I’m here tonight, up late in my bed. Remembering. I remember my Little One, so sweet and so real. But now, she sometimes feels so far away. How my heart aches. How my arms long for her.
I haven’t posted anything for a long time. And probably this will come out in the blog out of order. That bugs me and usually prevents me from writing. But not tonight. Tonight I must write or my heart might explode with sadness. This is so very hard… this going on with life without her. It feels so, so very impossible. Even now, I sometimes feel I’m walking through a dream, through a cloud. Nothing feels quite like it is real. And yet it also feels so terribly, sharply, brutally un-fair.
I know, I know, “…whoever said life was fair, kid?” I have more thoughts on that, and many more topics that wander through my head, but those are for other posts. Other days. Tonight, I need a lesson. I received it over a year ago really, but I need a chance to revisit it. And what better way to revisit it than to share it. Here. With all of you. Let me begin:
I’ve always wanted to be a great mom. You know, those moms we see at the library story hour or the childrens’ museum or the park; the ones who are ever patient and speak in soft tones to obedient children; the ones who are always doing fun stuff just because they can. The ones who throw terrific birthday parties and make all the decorations and favors from scratch, by hand and everything but everything is perfectly coordinated. That kind of mom. Now, let me clarify for just a moment that I wanted to be that mom for the ‘right’ reasons. It never crossed my mind that I’d be observed or praised for these feats of great momhood by other moms. Truly. My reasons were pure. I wanted to be a good mother to my children. Theirs was the only opinion that mattered to me. Well, theirs and mine I suppose. I wanted them to know how truly special to me they are. I wanted to make a big fuss over them once in a while to help them know just how much I loved them. There are many ways we convey love to our children and each of those ways are unique and special because they are personal. I knew this then, and I know it now. I knew I’d given them many wonderful ‘hugs’ in tangible and not so tangible ways. But I still wanted to give them a really good party that was just for them this particular year. My life had not turned out like I’d expected and I had been in survival mode for a long time. I wanted to break out of that and do something ‘frivolous’ and ‘just because’ and since it was birthday season, I saw my opportunity.
Bella’s birthday is in early February and Eleanor’s is mid March. Six weeks sounds like a good bit of time between special occasions, but that’s just one of those little tricks time plays on us. Six weeks is not a lot of time between birthday parties. This year Bella was turning seven. Seven!! I knew that I wanted to go all out for each of them and plan a homespun old-fashioned birthday celebration at home and not at a destination (which is how I’d survived Birthday Seasons past). Bella, my darling child picked a theme. Wait for it. Turkey. Yep. Turkeys. In February. She wanted a Turkey Birthday Party. That was fun. But I went with it. We had turkey name tags and I drew a giant turkey on poster board for “Pin the Feather on the Turkey”. We made crowns and did a balloon game, and of course served a veggie platter and fruit platter in the likeness of what else…. but turkeys! A good time was had by all. I’d done it. I’d stayed up all night drawing the turkey poster and making everything from scratch, by hand…. but I’d done it. I was that mom. At last. Of course when the party was over, I needed a nap. Luckily we’d had the party at my mom’s house and she graciously let me nap while she watched my girls. Later on, I woke up, cleaned up, packed all the turkey memorabilia, a bunch of new toys, lots of balloons and two little girls and headed home. It was worth it. It might be a while before I did it again, but I had pulled it off. I was so happy. Because she was so happy. And I was determined to give a party six weeks later that was every bit as fantastic to my second daughter, Eleanor.
Eleanor has always been ‘an easy child’. Perhaps that’s because she was younger and I’d been through all sorts of adventures with her older sister and things didn’t surprise me with her. Or maybe she was just a mellow kid (in some ways). But for whatever reason, this year she did me a HUGE favor and settled on a Bunny theme for her party. It wavered back and forth between bunnies and Spider Man (the other love of her life) for several trips to the party store, but eventually the Bunnies won out and I was thrilled. True to my personal style, I was several weeks late getting her party in place. Just a few days before Eleanor’s actual birthday, Bella had another seizure. This has a way of stopping me in my tracks and it definitely postponed the already tardy party plans. Easter came and went and with it a plethora of Bunny… everything!! I found carrot cellophane bags and filled them with goldfish crackers. I searched Pintrest (which I avoided like the plague because I was afraid of addiction, but for my child…) and found multiple bunny crafts such as bunny tails each child could wear at the party and bunny ear crafts which never actually happened, and bunny faces on tongue depressors (this was at the height of the mustache movement which clearly inspired this craft). I gave in (wisely) and bought a large bunny cut out for Pin the Tail on the Bunny (I do learn from my mistakes and didn’t stay up all night before the party) and located mini corn dogs which are one of her favorite foods in the world. I went all out and made punch boxes (which required a lot of work and tape and spray paint) in lieu of a Pinata and it was a big hit! No pun intended. Finally the day of the party came. My newly five year old daughter was so excited to have a big birthday party all to herself, and I was so very happy to give it to her. Even if it was about six weeks late.
Friends came, there was a flurry of excitement with little girls and a couple of little boys, bunny face crafts and dipped marshmallows, corn dogs, cake, ice cream, presents, the punch boxes and of course balloons. Eleanor shined. She always had, but she just beamed getting to be the one that all the fuss was made for. She played with friends and ran around with her little tail and bunny face. She’d picked her fanciest dress to wear that day, and for her special balloon, she picked a giant “5” balloon in a not-so-subtle silver holographic pattern. (Her sister had gotten the “7” for her party earlier that year). We all had a grand time and again, my mom kept an eye on the girls while I napped on the couch for a little while before cleaning and packing up.
Again, I had done it. It was late, I didn’t mean for it to get so far from her actual birthday, but I had given her the kind of party that tells her how very special she is. I was tired and content driving them the few miles home that evening. The April weather was nice, the warm colors of sunset were lingering into the approaching twilight. Warm weather was finally on it’s way and the days were getting longer. My Little Darlings were tired too… and a bit cranky. As I pulled into the driveway, I started to tell the girls what I wanted them to do: “please take something inside for Mama, then take off your shoes and go upstairs to get ready for bed. I will bring everything in from the party and then I’ll be up to read stories. Eleanor, let me get that balloon for you Honey, it’s very big and if we accidentally let it go, I can’t get it back for you.” “No Mama, I want to do it. I can do it. I’ll hold on tight.” “Ok Sweetie, hang on tight and take it inside the house.” Then in her excitement, she turned to me in the driveway to ask a question and the long thin ribbon holding that big beautiful treasure slipped from her hand.
Instantly her small face pouted and she began to cry. She cried without breathing. I remember the look on her face. I felt so helpless. Her heart was broken. In one instant. Her beautiful “5 balloon” was gone. It floated up and away, it danced on the wind, deceptively close for a moment and we thought maybe… but no, it went up out of reach and her heart sank as fast and as far as the balloon rose. The first thing she said was, “Oh Mama!! I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I should have listened to you, I should have let you hold it for me!” If her heart was broken over a balloon, mine was instantly torn watching the pain in her sweet little eyes. The length and excitement of the day had exhausted her and she couldn’t hold it together. She was so shaken. She wailed. She sobbed and her small body collapsed into my kneeling one. My heart cried out instantly to God, “how do I help her? How do I ease her pain? How do I convince her that there will be more balloons?” I stood there with her and Bella, watching that balloon float higher and higher, further and further out of her reach. We pondered where it would go? Could we follow it? Would it come back down? Could we drive the car to where it would land and wait for it? We considered that maybe it’s going to heaven, and maybe a little girl up there needs it. We spoke of the angels maybe seeing it and catching it to share with a little child in heaven, that maybe someone will get to enjoy it.
Inside, my heart raced wildly trying to decide what I should do, what I could do. In that brief minute or two, my thoughts jumped from how to console her to how to use this teachable moment. I thought of how to explain that we have to trust God with our treasure and that He will take care of it, and us. I thought of buying her another “5 balloon.” I could do that, you know. Not right then, the store was closed, but tomorrow, I could buy her another one tomorrow. I decided against it. Or at least against promising a replacement just then. I thought to God all these things and many more in an instant. In the end, I stood there, holding my girl, helping her say goodbye even though she desperately didn’t want to. And I desperately didn’t want her to have to. Her tears flowed freely and she buried her little face in my shoulder. We went inside, and got ready for bed with heavy hearts. For me, it was just a balloon. I knew there’d be lots more balloons in her lifetime. I knew that she would get through this truly tragic event and come out on the other side having learned a few things, not the least of which was how to trust God with her heart and her treasures, and I knew that tomorrow she’d be ok. Sad still maybe, but ok. And maybe I’d still get her that new balloon after church tomorrow after all.
Twenty four short hours found me in a trauma room at the hospital. Hysterical, begging, pleading. “Oh God, please???? I’m sorry. I should have listened to You. I’m sorry. Please bring her back!” I know I didn’t think of the significance of our “5 balloon” lesson that night, all I could think of was how impossible, how fast she’d slipped out of my hands, how desperately I wanted her back, how somehow I’d let go… and I wanted her to come back. I wanted to chase her and wait till she came back down within reach. I wanted anything, anything that would let me grasp her and hold her in my arms a little longer. I didn’t want to let go. I couldn’t let go. This was my heart, my treasure!! Please. Please send her back, please??
But the only answer that came was watching her float away, further and further out of my reach. I didn’t want to let her go. And no one wanted to see me have to let her go. But I did have to. We all had to. I didn’t want to say goodbye, just as she hadn’t. And in those moments that stretched into hours and days and weeks and now months and for over a year…. others have stood with me. Holding my hand. Helping me say goodbye. Even though they desperately didn’t want me to have to. Allowing me to bury my face in their shoulders when I need to.
I never thought of it until tonight, writing this… but maybe the little girl in heaven who needed that balloon more than we did, was her. Just maybe.