Thank you all for the beautiful comments and emails. We are overwhelmed by your support and love! I cannot even describe to you the comfort that it gives me to see how God would cause one tiny little light to shine so brightly in the hearts of many.
I also stand amazed (although by now what God does shouldn't really surprise me anymore) by how many of you were praying for us yesterday - praying specifically that Ellie would go home quickly. I am convinced with my whole heart that your prayers were the reason that Ellie only had one terrible day. In the world of slow deaths, ONE terrible day is a miracle.
Since last night we have cried many many tears, but we have laughed just as hard. Thank you all for your concern for our little Ethan buddy. For days we have been talking to Ethan about the fact that Ellie was not getting better and that she would die soon. All day yesterday we allowed Ethan into the room with Ellie for short visits when things were peaceful. When he needed us, he could come - but then we made sure that he spent more time playing outside of the room. At one point, when Ethan was watching Ellie sleep, he said "I just want Ellie to die now and go to Heaven." We assured him that it was also what we wanted. (Children have such a special way of zeroing in on the one thing that the adults never have the nerve to admit!) We sat down in the rocking chair and prayed that God would take Ellie to Heaven very soon so that she wouldn't feel anymore pain. Ethan promptly skipped off to play. In the evening, after Ellie was gone, and the harshness of our sobbing had softened, I went out to the living room and carried Ethan into the bedroom. On the way, I told him that Ellie had died. He was quite interested and perplexed over that, so I deposited him into John's lap on the bed. As Ethan sat there in his daddy's arms, he began to touch Ellie's face. He kept repeating "Ellie's dead? She's dead now? Right now?" He tried to open her eyelids. He kissed Ellie's face and hugged her head a few times, but would continue his exploration of this new and terribly quiet sister. He yelled in Ellie's ear and poked her mouth trying to get her to communicate with him. He then lifted her hand and dropped it to see if that would elicit a response. Nothing... so back to the eyelids to see if he could get a reaction. Finally, after exhausting all attempts to find any sign of life, Ethan lay his head in my lap and sobbed. We held him and cried with him as we told him that we were sad and missed her too, but that Ellie no longer could feel pain. Ethan continued to cry much longer than I would have expected, but the sound of it was beautiful to me. Had he not discharged that much emotion, we would have seen it come out in other ways over the coming days. Somehow, in the midst of all the pain, what I witnessed in that room was a beautiful thing. He fell asleep like an angel last night. Today Ethan has been playing with Ellie's toys and has claimed (at my urging) a number of her stuffed animals as his own. Every once in a while Ethan will say (in a rather chipper little voice) "I miss my Ellie." And tonight Ethan said "Mommy, I was sad when I was looking up at the stars because I was thinking of Ellie. So I asked God to send her back. He said no, and that made me sad." We know that there are many hard days to come. We know that Ethan will push all of the limits of his boundaries and that his grief will take many forms. But we know that because of your loving prayers, our son has had the best possible beginning and understanding of an unthinkable situation.
So... how are we doing... really? I honestly don't know. I guess we are normal - which pretty much means crazy and unpredictable. For the moment I am mostly in the zone of feeling more relief than anything. The pressure and buildup have been un-bearable for me as we have been living in limbo, and so the whole relief of having it over has taken me to a new place of peace... for now. I fully realize that the worst of it is yet to come for me. I tend to break down over something, or when talking on the phone from time to time, but then my tears will dry and I will feel peace and joy again. I have not yet reached the place of despair - the gut wrenching "I-don't-even-want-to-live-anymore" place that we all know that I will need to dip into before time begins to soften the edges... John, on the other hand, has been true to his nature and is grieving with all of the intensity that I have grown to know and appreciate in him. The beautiful Bible story of the woman who washed Jesus' feet with her tears has taken on a whole new meaning for us, as Ellie's feet were quite literally and lovingly washed with her daddy's tears. I believe that as of this moment, John has shed enough tears to have washed her entire body. I don't think that I will ever see anything in this life that will compare to the grief of a man for his child. I feel as though I have witnessed something so sacred and powerful... and it has given me a never before seen glimpse into the heart of God. To lose a child is unbearable, but for God to have willingly and purposefully chosen to send his only Son to this world to die a horrible death for me... there are no words...
All those in this house are wrung out with grief and exhaustion, but I would ask you for your loving prayers tonight for our sweet Loretta. She has fought valiantly and tirelessly for a whole year and a half. Ellie has been her full time job, and La has done things for her that no one on this Earth would have been able to do. Loretta has not allowed herself to go to the place of grief in order to stay in the moment and fight along side of Ellie in a way that even John and I have not been able to. In these end weeks, we have been able to walk away to cry and let go... to prepare. But La would not look into Ellie's eyes and see death. Until that last moment, Loretta saw life - she fostered that life, fanned the flame of it, and then watched it go out. She identified with Ellie in a way that I was unable to. I was "Mom" - helping and watching from the outside, but Loretta took Ellie's suffering on in a unique way. She felt every sensitivity, took it on as her own, and then learned how to soothe it. There is a lost and bereft look in Loretta's eyes that is breaking my heart. Those of you on the other side of the world, who pray us through our nights - please pray Loretta through this night. She has been so sleep deprived that now she's having trouble sleeping as she deals with the full weight of this grief.
Also heavy on my heart tonight are the children - Ellie's cousins and friends. I would ask you to please surround these precious children with your love and prayer. I cannot even fathom dealing with the loss of a friend at such young ages. I would like to give you the names of Ellie's closest friends and ask that you please pray for wisdom for their parents and comfort for their hearts, as well as for their siblings. In Florida: Ellie's cousin Alex; Aubrey; Alexandria; her cousin Megan; her cousins Mady and Libby; and Ryan. (There are so many more that I am not naming - from school and church - who feel such loss as well! There are also her little cousins who are too young to fully comprehend the loss, but are affected nonetheless.) And in Montana there are three wonderful new friends who have blown us away with their ability to love Ellie despite the imminent danger of losing her. They are so special and are hurting so much. Hennessey has never met Ellie personally, but has been such a part of Ellie's life with her sweetness and friendship from a distance. And Bailey and Codey. These two loving friends at first soothed the hurt in Ellie of missing her friends, and then built friendships with her that are true and wonderful. They gave her times of play and laughter... time to be a child again. Thank you for surrounding these young ones with your prayers as they struggle to navigate the confusion and pain.
Thank you as well for your continued prayer for our families who are not here with us. They are hurting so very much! Ellie's grandparents: Gary & Nancy Hamm and Stan & Pat Skees. Her great-grandparents: Jim & Jean VanDelinder; Lois Mankins; Irene Trout; Agnes Skees. Ellie's aunts, uncles and cousins: Russ and Ginger Harris (Maddie); Chad and Janeene Mankins (Elijah and Zeke); Jim and Jenn Fowler (Mady, Libby and Emma); David and Tricia Hamm. Ellie also has so many great aunts, uncles, and cousins. We love them all and cannot wait to be with them to wrap our arms around them. They loved Ellie with all of their hearts, and she loved them in return. Please, please ask God to comfort and hold them as they grieve.
I guess I've given you a whole lot to pray about this time! I love how God impresses people in different ways to pray for specific things. I know that you are all doing that already. I just wanted to give you as many specifics as possible. I know that there are grandparents out there, thinking of their own precious ones who will be holding our parents up this night, or others who lost a friend in their childhood who will know exactly how to pray for the little children. I am so grateful that you are such willing hearts to lift up our burdens before God. Thank you is just not enough at a time like this. At one time I imagined all of the beautiful jars and bottles of tears - your tears - that God was collecting for me in Heaven, but I have decided that it must now be a swimming pool. I can't help but smile as my eyes of faith are watching Ellie taking a nice long swim right now! She loved to swim. As always, I have taken comfort in your tears. I know that they are of great value in God's sight, but I want you to know that they are priceless in mine as well!
Now for the plans and details... We don't have all of the details lined up and nailed down, but I want to try to get preliminary information out for those who are wanting to come to a memorial service for Ellie. We have decided to do two services in order to allow as many people to come as possible. We will have one in Montana and one in Florida. I just don't have the exact dates - I'll have to give you the ball-park for now... The service in Montana will be in Bigfork on December 27, 28, or 29. I will try to have an answer on that tomorrow, but I'm hoping for the 28th. We will fly to Florida on December 30 and will stay for three weeks. The scheduling for that service is a little trickier, but it will probably be in the third week of January. There are a number of reasons why having that service sooner is impossible. I will try to have much more specific information available as soon as I can. (Including lodging information for those traveling.) Most importantly, I want to make sure that you all know that if you want to come to either service, we want to have you there. If we have never met you before, we would love to meet you. If Ellie has touched your life in any way and you are able to come remember her with us and celebrate the amazing nine years that we were blessed by her - we welcome you to come. We want to hug you and thank you in person!
And so, tonight, I pray that God will bless you abundantly and fully for all that you have done for our family. And I pray that He will comfort you as He has comforted us!