in perpetual darkness, a completely different question arose: Why was the real world so cruel?
There were no answers.
Tina had only one memory of her mother when her mother hadn't been under cancer's grip. It was when she was a little girl. At what age, she didn't know; yet the memory was clear – so very clear – as if she knew at the time it was one to hold onto.
Tina had been in bed stuffed under warm blankets when her mother came to tuck her in. Like always, her mom had asked what story she wanted. "Pooh," Tina had replied excitedly, her lips forming a circle, stressing the "ooh" in Pooh. Then, she said it again, leaving little doubt what her favorite book was.
Every word her mother read from the Pooh-book was etched in the forefront of Tina's mind. Her mother would sing when song was needed, read in the voice of a small boy when Christopher Robin spoke, and in the voice of a shy, honey-loving bear when Pooh Bear spoke. She'd even hum Pooh's little hums as only Pooh could hum:
Between giggles Tina had sang along with her mother. "Rum-tum-tiddle-um-tum."
The memory would never go away.
Tina helped her mother climb into the camper while Paul locked up the house. With Dot taking the passenger-side captain's chair up front, Tina jumped into the back. A minute later, Paul jumped into the driver's seat, turned over the engine, revved it like a seasoned truck driver, then pulled away, leaving their Derry, New Hampshire home, destined for Virginia.
In the rear view mirror, Paul noticed his daughter staring out the rear windows, watching 11 Blunt Drive disappear. When he heard sniffles from the way back, he glanced at his wife, whose eyes were also wet with tears.
Paul felt terribly bad for his daughter, wondering how she would take it all. He knew what she was thinking, that her mother would never again return to 11 Blunt Drive in Derry, New Hampshire. It would be her mother's last trip. She would never again return home.
But Paul knew something his daughter didn't, but it wasn't enough to keep his own eyes from watering.
Travelling south on interstate highway I-95 well after the tears had dried, a thick, fog-like silence settled over the camper. Passing though Providence, Rhode Island, to the Connecticut border, through Mystic, and then New Haven, the cloud grew darker, until Tina spoke up.
With a wide grin, "Are we almost there yet?" she whined in the voice of a small child, humor clearly intended.
Paul said not a word. Dot, her time slipping away, remained silent. The only sound was the constant drone of the engine, resonating louder and deeper.
Then Dot caught glimpse of Paul's smiling eyes and burst into tears – tears of laughter. Paul and Tina joined in, and together, the three for the first time acknowledged the truth. The ice had finally broke. And they continued to laugh for a good five minutes.
But as the camper rolled toward the New York border, darkness settled in and the quietness returned. Turning inward, each tried to make sense out of what was happening. Although none spoke a word, their thoughts communicated as effectively. For they all were focused on the same question.
What Would Jesus Do… if He was in their position?
Miles from New York, Tina, eyeing the golden arches pass on the northbound side of I-95, broke the silence. "I'm hungry!" she said.
Five minutes farther south on I-95, Paul pulled the camper into a roadside Burger King, the last stop before the New York State border. It was a good thing, because Dot was starting to do head dives and Paul knew, once she was out, they'd be best if they didn't stop.
Paul figured another eight hours to drive before they would reach Alexandria, Virginia. Yes, stopping now would be good; his wife and daughter could sleep through the night as he drove. That would put them in Virginia around 3 or 4 in the morning.
A few burgers later, Paul gassed up, checked the oil, and, in no time at, all they were back on I-95 travelling south. Tina disappeared into the far back and fell asleep. Shortly after, Dot's head began to nod and then she too fell asleep.
Paul drove through the night – around New York City, through New Jersey, then Delaware for a few miles, and Maryland. He listened not to music but to the deep, steady breathing of his daughter in the back and his wife next to him – the two people in the world he loved most. Happily married for over 20 years to his wife, there she lay beside him, curled in a ball, sleeping in a fitful, dreamless sleep. Her irregular breaths set Paul's mind astray. God, he thought, it wasn't fair! He was about to lose his wife … it just was not fair.
He asked himself over and over, What Would Jesus Do?
There was no answer.
It was as if Jesus had abandoned him when he needed Him most.
It was not fair.
In the back of the camper, perched in the loft sleeping, Tina began shifting restlessly in a nightmarish fit. Her eyeballs roamed under her lids. She dreamed she had arrived at her grandparent's house, which seemed to be painted in vibrant red and yellow colors. She exited the camper form the side door, stepping down into the driveway. She knew her father would get the wheelchair, so she went to the to help her mother out. When she tugged open the passenger door, she froze.
The seat: it was empty! Her mother: she wasn't there. And her father: he too was gone. Where were they? Where did they go? Why did they abandon her?
She looked down and suddenly found herself standing in her grandmother's flowerbed. She was stepping on a red tulip, when her attention was drawn by a dark, shadowy sensation hovering over her head. She looked to the sky; there there were no clouds. The feeling grew deeper, more pallid. Maybe the sun was setting. She looked to the horizon, only to find… The sun! It was gone. She felt infinitely agitated, a dark, itchy feeling lurking above. Life was mute, no longer had importance. She looked back to the camper only to be reminded her mother was gone.
"Help!" Tina tried to scream. Her mouth moved, but no sound came out. Her knees began to shake; they knocked together. She wanted her mother. "Mom!" she shouted. There was no sound. Her teeth chattered. She didn't know what to do, who to call, or who to run to. "Mom!" Silent, the cries could not be heard by anyone but her.
The front door, she thought. Yes, go for the front door.
She stepped from the flower garden, leaving behind a crushed tulip, its red petals broken off, ground into the soil. She jumped up the first two steps of the front porch, when the front door cracked open. Bursting through from the inside of the house were streams of bright yellow, red, and blue light. The door seemed to be caught, unable to open all the way. It tempted her near. She moved closer, when suddenly the door swung open and banged against the house.
Tina froze; she couldn't believe her eyes. She looked again to be sure.
It was true: There, before her, was Disney World.
But something wasn't right. It wasn't as inviting as in the vacation catalog – but why?
A big, yellow Disney character wearing a red bib appeared in the distance. Tina blinked. When she opened her eyes she saw Winnie the Pooh; and standing next to the honey-loving bear were her mother and father, with her mother collecting armfuls of air, waving her near.
Overjoyed, Tina couldn't believe it. She was going to Disney … with her mother, a dream come true.
Tina ran for the front door, towards her mother, her father, Winnie, and Disney, when just before reaching the entrance, the door slammed shut. Her emotions tumbled into loops and tears burst from her eyes. She didn't know what to do. Instinct told her, Run! Ready to bolt, she turned, when she noticed on the porch, set precisely on the top step, was the weathered, dying tulip, the same she'd stepped on. What few petals remained clinging to the stem were quickly turning black, all life fading from it.
Tina bolted upright, waking from her fitful nightmare, and banged her head on a protruding corner. Her eyes were filled with tears as a terrible pain pulsed through her head, which pounded as if a sledgehammer was slamming into her temple.
But the pain was not because she banged her head.
Paul had driven in sheer quietness for over three hours when there was a loud bang somewhere in the back of the camper. His pulse skyrocketed as he shot a look into the rearview mirror. A shadow moved. Phew! He was relieved to see it was only Tina.
"You okay back there?" he called back.
Tina, rubbing her head, grunted, then hopped down from the loft with a thud. She squeezed up front and kneeled between the captain's chairs. Her tired eyes blinked into the early morning darkness. On the opposite side of the highway, a car's headlights approached, then passed by. She blinked. A lighted highway sign disappeared overhead. She blinked again.
Paul looked quickly at Dot, who was asleep, and then to his daughter. In his daughter's eyes he saw what appeared to be the reflection of lights from the outside. Were they tears? He wondered. Deciding not to ask, he returned his attention to the road.
Five minutes farther along the highway, Paul saw a sign on the side of the road: Welcome to Virginia!
His daughter saw it, too. "We're in Virginia already?" Tina asked incredibly. "How much longer to Alexandria?"
Paul shook his head at the first question and chose not to answer the second.
Awhile later, he saw a roadside sign: Alexandria 10 miles. He looked back at Tina, who was blinking, trying to stay awake. She was so sleepy, Paul was sure she hadn't seen the sign. "Why don't you go back to sleep?" Paul offered.
There was no argument. She climbed in the back and went to sleep.
Tina awoke to the voices of her mother and father chatting idly. She hopped down from the loft, this time not banging her head, and pushed up front between her mother and father.
"'Morning," she said after clearing her throat.
Her father turned around and, like he always does, gave that goofy hello. Mom looked into her eyes and smiled. "Hi, Dear!" she said. It made Tina happy to hear the strength in her mother's voice, but it also brought up what it would be like when the day came. Violently she shook her head, as if to rid it from the evil thoughts.
"You okay?" her father asked, turning to look at her.
Tina grunted and, seeing all the attention drawn to her, looked straight ahead; her eyes focused on an overhead highway sign attached to a bridge.
North Carolina 10 miles
North Carolina! It took her by surprise. She wondered: Where the heck were they? Wasn't Alexandria in the north part of Virginia? Like near Washington D.C.? She discounted her thoughts and decided not to speak up. After all, what did she know about geography?
Five minutes later, her father pulled the camper into a rest stop, the last before the Carolina border. The roadside rest area had a small vending machine area, an even smaller tourist center, and non-potable water in the restrooms. Tina wandered into the tourist center as her father helped her mother. On the wall she found a map of Central Eastern United States with a fat, red arrow pointing to the border of Virginia and North Carolina: You Are Here!
She searched the map for Alexandria, but couldn't find it. Looking closer, she traced the map with a finger. Thinking Alexandria must be south of the red arrow since they hadn't reached it yet, she scanned the map to the south. Her finger bumped into North Carolina. To the east, between I-95 and the Atlantic Ocean, there wasn't much, and even less to the west.
That's when she wondered if they'd passed Alexandria, like really passed it. Had her father missed it while she and her mother were sleeping?
Following I-95 farther north with her finger, retracing the route they'd taken, toward DC, en-route she froze. The tip of her finger was pressed against the map several inches above the red arrow and below Washington DC. Under it were the words, Alexandria, Virginia.
She was right: They had missed it! They drove right passed it! God, she thought, dad could sometimes be so dumb. It reminded her of the time when he had gone to work wearing two different shoes.
Her goofy father missed the exit … by over 30 miles.
Why wasn't she surprised?
As Tina turned away from the map, her father came into the tourist center pushing her mother in the wheelchair. Tina drummed right over. "You're an idiot!" she blurted, no holds barred, with a wide grin. "You passed Alexandria. By 30 miles!"
Her father looked down at her mother, who, sitting in the wheelchair, craned her neck and returned the look. Her father smiled, sending a heavenly glow across her mother's face. No mistake, it was filled with life.
"I know," her father stated as a matter-of-factly.
Confused, Tina's eyes dropped to the lapel of her mother's navy blazer, where there was a pin of Winnie the Pooh hugging a jar of honey. Pinned behind Pooh, serving as a backdrop, was a familiar bow. It was the bow she had made for her mother when she first learned of her cancer. She had made it from rainbow-colored ribbon. And when the bow was complete, she scribbled four letters in black permanent marker on one of the four loops: W. W. J. D., which stood for, What Would Jesus Do? It was the question the Seguin's had lived by. Anytime they were faced with a trying situation or unknown predicament, they'd ask themselves, What Would Jesus Do? There was always an honest, objective answer. As of late, it was a question they'd asked all too often. Each time the answer was the same … there wasn't any.
Studying the pin on her mother's blazer, Tina's heart began to fill with love. It tingled in warmth when she saw her mother's warm smile and then more so when she looked at her father, who swiped his foot on the floor as if he'd been caught indulging in chocolate minutes before dinnertime, and she realized her childhood dream was coming true. Overcome by emotion, by connection to her parents, and connection to her childhood dream, she was speechless.
She was going to Disney.
Tears of joy welled in her eyes; Tina ran over to her mother, kneeled beside the wheelchair, and embraced her. Between laughter and happiness, more tears flowed.
She was going to Disney… with her mom. Maybe there was a God.
Disney World turned out to be everything the Seguin's had imagined. Tina and Dot had posed for a picture with Winnie the Pooh; really, the trip was one none of them would ever forget.
Especially Tina… her dream came true.
As much fun as they had, as much as they wanted for time to go on, it was time that was against them. It went by too fast, poking its ugly head around every corner. The energy it took for Dot to travel to Florida was taxing. She grew ill, quicker than she would have had they not made the trip. But that was how she wanted to spend her last days. Now it was time to go home.
Paul quickly packed the camper and hit the road for the trip back home. But the return trip proved to be worse he had anticipated. Dot faded fast; she was unable to speak, was highly feverish, leaving little doubt her time was coming. The end was in sight.
Paul drove straight through, stopping only for refueling and an occasional pit stop. Twenty-two hours later, weary and eyes bloodshot, Paul finally pulled into 11 Blunt Drive, Derry, New Hampshire. It couldn't have been soon enough. Life had nearly escaped Dot. But he was thankful to have made it home. That's What Dot Wanted: to see her last moments at home.
He brought Dot into the house and set her up in bed. Her body was limp, and the mere effort to speak was too much.
Tina brought the Winnie the Pooh pin bedside to her mother. It was special, Tina knew; her mother would want it with her in her last seconds. Finding no place to pin it, Tina removed the bow with extreme care by pulling gently on the loose end. It untied cleanly before her eyes. She pinned the Pooh pin to the pillow by her mother's head and then wrapped the rainbow-colored ribbon around her mother's wrist and tied a loose knot. The entire time her mother, weak and frail, hadn't moved. Tina wondered if her mother even knew she was there.
Just then the doctor arrived at the Seguin's with the nurse; all they were able to do was confirm the obvious: Dot was nearing the end.
Paul looked to the doctor for indication of how much time was left. The doctor, refusing to make eye contact, looked at his shoes. "It's going to be soon, I'm afraid," he said.
Paul turned inward, reeling at the thought of life without Dot. He asked himself, What Would Jesus Do? The question banged in his skull like a loose marble. He couldn't concentrate. Too many thoughts, too many things to do, too many questions…
What Would Jesus Do?
There was no answer.
The nurse, coming around the bed to Paul, rested a consoling hand on his shoulder. Startled, Paul looked at the nurse, who looked at Dot and then tapped the metal bar near Dot's limp wrist. She was pointing to Dot's bracelet. "What does WWJD stand for?" she asked with a whisper.
Suddenly Dot, inches from death, shifted in bed. She drew her hand to her mouth and, with what energy she could muster, attempted to speak. Nothing came out. Her lips squeezed shut, obviously frustrated.
But she didn't give up. She tried again to speak, this time managing a mumble, "What Would Jesus Do?"
Her voice, scratchy and congested, was barely audible. But no mistake, Paul knew exactly what she had said. Before him was the woman he loved most, the woman he spent over 20 years of his life with. Seeing the great deal of pain she was going through, seeing the physical toll it took for her to speak, ripped his heart in two. Through her pain – like only Dot could do – she was still with them. What Would Jesus Do? She knew. She knew that Tina's bracelet was on her wrist. Indeed, she knew. She knew it all
What Would Jesus Do?
Again, there was no answer.
Tina and Paul embraced. They stayed that way for a long time. Words weren't needed, for the sadness emanating from their hearts spoke volumes. Neither of them saw nor heard the doctor and nurse slip from the room.
Tina pulled Paul to her mother at bedside, where the three held hands, holding on for dear life – for Dot's dear life.
But it was too late. The energy it took to tell the nurse what WWJD stood for was too much. Life had flushed from her body.
Paul, saddened with loss, drifted within, asking himself, What Would Jesus Do?
There was no ans—.
Paul halted the thought. There was an answer. It had just never come to him before because he hadn't been ready for it, neither Tina. Now they were. And the answer was deep within their hearts. As Dot departed, that's where she left it, in a place where she knew they'd find it.
Amid the last tears, they found the answer right where She had left it. In their hearts. There were no more tears to cry. But that was okay, for they finally knew What Jesus Would Do. Jesus would go on, to hold those memories of Dot that mattered most, to keep her near and dear to the heart, but to go on. Move forward.
That's What Jesus Would Do because That's What Dot Would (want them to) Do.
Dedicated to Dot Seguin and those who knew her.
You have touched more people than you would have ever imagined, and now that you are in the heavens, unselfishly giving your life to those in need, please know that you are not forgotten … God knows, you are not forgotten. Your message has come across; I'm honored, and I thank you, to be chosen to provide Paul and Tina with it. Sleep well.
–Thor Kirleis, March 23, 1999
Please note: With this story it is my intention to recognize the life of Dot Seguin, the wife of Paul Seguin, a dear friend of mine. I wish to show support and respect to Paul; his daughter, Tina, who Paul has told me all about; and his family. It is not my intention to make fun of, mock, or ridicule in any way, shape or form, or to hurt anyone's feelings. In a sense, I was asked to deliver a message. It is a message from above, that Paul and Tina and family, should go on -- hold on to those memories -- but go on. This is What Dot Would (want you to) Do! It is always easier said than done, but always know we are behind you every step of the way.