If Elena were with us

We’d be late for her funeral.

Fifteen minutes before we left she would still be jumping up from breakfast to run into the living room “Just for a minute”. To flip on some music and do a dance.

“Elena,” I would say, “please come finish your breakfast, brush your hair and get your coat and boots on.”

“I’ll be there in a minute.”

“No, you need to come now.”

Zooom she’d run back to the table, take a bite and then zoom back to the living room.

“Elena. You need to come back and finish we need to go in fifteen minutes. Turn off the music.”

“O.K. daddy. In a minute.”

“No, I need you to come here now. Please turn off the music.”

“O keeeee fine.” She would flip off the radio. Somehow on her way back to the table she would see her flying turtle and sit on it and start riding it around the living room.

“Elena!”

“I’m coming.”

“No, you’re not. Park the turtle and come finish breakfast.”

“O.K.” she’d say. But she’d take another lap or two before parking the scooter. “Daddy, I want toast.”

“We don’t have time any more. Finish your cereal.”

“But I want toast too. I want two pieces of bagette.”

“We don’t have time. Finish up your cereal.”

“Mom, can I have bagette?”

Kim, would be in the kitchen and say, “sure honey.”

“Kim,” I’d call out, “I just told her no.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you. I’ll just make her some and she can eat it in the car.”

“But I said no.”

“Oh, what’s the big deal. You need to wear a coat today – it’s going to be cold.”

Then there would be a cry from the dining room from Maggie who would have been eating quietly while reading.

“Mom, Elena spilled.”

“Well Maggie is reading. She’s not allowed to read at the table is she dad?”

“No,” I would say, “she’s not. But I don’t like you guys telling on each other. Here’s a paper towel, wipe up that mess.”

“Dad,” Elena would say with a sad look in her eyes, “I wasn’t screwing around. It was an accident.”

“O.K.” I’d answer. “Take your dishes into the kitchen we don’t have much time and brush your hair – both of you.”

” ’cause it looks like crap?” Maggie would ask.

“Crap,” Elena would answer. I didn’t care. Giving them a chance to mock me meant that they’d at least get up and do it.

“Come here, I’ll brush your hair,” I’d tell Elena.

“No, that’s ok, mommy can do it.”

“I’m right here. I’ll do it.”

“You pull my hair when you brush it. Owww. Owww. Owwww.”

“Elena, I haven’t started brushing yet.”

“Oh, sorry daddy.”

“There, you look beautiful. Girls we should have left already. Maggie, where are your glasses? Kim – we have to go. You can’t be late for a funeral.”

Kim would finish toasting Elena’s bagette and grab her coat. Maggie would be in her coat wearing her glasses. I would put on my coat and look around. “Where’s Elena?”

Maggie would give me a fake exasperated look and say “where do you think?”

Sure enough, if we were all quiet we could hear singing. Elena was in the bathroom. She always had to go to the bathroom when we needed to get somewhere in a hurry. And she loved to sing in the bathroom. She’d take the time to carefully wash her hands, singing all the louder so that her voice rose above the flushing toilet and running sink water.
She would come out of the bathroom. I’d all be standing there in my coat obviously waiting for her. She’d be shaking off her still wet hands. “Daddy, smell my hands. I washed them with soap see.”

“Very nice. But we’re late. Get your coat on.”

“OK daddy.” But she’d be wandering over towards the flying turtle – drawn to ride it around the room one more time.

“Elena, we don’t have time. Mom and Maggie are already out in the car.”

“Oh ok daddy.”

It’s going to be a real drag getting to places on time from now on.

Published in: on February 27, 2006 at 7:12 am  Comments (17)  

Why

When Kim and I were preparing to get married we spoke to a priest and a rabbi.

I need to pause there a second. “Preparing to get married”. Can you ever prepare for these big events in your life. We had time to think about the details of our wedding day and of the marriage we wanted to build afterwards. I’m not sure that prepared us. I wandered off on this aside because friends of ours came to the funeral home yesterday who had lost their grandson/nephew Simon at age seven after a long and painful illness. Simon’s mother has also posted in the comments to this blog. I’m sure that knowing he was coming to the end didn’t prepare them. I’m certain that they didn’t feel any more ready to say goodbye than we do after losing Elena in the matter of minutes.

The priest and rabbi asked different questions that were both directed at some of the same issues. I told the priest that I would not sign a paper promising to raise the children Catholic. He said that they didn’t do that anymore. That for him it was more important that the children were raised in a loving home with a strong religious presence than that this be a devisive issue. They did ask Kim, as the Catholic parent, to promise that she would do what she could to raise her children Catholic.

I liked the priest. He had a great sense of humor and an irreverence that was reverent. Just before our wedding rehearsel I said to him that Kim had told me that at many young Catholic boys want to grow up to be priests. He laughed and said, “and girls.” I know it’s dangerous to spend time thinking about what could have been, but Elena would have been a great priest (or rabbi, or minister, or . . .) She has an incredible way of wrapping people up in her energy and making them feel so good.

The priest had us fill out a Meyers-Briggs personality profile to investigate our compatibility. Kim and I each filled out two. One for ourselves and one for the other. For us, compatibility was an interesting thing to investigate, but it was more important for us to see how well we knew each other. We were very good at guessing how the other would answer each question.

The rabbi asked us a set of questions. One asked how we might bring her up religiously. The options were Catholic, Jewish, Both, or Neither. I was willing for the kids to be Jewish, Both, or Neither and Kim was ok with the kids being Catholic, Jewish, or Both. We¬† decided to try “Both” despite being warned by a different rabbi that our children would end up in a cult somewhere.

But the rabbi pressed. “What happens when you die?” he asked. I thought long and hard over the week between his asking and when we returned to his office.

“I don’t know,” I answered. “I think it is unknowable.”

He smiled and said that actually that was our party line. He asked Kim the same question. She spoke of heaven. He then asked her, “what happens to Daniel when he dies.” He explained that his concern was that, as he understood the issue, Christians believe that you must accept Jesus to go to heaven. He wanted to know how Kim would answer the children asking “what happens to daddy when he dies”.

She said that she believed that if you are a good person you will go to heaven. That what, to her, was important was a strong spiritual and moral core.

Today we bury our baby. I wonder if I would be more comforted by a strong faith in a religion that has very definite answers to what happens when you die. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not changing and neither is Kim. This has been a very difficult time for her. She and I both keep asking “what could we have done to save Elena? What did we miss?”

Kim also asks, “why”.

To me, there is no “why”. Horrible things happen and no one notices. We are numb to wars and so called natural disasters and don’t really understand all of the losses in these other places.

Published in: on February 27, 2006 at 6:48 am  Comments (7)