She'd buckled her daughter Ellie in for many car rides before, so doing so for a final ride felt "normal" to mom Sarah Walton of Spanaway, Washington.
Walton's daughter Ellie was just 4 when she died of brain cancer in January, and the Facebook photo of Ellie's boxed ashes strapped into her car seat broke the hearts of many who saw it.
“You should be here,” Ellie's mom wrote in the post that accompanied the sad picture.
“We made you a custom urn, you would love it baby girl," she wrote. "Unfortunately temporary urns are just boxes, that wasn't good enough for you, so I decorated it, until your perfect urn comes in. Driving you home the other day, I was scared, but buckling you in felt normal. Even though none of this is normal, none of this is right.”
Sarah Walton spoke to TODAY Parents about that emotional drive home. She said that it was a snap decision to place the box containing Ellie’s ashes in the car seat.
“Honestly, it felt natural for me to do it, I couldn’t hold her or set her next to me, what if I had to stop fast? I couldn’t imagine her anywhere but in her car seat,” she said.
For Sarah Walton and her family, including Ellie’s older sister Ava, fighting cancer has been a part of their lives since Ellie was diagnosed when she was only four months old. Their lives were filled with treatments, including over 28 rounds of chemotherapy, radiation and numerous surgeries. But none of that stopped them from enjoying the short time they had with their little girl.
“Ellie was perfect, and so outgoing and loving,” said Sarah. “She gave the best hugs! She always wore her glasses upside down, and loved pickles! 'The Nightmare before Christmas' was on replay all day, and the 'Trolls' soundtrack was what she would jam out to! Her laugh was contagious, her voice you could listen all day to, and her love was so strong, it could break even the biggest man!”
Ellie died on January 15, and the pain is still raw.
“We hurt. Badly,” Sarah told TODAY. “She was my whole life, my every day, my constant, and that was ripped away because many turn a blind eye! We will always be a family of four, death can’t take that from me. I will always scream her name from mountaintops, and I know she will always be with me.”
Sarah ended her emotional Facebook post with the hashtag #MoreThan4, which refers to the campaign to increase funding for pediatric cancer research. Only four percent of all cancer funding goes toward researching childhood cancers like the one that claimed Ellie's life.
“I hope that people will realize how blessed they are, how much life shouldn’t be taken for granted, and how hard these kids fight for a life that most would be willing to throw away,” said Sarah. “I want people to look at every day as a blessing, as I do. Even without Ellie, every day is a blessing, because I got four of the best years of my life thanks to that beautiful little girl.”
According to the American Cancer Society, after accidents, cancer is the leading cause of death in children ages 1 to 14. Childhood cancers make up less than 1 percent of all cancers diagnosed each year, with about 10,000 new cases diagnosed each year. And while the survival rate has increased overall, the rate of diagnosis has not decreased in the past 20 years.
Sarah hopes that people will spread awareness and donate money to research.
“Make childhood cancer a priority, write a letter to your major or congressman, beg for change, change that these kids deserve so badly!” she urged. “Fred Hutch in Seattle is a great place to donate.”