This is a difficult series to begin; one that I should not have to write, but life doesn’t follow our mandates on the “shoulds” and “should-nots”. My 2 ½ year-old granddaughter – my 3rd grandchild and 2nd granddaughter – died unexpectedly in her sleep just 2 weeks ago (30 October 2012). She was a healthy, vibrant and energetic child with no signs of illness. We are all still reeling from the shock, and as I stood strong in support of her parents in the immediate aftermath of this tragedy, I now find myself succumbing to intense grief and sadness that need to be channeled so that I do not fall into that abyss that beckons just beyond the horizon. Writing about her, and this senseless tragedy is my only hope to survive, and move on. Thank you in advance for sharing in her short life by reading this series.
At her Celebration of Life service I spoke on behalf of my daughter and son-in-law; about my granddaughter and the army of good people who circled around us in our darkest hour. After introducing myself, and taking a deep breath, this is what I said (names have been altered for publication to protect the family’s privacy):
Good afternoon and thank you for coming. Some of you know me as Rebecca, but my most distinguished and honored title is ‘Grammy’, or as Elise would say, ‘Bammy’. A number of years ago, an African proverb came into our common discourse. “It takes a village to raise a child”. After the events of this past week, I would like to suggest that it also takes a village to say goodbye to a child.
I never gave much thought to this town, except as the place with the Mall, or that school with the funny colors that we beat in football each year when my son played in high school. That is no longer the case.
During the most horrific time in our lives, we were blessed by the professionalism and compassion exhibited by the Police and emergency personnel. We recognize that this was not easy for you all, either and we thank you for your kindness in our darkest hours.
We are also blessed by the people of this town: my daughter and son-in-law’s neighbors, friends of neighbors, faculty and staff at Lincoln Elementary and complete strangers we now count among our cherished circle of friends, for we now share a bond that no one seeks out, but that is essential for survival in times like these. I could not have told you about this town’s council, nor name any of the members, but I know today that they are generous and caring people who came to support my daughter and son-in-law during their time of need.
The response and outreach of this church: Pastor Chris and his wife, the Mom’s group and the teachers and staff of the preschool that rallied immediately to my daughter and son-in-law’s side may seem to you to be “what churches do”, but I can tell you that this is not always the case. Pastor Chris and his wife have been there from day one and continue to provide loving support to my daughter and her little family. Did I mention that none of us are members here? To me,…this speaks volumes about the kind of people who make up this church, its staff and congregation.
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Elise was only with us for a brief time, but I choose to mourn her transition by focusing on the lessons her little life and this tragic separation can teach us.
Elise marched to the beat of her own drum. In fact, her mother would often say, “Elise is nothing like my other two!” sometimes in frustration but more often just as an amusing observation. Indeed, Elise saw things a little differently than the rest of us, like how fun it might be to drink Murphy’s Oil Soap, or sprinkle flour throughout the living room and dining room, or to drag a chair over so she could climb up onto the counter and into the cookie dough that Mommy had just mixed up then walked away from, or bite into a glow bracelet, scaring Grammy with fluorescent yellow teeth and lips on a dark Summer evening.
Elise’s inimitable personality and sometimes exhausting antics made all of us love and cherish her as an individualized expression of God – as that spark of the Divine all-ness that she brought with her each moment.
As Elise’s loved ones, we have much to learn from her,… for we are also very different from each other and often, this breeds exasperation, discord and judgment. Elise can count among her loved ones and family mainline Protestants, practicing and non-practicing Catholics, unaffiliated Jews, religious scientists, Evangelicals and those whose religious preference is “none” or better described as “spiritual, but not religious”. Her loved ones are represented in all aspects of the workforce, from entry level to professional and from high school graduate to highly-educated,… and everything in between. She is held close to our hearts in prayers that include mentions of Jesus, Moses, Adonai-Elohim, the Universe, Divine Mind and the Great Spirit. And at this particular time of year it is worth mentioning that she is loved equally by Democrats, Independents and Republicans.
Each of us – regardless of our grounding in religion, politics or spiritual practice – came together this week to hold and support one another; to say goodbye to someone we hoped would support her parents and siblings when we passed on. We cried with each other, shared memories and found some common ground for understanding each other, if only briefly.
The lesson – brought to us quietly, though not gently, by our little Elise is that we are one human family. Regardless of whom we recognize as God; regardless of how we worship, pray or vote – we share the capacity to love, laugh, cry and grieve and too often, it is only in times of extreme pain that we remember this truth: we are all truly one.
Thank you, my little Elise, for reminding all of us about this … I promise to try each day to remember this and to put it into practice in my life, in honor of the life you lived, and the immense joy you brought to this earth; to my life and to the lives of everyone you touched.
On behalf of (my daughter, son-in-law, grandson and granddaughter) – and the extended families, I want to thank each and every one of you for your prayers, your support and your love during this unspeakable experience. We are so very blessed by each of you – our own personal army of family, friends and wonderfully-kind strangers and for you ALL, we are profoundly grateful. Words cannot express our grief but they are similarly insufficient to express our love for each of you and your support during this most difficult time in our lives.