Elena’s Candle

Some time back in December, Maggie was talking about the seven sacraments after she returned from her PSR class.

“I don’t know if I’ll get all seven,” Maggie said.

“Most people don’t,” I said.

“How come?” she asked.

“One of them is for becoming a priest and another is for getting married. Priests can’t be married so most people could only get six and if you don’t get married then only five.”

Maggie looked at Kim and asked, “how many do I have mom?”

“Three,” Kim said, “Baptism, reconciliation, and first communion.”

“Same as Elena,” I said.

Kim looked puzzled a moment and then nodded, “yep, she did.” She paused and added, “sort of.”

Maggie asked, “what do you mean?”

Kim answered, “she had baptism and last rites.”

“Last rites?” Maggie asked.

“What the priest gives you when you die,” Kim said.

“That’s only two,” Maggie said.

“Well, she also took her first communion,” I said.

Maggie frowned, “that shouldn’t count. She wasn’t supposed to.”

Elena had gone up with Maggie and Kim before Maggie had even taken her first communion. Kim couldn’t leave the girls seated while she went up for communion so she’d always taken them with her. Elena had clearly been thinking of trying this for weeks. When Kim put her hands out to receive the wafer, so did Elena. And the person assisting Father Gary had put one in her hand.

Elena held up the wafer and turned to show Maggie. Elena turned back to the altar and closed her eyes a moment and popped it in her mouth. Maggie burst into tears. It wasn’t fair. She was supposed to receive communion before Elena. She’d been going to class to learn what it really meant. There would be a party afterwards. She’d wear a white dress.

In fact, all that did happen months later when Maggie received her first communion. Elena jumped into some of the pictures with the rest of Maggie’s communion class. After all, in her mind she’d been there and done that.

Maggie’s cousin Julie had done the same thing. She’d just put her hands out for the wafer and received one long before she should have. Julie is Kim’s God Child. Kim said smiling, “oh that Julie is so bad.” I went out and bought her a congratulations card and put five dollars inside. Mary Kay, Julie’s mom, reminded me of that when Elena pulled the same stunt.

We can joke about Elena receiving her first communion, but she didn’t really. And it’s been really tough for Kim to watch the other kids in Elena’s class reach these milestones that Elena will never reach.

The church has been amazing about it and has included Elena in these rituals. I’ve asked Patti McGovern, Jack’s mom, to write down one of the stories she told us of the first sacrament that Elena missed participating in.

She writes:

Jack received the sacrament of Reconciliation last week.  For the non-Catholics, this is a child’s first confession with a priest.  It precedes the sacrament of First Communion, and teaches children that everyone sins, that as long as you are truly sorry for your sins and that you promise to try harder to be a better person in the future, then through confession, your sins are absolved by God.

Elena should have been a part of this celebration.  She was in this class of PSR students at Our Lady of Peace.  She planned on wearing a fabulous dress for her Communion, and teased Jack that the two of them would pretend that the day would also be their wedding day.  To a six-year old boy, there could be no better torment.  She made him crazy.

As part of the ceremony, each child had a candle on the altar that they lit themselves after leaving the confessional. The act of striking the match and lighting the candle was very exciting for the children.  To honor Elena’s life and to include her in the Reconciliation ceremony, the PSR teachers placed a candle with her name on it on the altar along side the other childrens’ candles.

At some point during the program, Mrs. Fletcher came to Jack and invited him to light Elena’s candle for her.  He was very proud to do it.  Plus, he was the only kid who got to strike the match twice.  When all the children were done confessing their sins (most related to general unkindnesses imposed on younger siblings, occasional disobedience toward one or both parents, and maybe a swear word or two), Mrs. Fletcher approached Jack again, and asked him to bring Elena’s candle over to the statue of the Virgin Mary, with the memorial candles that parishioners light to honor lost loved ones.  He did this again with great pride.

He gently placed Elena’s lit candle on the right hand side of the statue, kind of looked at it, thought for a moment, and then moved it to the left side.  He returned to our pew and said, “I’m sure Elena’s would have preferred to be on the left”.  Of this he was completely sure.

At the end of the program the children were invited to either take their candle home with them that evening, or to leave it burning in the church and collect it at another time.  Immediately, Jack took his candle and placed it next to Elena’s.   He came back to our pew and said, “I’m going to keep her company here.  I think she’d like that.”

He was quiet for a moment and then jumped to his feet.  “I just thought of 3 more sins!  Where’s Father Gary?  I need to talk to him.  We better come back on Saturday and do this again.”

Published in: on February 25, 2007 at 8:09 am  Comments (1)  

All Ears

Maggie surprised me the first night at Disney. She asked Kim to buy her a pair of Mickey Mouse ears that lit up. I’m sure if she’d asked me I would have said no. You’d think I would know better by now. I would have been wrong.

Kim figured that Maggie would want something like that and as long as she was at Disney she would wear it but once we got home she wouldn’t. So, she reasoned, why not get it on the first night so that Maggie got maximum use out of it. I would have said no on the first day and no on the last day. Sometimes I just don’t get it.

Maggie loved the ears. She wore them all the time. Usually she gets something like that and a few minutes later she announces that they hurt her head or something and never wears them again. Not this time. She wore them on and off the entire week. She would put them in the bag when she rode some rides and ask for them back when we walked around. She loved the ears.

Maggie was child-like in a way that warmed Kim and my hearts. She wasn’t standing outside of herself and observing the experience. She was embracing it and living it – ears and all.

Elena, we figured, would have wanted one of the princess hats with the frilly stuff cascading down from the point. Elena would have wanted a Figment pin. Maggie thought about it and then said “that’s ok”. She asked for surprisingly little during our week there.

At MGM, Kim and Maggie headed for the ladies room and I headed for the mens room. Maggie turned towards me and I saw that her ears were on. The ears were mirrored surfaces with little lights that lit up in a pattern.

As I entered the mens room I heard a toilet in the ladies room flush. A little girl screamed from a stall in the mens room.

Her dad said, “that was next door. That wasn’t this toilet.”

“I don’t like the automatic flush, daddy,” the little girl said.

I smiled. Just like Elena. I remembered many times when Elena would jump off the seat when she thought it was about to flush. I remember standing next to her half turned away with her holding onto my sleeve while she went to the bathroom.

“Daddy,” the little girl said.

I tried not to listen but I couldn’t help myself.

“What?” her dad asked.

“How come you don’t have a vagina?” she asked.

I smiled even more widely. What great memories of the same type of conversation with my girls. To me it was like having a part of Elena back with me.

The dad was a bit self-conscious. He knew someone else was in the bathroom with them. He didn’t answer her right away.

“How come, daddy?” she prompted.

The dad said, “let’s not talk about this right now. We’ll talk about it later.”

“OK, daddy,” the little girl said.

I washed my hands and thanked them for bringing back memories.

My day was brighter. My ears lit up too – just not in a pattern like Maggie’s.

Published in: on February 24, 2007 at 9:23 am  Comments (4)  

So Many Hands

One year ago I woke early not knowing what to do.

I suppose I paused outside Elena’s room to see if it had all been a dream. Last night I talked to my father-in-law about this. Tom says he sometimes still wakes hoping it’s all been a nightmare and that she’ll be returned to us.

It’s been a year. I’m ready to wake up.

Kim and I hadn’t slept much that night a year ago. We were in a bit of a fog that would last for weeks. From the time Elena started to turn blue and we knew we had to rush her somewhere life was a bit of a blur.

I went up to my computer and started this blog. I’m not sure what moved me to do it. Maybe nothing more than therapy for myself. Maybe a way of telling friends and family some of the details they would need to know. I started the blog and wrote the initial post. For the next few days I would wander back up to the keyboard and add a thought or two.

I had to tell someone and I didn’t know who or how.

The doorbell rang. It wasn’t yet seven and Kim and I both headed downstairs to see who it was. We’d called a few people the night before. We didn’t yet know that the story had been on the news and that Boulevard teachers had been calling families late the night before.

It was Patti with coffee for us and bagels. For most of the week we only ate when someone reminded us to. For Kim the reminder had to be strong and persistent.

We lived in a weird state of living through that week and watching it like we weren’t even in the room. Who were these people with so much loss? It was us – but there was also a numbness as one person after another came to visit us.

Do you know that trust exercise where you close your eyes and fall back and trust that someone will catch you? That’s what we did for the next few weeks. As we fell backwards and forwards people caught us and helped us back up.

I don’t know what we could have done without them. Without you.

People flew in from thousands of miles away. People wrote to us, called us, or just stayed where they were and said a prayer or thought good thoughts. People linked to the blog and soon people we’d never known were leaving comments of support.

Catching us as we fell backwards.

There were details. So many details to attend to. When? Where? In what? How? Who? So many details.

People are still catching us when we falter and helping us back up. You are. Wednesday the people who came to our house to remind us that they understand this isn’t over for us.

There was something unexpectedly difficult about a year. We had gotten to the point where we could get through our days still remembering Elena but also living our lives as they now are and then bam. A disconnect.

I don’t know what Kim saw this week. I saw images from Elena’s last day. Our conversations while she lay on the couch watching tv. Her calling me on the phone whenever she wanted me. Me helping her to the bathroom and her feeling better. Kim coming home. Kim telling me Elena’s color didn’t look right. Me carrying Elena to the car to go to the hospital. Kim driving off with her. Me driving Maggie to the ambulance and standing with Kim as our baby died in the back of the ambulance – neither of us knowing that that’s what happened. Kim riding off with Elena in the ambulance. Me dropping Maggie at Mary Kays and frantically calling anyone I could think of who might help. Me rushing into the room to see how she was doing and finding Elena dead on the table. Me sitting with Kim in the room watching our dead daughter.

That made the anniversary tough.

What made it tougher was all of the things Elena didn’t do in the year since her death. I don’t have the strength to list those. From soccer, to second grade, to a trip to Disney.

And so Kim and I spent the week falling backwards and people appeared out of nowhere to catch us.

I trust they always will. You will. And for that I am grateful.

Published in: on February 23, 2007 at 9:04 am  Comments (6)  

Our Anniversary

Elena died a year ago today.

A friend and I were IMing earlier this week about getting together for lunch. He asked about Thursday and I said “I’m sorry but that’s our anniversary.”

I knew better the moment I had typed it and was clarifying when he wrote “congratulations”.

I apologized profusely. I knew he would feel bad and he shouldn’t. He had no way of knowing that that I was referring to the first anniversary of Elena’s death. I’m not sure what to call it, but I will be more careful in the future.

Thank you to the many people who have sent cards and emails and IMs this week to Kim and Maggie and me. Thank you to those of you who haven’t but have paused a moment to think of us. As always it is all felt and all appreciated.

Tonight Father Gary is saying a mass for Elena at Our Lady of Peace and then we are having family and a few others who have asked over for a little pasta.

Some of Mama’s with red sauce and some of mine with alice. We’ll roll out some pizza’s and bake them up. We’ll unveil Elena’s gravestone and we’ll light a candle.

Elena loved gatherings like this.

Published in: on February 22, 2007 at 2:38 pm  Comments (15)  

Homework

I’ve written more than once about the image of Elena doing her homework the night before she died. I’d like to suggest these homework assignments for you.

If you knew Elena, please think of a story about her that you can share on this blog on her birthday of March 3. I’ll post a place to do so then.

Whether or not you knew Elena, think of someone you loved who has died and write down some story about them somewhere anywhere. You don’t have to share it with anyone, but capture some memory of a parent or a child or a sibling or a friend who is no longer here.

If you are a parent, think of some story you want to capture before it disappears. The details will fade faster than you know and then your are telling a second hand or third hand story. Again, you don’t have to share it with anyone, but write it down.

Published in: on February 22, 2007 at 12:57 pm  Comments (5)  

A torrent

A year ago today was the last day Elena would go to school. She got up looking so cute in her little pajamas and came to find me. She had been sick the day before and Kim had taken her to the doctors but they said nothing was wrong. At the time, nothing probably was wrong. She certainly hadn’t yet been attacked by the bacteria that would kill her.

But that Tuesday morning she woke up as happy as can be. I don’t remember what she ate that morning. It could have been toast. It could have been cereal. She was a bit up in arms that she was going to miss Sophie’s official birthday party but she was looking forward to their private celebration. They were going to have a sleep over. Also, Sophie would come to Elena’s birthday party. It was going to be a dance party.

The girls went to Boulevard school. It was the last day that they would be dropped off together and run from the car to the crossing guard. It was the last day that Elena, with her hat slipping down over her eyes, would tip her head back and shout to Maggie “wait for me.” It would be the last day that Maggie would have a little sister literally following in her footsteps.

I don’t remember where Kim went that night but I was feeding the girls dinner. She might have gone to the gym with Patti. Elena was having a hard time keeping herself out of time out. She was fussing about something. She would pout and even work herself into tears and then have giggling fits when we took her seriously. Once she giggled we’d realize she wasn’t serious and we’d laugh at her which would make her cry again. It was a confusing cycle for all concerned.

Patti had obedience school scheduled for their golden retriever Lou so she dropped her kids off. We microwaved up some more meatballs for Jack, Kate, and Sarah and the kids played a bit.

One of the moments that has stayed with me a long time is the image of me making Elena do her homework while her friends played. I know that she didn’t mind. I know that she was actually kind of proud. I know that she even chose to do the extra work herself. I know that she finished her homework in plenty of time to play with the other kids before they left.

Still, the night before she died, I was making her do her homework. I can see her at the table with the stapled pages creased back as she finished the work in her own order.

That was a year ago.

This morning I’m heading to the airport to pick up my sister who flew in on the red-eye. Today’s trigger seems to be Donald Fagen’s “On the Dunes.” Why? I have no idea. As it plays my trickle of tears becomes a torrent. Like an idiot I bump the replay and listen again. The song has nothing to do with Elena and yet my throat lumps up and I feel the emptiness.

I try to fill it by turning the music up louder and bumping replay yet again. Finally, I realize what I’m doing and turn the music off.

Deep breaths.

A year ago Elena lost the last tooth she would ever lose. Maggie snapped a picture of it before Elena went to bed. Elena put the tooth under her pillow and went to sleep in her own bed for the last time.

We tucked her in and said good night and turned off the light. An hour later I flipped Elena over for the last time. I stopped by her room as I always did and looked in on her there with her head facing the foot of the bed. She only flipped when she knew I was on my way upstairs. I reached over and picked her up and put her back under her covers. She would never flip over like that again.

It took me a long time not to look in her room as I passed by at night.

Published in: on February 21, 2007 at 12:50 pm  Comments (1)  

A trickle

It’s weird. For the last few months we’ve had good days and bad days but we’ve seemed to have more of the good. As the anniversary of Elena’s death approaches the days are getting harder for me. After a couple of months where I only cried when there was a clear trigger, I find myself misting up for no obvious reasons.

No school today for Maggie because of Presidents’ Day. We had to drop by and see the proofs of Elena’s headstone and sign off on them. Both Monica and Michelle were there this time.

They did a beautiful job. It reflects as much of Elena as we could fit on a rock. We had Maggie check that everything was spelled correctly and signed the form. They had printed out a second copy for us so that we could show our family and friends on Thursday when they come to the house.

I dropped Kim and Maggie at Kim’s parents’ house and Elena and I went to pick up some Chinese takeout. I’ve decided to bring her with me whenever I can. Not in a creepy or an unhealthy way. But when my thoughts turn to Elena I follow them.

I pay for the food and pick up the bags and turn back to the door. I can almost see Elena at my side gripping my hand and the bag along with it. She turns to the man at the counter with a glint in her eye and says “Xie Xie.”

“Elena,” I think to myself, “Thank you.”

Published in: on February 19, 2007 at 12:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

Shen at Ten

Nearly ten years ago we traveled with eight other families to China to adopt Maggie. She was known then as Shen QiuXue. Each of the girls had the surname of Shen and so someone started referring to them as the Shen sisters and everyone in our group picked up on it.

There are two families, Hannah’s and Gina’s, that we haven’t seen since and hope someday we will.

But we have been fortunate to see some or all of the other six families almost every year since. Maggie and her Shen sisters: Leah, Erin, Kelli, Laura, Anna, and Emily.

This year these seven girls all made it to our tenth year reunion at Disney World. Seeing the girls together makes everything worth it. They are bigger versions of the people we met almost a decade ago in Hefei, China. Each child seems to be a perfect fit for their family. Their parents and us have nothing apparent in common and yet this common bond of our daughters is enough for us to enjoy each others’ company and be genuinely interested in how each other is doing.

We met in the Magic Kingdom for a special Pirates and Princesses night. For an extra fee we could be in the park for a special parade, for more fireworks, and for little shows and treats throughout the park. It was a great decision. We walked right on to any ride Maggie wanted to. We got to see two sets of fireworks from right in front of the castle and we watched as a special parade rolled by. There were dance parties all over the park with live DJ’s playing music you’d here on radio Disney. Perfect for Elena – Maggie wasn’t interested at all.

After the parade, my parents went back to the hotel. It had been a long day that had started at Epcot. We continued with the other Shen sisters as Maggie rebonded with them. She says it takes her the first night to get all of their names straight again and to figure out which girl goes with which parent.

We were able to upgrade our passes for a total of $20 the three of us were able to extend each of our passes by three days. Less than $3 per day per person – that’s my kind of deal.

With the additional days in hand, we joined the Shen sisters at the Animal Kingdom on Friday. Maggie was running out of steam but she wanted to see some more of the animals and she spent much of the day whining that she wanted to ride the river rapids ride again and get wet. Finally, I decided the sun had come out enough that we could probably ride it once more without risk of sickness. We had worn our bathing suits under our clothes so we took off our pants and got on. Somehow, the raft spun just right for us not to get soaked. We rode the ride and got only mildly splashed so Maggie was willing to call it a day. I had told her that if we had gotten soaked we could ride it a second time as we’d already be wet.

Most of the families headed over to dinner and then took a boat over to Epcot. Maggie and Kim got their second wind and so we stayed to watch the IllumiNations show again and to do some late night shopping in the world showcase at Epcot.

Saturday morning Maggie woke up determined to go back to the 3D Muppet movie at MGM. Maggie is cautious about doing something a first time but she loves to do things she knows over and over. There were still no lines in the park so it was easy for her to choose what she wanted to do. After three more times at the Muppet movie I’d had enough and she suggested we go to the backlot tour. We then went to the animation exhibit and Kim and Maggie and I sat in on a class where we drew Donald Duck in twelve minutes.

It was time to meet the other Shen sisters for the main event. We were all meeting in the China pavillion at Epcot for lunch. The girls and their parents were all wearing a shirt that Joe and Sharon had had printed with one of the first pictures we had of all of the girls together from when they were just one year old.

We had propped them up on a couch and taken a picture. Now, each year when we gather, whichever girls are there sit in the same order that they did back in 1997. In the lobby of the Chinese Restaurant the girls, for the first time, were able to figure out the order for themselves.

While they sat and smiled and teased each other, more cameras than girls snapped pictures. Laura’s sister would have to be renamed. She’d been called “baby Kelli” to distinguish her from the Shen sister Kelli. She isn’t a baby anymore. Some of the girls referred to her as “little Kelli.”

Elena used to always fuss at this point. She’d want to get into the picture. We’d always take a series with just the real Shen sisters and then we’d let the adopted Shen sisters in.

We were seated in the restaurant and the girls looked so grown up. Ten years has gone by so quickly. We each know at least one person waiting to adopt from China. These girls are the “after” picture. Bright, beautiful, bubbly girls bouncing off of each other.

I don’t know how common it is to stay close with your adoption travel group. For us it has been wonderful. These are girls with whom Maggie shares a history for her first year on earth. They may have the same questions later in life and they may be able to understand each other in ways that no one else can.

Nancy had bought eight Mickey Mouse hands and distributed it to the eight girls (seven Shen sisters and little Kelli). The Shen sisters signed each other’s hands. It’s the Disney souvenir to top all souvenirs.

After dinner we went out to the courtyard to watch a troupe of Chinese acrobats. The girls sat and waved their Mickey hands at us. Seven beautiful, happy girls together again. The acrobats came out and did a slightly different act than Maggie had seen a few days before with her grandparents. Afterwards, the girls tried to do some of their own tricks.

We headed to the front of the park to catch some of the rides. The girls wanted to ride the Nemo ride and see the aquarium. They wanted to see the talking turtle exhibit (I still want to know how that was done).

By now most of the girls had left for the night. Two of the Shen sisters suggested that they ride the Mars mission ride. Maggie shook her head. She’d been avoiding rides like that all week.

The girls assured her that really it was nothing. They warned her that the preshow would scare her but that the actual ride wasn’t bad. This was what Maggie needed. This was Elena calling out “c’mon” on her way out to hang upside down by her knees from the monkey bars.

Maggie rode with Kelli and Leah and Leah’s dad Dale. Kim and I rode in the next group with Kelli’s parents Sharon and Joe. Kim and I kept looking at each other thinking “uh oh, this is where Maggie freaked out.” She had had a few moments of terror but had more or less enjoyed the ride and hadn’t been too scared. It’s one of the rides she talked about for days.

The next morning was our last at Disney. We got up and packed and checked out. Anna and Emily and their moms Laurie and Colleen came to pick us up and drive us to the hotel where the others were staying. Laura was sick and couldn’t join us. Her parents Keith and Nancy came down one at a time to spend some time with us. Leah and her parents Dale and Darlene were heading for MGM and Maggie wanted to go back for a couple of hours before we had to catch our flight so we joined them.

While Maggie led the other girls to the Muppet movie yet again, Kim and I headed to try to get a fastpass for all those willing to ride the rollercoaster. The fastpasses were already sold out for the day and the park was pretty full with the Presidents’ Day Weekend crowd. Still we ran into Erin, another Shen sister, and her parents Jeff and Kay on the way back to the Muppet movie. We took them along to meet up with the others but they had a 1:40 reservation on the Space Tours ride.

The rest of the group rode took the backlot tour (yet again for Maggie) and then we said goodbye and Kim and Maggie and I took the animation academy one more time. Again we had the same instructor and drew a slightly different looking Donald Duck.

Maggie liked all the things we did in our week at Disney. She had a bunch of great memories. But her two favorite parts were spending time with her grandparents and spending time with her Shen sisters.

Published in: on February 18, 2007 at 11:50 am  Leave a Comment  

Going to Disney World

Before we left the hospital nearly a year ago, we were warned that Maggie might not respond the way we expected to the news of Elena’s death. Sure enough, her initial response was very concrete. A little later while she and I waited in the car for Kim, Maggie said “now we’ll never go to Disney World.”

We had put off Disney until Elena was tall enough to ride the rides. We had thought about going a few weeks earlier but hadn’t. Elena had never gotten to Disney. She loved the characters and totally bought into the magic.

Me too.

I love the parks. I had contacted them a couple of times trying to get them to hire me as a contractor to do podcasts about the various parks at WDW like a friend of mine does for Disneyland. At one point they posted my dream job – working with podcasting and blogs about the parks at WDW. I’ve never actually gotten a response to my inquiries or applications – not even an acknowledgment – but a boy can dream can’t he.

Elena was all about the magic. She loved the princesses. Maggie never did. Elena would be in her room having a make believe party with one or more of them. She would become one of them for a day or two. For a while she was in the habit of talking to an invisible friend named Stephen who was the handsome prince in one of the stories.

For her bedtime story she would often bring out a Disney collection of chapters on the different princesses.

“Are your teeth brushed?” I’d ask.

“Yep,” she’d open her mouth wide and bare her teeth to prove it. She’d move in and blow towards my mouth.

“What are you doing?” I’d ask.

“Smell my breath. It’s minty.” She’d put her hands on her hips and hold out the book. “C’mon big boy, read me a story.”

“Which one should we read?” I’d ask.

“What’s your favorite, daddy?” she’d ask back.

“I don’t know,” I’d say, “they are all so good.”

“That was sarcasm, wasn’t it daddy?” she’d ask.

“Yep, it was.”

And then she’d pick a story. We’d read it together sitting in my and Kim’s bed and then I’d carry her into her room while she held her book. She’d thumb through the other stories telling herself shorter versions based on the pictures.

Disney was made for Elena. Going without her would be difficult but how do we not take Maggie. A couple of weeks later the issue was resolved. There in the Dells with Maggie’s Shen sisters we decided that for the tenth year reunion of the girls we would meet in Orlando instead of in Wisconsin.

We still had park tickets from 2001 when we were supposed to go down there with my parents. Elena was a couple of months shy of her second birthday and Maggie was four. It would have been a very different trip. We asked my parents if they wanted to go to Disney with us for a few days before the Shen sisters arrived. We ended up flying down with them on Monday and staying with them through late Thursday night.

Maggie had a ball. We stayed in the least expensive Disney hotel we could find and took buses back and forth to the parks. We got a late start on Monday but still managed to explore some of the Magic Kingdom before taking the monorail over to Epcot.

Tuesday we started at the Animal Kingdom. Any time a Disney character got close, Maggie would take my arm and lead me the other way. She loved the animals and steered us away from most of the rides. We went on a water ride that left her soaked so we decided there was no harm in riding it again and again. Drenched to the bone we headed over to the Lion King show.

The Circle of Life show, like all of the Disney shows, is presented in a theatre dedicated to that show. We sat in the second row in a theatre in the round. The stage craft was amazing. The show began with a parade of color. People dressed in costumes of different animals. The stage rolled in on four trucks. The stagehands quickly assembled the center stage for a trapeze and trampoline act. The show was a fun combination of music and acrobatics with the actors coming right up to our seats. At one point they asked Maggie if she wanted to join them on stage for a scene in which the animals paraded with children from the audience. She said no. She’s just not big on characters.

Kim and I teared up throughout the show. There was no way to watch music from Elena’s favorite musical without feeling her presence. And then they began to sing “The Circle of Life”. I moved away from Maggie a bit so she wouldn’t feel me sobbing. Kim was right there with me. She moved away from my mom so as not to disturb her. The two of us sat close to each other thinking of our little girl as a woman sang the line that we’d just chosen for the side of her headstone: more to do than can ever be done.

We had another couple of numbers to bring ourselves back in control. I guess we had brought Elena to Disney with us. And then the lights came up on the audience and we all headed back out into the rainy day.

If Elena were physically with us we would have gone to see the characters standing along the way. We would have ridden more rides. We would have seen more shows. Instead, we spent some more time with animals on our way to the front of the park. We took a bus to the transportation center and then a boat back to the Magic Kingdom so that we could catch a nighttime parade where the floats were lit up.

At the end of the night we took a bus back to the hotel and Maggie and I went swimming while Kim and my mom went to get us all hot chocolate. We were in a building with a giant replica of a can of Play Doh in the middle and a giant yo-yo at each end. I’m sure Maggie had a great time and don’t know if she noticed anything missing.

I know we can’t live our lives saying “Elena would have …”, and yet, Elena would have loved this week. It would have been a very different week for Maggie – but she and Elena would have been able to have told each other these stories for the rest of their lives.

Published in: on February 15, 2007 at 10:14 am  Comments (1)  

To be set in stone

It was cold yesterday and today. Not like Monday and Tuesday when it was bone chilling cold. School canceling cold. It was zero Monday morning when we woke up. Not zero degrees Celsius but zero degrees Farenheit. Add in the windchill and it supposedly feels like twenty below. Today it’s back to double digits and, although it hasn’t warmed up to the freezing point yet, it feels much warmer.

Maggie was off of school for two days at the beginning of the week. It’s been a short week for her and we’re heading out of town on Monday so she’ll have no school next week. Kim’s off of work today so we called to see how Michelle was doing with the design of Elena’s headstone. Her plotter had been giving her problems but she thought she could be ready with something to show us later in the day.

What about three thirty or so after Maggie is done with school?

That sounded ok to her.

Kim and I picked Maggie up at school and told her where we were heading.

“Is that ok?” I asked.

“I guess,” she said.

We parked next door. Maggie reached in her bag to get some snacks to bring in with her. “Leave it,” I said. She started to give me one of her looks and for some reason decided not to. When we got to the inner door she read the sign and rang the bell.

Michelle led us into the office and showed us the work she’d done. Maggie looked at it quietly. Michelle said she wasn’t sure about the Chinese character. She couldn’t tell if these two lines were supposed to connect of be separate. Maggie shook her head and pointed. These two are separate. So are these two over here.

Michelle nodded.

She pulled out her eraser and pencil and soon the lines were separated. Maggie nodded.

Michelle asked about the rabbit. The three of us nodded. It looked nice.

Michelle took out two sets of sketches of forget-me-nots. Kim looked at both and decided on the single flower.

Finally, we looked at both sets of fonts. I still didn’t care for the serifs but I really didn’t like all caps. The only decender in Elena’s name was the “g” in her last name so that made the vertical spacing work out well. We decided on the serif font for the top and didn’t really have much of a choice for the side – it would be in the non serif all caps font.

Michelle asked which of the three designs we wanted to include. Kim decided we want all three. We would put the flower on the left and then the Chinese character and the rabbit on the right. Michelle thought she could make it work.

“Come back next week and I’ll show you a proof you can sign off on,” Michelle said.

“Actually,” I said, “next week we’ll b e at Disney. We’re going for a reunion of the girls Maggie was adopted with.”

“Cool,” Michelle said giving Maggie a big smile. She turned to see Kim looking at the special monument with the statues of the boys climbing the wall. “Do you like that?” Michelle asked.

“I do,” said Kim.

“It’s at Lakeview,” Michelle answered. “I don’t think it’s far from where your daughter is buried.”

“I’d like to see it,” Kim said.

“Hang on,” Michelle said, “I’ll call my dad.” A couple of minutes later her father was looking up information on the memorial and the cemetery and showing us where on the map it is and the best way to walk into the section to see it. Michelle thumbed through books and showed us some of the other stones near by. Her dad was quiet and modest. Too modest. When people let him, he did amazing work.

Michelle looked at her dad and back at Maggie and said “I have to tell you my story about Disney World.” The two of them tried to figure out what year it was when they had gone. Michelle was one of five children and they were all at Disney watching a parade when she ran away from the group to give Mickey Mouse a letter she had written to him. By the time she turned around to find her family again, she couldn’t find them.

Michelle said that since we would be gone the following week, she would have the proofs ready for us when we got back from Disney. We would have to sign off on them and then they could be cut into the stone.

I asked for another copy of the proof. They weren’t going to have the stones in time for the anniversary of Elena’s death so I wanted to have a proof that I could show the people coming over to our house. Michelle said that wouldn’t be a problem at all.

Maggie paused on our way out to look at the stones on the floor of the room next to the office. I told her that Elena’s would have the same shape as that one but the same color as that other one with the same writing as this third one.

Maggie nodded.

Published in: on February 9, 2007 at 10:29 pm  Leave a Comment