Since Elli slipped into eternity 730 days ago, my daily reflections on her life have not faded. I still fold her pink pajamas and her flowery dresses, now worn by her little sister, some still slightly discolored around the neck from Elli’s drool. I love to watch Anna run and play in those clothes. They never moved that way with Elli in them.
The photos on the walls in our house, some taken weeks or months before she died, are of an 8-year-old Elli. It is strange to think that when we are 80, we will still have an 8-year-old Elli framed on our wall. We will not know a 10 or 12 or 25-year-old Elli. Her face is frozen at eight. I’m sure that is something all grieving parents have to come to grips with, and I still am.
I still dream about Elli. Often. In all of my dreams about her, she is active, able-bodied and full of life — more so than she was while on earth. I am not one to spiritualize dreams, but I have awakened many mornings with a smile on my face, because the dreams remind me that she is in that spiritual reality now. Heaven is hers.
Oh sure, tears can creep back in, in some scattered private moments when I least expect it. A speeding ambulance. A uniformed paramedic in line at Subway. A potato chip bag or a gallon of milk with the expiration date OCT 19. Small unexpected artifacts bring memories of the day, the morning she died, rushing back in.
Until the day I die, I will be a father of four. In my frequent “join-ups” with new colleagues at work, I will tell them about Elli because there is no other way I know. I cannot, with a good conscience, say, “I have 3 children.” I always say, “I have 3 children now. We lost our fourth, who was our oldest, at age 8 in 2008.” That feels right to me. And it has also opened up countless opportunities to share my faith that would have never otherwise emerged in a boring, get-to-know-you business lunch.
God has never stopped being good and gracious and kind in these 730 days. He has done much to mature each of us through what is often described as a parent’s worst nightmare. Her physical death has had a ripple effect of new spiritual life, both in our immediate family and beyond. Therefore, I cannot bring myself to call it a nightmare as I look back on it. All I see is beautiful grace budding up out of the ashes.
As Joy and I were making the short drive from the funeral home to the gravesite to bury Elli’s body, I remember turning to her and saying, “Time is going to go by so fast.” I was sensing the brevity of life at that moment, and how short a time we all spend from cradle to grave. Elli’s was especially short, but ours is not much longer, no matter how long we live.
I still sense that brevity — a bittersweet reminder that life is short, but heaven awaits. And today I am one year closer to seeing my little peanut again in the presence of the One I most long to see — the One who orchestrated it all the way He did, for my good and His glory.
We miss you, pumpkin.