First Memories

It’s when we first remember. The earliest memory, impressionable experience, the start of awareness. And for Gracie it started at age four.

“When I was four we went to Disneyworld”, her friend tells her as they swap favorite first memories at the YMCA Princess Club. “When I was four we moved to our new home”, another girl volunteers. “When I was four my sister died”, Gracie says as she shares her four-year-old experience. Silence. No one speaks. Even for seven-year-olds it is clearly something to consider, ponder and shy from. Many of them too knew Elena, but only to Gracie is it a first memory.

I wonder if it will always be like this. I fear it will. For Gracie, it’s just life. There’s no apprehension and no fear. It’s simply something that just happened and no doubt it will be something that will punctuate her life.

When Elena was diagnosed I feared that Gracie would never know her sister. That the cancer would dominate her memories, the victim of other people’s stories and the charity she now grows up within. It was why I wrote the first passage and why we continue still to this day. Written for Gracie, I wanted nothing more than to pass on the lessons and innocence she shared as sisters with Elena. But most of all, in the barrage of interviews, fundraisers and advocacy, I wanted the memories I captured in her journal to be her own. Today 272 pages of her journal are public but another 300 or more pages still remain her own and will always be hers alone.

As I hear her tonight share her first four-year-old memory, I fight the urge to intervene. I want nothing more than to change the subject, ask about Disneyworld or even distract with an offer of ice cream at the local store. I want her not to be the subject of attention, the one passed over and avoided. Still, I realize that these are her friends, her memories and her conversation. I cannot be there and I certainly cannot hide the fact that Elena is not there to join her in talking about Disneyworld or the new home.

The silence continues. One girl plays with the tassel on her coat zipper; the other looks away. “But Elena always read to me. She really liked reading. That’s why I like reading too”, Gracie finally added. And as soon as it started, it ended with all three girls exchanging stories of their own favorite books and their favorite stories about Elena. There wasn’t any sadness, no fear and no hesitation. It just happened three years ago and today these memories were shared among friends.

Gracie remembers more than I could ever imagine. Even today she tells me things about her sister that I never knew. And together we keep Elena’s memory alive and close to our hearts.

4 Responses to “First Memories”

  1. Michaela says:

    I believe Elena was there with you, and miss spotlight, that night Mr.Desserich! Whether it be though the words you speak, or the feeling in the air, she was there with you. Watching from above, rolling her eyes because her little sister is bragging about her.
    I did a little bragging a few days ago! I was waiting with my father while we were at the doctors, and I was reading a book about another little girl that passed from cancer. And when the doctor came in, he saw it, and recognized it. So after my dad and the doctor got done talking and started joking, I asked if he had read Notes Left Behind. He said, no and I couldnt stop myself from bragging all about it, and saying how great your family is and how he should buy it.
    Gracie will never forget Elena, and I will never forget Elena neither.

  2. Darla Creasey says:

    It is unbelievable what kids remember!!! They can always teach us adults a thing or two.

  3. Molly-Marie says:

    I am amazed that little Gracie could remember her remarkable big sister. I am sure She will remember Elena forever because Elena made an impact in your life, Gracie’s life, and everyone’s life because she was so amazing.
    -Molly-Marie Anderson

  4. HI~We feel so sweet after reading these .
    And we have read that book “Notes Left Behind”.
    We really like Elena and Gracie.
    You must be so proud of them.