I had great plans for this month. January is Emma’s birthday month and I planned to share a myriad of Emma stories and lessons I learned from her five years of life.

But something else happened. Something I didn’t fully expect, even though this dance of grief and hope has been the rhythm of my life for quite some time.

 
 
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I’ve decorated the tree for eleven years. Standing just under 3 ft, it’s adorned with white lights, pink and purple ornaments, butterflies, My Little Ponies, and may just be my favorite Christmas decoration. But it’s also the most difficult one to set out. This tree is filled with memories of a little girl who once twirled and danced and sent giggles reverberating throughout our home. It represents love and peace and hope, but it also reminds me of death and sorrow and loss.

My Emma tree. 

 
 
PictureEmma Jo - age 4
My great-great-grandmother’s portrait hung in the university up until the Revolution. By then, the truth of their romance had been reduced to a simply fairy tale. And, while Cinderella and her prince did live happily ever after, the point, gentlemen, is that they lived.” - Grand Dame, Ever After

Tears fill my eyes every time the end of the movie, Ever After, rolls around. The point of my tears aren’t so much because Cinderella and her prince get to live happily ever after. No, it’s the words the Grand Dame shares in the final moments of the film:


The point is that they lived.

Every life is worth celebrating but so often we miss celebrating life when we stare in the face of death and grief.

My child died. 



 
 
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I wish you knew. 

I wish you really knew just how much you mean to us, those of you who stand in the gap when our worlds fall apart. I wish you knew how we, the ones with broken hearts and shattered dreams, those of us who feel like we’re losing ground with each breath, forgotten, and lost, I wish you knew how we really feel about you.


 
 
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there’s a ratty old hoodie i think about throwing away. the cuffs are stained from bleach spray. the sleeves no longer reach my wrist. more than once a kind soul points out the small stain just right of the zipper. i’m quick to explain its origin, and just as quick to dismiss the notion that it shouldn’t be there in the first place. the hem is fraying and it no longer holds its original shape. i’ve had it for more years than i can remember and while i know black sweatshirts are easy to come by, i just can’t get rid of it. why?


 
 
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It was the limp that caught my eye.

It was the limp that caught my eye.

In a bit of a rush, a common state of being for me as of late, I grabbed a shopping cart, quickly tallying my purchases against the quickest route through the store. Eyes on my phone, I almost ran into him.

The man with the limp.

Frustrated at the interruption to my pace, I slowed down enough to avoid nicking his heels. Pausing to increase the space between us, I watched him move. There was something about his gait, the slouch of his shoulders, the tilt of his head as he meandered down the aisle that tugged at my heart.

He must’ve lived quite the life.

Unbidden, the thought brought tears to my eyes. What was wrong with me?


 
 
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Today is Emma's birthday. It’s her day, my youngest daughter. Fifteen on the 15th. Her golden birthday. Driver’s permit. Freshman year of high school. A full-fledged teen. My thoughts slip back to her birth, two weeks early but full of life. Beautiful. Dark eyes that seemed to peer to the depths of my soul. Emma completed our blended family that day, belonging to each of us. 

I think, too, of the last time she heard us sing happy birthday. She was five. My sweet girl died in a fire that destroyed our home almost ten years ago. (read that story here)

Ten years. I’ve struggled with this day every single year. How do you celebrate someone’s birthday who is no longer alive? Who no longer breathes and moves and grows? How do you sing happy birthday with no one to blow out the candles?



 
 
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Dear Me at 33,

Hello, sweet one. It’s me, at 43. Ten years and I’ve got to tell you it’s been, well, tough to say the least. There’s a part of me that wants to warn you what’s to come, but I’m quite sure you wouldn't believe me, even if I could.

But if I could somehow prepare you, offer words of encouragement, if I were somehow able to reach through time and send this letter, like in the movie The Lake House, here is what I would say.



 
 
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sweet girl, i miss you. it’s hard to believe over 9 years have passed since i last saw your smile, heard your giggle, felt your squeeze wrapped around my neck. 

i think about you. all. the. time. i wonder what you would be like: your interests, your talents, your gifts and abilities. this would be your freshman year of high school. drive's ed. growing ever more independent. would you be interested in boys? be a gymnast? still have a deep love for animals?

so many unanswerable questions. spiraling into despair could be a mere breath away. but, honestly, sweet one? i’m doing okay. i miss you like crazy but my heart is healing. i enjoy life again, and continue to learn that being okay doesn’t take away my love for you, it has, in fact, made it stronger, more pure.

my world nearly stopped when you died. 



 
 
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i remember the moment.

my youngest daughter and her dad had been admitted to the hospital in critical condition. a matter of life and death. staring at the carpet, the weight of reality pressed deep in my soul, squeezing my heart.

the morning started as usual: a quick walk., the older girls off to school, our littlest snuggled next to her daddy. the scene I left unfolded like most days.

a few minutes into my short commute to work, i realized i’d forgotten something at home. headed back, i mentally checked off tasks to be done while the recent sunday message played through my speakers. normal. expected. ordinary. until i turned down my street and gazed toward my home.

smoke. smoke poured out, seemingly from every window, every nook, every cranny.