‘The doctor said, ‘We’ve tried everything, but we couldn’t restart her heart.’ I had to make the choice. Continue or ‘let her go.’: Mom loses daughter to sepsis, honor daughter’s ‘light’ with kindness

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“Who knew a 5-year-old girl could touch so many hearts, bring a community together and pack a church for her funeral? I guess God did. Scarlett was meek and shy. Her body begged to be ushered through life and people gladly took a motherly role towards her. She was easy to love, soft-spoken, with a sweet stutter and her face and smile radiated light. She was my sunshine, and that’s what I called her.

Little girl with sepsis posing with hand on her chin while holding American Girl Doll
Courtesy of Holly Middleton

Many people have told of a shared experience they had with her. The moment SHE took THEIR hand. Her guardians would offer to hold her hand to help her navigate life, but she was often too shy to take it. It was only when she really trusted someone, that she would reach up and surprisingly grab their hand. People have told me that was the first time they felt her light. She beamed. She lit up for everyone, especially her special people, the people who held her heart.

Any picture you see of her, you can see the light I speak of. It’s not only in her eyes or her smile, it shines through her whole face. She, like other 5-year-olds, had ornery moments and some fire to her. When she was trying to get a rise out of us, she’d give us her ‘stink face,’ where she’d purse her lips and scrunch up her nose in a playful way. With so much light in such a young girl, her death seems that much darker.

Toddler with sepsis wearing bathing suit in yard while holding watering can
Courtesy of Holly Middleton

We had just been to Disney Springs that weekend celebrating her birthday. She got a magical princess makeover and she WAS Princess Ariel that day. Little did we know she was practicing that day to be a Princess in Heaven a few days later, reigning under Jesus Christ, the King of Kings.

Little girl with sepsis smiling while sitting on couch wearing a princess Ariel costume
Courtesy of Holly Middleton
Mother smiles in selfie with her daughter who has sepsis and is dressed in Princess Ariel costume
Courtesy of Holly Middleton

We came home from Disney Springs and the following evening she threw up a little and had a fever. On day two of having an upset stomach and fever, I took her to her doctor. She was so lethargic I carried her into his office. We were sent home with Zofran and were told it is just a stomach virus – 20 hours later she was dead. I called the ambulance when I thought something wasn’t right. She died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. Thankfully, I was with her.

Mother kisses her daughter with sepsis on cheek in selfie while wearing matching outfits
Courtesy of Holly Middleton

The Children’s hospital tried for an hour… maybe more, maybe less, to revive her, but she couldn’t pull through. Her heart never started again. I remember the lead doctor telling me they tried everything they could, but they couldn’t restart her heart. I had to make the choice if they should continue, or as they suggested, ‘let her go.’ I said the hardest word I’ve ever had to say: ‘okay.’ As they stopped compressions and the beeping slowed to a stop I sang, ‘You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are grey, you’ll never know dear, how much I love you, please don’t take my sunshine away.’ In that moment I refused to let her light stop shining. I’d have to find a way to keep her light alive, even if it meant I’d have to carry it around with me for the rest of my life.

Little girl with sepsis smiles with glow stick jewelry on in front of body of water and fire works
Courtesy of Holly Middleton

The rest of that day was spent breaking the news of her death to her loved ones. All reacted in horror; our pastors came to her death bed and prayed with us. We spent around 10 hours holding her lifeless, yet still beautiful body in the ER, just trying to memorize her every detail and hug her enough to last a lifetime. I combed her hair out of her eyes the ways she did for me and I cleaned her up the way I had done hundreds of times before. I knew she was in Heaven with Jesus, but it was confirmed to me when someone in a prayer group out-of-state who was praying for her had a vision of her dancing on the gold-paved streets of Heaven, before anyone knew she was dead, but clearly after she ascended to Heaven.

Husband stands behind wife holding her at daughter with sepsis funeral as they look up at large cross
Hannah Sanchez Photography

In those hours of holding her an idea came to mind; a way to keep her light shining on Earth, even though her spirit was in Heaven. I’d do something she loved! I would use her light to make other people happy! I would see her light shining on other people’s faces! What did she love? She loved picking flowers and bringing them to me, because she knew it made me happy and made my heart smile. Flowers are such a wonderful gift because they are simply a vessel of love. They aren’t meant to last forever, they are just meant to be a token of beauty and love. That’s what I’d do. I’d buy hundreds of flowers every week and pass them out as random acts of kindness to strangers or people needing a little sunshine. I’d carry a bag of flowers with me everywhere I went, and I’d pass out lovely flowers in exchange for seeing Scarlett light up their face with a smile. I’d litter cities with beautiful flowers and create chains of smiles that reach across the ocean.

Little girl who has passed away from sepsis stands smiling with hands on her hips in kitchen
Courtesy of Holly Middleton

We are creating a charity in her lovely name called Scarlett’s Sunshine. A GoFundMe page has helped this dream become a reality, but we have a lot more fundraising to do to keep it going. If I run out of funds, you’ll find me once a week at the grocery store, picking up a bouquet to give away in her name, just to see Scarlett’s sunshine again. As I’ve already started this mission of passing out flowers, I have received daily and weekly messages and emails from people letting me know how that simple flower made their day or that they needed that flower at that exact moment as a pick-me-up through a hard time.

How GREAT is our God! He gave me an angel on earth for 5 years. He picked ME to be her Mommy. I got to hear her say ‘I love you Mommy’ countless times and I got thousands of hugs and kisses from an angel. I am so lucky and blessed I got to learn her heart and to know that she loved and experienced life so richly. She gave as much love as she got. Even though I am comforted by those thoughts, I am still experiencing agonizing grief. I know what I lost and what the world lost, and it is devastating.

Little boy sits next to little girl with sepsis' coffin holding his hands together crying
Hannah Sanchez Photography

The first week after her death, I couldn’t swallow food and just vomited. Grief is the unchosen path I reluctantly walk and I wish the loss of a child on no one. I have been in deep depression and crawled into a wine bottle for about a month. That led to severe depression and a 2-day stay at the psychiatric ward and now my sobriety. The thing that keeps me moving everyday and gets me out of the house is Scarlett’s charity, Scarlett’s Sunshine, and the work I am doing for it by spreading her sunshine and seeing her light on others’ faces.

How did she die? It is still a mystery. We are still awaiting autopsy results, but they know it is was sepsis. We don’t know how she got it or why it affected her so rapidly. We have many questions, some which will never be answered.

Little boy rests his head on coffin crying while woman stands beside him with her hand on his head
Hannah Sanchez Photography
Little boy sits in front of coffin resting his hands on it
Hannah Sanchez Photography

One answer I am sure of, is that Scarlett Middleton was loved exuberantly, and she loved completely in return. The saying is true, ‘The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.’ Scarlett didn’t just learn this… she taught it.”

Little girl who has since passed from sepsis smiles at restaurant table beside two American Girl Dolls
Courtesy of Holly Middleton

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Holly Middleton of St. Petersburg, Florida. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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