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Family photo
Maddy Grayless

This is the last of nine winners in the Deseret News annual Christmas writing contest, "Christmas I Remember Best."

Her name was Maddy, my 8-year-old middle child. She was beautiful and empathetic, caring and energetic.

We had just moved to Colorado from Kansas, and it was Christmas 2014. Since she was a third-grader now, we had a talk about Santa being an idea of loving and serving those around us. That Christmas, she made me promise to wake her up late to help “be” Santa.

I remember tiptoeing into the bedroom she shared with her little sister and whispering to wake her up. She stumbled down the stairs, rubbing her eyes, and then sat with me on our living room floor, so excited that she was getting to help fill the stockings and put out presents.

A year later, Christmas of 2015, was the one I will never forget.

In April, Maddy had started to complain of knee pain. Six weeks later after several doctor visits and worsening health, she was finally diagnosed with aggressive osteosarcoma, a childhood cancer, on June 2. I spent a week with her in Children’s Hospital in Denver as further tests were run. We were told there was nothing they could do, as the cancer that started in her knee was now in all four limbs and filling her lungs.

We brought her home on hospice on June 8. The next week was a blur of visitors, medications, and a Make-A-Wish party, which Maddy called her “Goodbye Maddy” party. In the hospital, during some of the hardest conversations of my life with my little girl, she told me in a moment of profound sadness that she just wanted to make a difference.

Our Primary presidency was inspired, at the suggestion of a friend from Kansas, to start a Maddy’s Mighty Minions Facebook page where those who loved Maddy could honor her by doing a random act of kindness. I also kept a Facebook page on her progress. In just those 2 weeks, we had over 17,000 people join the Minions page. Her progress page received hundreds of thousands of visitors.

My tender-hearted, beautiful, and once full-of-life daughter took her last breath at home on the morning of June 16, 2015, exactly two weeks to the day after she was diagnosed. Her story continued to spread around the globe, as newspaper and online articles and TV news interviews were shared from almost every state in the United States to Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South America, and even South Africa.

As the first Christmas without her rolled around that year, I was still consumed with grief. The thought of celebrating Christmas without her was excruciating, and I desperately wanted it to just be over. When you lose a child, you experience not just their loss, but hundreds of tiny losses — the next loose tooth, the next holiday, the next birthday, fourth grade, fifth grade, the first crush, high school, college, a wedding, grandchildren.

My heart was heavy, and I was taking it an hour, sometimes a minute, at a time. One night before Christmas, we received a wrapped present on the porch. We opened it to find a wooden Nativity set, still wrapped in plastic. As I looked closer, I realized there were two deliberately cut holes in the plastic and two pieces missing. I thought it was odd, but we had so many people still dropping things by, I was barely functioning, and I just didn’t have the energy to pursue the minor mystery.

A couple of days later, I visited the cemetery. There at Maddy’s headstone were two tiny wrapped presents. When I opened them, there were the missing Nativity pieces: the baby Jesus and the angel.

The intended message was not lost on me.

As I stood at my 8-year-old’s snow-covered grave, I wept as I was reminded that angels were in attendance at the Savior’s birth and at his resurrection. Because of the Savior, I was not walking this dark and heavy path alone. He was walking it with me, and angels were surrounding me and my children.

2 comments on this story

Because he was born, and because he died and lives again, I will be with Maddy again one day.

Maddy’s Mighty Minions page and the Maddy the Mighty page still have thousands of followers three years later. She did make a difference, even if it was in a way different than what she and I both hoped.

I display that Nativity set every year, and it never fails to remind me what Christmas is really about. The gift of the Son of God, and what he did for us. Her name is Maddy, and because of Jesus Christ, she is mine forever.