Friday, January 02, 2009

Elena's Tree

Nana and Papa added some extra Christmas joys to your place this year. A gingerbread house, a snowman, a little white fence with some garland. But most importantly your tree was there. The tree that they put all of your ornaments on every year as their way of saying "Merry Christmas" and "We love you." The tree that has stood just below your headstone for six years now.

We miss having you here to wake up with Zaya on Christmas morning. To toast apple cider with us at midnight on New Year's Eve. To throw your arms around my neck and give me a skinny-arm squeeze.

I don't visit your place as often as I should. But I love you forever. And you're with me always. It will be another year of many blessings for our family, but it will also be another year without you.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Forest Through the Trees

I believe in the divine. I've experienced it a handful of times in my life, primarily in the more recent years. The most obvious of these encounters was the birth of my daughter. There is something about experiencing new life and death, beauty and tragedy, almost simultaneously that reminds you you're not the one pulling the strings.

Consequently, Elena has been the cornerstone of most of the other divine experiences I've had. Because of her short life, I have met and befriended some amazing, compassionate souls who enrich my life every day. The boldest example of her influence came upon meeting the grandparents of another angel baby named Elena. About three years ago, they had called me to get a bracelet for their daughter, who had just given birth to her own child, a stillborn baby girl. They arrived and entered my home very tentatively, unsure of what to expect, still overcome with grief themselves. After about an hour or so of sharing stories of loss, they rose to leave. I hugged them both goodbye, but my hug with Elena's grandfather was no ordinary embrace. It was a powerful experience and turning point for the both of us. From him I felt the release of anger, a return to hope. And for myself, a new understanding of purpose.

Divinity struck again recently, appropriately enough on Make a Difference Day this year. October 28th. It was the end of a very packed month for the Fund and for our family. I had been feeling like I was trudging through weekdays just to make it through each event-filled weekend. Each day that passed was another mark on my checklist. And then came the unexpected. We had packed everything up having had a great gathering of volunteers, family and friends. Jon even wrapped up the flowers that had adorned the tables. We decided we would take them to Elena's grave.

Arriving at Babyland in the cemetery, I saw several parked cars and then the distinct green tent came into view. A funeral was in process. From where I parked, it was clear the funeral was happening very near to Elena's gravesite. Not only that, it was set up facing her direction. My first instinct was to leave and not disturb the family. But the next thought I had was, "I want to know about that baby." Jon was having the same thoughts, so we elected to walk to the rear of the funeral and listen in. Immediately upon seeing that tiny white casket, I fell apart. It was Elena's funeral all over again. The pink flowers, the white satin, the looks of pain and confusion on every face.

It was a short service, everyone started to head back to their cars. Jon pointed out that the flowers we brought for Elena were in two bunches. I wanted to give one to the mother of this baby, but wasn't sure it would be good to approach. Instead I tracked down the minister who had performed the service. "Excuse me...I don't know this family. My husband and I just came to bring flowers to our own baby's grave. But I'd like to give them to the mother." The minister responded, "Come with me. She is my niece." He walked me right up to Sarah and introduced me. "This woman has lost a baby too." Sarah and I hugged immediately and wept openly. "I'm so sorry," I told her. "So, so sorry." She thanked me profusely, said she was overwhelmed to be approached by a stranger that way. I told her I didn't want to keep her but gave her the flowers for her baby, Rachel. And then I stepped back to Elena's grave where I had placed the second bunch of flowers.

It was in that instant that I realized how significant the placement of Elena's place was. Her headstone was immediately adjacent to the burial set up for Rachel. The green indoor/outdoor carpeting was laid so that it covered all of the headstones near Elena's, but her's was in plain view. It was as if she were sitting right there, watching over this new little one being ushered to heaven. I knelt and cried, felt a little like I was outside of my body for awhile.

Within a few minutes, someone walked up next to me. I turned to see Sarah there. She said, "I wanted to talk to you before you leave. I...don't know how to feel." I stood up and hugged her and we talked for quite awhile. She asked questions, I learned about her family. I found out Rachel was born at 26 weeks and lived for 5 days. Sarah had spent a good deal of the pregnancy on bedrest. She was feeling guilty that her body did this to her baby. She had this look of desperation, needing to reach out to something or someone. She introduced me to her husband and said she wanted to call me. I gave her my card and said, "Anytime." I hugged them both before they left to join the rest of the family. And then I stood there, in awe, still not totally in touch with what had happened.

This was clearly my reminder. It was God saying to me, "Remember I always have a plan. Remember I'm always working. Even when you feel exhausted, run down...I'm there. And I love you." It was exactly the message I needed. It was a crystal clear view of what the whole month was about. It was divine.

I think divine opportunities come up at different times for everyone. The sad thing is that when we're focused on the wrong things, we miss them. I'm still overwhelmed when I think about this recent encounter. We could have arrived minutes later and everyone would have been gone. The funeral could have been set up completely covering Elena's gravesite. The minister could have been non-responsive to me. The flowers could have been in just one bunch. But we didn't, and it wasn't and he was and they were. And that's what it's all about.

Thanks for listening.

Sunday, October 15, 2006


October 15th
We Remember

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


A recent conversation and a visit to my daughter's grave with a really good friend prompted this entry. It's an attempt to answer some very common questions (both spoken and unspoken) that face the loved ones of families like ours who are missing a child.

What helps, what doesn't? What are the right things to say and the wrong things to do? How can you offer the support that your soul longs to give in a situation that your brain can't comprehend?

First, love us. Love us in an honest way, don't be afraid. Don't feel compelled to use words, sometimes we just need you to sit with us in silence. At the same time, don't be afraid to tell us you feel helpless, speechless, unsure of what to do. Your presence is often enough.

We don't expect anything, there are no obligations. Be confident that you know us. You've celebrated our victories and loved us through other types of hurts. If you look at us with sincerity and see the role that our missing child plays in our lives, you are likely to want to honor her life as well. Purely by the nature of who we are to you.

Ask questions. We want to tell you how tiny she was, what our time was like with her. How perfect her toes and eyebrows were. It is impossible for us to instill a remembrance in you, if you never met her. But we can share her with you and give you a sense of who she was and the meaningful purpose of her short life.

Remember that it's ok to laugh with us, as well as cry. We still have a full range of emotions, not just the sad ones. A little humor, a touch to our shoulders and a warm hug go a long way.

For those who try, thank you. It takes courage to step outside of yourself in such a desperate time. It's the simple things that mean the most. Thank you for reaching out to us. Give us time, we'll gather strength. We'll never get over it, we're not supposed to. But we'll get through. With you. If you'll just be there.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


Today makes four. Four years since my life was graced by the presence of a creation so small and wondeful, I was changed forever. Each year seems to go by a little faster now. As I mark the milestones of my miracle son, I breathe a sigh and shed a tear for the missed milestones of my miracle daughter.

Elena, you came to breathe life into me that wasn't there before. You submitted to the will of God and served a purpose so great, my human mind will never fully grasp the magnitude of it. You stole our hearts in a quick second but filled them for a lifetime.

I love you, beyond this world's definition of love.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


"Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, 'Where are you?' He answered, 'I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.'"
Genesis 3:8-10

This is going to sound really lame, but it's true - I've been hiding from my blog. Not for lack of something to say. On the contrary, for having too much on my mind, uncertain where to begin. When I started this journal-of-sorts last July, the intention was not so much for others to read as it was for me to process my own thoughts and feelings. And yet less than a year later, I found myself cowering from the light of my computer screen, hiding from the very core of who I am.

Being naked, in both the literal and figurative senses, is a scary thing. The word naked is defined as "having no covering; being without concealment, disguise or embellishment." An alternate definition cuts even deeper to our fears, "being exposed to harm; vulnerable." Sometimes we are so afraid to be naked that we hide under layers of covering as a preventative measure. If no one can touch you, then no one can hurt you. The only problem is that no one can love you, either.

The past few months have been a period of personal struggle and simultaneous growth. I've faced fears that I've hidden from for most of my life. I've battled wedges in my closest relationships. And I've gone toe to toe with the person who is most often my biggest critic and toughest challenge - myself. One of the most valuable lessons I've learned as a result is that I am a person in progress, I have by no means "made it." And that's okay.

I've spent too many years of my life covering up, concealing. I was afaid of the vulnerability that comes with admitting I am flawed. I don't always have the answers. I do make mistakes, I stumble, I get scared. I was foolish enough to believe that I'm the one who makes the rules, and that I had to follow them. And when it looked like things were not going according to MY plan, I found it so easy to wallow in self-pity and resentment.

The beauty of God's light is that it can find us in the darkest of dark places and gently lead us forth into warmth. That's where He found me, knowing I was disconnected, but afraid to make a move for fear of drifting even farther. Even when I was feeling bad, there was a twisted sense of comfort because it was familiar. I was hiding, but He found me. He carried me out into the light and removed the binding layers. He exposed my nakedness, not to embarrass or condemn me, but to liberate my soul. And once I felt His rays, I knew I was safe. I examined all of myself, the good and the bad, and found the me I'd been missing.

So here I am. I am a work in progress, and I'm not ashamed. I've rediscovered the people I love and experience them in a new way. Like a kid looking forward to a Disneyland trip or summer vacation, I have an excitement again. Oh, there are still weak moments, and there always will be. But they are no longer looming over me, overbearing, stifling. They are a part of the whole of me.

Here I am. Connected. Alive.


Thanks for listening.