Kathy and I still struggle with the loss of our daughter Ellie.
It is strange to have loved so deeply our little one that we hardly knew. A strong bond developed between us in the few months that we did know her—one that will last a lifetime.
We have several routines that we have developed to remember Eleanor. Most mornings and evenings we fold a crane for her. If I forget or don’t have time, I try to make it up by folding an extra one. Especially in the beginning, we would write messages to her in every one. I don’t do that every time now, but it is still nice to write a little note to her: a snippet about my day, something that happened recently, or just sweet nothings. Our counselor compared them to baby talk—we often talk to babies as if they can understand us about various nothingness. Below is a very simple one that I shared with friends.
Candles are another object we use to remember Ellie. We have a several candle holders around the house (including the one pictured below) that we light in her memory. We also asked our small group to burn at candle when we get together every week. We don’t make a big deal about the candle—it simply burns on the table as a reminder of her—but I am always happy and honored to see the candles every week!
We also have a shrine for Eleanor. Our coat rack has a shelf where we put a couple photographs of her, as well as her ashes, and some flowers. We decided to have flowers in her honor for at least the first year. There is a tradition in our church to welcome new babies in the congregation with a single stem rose. We started out with single stem roses, but transitioned in to various other cut flowers since good roses are hard to find in the winter. For a while earlier this year we had an orchid on the shelf, but I felt that this did not fulfill the same purpose. More than having beautiful flowers to look at, it is the act of maintaining, watering, replacing that commemorates Ellie. The orchid became another decoration sitting on a shelf where the cut flowers are a persistent reminder that we need to care for each other and nurture each other, as well as a reminder of the beauty of life and its impermanence.
Besides cranes, candles, and shrines, Kathy and I have been spending quality time together, whether it is breakfast at Rachel’s Bread most every Saturday, trying to eat lunch together as often as possible, planning a business that will allow hopefully us to work together, or simply cuddling on the couch watching a movie. We have grown closer over the past 8+ months, even though I thought we were pretty close before that. We support each other, provide space, offer shoulders for crying, plan our future together, and share thoughts on life and love.
While I would rather have Ellie back, I am very grateful for all that has happened since she left us, and I am especially grateful that Kathy and I have grown closer together instead of falling apart.
I want to leave you with two things. First: a thought. We love Ellie and we enjoy thinking about her and talking about her. Please feel free to ask us how we are and to reflect on her life with us. If we are not in the mood, we will let you know. If we are having a good day, you will not ruin it by asking. I recently sent an email to a friend explaining this:
Ellie is part of our lives, even though she is not with us. We are proud of her, and so glad that she is part of our lives. Obviously we would rather things were different in some respects, but we don't regret the choice we made. We are indeed trying to move on and trying to figure out what it means to be parents, and what it means to be parents without a child. Dealing with situations and learning and growing is life.
We very much appreciate when you check in with us--good day or bad. Good days are when I think of Ellie and remember her with fondness and the mental baggage of losing her doesn't matter. Bad days are when I think of Ellie and wonder why me, fate sucks, I wish it was different, etc. etc. I think about Ellie on both days--and on neutral days for that matter.
In other words, a good day doesn't mean that I am not thinking about Ellie, and when you ask she will suddenly be in my mind and become a burden.
Second: a poem. Some friends read this at Ellie’s memorial service. I reread it and wanted to share it with you.
I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz
by Pablo Neruda
I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.
I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way
than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.