Taking Tissues

There has been a long pause in my writing. Depending on how you read these entries you may or may not have noticed. I know you don’t need an explanation, but I’d like to offer you one. I have written these mainly for me but I’ve come to know many of you through your kind responses and so I want to tell you why I stopped posting regularly and then stopped posting at all.

I know you could have helped me. I know you would have helped me. But I needed to get here myself.

Here’s a possible metaphor – a sense memory from childhood that may or may not have happened quite this way.

I’m somewhere around Maggie’s age and my elementary school teacher is telling the class how disappointed she is in us. Someone has taken something from her desk.

Immediately I start to feel guilty. Maybe she’s talking about me. It’s the same feeling I get when I’m taking a test and my eyes wander. I haven’t seen anything. I was just looking around – but I feel so guilty that the teacher might think that I’ve seen something that I stretch or feign a cough and look around in a way that she will know I wasn’t looking around to copy off of anyone’s paper.

Of course, with my adult eyes I look at this behavior and shake my head with half a smile on my face. But as a child, these moments were serious.

Someone has taken something. Later, when no one’s around I wander up to the teacher’s desk and I tell her that it was me. My nose was runny and I took a tissue off her desk when she wasn’t looking. She laughs. It’s a burst that confuses me at first and then reassures me. No, it wasn’t tissue that she was talking about. That’s what the tissue is there for. We can always take some if we need it. She gives me one of those hugs that teachers used to be allowed to give their students. She smells of cigarette smoke and chalk. She laughs again, this time to herself, and pushes me towards the door for afternoon recess.

I don’t know it but she was talking about a twenty dollar bill that is missing from her desk. She thinks it is missing. She’s not actually positive but she’s pretty sure it was there before morning recess. Now, it’s not there. So if it was there before, then now it is missing. And if it was there before and not there now then someone took it.

I don’t know if someone took it. If someone did, I don’t know the effect of her words on them. There are also many kids in the class that didn’t take it and haven’t given it another thought. There are also the kids who think that if someone took something then they know who it was and they hound those kids with accusations. And then there are the kids like me. The kids who feel guilty when there is nothing to feel guilty about.

I hope that that’s where I am now. Now, I ask for a favor. Either stop reading this entry now or read it through to the end. Do not stop after the next sentence.

The entries to this blog slowed and then stopped after Ann Coulter’s comments about the 9/11 widows.

In her latest book she wrote about a group of women whose husbands died when terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center. She wrote “I’ve never seen people enjoying their husbands’ deaths so much.”

People on the left who appeared on talk shows after this statement were horrified both with her choice of words and with her sentiment. People on the right who appeared had various explanations for the words she used but generally expressed sympathy for the underlying message.

And that gave me pause.

Was I taking unfair advantage of the death of my six year old daughter? I was clearly benefiting emotionally from the feedback posted on this blog.

Part of what made me consider the comments so personally was that I had submitted a query to Doubleday books to see if they might be interested in publishing this blog. I’d looked up the address of the editor of “Tuesdays with Morrie” and sent a simple letter. I never heard back but I had to wonder if maybe I was seeking to gain from this tragedy.

I knew if I asked those questions here, most people would be supportive. I suspected that there would be some, however, how would feel that I am trying to cash in on Elena’s death for personal benefit.

That’s why I needed to work this all through first. I don’t believe I was writing this for any reason other than those I’ve expressed before. I can’t truly be certain. After all, the mind is very good at helping us lie to ourselves. But I think that I was taking tissues and that if any twenty was taken it wasn’t by me. This is the kind of a theft that can’t be explained or excused by anyone else.

I have not enjoyed any part of Elena’s death. I’ve seriously considered the question for a month and I’m sure enough of that to begin to put words down on paper again.

Unexpectedly, writing this has reopened wounds. Fortunately, I’m still allowed to take all of the tissues I need.

Published in: on August 7, 2006 at 9:50 pm  Comments (36)  

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  1. I’m glad to see you’re back and writing again.

    I don’t know anything about the 9/11 widows and whether they are or are not getting any sort of advantage from their husbands death. I did read some version of Ann Coulter’s statement, though, and it hurt me as well.

    After my husband died, I had a very hard time talking about how I felt, and once it became easier for me to do so, it also became necessary. I noticed that my blogcounter spiked whenever I wrote about him, and it made me wonder if people would think I was doing it for some sort of popularity, which made me stop writing about him until I had to.

    Expressing is healing, in my experience, and any benefits that you might get from your grief journey are blessings, even if they are blessings you would trade in a heartbeat.

  2. My 16 year old son died almost 21 months ago. I still write about him on my blog. I think of before Jesus died, and he had the first communion, He said to continue doing it (communion) “in remembrance of Me”. He wanted us to remember His death – His sacrifice for us.

    I have heard it said it is why gravestones are not made of sand or something that would wash away. We want our loved ones remembered forever – in stone.

    Your writing may be helping another family facing the same thing you did months ago. You are showing your normal grieving process – though we each grieve differently. I write about my son, in hopes and prayers, that another child does not play the same foolish game my son did – the choking game – that killed him. If one child is saved, it’s sure worth sharing about.

    Yes, I think blogging is a great outlet, and I am thankful for it. I hope to keep our son’s memory alive as long as I live – just as you do.

    Thank you for sharing your heart today. I did miss your blog and was concerned about you.

    Loni VS in Michigan

  3. You thought process makes perfect sense. I know I certainly wouldn’t think poorly of whatever decision you might make with regards to this blog, but your opinion is the one that matters most.

  4. Hi Daniel

    I have been reading since the beginning and have been moved by the words you have chosen to share with the world. I appreciate the sincerity of all of your entries, but am perhaps most moved by elements of today’s entry.

    No matter how your story of life with Elena (then and now) develops, whether it exists here, in book form or only in your heart, I am sure that your carefully considered answer to your questions will help you as you move forward.

    I say all of these things with the greatest respect, sympathy and hope.

    j

    PS: I have shared Elena’s knock knock joke (“Goat who?”) with every kid I know. They love it.

  5. Honest individual expression is something that blogging allows us and with the popularity of blogging, it is something that is obviously missing in our culture. I am glad that you have returned to writing; it not only reminds me of Tuesdays with Morrie, it also brings back memories of reading The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

  6. This blog is one of the few I don’t have organized into a folder, because I want to be sure and read it first whenever you update. As the father of two small children, I find comfort and hope in the idea that even if something tragic should happen in my life, there will be a way to get through it.

  7. I’m glad you’re back. I understand your thought process. Thanks for explaining it. I hope you will do whatever your heart guides you to do, without thinking too much more about what others will think. Much love to all of you…

  8. Daniel –
    Sharing your stories of Elena (and Maggie and Kim) is not exploitive. Perhaps there are 9/11 widows who are taking advantage of public sympathy – you are not. You are living in the real world and have invited us into your heart and made us all wish we had known Elena. We also all wish that you had never had cause to create this blog. The sharing of your grief and the memories of your joy strike a chord in us. So yeah, take all the tissues you need. You told us from the start that you didn’t know how long you would keep at this. When it’s time to go, you’ll tell us.
    Thanks, Daniel.

  9. I have read your blog since the beginning. After every entry I have written a comment, but I end up deleting them because the comments were more therapy for myself than anything else.

    I know people that died on 9/11. I was suppose to be in the WTC on 9/11 but a quirk of fate had me in my New Jersey office. Some of the 9/11 family members I know hate Ann Coulter for what she wrote and said. Some were happy that someone finally had the guts to say what others have been feeling for a very long time.

    The moral of the story is that when a loved one dies there is no right way or wrong way to grieve. Your are blogging because that is the way you have chosen to grieve and there is nothing wrong with that. Also there is nothing wrong in emotionally benefiting from reading the comments to your blog.

    I want you to continue blogging for a very selfish reason, I truly believe it has made me a better father by reminding me what is really important in life, but the bottom line is that this is your blog and you can and should write whatever you feel.

    You should not feel guilty about taking any tissues.

  10. I’ve been reading since the start when Tim Bray linked to you. Seriously, even if you intend to profiteer from Elena’s death (which I doubt you are), it’s irrelevant to me as a reader. What you’ve written has helped me see my own life and children in a different light, and has made me want to be a better father. I’ve indirectly benefitted from your daughter’s death and somehow, I don’t feel bad about that. I bet it would make her happy to know that her life, through your blog, has had a positive effect on so many people’s lives, especially her Daddy’s.

    Do you suppose she would want you to be poor? If she were alive and you wrote stories about her, do you suppose she’d be upset if you told her you wanted to publish the stories in a book? Somehow, I don’t think so. I bet she’d be excited and proud. I don’t think the fact that it’s a sad story would have made her any less so.

    No one but yourself can make you feel guilty. You will make the choice whether to feel guilty or not. But, if it helps, I think we’re all trying to give you a hug to let you know that we know you didn’t take the twenty. Now, go out and play.

  11. {{{{{{{hugs}}}}}}}} to you and yhour family.

    By reading the comments to your postings it easy to see that you are helping people all over the world. It is comforting to know that this blog has helped you. I can only speak for myself but it has been hard at times to read your posts and know there was nothing that I could do.

  12. I agree with everyone above and would add that I think you should write a book about this. Whether it’s from this blog or otherwise, the shared experience is a powerful thing for others. We don’t talk about death very often in American society outside of how many were killed in this disaster or crime or what-have-you. The mourning process is a mystery and this blog has powerfully shed light on that for me and others that I know.

    This blog has touched many people, I think. A book could only touch more. And if you aren’t comfortable with taking money from such a venture, you could always have proceeds donated or share them with Maggie and her Shen sisters.

  13. I’ve been reading your blog for several months, but have never posted. However, I saw your new post today, and couldn’t resist the urge to echo the chorus of others whose family relationships have been strengthened by your words.

    I am the daughter of a father much like you. Reading your posts has made me a better daughter. Thank you for helping me to understand his feelings and his love. My prayers continue to go out to you and your family.

  14. Your concerns remind me of the backlash when Eric Clapton had a hit song that he wrote about his son Connor’s death. It is astonishing to me that anyone would question motives when a writer processes grief through writing–whether lyrics, or a blog, or any other type of writing. Nonetheless I admire you all the more for examining your motives.

    I believe as so many do that it is in remembering that we keep loved ones with us, so sharing those memories is in turn a wonderful gift to others. Sharing your grieving process in this blog is yet another gift, as others have commented in different ways. So really it seems only right that you also benefit from writing about Elena.

  15. I do not think that this blog, or a book being made of this blog would be in any way exploitative. Your words and honesty I believe have helped many — so some cash comes of it, so what? If there’s still a question in your mind, you could donate the proceeds to a child-health fund of some kind.

  16. I’ve been reading this blog since I first heard of it. I’m glad you’ve taken comfort from people’s feedback, and no, I never got the impression you were somehow using this tragedy as some sort of self-promotion.

    I don’t think I have much to add to what others have said here, other than to echo their feelings. I think you have offered us a deep insight into your grief, and thank you for it. I doubt I’d have the same courage.

  17. Thank you, Daniel, for posting. I have been wondering how you’ve been doing, and I’m glad that you were working through things. You’ll make your own decision about any publication of this blog, and I’m sure you don’t need the opinion of anyone you don’t know to affirm that it’s all right. I’m just glad no further tragedies have befallen your family.

    You’re all in my prayers, as you have been ever since I began reading.

    Much love,
    Laura

  18. Daniel,

    I have an autisic daughter and have benefited greatly from reading personal accounts that other parents have written about their experiences with their children with autism. I am thankful that they chose to write about something so personal and put themselves “out there” in a way that I cannot.

    I feel this same appreciation when I read your blog. People go through crap all the time and knowing that others are also trying to make sense (and peace) with their lives is comforting. I am glad you are back.

  19. I, too, have been reading since you started writing. And I have missed your writing the last few weeks. Nearly every entry in your blog has evoked memories for me, since I went through the same tragedy about 2 years ahead of you.
    Don’t worry about being compared to the grieving spouses — the love we have for our children and the love we have for our spouse is two different animals. We don’t “fall out of love” with our children, no matter what they do.
    The day my daughter died I heard one of the most useful comments from my mother, some 6000 miles away — the pain never goes away, it just eases a bit. Your writing has helped mine “ease a bit”, and I thank you for that. I imagine you will see over time that writing has helped you, too, since it forces you to think. And as many commenters have said, it has helped us all be better parents/doctors, etc., and yes, even better spouses.

    Brian

  20. Glad you are ok
    Glad the blog has helped you
    I am sure it has helped a lot of people

  21. Speaking as someone who has lost a child, I feel incredulous that anyone could suspect you of profiteering or seeking to gain attention because of your daughter’s death. Maybe it’s just me.

    There are many reasons to publish your story besides for profit or attention. Self-expression is a valuable thing because it helps us all to know we are not alone in our experiences. I did not have the courage to write in a blog or other format about my first son’s death. Now that I have beautiful twins I can write a nice cheery blog, but I’m sure your blog can help many. I read a book of women’s stories about childbearing loss, when I was going through a particularly bad phase, and it helped because I didn’t actually want to have a conversation with anyone.

    Keep going. If you are at all concerned about the ethics, you could always choose to donate the profits to a children’s charity.

  22. I can’t add anything to what has been said. I will add you have nothing to feel guilty about, my friend.

    Hugs from across the pond.

  23. wonderful to read your posts, Daniel. i’m happy to know you have resolved your self-doubts. let me help you confirm your conclusion: i am an artist. i often paint my loved ones, sometimes portraits, sometimes in scenes. my grandparents, who i loved and who have passed on, are also sometimes depicted in my artworks. am i exploiting the people i love?
    no. i am immortalizing them.
    write on, Daniel.
    🙂
    gala

  24. Here we all are, out here in the ether, a great big bottomless box of tissues, for you and anyone else who needs one. Forever.

  25. Daniel,
    I’m glad you’ve worked through this. Selfishly, I’ve missed your writing. Like others, you’re writing has made me appreciate those I love a little more. The person who asked if Elena would have enjoyed you writing about her made me laugh out loud – she would have LOVED this! Can’t you see her holding it totally over Maggie’s head, especially a published work about her?? While you are a somewhat private person, this semi-public sharing is sooooo her. Well, she would have preferred a Broadway play script…but hey, you have to start somewhere. I know she would approve of you sharing your thoughts about her here and in any way that may happen in the future. Thank you.
    Love,
    Patti

  26. Healing is wherever we choose to or can find it, IMHO.

    While I know you only can value YOUR opinion of the situation and have to find your own peace with whatever is best for your healing, I shudder to think that the risk/fear of “gaining” from Elena’s death would hinder your OWN healing process OR the magnificent way you have reached out to people.

    You reach people…mostly good people…”gain” or not, that’s a gift that is enormous. It’s wonderful if what you share for your own healing also helps others.

    Additionally, to weigh tissues to $20, no comparison. But to compare $20 to the changes that your devoted readers have made in thier own lives due to your passion and love for Elena, and Maggie and Kim: and furthermore by appreciating life as Elena surely was so capable of…equally, no comparison. No value can be placed on that…it’s not possible.

    How could the rest of us help “give back” the teachers $20? I’d rather pool the $20 with this weeks lunch money than lose the teacher…or the lesson.

    I know it’s about you and how you feel. I’m not trying to justify for you…nobody can. I was so scared something awful had happened that I just prayed you were all ok. Even if you choose never to post again, I’m glad you are all as ok as you can be. So glad to see your familiar font. ;o)

    ~L

  27. Dear Daniel,

    Ann Coulter is the quintessence of hate; a modern day Erida. Her spiteful bitterness and pessimism are pathological. Your own ethics require you to consider every side of the issue, and that is a good thing. The perverse ideas of one such as Ann Coulter, however, should be promptly dismissed.

    Back in March I posted the following comment.
    “This journal is an extraordinary gift to Elena and to the world. You are giving your daughter back part of the future that was stolen. If Elena had grown up, she would have touched the lives of many. Through your words, she is touching the lives of many. We are getting to know Elena, and because of Elena, our lives are enriched.”

    Your writing might help you through this awful time, but it is not a self-serving act. It might help those who are hurting to heal, and it might help the rest of us to simply lead more intentional lives, but it is not primarily an act of generosity to the public. This journal is a beautiful ode. An ode ensuring both that Elena’s influence will spread past the confines of her short life, and that she will never be forgotten. It is a profound act of fatherly love.

    Dora Rose
    Shaker Heights, Ohio

  28. Dear Daniel,

    I started reading your beautiful journal after it was linked on Michelle Malkin’s site. I have prayed for you and your family, and I am relieved to see that you are posting again. God has given you this opportunity to share your precious Elena with the world, so please follow your heart and do not concern yourself with what others may think. Elena was a blessing to your family, and we thank you for sharing her with us. May God hold all of you close to His heart as you continue your journey here without Elena. I am so sorry for your loss, and I am also sorry that I cannot find the words to adequately express my feelings about what you have written here. You (and Elena) have touched my life, and I am truly grateful.

    Sincerely,

    Gina in Texas

  29. Dan,

    It was great to see you again last night. Now that I’ve caught up on your postings, I understand your cryptic reference to Anne Coulter. I have an immediate, instinctual response, but I’d better sanitize the language. Let me put this in terms that Elena would understand:

    Anne Coulter is a poopy-head.

    Don’t let her dementia influence you in any way. Do what you feel is right – that’s more than she’s ever done.

    Besides, you’ve been in publishing long enough to know that you can’t make any real money as an author anyway. 🙂

    Ron H

    PS: Michelle Malkin? Head down, keep eating…

  30. When my sister died, I had nobody who’d listen. I’ve appreciated your memories, and considered myself fortunate to be able to share in the things you write. I know that it’s hard. There are some precious things among all the bittersweet.

  31. Daniel-
    We missed you, we were worried.
    Good people, by their very nature, are required to assess their actions and motives. What you did was a noble and good thing, both in writing the blog, and then in pausing to consider. Thanks for the explanation, so eloquently worded. We all knew it wasn’t about you, we’re glad that now you know it, too.

  32. I am a regular reader, and worried as well about your absence.

    I never, not for an instant, thought that you were anything but a grieving father. Granted, a very articulate grieving father, but still a hurting person.

    Personally, I think if you were to get this published, it would help so many people, like me, that have been through similar situations. This is the topic that everyone is afraid to talk about, because they think they don’t know what to say and they are afraid of saying the wrong thing to you (or whoever) and they are afraid they will in some way make things worse.

    I think it would be (and is) a living testament to Elena’s life, and the love of your family.

  33. Daniel,

    I’m glad I saw you last week at WWDC, and was able to give you that hug. Please don’t stop writing. You are an inspiration.

  34. There is a world of difference between using a loved one’s death to make a political statement and what you’re doing here — which is affectionately sharing your thoughts and feelings about the impact of a loved one’s life. So vastly different.

    Unfortunately, there always will be people who will use any negative situation to advance their own agenda, but you’re certainly not one of those people. Writing about Elena in a quiet corner of the Internet — or in a book, if that ever happens — is a loving tribute!

    Note to Ron H: I bet a number of people found this blog through Michelle’s link on her blog months ago. I know I did. It’s OK — nice, caring people really do come in many different packages!

  35. Daniel:

    I too am glad you are back. As one of many who, a while back, suggested off-cuff that, perhaps, your postings would be useful in a book format, I’m glad you didn’t let fear about how the judgements of others could theoretically impact your need and desire to write about your feelings prevent you from continuing to express those feelings in a venue and format that you see fit. You are entitled, dude. Far more than “they” are to judge …

    Of course you were, and are, not profiting in any way from the tragedy. You write for yourself, as you say, to help you travel a path that makes sense to you through your grief, and periodically, hopefully, you gain a little comfort from it, and from the reactions of others. You also help others, and move others, some of whom are also working their way through personal tragedies. You have every right and reason to do this and keep doing it for as long as you feel like it.

    Think of it this way: by definition, views like those of Coulter, passing value judgements on the intimate, personal feelings of people they don’t known and never will, are logically flawed, unimportant, and hypocritical. She, after all, profited from her book, and continues to profit, in which she condemns the 9/11 widows for somehow profiting from their personal tragedies. Her judgement on their “alleged” profit is therefore irrelevent, not to mention deeply flawed and mean-spirited.

    You are doing just the right thing for as long as you personally, viscerally, feel it to be the right thing. So keep doing it. Until when, or if, you don’t feel like it anymore. And if you want to publish these formally some day, if it will aid your effort to harness your grief, rest assured the effort will only help many, many others. And i’ll be glad to help you, if I can.

    Don’t worry about it! You have enough on your plate.

    Your old college chum,
    Michael Goldman

  36. When I am my saddest, I actually stop talking. To my friends. To my family. To my therapist. Sometimes you have to stop talking. But I always wish someone could break through, because sharing the bitter pain of loss and the startlingly joyous memories inside of me is really the only thing that makes me feel like I am moving forward. That you pour yours out into this blog when you are able must be invaluable catharsis. Don’t stop for anyone who doesn’t matter.


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