Our Greatest Fear

What is your greatest fear? What is it for you – that thing that gives you shudders just to think of it? Thunderstorms? Dogs, snakes, spiders? Heights or maybe confined places? Perhaps it is something psychological like public speaking, failure, or being alone. Most of us are afraid of death. Everyone has something they fear in varying degrees – even Chuck Norris.

Your list of fears might be long or it might be short.

While I don’t love snakes, I know my greatest fear is being eaten by a shark. What are the odds, right? I go to the beach one week out of the year and stay in the surf. Oh, I wade out and play. But I always I keep a wary eye on the horizonjaws-poster and make sure there is at least one person bobbing between me and the deep blue. I call him chum and he is my harbinger. When the shark pack pulls him under, I figure I’ll have enough warning to swim to safety.

As a child of the seventies, I blame Jaws. Sharks didn’t exist for me before then. I am not sure if I had yet visited a beach when I saw the movie. In my young mind, the Florida coast became full of twenty-five foot man-eaters that could beach themselves for the right meal. A boy doesn’t just get over that. Yes, sharks are my biggest fear.

At least, they used to be my greatest fear.

As grieving parents, my wife and I are now living out the greatest fear of many – the fear of losing a child. Except when at the beach, I am an eternal optimist. I never in my wildest dreams thought this would happen to us. This sort of thing happens to other people and we are the type who rally to support them. Even when Kylie was diagnosed with cancer and the prognosis hovered at 30%, I didn’t waver in my belief that we would win. I wish I could take my chances with a shark instead because I can avoid saltwater and remove any possibility of attack. Unfortunately, we fell on the wrong side of the percentage and the resulting grief is much like a shark. It is cold, unpredictable, and unrelenting at times. It uses triggers, but doesn’t require them. It sets traps, lies in wait, and springs at inopportune and random times. Losing a child is something to be feared.

At one point, we sat down and listed the things we lost when Kylie died. We lost joy, sweetness, hugs, our peacemaker. We lost patience, enthusiasm, and energy. Our artist is gone. A lovely soprano and incredible actress has left the stage. We no longer have an affiliation with our beloved school – it was stripped from us early. We lost potential… seemingly unlimited potential. We lost a great deal – yet I find I don’t fear most types of loss much anymore.

In fact, I don’t think I fear much of anything. I still have a healthy respect for the killers of the deep, but even death has a strange allure because my baby will be waiting there.

You know what I do fear?

I fear you’ll forget her.


I fear that her image will get fuzzy and fade away.

And that is what I believe is the greatest fear of anyone who has lost a child: that he or she will be forgotten. We fear that because their lives were cut short, they won’t matter enough for anyone to remember. Our children didn’t live to accomplish what they were supposed to accomplish – the things that would make them memorable. So how will the world ever mark their short time here on earth?

That is why so many foundations and charities are created in children’s names. It is why songs, poems, and books are written in their honor. In the great search for the meaning of a life cut short, we parents yearn for another soul to share our mission to remember.

Do you remember Kylie? Do you have another friend who has lost a child? I can’t speak for them, but I love hearing stories about her – things I didn’t know before. Not only does it tell me that she was special to that person, it lets me know that someone else is helping to keep her flame from being extinguished… that I’m not alone in this awful vacuum. I just want to know that even though she left her potential unfulfilled, her life mattered.

So here is my point and my charge. If you know a bereaved parent, tell them you remember. It doesn’t have to be much. Just something that will let them know they aren’t the lone bearer of the candle.

Someone saw a play recently and went out of their way to tell me, “Kylie would have loved that!” I later saw a friend of hers who told me how Kylie had made up a pretend brother in the second grade. Both were small gestures, yet meant the world to me. They know… They remember… she’s with them, too. Her life had meaning to more than just me because here memory remains clear to someone else.


Our fears may not be the same, but we all fear something. You can quite possibly allay another’s greatest fear today by assuring them their child will not be forgotten. It may not seem like much, but it may keep them above water for one more day.

And we all should stay above the tide because I know what is lurking down below…

58 thoughts on “Our Greatest Fear

  1. Those of us at Angels Among Us will never forget Kylie. While our memory was just a brief moment in time, it made a huge impact on us. I still see “Kylie’s cat” or “the time we took the kitten to Kylie” sprinkled throughout conversation on our internal FB pages. Simply because of availability, I was the lucky one who got to meet your daughter and your family. I can still see the smile on her face and I see it every time I come across a tortoiseshell cat (which is often! ;)) and every time these notifications arrive in my inbox. Even the color yellow brings her to mind. Kylie made an impact on so many people that she never even met. She touched people’s hearts and THAT is an accomplishment that many do not achieve in their lifetimes – no matter how long. It isn’t something you ever forget.

    1. Oh Kim. We can be in the mutual admiration society because you’ll never know what Eliza (or Liza as Kylie told us to call her) has meant to us. Thank you for your willingness to bring her. She is a therapy cat for Robin and a joy to have. She’s got quite an attitude too, but loves to play and be held. Those naps with Robin have gotten her through some hard days. So not only did she mean the world to Kylie, she continues to be a great blessing for Robin. Thank you.

  2. Mark, you write in such a way that sometimes I have to pull my belt as tight as it can go – just to make sure I don’t melt into nothing right where I sit. I found that belt biting halfway through this post. I have no words to “help” nor would I insult you all by trying. The best I can do is tell how you, Kylie, your whole family have changed me. Forever. Thank you ((hugs))

    1. Thanks Paul. I try to give you a few belly laughs in between. But always stay real and real hurts sometimes. So pull the belt tight, but let it out for next week! Blessings.

  3. I’m very sorry that you and your family have to continue on without Kylie. Her smiling face tells me she was an exceptionally wonderful child. You wrote a beautiful post in her honor and I doubt that you will ever forget or that memories will fade. I hope those memories will bring you peace.

  4. Mark, I am family to the lovely Candace Smith and her parents. I have been following your posts as well as others on Facebook since this journey began. I never look at something yellow that I don’t embrace that beautiful smile on your daughters face and look up to say..God bless you sweet Kylie💛

  5. Beautiful piece of writing. Kylie and your family have made a lasting impression on me. We are another osteo family still slogging through treatment, and I am humbled and grateful that we can. Kylie and her desire to help others, to sing on stage, to share her light and life with others and to make a difference in the pediatric cancer world is a legacy that I personally will never forget. The hope of a future with better treatments for children fighting this horrible disease is what keeps us moving forward. Thank you for posting this and for taking the time to share Kylie with all of us.

  6. Mark, one special thing I remember about Kylie is that she was an early riser. When we visited you, I would wake up earlier than anyone and take my Bible and study book to your kitchen and study at the bay window. Before anyone else would wake up, Kylie would come and sit in my lap and we would talk. A wonderful memory. We didn’t talk about anything special, just what was on our minds. I miss that!!!

  7. Reblogged this on realchange4u and commented:
    Mark thank you for your post. It meant Quite a bit too Carolyn and I. Kelly’s birthday was the 15th of July. She left is on the 30th of July last year. We are getting ready to set her memorial stone. I lot to write about just not today. Thinking of your family and lifting you up in prayers.

  8. Thanks Mark. We are praying for your family buddy. When your posts come in I am reminded of Kylie and your family . I know it is hard. The amazing thing to me is how Jesus gets us through. Kylie had a precious smile. I didn’t know her. Our Kelly would have been 28 this July 15th she left us on the 30th of this month.

    Bless you my brother

  9. Mark, This Was Beautifully Written…We Will Never Forget Kylie. We See Her In Everything That Is Yellow. We See Her Every Time We See Or Hear Anything From The Disney Movie, Aladdin. My Son Often Says…”Mom, I Know Kylie Would Have Loved That.” We Never Met Her In Person, But Her Memory Lives In Our Hearts For Forever.
    Oh, ….And By The Way, My Son Said To Tell You, “Mark, Sharks Live In Fresh Water Too.” 🙂 🙂 🙂

  10. Mark, I remember Kylie. I read her website several times and there was never such a joyous spirit in the face of such a terrible evil. She never let that be what it was about. You were blessed to have her and u r still blessed to hold her memory so clearly. We all are.
    Kate Bortell

      1. Hi Mark I am very well thank you for asking. Kylie was one of those people others aspire to be like. She will live on through others without question. And now she knows God. I have a brother who is also gone and when I think of him in the presence of the Lord I’m almost envious. Kylie knows what we all wonder about now. And remember your time apart is not forever. God Bless. 🌻🌻

  11. I have not lost a child – I do have some friends that have. I do make a point of sharing fond memories with them that I have of their children. I can see why your blog is called Smiley Kylie – WOW that smile HAD to light up the room!! 🙂 Thank you for the reminder.

  12. A few weeks ago I was at the rose park and while photographing a beautiful yellow rose I thought of Kylie 🙂 You will never forget her nor have a fuzzy image of her. My greatest fear is coming down with Alzheimer’s like what claimed my mother. After that it’s losing my husband, the kids, and my only sweet grandson.

    1. Oh thank you. Yellow flowers bring her back to me. I share that fear as Alzheimer’s claimed my grandmother and seems to have a foothold in my family.

  13. My son was only 21 months old when he died, so he didn’t have any “friends” to remember him. I too worry that people will forget about him. Because of his tumor (he also had STUPID cancer) he was not able to eat, but he did enjoy and Oreo Cookie now and again. Just about every week, at least one friend posts a recipe or an Oreo something to me on Facebook, and tell me “I saw this and thought of Alexander”. that always makes me smile.

    My fear now is that something bad will happen to my other 2 children. I try not to live in that fear – but it is there more than it is not.


    1. I’m sorry for your loss. I love that your friends send you Oreo recipes. We had dirt desert yesterday for a birthday complete with Oreos! And I completely understand that fear. We share it. When something so great has been taken, it is like nothing is beyond losing anymore. There is nothing sacred – we look at God and say, “What now?” I hope that subsides in time.

  14. Mark, I probably intuitively knew the vast importance of keeping that special memory alive, but you have put into indelible words to never ever forget. I pray that I never need this unspeakable knowledge, but now I have it, just in case. Thank you for sharing your heart and your infinite memories of precious Kylie. I so wish I had known her so I could share back with you. You say you have lost joy, and you have, but joy will once again rekindle your spirit; it will just take time, and you will once again be flooded with pure joy. This is God’s way of saving us from eternal pain, which He would never want us to endure. This sick suffering emotional pain will be replaced with joy again. Blessings and love to your family.

    Vicki Crowder

  15. Thank you, so much for sharing your Kylie with us. Gives me hope, as I feel once again, I AM NOT ALONE. only wish this could be under different circumstances. Love your writing, This life is sad, yet you offer so much hope. We shall never forget our precious Children..

  16. Mark, learning about your blog introduced me to Kylie. While I know her only through some older blogs, I have read, you probably would be surprised at how many times, I replay THE NEW YORK VIDEO.
    Knowing personally families, who have lost a child to Cancer, I carry many memories, dates, special treasures, colors they liked around in my head. I do make an effort to let the family know, I will never forget their child. On a personal note of my own, I found your blog shortly after my friend died. She left 4 kids 5-15, and a husband. We are all still grieving her death and always will feel the void. Your blog makes such a difference. It is a gift to me. Margy

    1. Thank you Margy. I’m sorry for the loss of your friend. That’s a whole different dynamic, but I’m sure there are ways to keep her memories alive to him as well.

  17. I have been following some of your posts on Kylie. I did not know her but throughyour posts, I do now. I will remember her. And pray for her soul in Heaven. But I know she is happy. So I will pray for you. It may be a while before you see her again, but see her again you will. Rest assured.

  18. Mark, this was an awesome article. I wish I had something about Kylie to share with you. Unfortunately, I met her and you and your family through her illness and your loss of her. As you know, I was drawn to your story because of the loss of my daughter and only child Ashley when she was 20. I always shared your same fear of Ashley being forgotten because it seems once the memorial service is over, everybody else goes on about their life and you are left with your grief. I’m grateful that after 19-1/2 years, I have continued to dream about her. Early on it was upsetting to wake up and find it was a dream but as time went on, I love getting those hugs and hearing I love you. Gary, who was not her dad, has been wonderful! He is very sensitive to my feelings and every year on her Heaven anniversary (7/2) and her birthday (9/11), he always gets me flowers and a sweet card. He does the same thing on Mother’s Day along with others that remember me on Mother’s Day, I thought of Robin on Mother’s Day and you on Father’s Day because I know that even though you have other children, they don’t fill that void of Kylie in your lives! But I hope you and Robin always dream sweet dreams. I will not forget her and your family. Love and blessings to you all. We will see them again

  19. this is beautiful mark. what a wonderful suggestion. i’ve done this within my own family. we will never forget kylie, as you are the embodiment of her and the keeper of her flame. she has left a lasting impact on all of us, even those who never met us in person. sharks are nothing compared to this.

  20. What an important post! I will share and share this! Our friends in VA are suffering the recent loss of their son in his 20’s who took his own life on March 7, 2015…WE are aching with them, and I hear your words in their hearts. Thanks for the reminder to speak his name and recount happy memories with them, using his name, whenever we have a chance. Kylie sounds like an amazing child…Bless you all…

  21. You have a gift, Mark, for communicating. Thank you for taking the time to write this and educate us on how to be a blessing to those who have lost a child. As a parent, it is our greatest fear. We remember Kylie – beautiful on the inside and out!

  22. I have been blessed today by reading about your fears and about your daughter Kylie….a few days before my precious son’s birthday, on the 26th. He would have been 36. All the “would have beens” are what seems to take over at times. It has been six years for us. People in our own family seem to have forgotten significant dates that are painful and come around yearly. Stupidly, they think we should probably be “over it.” That will never happen as long as i live. And you are so right…we don’t fear death anymore when we already have our children waiting for our arrival. God bless your broken hearts as you find your way through these torrential waters of grief….there is always something lurking but I do know God sees us through and presents us with awesome signs and wonders that allow us to know, “it is well.”

    1. I’m glad you stopped by and read. No we will never get over it, will we? I’ve heard it compared to a man who loses his arm in an accident. He lives, he breathes and learns to function with one arm. But he is never whole again. Blessings to you and I am truly sorry for your loss.

  23. Reblogged this on In the Wake of Suicide….trying to understand and commented:
    This is a rough week building up to a significant date…July 26th. Our son was born and then died….I can hardly write the word “died.” After six years it is still difficult to conceive. I have been blessed to find this post through realchange4u blogger, Tom. My heart goes out to all of those whose fear of losing a child has come to fruition. It makes life longer and harder…more painful. My fear of dying has been changed because my child has already experienced it. He will be waiting for me instead of me waiting for him.

    Please read the post and do not forget those who have lost a child. You can only do the right thing by acknowledging their names and the way they affected your life no matter how little you think this may seem. I love hearing the smallest of details in the way my son affected those around him. For now, it is all that I have.

  24. Mark, simply lifting you and Robin and your entire family up today. It is obvious by the comments here, your sweet Kylie will never be forgotten. I pray our gracious God will comfort you, and bring some of the things you lost back in a new way.
    Bless you all.

  25. Wow, what a beautifully written piece. I’m so sorry you lost your daughter. I recently lost my dog, and I felt so lucky that I had my blog to commemorate her. It’s so great that you have your blog as one more way to keep Kylie’s memory alive. I’m sure she touched many people’s lives. Sending peace and comfort to you.

  26. Thank you so much for writing this. I found it on themighty.com. This Saturday will be 13 years since our daughter, Liam, died a few months short of her 14th birthday. Every year when I post about the memorial service I am so touched to read the comments of the people who knew her who say “I remember her, I think of her often, etc.”

  27. Mark, I have just read this on a Caring Bridge site honoring the valiant struggle of Rob Brisco, 20, who lost his battle a little over 5 months ago now. His dad, like you, finds writing a source of comfort(?) in dealing. I just wanted to share that when I was 5, I lost my best friend to cancer and to this day I think of her always and I will be 60 soon. Your daughter will always be remembered. Peace to you.

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