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)  

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  1. Dear Daniel,

    I’ve been reading your journal each day hoping that writing about this tragedy will help you understand it and somehow get you through this horrible ordeal. Everything happened so fast. Suddenly Elena was gone and nothing could be done. You did everything you could have done. This is a terrible disease, and the information you have posted about it for others may save another. I’m sorry about Elena. She sounds like delightful child who just might say, “If this is all I get, it’s been a great life.”

    When Norm knew he was dying, that’s what he said. Granted, he was older, but, for me, he was too young to die. So was Elena, but I know she had a wonderful life with you and Kim as her parents. I hope Maggie will be ok, and I know that your parents and sibs must be grieving deeply. I’m glad everyone is there with you and that you have each other.

    I will continue to hold good thoughts for you and Kim and for your eventual acceptance of this all too painful loss. Yes, it’s true. How can anyone else know your pain? All I can do is send you love and positive energy hoping that somehow it will help.

    Please tell Kim that my friend Brian and I are lighting candles for Elena at St. John’s Cathedral in Cleveland and at Holy Rosary in Little Italy. And since I cannot be there with you, I am saying Psalm 23 and the Mourner’s Kaddish on my own to keep the faith with you as best I can. I will also put Elena’s name in the Book of Intentions at Sacred Heart in Oberlin on Ash Wednesday.

    May you have abundant peace from heaven. Both Jennifer and Steven send their love and peace to you as well. Please share my letter with Kim and your family.

    With much love, Barbara Care

  2. My husband Jim, Isabella’s father, rarely expresses an opinion on our childrens’ clothes, other than when I’m arguing with one of our kids that they wear a heavier coat or a hat, Jim will insist it’s warm enough outside to go without. So this morning as I was reading Daniel’s blog, the first thing I turn to these days, I was surprised to over hear Jim and Isabella (who is 13 years old) arguing about clothes. “Isabella, you can’t go dressed like that. Change your clothes. Your jeans are going to show under your altar server gown. You’re going to a funeral.” I looked up, stunned that Jim and I would actually be on the same side of a clothing argument, which surely we would be if this one were about Isabella pushing the limits, and sure enough, there before me, Isabella defiantly sporting the rattiest pair of blue jeans in the County. “Off Isabella, now. You know what to wear, just do it.” Much protesting, some hollering over the imminent school bus arrival, finish your eggs and so on. Isabella reappears almost instantly looking very satisfied with herself and ever so … Goth Girl … ever so black, black, black from head to toe with a terribly wrinkled “I Love New York” t-shirt two sizes too small, the heart sparkling with red sequins. The high-top sneakers are now all that will show under the altar server gown; and of course the hair, the hair that Isabella had “forgotten” to wash last night, as I had told her to do before I left the house.

    Giving her the “I’m so disappointed” look, suddenly I remember that the reason we want her to dress “properly” this morning is to show her respect for Daniel and Kim and Maggie and Elena. I remember that if Isabella and Elena had ever interacted at Sunday School Elena most probably loved Isabella, as most little girls do. I remember how I had noticed at Church what a snappy dresser young Elena could be, how proud of her outfits she sometimes appeared to be. I’ll bet she would love Isabella’s “I Love New York” t-shirt, especially the sequins part. This t-shirt would fit Elena. If she had come to our house and admired it, Isabella would have given it to her. Perhaps I should be close enough to my young Isabella to give her the distance to express her own self. Perhaps I should remember that she might have a reason for wearing what she’s wearing, that the reason might be worth considering, that she might be honoring Elena after all. Perhaps a hug is in order, and a smile, rather than “the look.”

    Thank you for your thoughtfulness Daniel, and for your thoughtfulness Kim and Maggie, as shared by Daniel in his writing. You have encouraged us to be more thoughtful with each other. Individually and as a family we are terribly sad for you right now and we have been uplifted by all that you have shared with us through Daniel’s writing these few days. We hope to know you in the years to come. All of our love to you, and today, bon courage.

    Cynthia Carroll, Jim, Isabella and Will McKnight

  3. Last night I posted this to my blog under the title “Butterfly effect”. Just wanted to share it here.

    Every once in a while some random event occurs somewhere, and it has an unexpected and surprising impact on how you look at the world. “Dear Elena” is one of those things.

    I don’t know Dan and Kim. I don’t even know the people who know them — it’s only through the blogs I read that I even came upon their story, even as it was unfolding this week. Yet in them we see the reality every parent dreads, and see hope. Godspeed Elena. You’ve touched us all.

  4. Thank you, Daniel. Millions of parents are tearfully hugging their children as a result of your bravely and beautifully sharing your pain. May our G-d, who possesses infinite mercy, grace, love, and wisdom, bring you comfort and peace.

  5. Dear Daniel, Kim and Maggie,

    My heart is bleeding for your loss. Your eloquence is breathtaking. Words cannot begin to express the pain I know you and your family are feeling right now. It has been four months since my husband and I buried our almost five year old son after his sudden death. I won’t burden you with my story, it makes no difference to your pain. But please know, there are people in the world who have walked your path and felt a pain similar to yours.

    Love Maggie and each other. It doesn’t take the overwhelming loss, fear and anguish away, but it does help.

    If you ever need to talk, feel free. Sometimes talking with someone who has suffere a similar loss can help ease the pain.

    May God bless you and your family.

    Bruce and Tanis Winder

  6. My heart goes out to you and your family.

    A beautifully written recollection.

  7. My thought and prayers are with you and your family. May God bless you and give you strenght. Thanks you for sharing you sorrow and hope.

  8. Daniel,
    7 yrs. ago my son had been diagnosed with viral meningitis. I remember being terrified while they did the spinal tap and waited for the results. They were fairly certain it was viral and not bacterial from the beginning. I, too, thought it was the flu. He came home from baseball practice and just fell to his knees and said he had a headache, he then started vomitting and finally fell asleep. The next afternoon he was able to keep down fluids and complained of a headache. It was actually my “bug guy” who convinced me that I should call the pediatrician and have him looked at. I called at 3:30 and we got in about an hour later. His headache was so bad by then he wanted the lights off in the exam room. Our doctor came in and tried to get him to put his chin to his chest and his knees to his chest and then she turned to me and said, “Take him to the ER right now, I think he has meningitis.” I was truly shocked, I thought she would tell me to go home, he just has the flu. One of the key things I tell people is to look out for the headache he complained of and how quickly he became sick. He went from “normal” to very sick very quickly. We were so fortunate that he had viral meningitis. He spent 4 days in the hospital and took several weeks to really bounce back. I am heartfelt sorry for your loss. I once was driving out on an old country road and stopped by a very old church that seemed abandoned, but still had some grace to it. There was an adjacent cemetary. Most of the markers were from the late 1800’s and all of them listed not just the day and the year of that persons birth and death, but the hour and minute when they were born and the hour and minute of when they died. It was extraordinary, every single minute mattered. That has stayed with me. I hope you find peace in your faith and through your family and friends and even strangers.

  9. You know you really are not supposed to make a grown man tear-up.

    God Bless you and your family. And God Bless Elena for she blessed you and this world.

  10. Kim, Daniel, Maggie, Ira and Priscilla:

    Nicci and I prayed together today as we do every morning before school. She prayed that God would tell you that we were sorry that we could not be there for you and her being there especially for Maggie….It was very difficult not being able to come home.

    I find myself at the computer daily reading “dear elena” and taking in your words and reading the responses from so many people….

    Today I wanted to say so much though can’t bring myself to type what is in my heart, I just needed to tell you that we are with you, even though we are here in Minneapolis….

    With all our love, prayers, thoughts and tears…..
    May God Bless you all during this most difficult time, may God comfort you and hold you…..

    Please continue with your words…..

    We love you Daniel, Kim, Maggie, Elena, Priscilla and Ira…..Love, Jeff, Paola, Nicci and Brooke Olson

  11. May one more stranger offer her condolences? The best comfort I know of comes from the Bible. Psalm 116:15 says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” Thank you for sharing the story of Elena.

  12. I am so sorry for your unimaginable loss. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

  13. My youngest sister died eleven years back. Someone from work gave me a card which made me wince. It said to take comfort in memories. That seemed about the last thing I’d be able to bear.

    Your daughter’s life was richer for your being in it.

  14. I don’t know you but found you through Passionate Users. Eight years ago, my son Andrew, an identical twin died. I am so deeply sorry for your loss. Elena filled your life with joy. Her loss must be cavernous. Tonight, you will be in my prayers–wishing you peace.

  15. Your wonderful Elena must have been a charmer. I am so saddened by your loss and wonder how one copes with such a tragedy.

    An acquaintance of mine lost a very young son a few months ago and he loved life, much like your Elena must have.

    Here is an edited obituary that sounds much like your precious Elena and her love of life.

    Noah, 4, adored son of Troy and Sarah, passed away Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2005.

    He sometimes put his clothes on backward because he was in too much of a hurry to live life. He was unusually unselfish, which was a God-given gift. It definitely didn’t come from his earthly parents. He confused sayings like “It doesn’t matter” with “I don’t matter,” which we thought was a glimpse into his selfless heart. He always wanted what was best for his sister, Kyra, and he loved sharing adventures and laughter with her.

    He was teaching his little brother, Cade, how to sword fight, kick the soccer ball, shoot baskets, play drums and sing loudly. Noah wanted to be just like his dad and loved playing “Down, Set, Hike” with him and riding the four-wheeler all over the neighborhood. Noah was teaching his mom how to love more unselfishly and made her smile all the time. Sometimes we were nervous for Noah, because he was almost too kind and too sensitive. We thought he would get hurt a lot in this world.

    Now he can’t be hurt, and he is loving life more than we can imagine and singing glory to God.

    My prayer is for your comfort.

  16. […] Daniel Steinberg’s daughter is gone. He’s telling us all about it. If you are brave enough to read what he writes, you will be looking straight into the heart and soul of a man who has been to hell, seen the devil and has no idea why he was chosen for the journey. I don’t know why either, except that the story he tells with all of his heart and soul is a path to a journey that any of us with kids might have to take one day. […]

  17. as-20082007-sa

    Very interesting article


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