Family Left Behind

It’s the same question every time, yet everyone knows the answer. “Does it every get any easier?” they ask. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, widows and grandparents. Emails, calls and letters. Days, weeks, months and years after losing someone they loved, the question still remains. And now, with the holidays upon us the question becomes even more poignant.

I was asked it eight time last week. “It doesn’t,” I respond, wondering if I actually even know for sure. After all, with only three years since losing Elena, I clearly lack the perspective of time. Still, not a day passes that I don’t kneel beside her grave, not an hour passes that I don’t see her in pictures and not a minute passes without reflection. By now the tears have dried, the wound has scabbed over and my expression is frozen in a practiced smile when I talk of her. Still, the truth is that it doesn’t get any easier because I don’t want it to.

This weekend, Elena had her own plan. After three years of leaving the majority of her belongings in an old closet we finally put together the courage to pack it properly in boxes and bins and move it to another room in the house. Gracie, Brooke and I still have our own memory boxes, each at the top of our own closets and each containing reminders of our time with Elena. Brooke’s has the jewelry she picked out with Elena and some of the personal notes Elena wrote to just her. Gracie’s has the school prizes that Elena gave her from the bottom of her backpack, Elena’s favorite stuffed animal and a single note saying “Gracie, go, go.” Mine has her pink sparkly headband, a wrist band and a doorbell. Tonight we add yet one more item to our memory boxes for deep within the same bag of clothes that we found some of her most recent notes nearly two years ago we found yet another reminder from Elena. And just when we thought we had found them all, Elena surprises us yet again. And tonight, all the memories return. But we wouldn’t want it any other way.

When I lost Elena I wanted nothing more than for the pain to end. At the time I didn’t understand. In truth, today I want nothing other than to feel the lingering stab of her loss. To wish for anything else is to wish to forget and I never want to forget. In some ways I want to still feel human, to feel like a father – to feel the lingering presence of my daughter. And tonight we, as a family, all feel her presence. We are thankful for the notes, but more importantly we are thankful for how they bring us back together as a family, regardless of the pain that will remain with us for years to come. We can only hope that the memories last much longer.

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