My dog, Quimby and I were out on a walk. I was preoccupied with dark thoughts of disappointment and frustrations while Quimby checked the neighborhood canine newsfeed along the trees.
As we walked down the street next to ours, my eyes focused on a particular home. I quickly remembered a date: June 6. The front door swung open and my eyes shifted. I saw a couple walking down the sidewalk toward their car. I only speak to them once every few years or so. It happened that today would be one of those days. I took a deep breath and spoke: “Excuse me.”
As the couple turned, I felt uncharacteristically bashful, but pressed on: “I just wanted you to know that at this time every year, I remember your daughter.”
Their daughter, Ellie, passed away in early June about 10 or so years ago. Ellie was only eight or nine – the age of my oldest daughter. On our nightly family walk, I would see her parents sitting on their front porch next to Ellie in her wheelchair. Her body slowly draining from the tumor that was ending her life.
We didn’t know their family well, actually, but we heard stories of Ellie’s funeral. A neighbor told me that Ellie’s mother, an school administrator, wanted an over-the-top celebration her daughter’s short life because Ellie would not have a graduation party or wedding to plan for.
A mother’s greatest fear is the loss of a child. Out of that nightmare and through the tears, Ellie’s mother birthed a celebration, complete with beautiful white doves. And I have quietly admired her all of these years for her strength and determination.
This morning, Ellie’s parents were leaving for a birthday party. Yet, after I spoke, Ellie’s dad got out of the car and walked toward the house. My heart sank because I thought that my words may have been ill-timed. Then, Ellie’s mother said: “Thank you. Sometimes, we feel that no one remembers Ellie anymore.”
I stood quietly and looked at the ground. A moment later, Ellie’s dad walked up and extended his hand to me and said: “I’ll give you this and you hand me that.” Well, this was a beautiful flower in full bloom and that, well it was a bag of dog poo. Yep. Hardly an even exchange – but I gratefully accepted the gift anyways.
It was a blurry half-mile walk back to my house. In my mind, I reflected on the hurt that I harbored on this morning’s walk. The pain was real, but as I thought about life’s regrets, mistakes, pain and suffering, I looked through my tears and gazed at the beautiful flower in my hand. The flower that I held was created by the same God who created me. It is fragile, like me. It could be crushed, like me. Yet, it was created to bloom…like me.
Then an ancient verse came to mind:
To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.*
We all have bad days. Tough days. And, today is one of mine. So, I reflect on this verse and know that the promise that the scriptural author made long ago to the captive people of ancient Israel is the same promise that is recorded in many places later in the Bible for believers today.
Even after loss, life goes on. After heartache, life goes on. After struggle, life goes on. But, the question is how will it go on?
Will your life go on in hope or despair?
I choose hope. I’m not just wishing things will get better, I have hope that they will. A proven hope in a God that sees things from beginning to end and isn’t daunted by my failures or the failures of others.
Ellie’s life might have ended on this earth many years ago. Yet, today was a moment to remember her life and gives thanks to God for the lesson that it taught me.
*Isaiah 61:3 (New Living Translation)