Unfinished Business

Of course when a six year old dies there is a lifetime of unfinished business. There is the promise of the person she would become but something I love about Kim is that she and I never lost sight of the person she is.

Elena was a giant personality. I’ll say more about the person she was in later posts. For now, I want to say something about parenting.

How often do you encounter someone after a death of a friend or relative and they say “I should have told them xxxx” or “I wish I hadn’t said yyyy”.

I am happy/relieved/unexplicably fixated on the fact that Kim and I have none of those. We told Elena how smart and beautiful she was every day. We celebrated her recent achievements as she turned the corner and became a reader. She loved stories and was just uncovering the magic of the written word. We learned from Montessori to separate actions from her self. There were things she did that we weren’t happy with – but we were never disappointed by her.

Kim told me a story that I found particularly heart wrenching. Each morning she would drop the girls off at school just a bit late. Maggie told Kim that as they ran to the school to get in before they were marked late, Elena would turn to Maggie each morning and say “Maggie, I love you.”

Please don’t leave things unsaid that you need to say and consider not saying those things that don’t need saying. As miserable as I feel, I am comforted by having followed this advice with my children.

Published in: on February 23, 2006 at 11:34 am  Comments (39)  

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  1. Dan,

    Someone on Kathy Sierra’s blog mentioned your tragedy. After reading your story, I just can’t *click* to another site or project and go on with life as usual.

    Here I am, a grown man, choking back tears as your words sink in. I’m home today with my six year-old daughter as she is recovering from pneumonia. We became quite anxious the other night as her fever spiked up to 105°. She also just lost a tooth last night. So your story hits painfully close to home for me.

    Honestly, I don’t know if I’m typing these words to make you feel better or just myself. However, I do want to say that this particular post means a lot to me. What a powerful reminder of living life without regrets.

    The delicate balance of discipline and love is sometimes difficult to impart to your child. Thanks for sharing the lesson from Montessori. That is something I believe, but now have the words to express it.

    As trite as it may sound, my thoughts and prayers are with your family.

  2. Daniel, I have to echo your sentiments on the big power of little words when it comes to kids (and, it goes without saying, everyone else too). I know that when I drop my son off at school in the morning we have a little magical phrase that expresses more than it would seem to and grounds us both: “Wherever you are, there you are.” It just appeals to science geek in the two of us for some reason and sits right alongside “I love you” as an expression of our connection.

  3. Dan,

    I’m a friend of Jill’s. And through Jill over the past several years I’ve come to know Elena and Maggie–a little. From Jill’s often hilarious stories and your *lovely* writing here, Elena sounded like a wonderful and sweet sparkplug. Please add me to the long list of people who are thinking of you and your family during this heartbreaking time.

    With condolences,

  4. Hi Dan,
    I’m a friend of Jill’s in Seattle. I always looked forward to hearing Jill’s stories about the girls and the fun things they would do together during her visits. I don’t think that any words can express the sadness I feel for you and your family. You are all in my thoughts.

    – Carla.

  5. Daniel,

    I’ve been thinking of you since hearing the news, unable to imagine what you and your family must be going through. I’m just so, so sorry for your loss.

    Your courage in writing here is amazing and inspiring. Know that your words reach deep and that your gift of them will make its way into the hearts of our kids as well. Thank you for that, my friend, and please take care…


  6. Daniel,
    Mom just called me & told me about Elena. My heart is broken for you, Kim, Maggie,your parents, Kim’s parents. I am so very sorry. The only comfort I have is that she is with God and maybe she’s playing the piano with my dad, Albert Pecora. I went to a friend’s 22 yr old son on Tuesday and was trying to comprehend that, now I am really in sorrow. God bless you all.

  7. Dan, your eloquence is inspiring. Elena is still making a difference in the world via your writing. I, for one, will be looking at bedtime storytime with my 6 year old daughter quite differently now.

  8. Daniel,
    I can’t begin to express my sorrow at your loss. I am and will be praying for you all.

  9. Hi Daniel
    A little bit more than 30 years ago I lost my younger brother in an accident and now I became a father myself and everyday I wish from the bottom of my heart that I can see my kids happy and healthy again at the end of a day when I come home. Still I cannot make sure that this will never happen and so I try to leave them always with a kiss and a smile. Your loss breaks my heart and I can hardly express my feelings adequately but I wish you and your wife all the strength you neeed to go through this.
    I am so sorry – Andy

  10. dear daniel,kim, and maggie

    i love you all very much, and i am so sorry. i loved elena very much and stll do, her and maggie always made my christmas eves a thousand times better and her big heart, and beautiful personality will remain with me forever. here is a short blog i wrote in memory of her i posted it on my myspace. may god be with you, and carry your family over the impossible.

    her name was elena, she was only six

    i remember when i first met her, she had this pacifier i swear it was her shield. i was young, she was a brand new baby. she had these eyes that truly captured you, she was the cutest. her sister maggie was adopted from china, who was so proud to be a “big sister”. i grew up with them, maggie and elena, every christmas and random holidays they’d drive to my grandma and grandpa’s to celebrate with us. they were so full of life, maggie the the intellectual one, and elena the free spirited, all about love one. (she was like me) she had her own indiviuality that stood out above all the rest, she always made me smile, especially laugh. i remember all the questions she would ask. on chirstmas eve sometimes i really felt like i was on a trivia game, but i never stopped her it’s always so interesting to hear what a little girl had to say, most of the time she cracked me up. that little girl was so full of life, she was different and i really admired that about her. i remember her little dresses and she’d always look so beautiful, and you knew she felt that she was a princess. i don’t know why i didn’t see more of her when i had the chance, but then again who would’ve thought this would’ve happened. she was so young, she was only six years old, her birthday was in less than a week. why did god take her, why now. she had a life, she had to experience. elena steinberg, i miss you.

    a short poem for her

    there is something about you i’ll never forget

    it was your eyes, it was your smile, it was the life you had in you

    it was the way you always put a smile on my face

    with even the few short days we spent laughing.

    you were so young, we were so young, but you were younger,

    i wish it was me, but it wasn’t it was you.

    but why now, why ever

    have i ever said those words so strongly

    love always nicci

  11. Dan, there is nothing I can say, except that you’re not alone.


    There are a whole bunch of us out here sending good karma your way.

    I’m sorry for your loss. I’m going to go hug my son now…

  12. Dan – You don’t know me. My son directed me to your site. He has come to appreciate your writings through your blog and has been profoundly saddened by your loss. He has two small children of his own, and can only imagine what it must be like to lose one of them. That is something, unfortunately, you know about all too well. I nearly lost one of my children many years ago and only have a small glimpse of the sorrow you are feeling now. I hope you can find peace in the knowledge that she is in a better place, and I will hold you and your family up in prayer. Hold on to the precious memories. God bless you and your family.

  13. Dear Elena

    Christine and I don’t have children (yet) but whether you do or not, take a look at Dear Elena; I warn you, it’ll tug at your heart strings. For those of you with a young one or two around the house, take the advice of Tim Bray and Doc Se…

  14. Kim and Daniel,I read your letter, I read your words, you comforted so many parents, children, grandparents, you are amazing and so strong. Our hearts only hurt so much, that what I say I say with tears. I know where she is, but why now so soon…..she had so much, she was so much, she touched all of us with her smiles, her words, her laugh and most of all her hugs…..she was our Dad’s angel, he loved her, he loved her smile, when she walked in our home Christmas Eve she lit up the room, she touched his and all of our hearts. Your whole family did….she is apart of us….all of you are apart of us and always will be….we hurt, we are so shocked and so sad…May God hold you, help you through this shocking most terrible time….May the Lord hold Maggie…how sad for her…we love her so much

    We Truly believe that our father was there for Elena and picked her up in his arms when she went to heaven…please know we love you always….

    Jeff, Paola, Nicci and Brooke

  15. Dan and Kim, I have nothing profound to add except my heartfelt grief on your behalf. I don’t know if it helps to know that finding this out caused me to weep; I can’t weep as much as you, and never met Elena. But I know how terrific you two are, and how much this loss will effect you. I gave my little boy a long clutch when I read about this news, and will keep telling him I love him every day, too.

  16. Dear Daniel, Kim, & Maggie
    I pray that you know how deeply I love you and grieve for you – this news gripped my heart -as if my own child had been taken from me. All of us trembled at this realization that God had taken Elena home.
    Only the memories and awareness of her gift to you and to us will sustain us.
    Daniel, your beautiful words melted my heart and your courage to write so soon shows your strength.
    Somewhere there is a reason for all of this -but for now
    I pray that you are wrapped in LOVE and that will keep you close –
    My prayers and arms of love extended -Sandie

  17. Dan and Family..I am so sorry to hear of your lose. I dont know you, but I do know pain. It is the hardst thing to over come. Sadiness is in my heart for you and your family, but to know that your little one will never feel pain again is AWESOME. I will say a prayer for your family. God bless

  18. Daniel, Kim, & Maggie
    I’m a friend of Jill’s here in Seattle and was one of her first phone calls after the tragic news. No words can describe my feelings, except a sadness rarely felt before. I’ve looked at recent photos of precious Elena and what a beauty she was. So full of love & happiness! I was/am inspired by your written words, knowing there was/is so much love and joy in your family. My heart and prayers go out to your entire family and all who knew little Elena. Much love – Jason

  19. Hi Daniel,

    I admire your courage and your ability to take things in the right stride at such a tragic moment. May God give you the strength to get over this tragedy.


  20. […] finish any unfinished business […]

  21. Dear Dan, Kim, Maggie:

    Myra and I are devastated for your family and mourn your loss. I was stunned speechless when Myra called me at work to tell me what had happened. I still don’t know what to say, other than we are deeply sorry and that if there is anything we can do for you (whether it is just thinking of you or having Maggie over for a weekend so you and Kim can grieve) please let us know, we’d be honored to do so.

    When Myra did tell me, all I could think of was the happy sprightly girl who made everyone happy at sight. But mostly I thought of the way she studied everything around her, absorbing as much information as she could. This was the case even as an infant.

    She will be greatly missed.

    You are in our thoughts,

    Tony, Myra (and Anthony/Sebastian) Pecora

  22. So sorry to hear of this tragedy. I is hard to know God’s plan and purpose for these things, but as many people already that have been touched by this gives a little understanding of God’s will for us. The strength that he has given Daniel shows how much he loves us and understands our weakness. He gives strength and comfort when we need it. I am praying that anyone that is touched by this moment will realize our frail lives here on earth. When we are born God gives us only so many days, hours and minutes. We don’t know that time frame, only God does. We need to accept Jesus as our Saviour because we may not have tomorrow. I am praying for Maggie that she comes to know the Lord in a real way and that someday soon, we will all be together in God’s kingdom for all eternity where there will be no more sorrow or tears. May God wrap His arms tight around you and comfort your hearts. Love in Christ. . . .Bev

  23. Dear Daniel, Kim, & Maggie,

    Paola Olson is a dear friend of mine, she told me of your great loss. My heart breaks for your family, there are no words that can help at time like this. I understand from Paola that she was a bright and beautiful child that wanted to know about everything. Your letter confirms the bright light she was. I think some lights are too bright to stay here on earth and that going home to be with the Lord is the only place that can complement her bright beauty. All her questions are now answered, although it creates more for the ones left behind. I admire the strength you have shown so far and I am praying that you and your family continue to find the strength to continue on in tough days ahead. GOD BLESS your family.

  24. Dan, Kim & Maggie;
    My dearest friend, Paola Olson forwarded this most devastating news to me and I wanted to let you know that you are all in my thoughts and prayers. I didn’t know Elena, but by the words I’ve read, she was a gift from God that touched so many hearts. May God bless your family during this very difficult time. Elena is now your beautiful angel watching over you always and forever.

    With deepest sympathy,

  25. Dan,

  26. Dan, Your words are so eloquent and so right. On our brick outside of Woodbury, it says Dance like nobodies watching. Life is too short. Enjoy it. My daughter goes to Boulevard and my other daughter is now at Woodbury. My family talks about you everyday. Our thought and prayers are with you. You are truly a special family. God Bless, Hilary, Erick, Kendal and Kasidy Anderson

  27. Dear Daniel, Kim and Maggie,
    Paola Olson, a friend of mine e-mailed me of your tragic loss. My husband and I have not yet been blessed with children, therefore I can only imagine the great loss you feel. It is sometimes hard for us to understand the plan that God has in store for each and everyone of us, but know that she is in heaven and dancing with the angels. This only reminds of us how precious and short life is and that we need to give our loved ones that extra big hug or tell them “I Love You”. May God continue to give you strength during this difficult time.
    With deepest sympathy,

  28. Dear Daniel, Kim, Maggie, Ira, and Priscilla:

    Our thoughts and prayers are with you during this unbelievably difficult time. Words cannot express how deeply sad and shocked we were to hear of this tragic loss.

    With heartfelt sympathies,
    Butch and Jen

  29. When my father died, this is what I read at his funeral. The grief was overpowering, but these words helped, and maybe they’ll help you, too. The scene is the funeral of an old woman in rural France; the book is called Sense of Sight, by John Berger.

    “Yet this afternoon the funeral was ending differently. The priest was as usual blessing the family grave into which later the coffin would be lowered. But in the cypress tree a bird was singing. Nobody knew what kind of bird it was. Its song was so loud and shrill that the priest’s prayers and the amens of the two choirboys were quite inaudible. The entire cemetery was filled with the thrills and warbling of this song.

    “And there was scarcely a woman or man standing in the February sunlight, their arms folded, or their large hands clasped behind the back, who did not think: throughout the years, across the generations, a force drives on, like the sap now rising, and it is implacable and destructive and reproductive; it makes mouths open, eyes burn, hands join. (They were gazing as much at the grand-daughter as at the coffin with its red and pink flowers.) And this force condemns to work and to sacrifice, also it kills, and it sings, even at this moment is singing, and will never stop.”

    Annie Lamott wrote once that there are only two kinds of prayers — “Thank you” and “Help”. I’ll do both for you.

  30. May God comfort you and your family.

  31. […] Update2: I often think of dear elena when i enjoy our little one and hope to follow the advise: Please don’t leave things unsaid that you need to say and consider not saying those things that don’t need saying. (unfinished business) […]

  32. […] Kathy Sierra’s blog introduced Daniel Steinberg to me, who was supposed to visit Kathy (Love and Courage) , but his six year old daughter Elena died. Daniel wrote the first post Loss of continuity in his weblog (Extreme Teaching) about a book he had just started to write . He then set up a separate one, Dear Elena which starts with the second post, Unfinished Business. Follow the calendar to read from start to now, and don’t forget to trawl through the many comments – there’s excellent writing in there as well. What a way to celebrate a life gone by. Wow. One of the many things that resonated with me: Please don’t leave things unsaid that you need to say and consider not saying those things that don’t need saying. […]

  33. hi this is chyla at resses i was scard to say are you ok but elena was a good friend to me one day she said the cutest thing every hi chyla on the way to shcool

    r.i.p elena is with you


  34. Dearest Daniel, Kimberely and Little Maggie,

    Many thoughts are with you and your family. I didn’t get the opportunity to meet Elena as often as the rest of the Pecora family. But I do remember a sweet lovely little girl with alot of joy in her eyes. When I close my eyes I can see her bright smile and sparkling eyes. When I told my son Reza, who is 7 years old about Elena, and that we should pray for her, he said “don’t cry mom, she is with God, and she will not have to go through Judgement Day, she is a special little girl.
    She is with God and she will not have any pain or sufferings”. Then I realized that he was right. Although, she will be missed and we love her so much, she is in a better place then we are.
    All of us in Missouri prayer for you to get through this pain. We love you all…Prisilla, we miss you.
    We are always praying for you.
    Love Gina(Pecora)Mirza and family.

  35. Dan Kim and Maggie,

    I do not know u guys personally but today was the first time i read about u guys.. from wat i read i understand that Elena must have been a very very special chils…coz she had so many people who loved her and will continue to love her .. I know words can never take the place of the feelings that i have in my heart for u and ur family but i know one thing for sure that u will always be in my prayers.. i was forced to go thru an Abortion while i was just in high school..so i know the pain of losing a child..but my baby was still unborn..but u guys spent 6 precious and wonderful years with her so it must be very difficult for u to spend ur days without hearing her voice or her laughter, without looking at her pretty face and deep eyes.. i applaud the courage that u guys have and i pray that the lord always be with u and comfort u thru ur most trying times.
    I’d also like to thank u guys for being a source of inspiration for me and a million others who must have visited this site.. i;m sure there nmust have been a lot of love spread around after going thru the comments of various people who love and care.. I’ll try to make the best use of every opportunity i get to tell people how much i love them and how much they mean to me.
    And u giuys will always be with me in my Prayers.

    God Bless You.
    Regards and Heartfelt Wishes ~ ANGEL~

  36. We wife and i lost our son when he was only 19, and i say “only” because as short as our lives are, that is not enough time to become who you are and give it back to those you meet. But Andy gave more of himself back than many do in a much longer life, and i my guess is that Elena had the same kind of heart. I found your “blog” with a Google search for “unfinished business” but my attitude is that some things are never finished, and that’s not only OK, but necessary…

  37. It is a sad post nevertheless it open up my eyes. I’m not a type of person who express my feeling to someone easily. But after reading your post, it really is keep me thinking what if something bad happen to me.

  38. Thank you so much for sharing this post. Really is an eye opener.

  39. authentic garden

    Unfinished Business | Dear Elena

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