Have you ever noticed how shocking the word "dead" is? Most people, particularly from generations older than mine, will almost whisper "passed away" or even pause without saying a word at all to describe the departing of the departed one. It's as if an elephant has torn through the walls, leaving debris and destruction littering the floors. This large, grey beast is standing right there swinging it's giant trunk from side to side and all of the people standing around politely avert their eyes and pretend that there is no elephant. Everyone, that is, except children. I love children. Leave it to a child to point and say "oh my goodness, there is an elephant in the middle of the room!"
On Easter, we were able to go to a potluck at John's work. Some of our family was also there, and I got the biggest blessing from Ethan's little cousin, Alec (who is about the same age as Ethan). We were sitting around the table and Alec piped up and asked me "didn't you used to have a little girl too?" Bless his little heart, he stood right up and called the elephant out! His candor touched me so much. There we were - John, Ethan and me - an incomplete family, with gaping wounds in our hearts and someone came forth to acknowledge that something was wrong with this picture.
I have been spending much of the past evenings looking at pictures of Ellie to decide which ones to hang up in the house. It has been a much more complicated process than I ever thought it would be. Like I mentioned before, I want to be aware of the temptation to make our walls into a shrine. But I am finding the temptation much greater than I ever thought possible. I am at the point where I would wallpaper the walls with Ellie's pictures if I could. I love all of the pictures. It's as if the summation of the past year's pictures together form such a whole view of Ellie... like drawn animation. They form a moving, expressive look at who Ellie was. But I resist the temptation because I don't think that it is healthy for our family, particularly Ethan. There will still be plenty of pictures. One will not be able to see any angle of our living room without an imprint of Ellie, but it will be a little more subtle than wallpaper! I will have some of her artwork framed on one wall, my collage will be on another with the vinyl quotes. I will also heavily include Ethan. I want him to be able to see his sister, but also know that he is just as important. I want him to see how the family fit together when Ellie was alive, and then know that we are still a unit without her. But a unit that will never forget our Ellie. I am also going to hang pictures of both kids as babies and toddlers. I have enjoyed going through the old pictures as well. But every so often I would come across a photo of a healthy, vibrant, pre-cancer Ellie and my heart would lurch and I would think "she's DEAD!" I know... it's just... shocking. But I suppose that I'm just childlike enough to want to look that elephant in the eyes sometimes. Every once in a while something comes over me and I want to yell "We are not o.k! She's DEAD, and it's not o.k!" That's all. It doesn't change anything. But sometimes it has to be said... if only to myself.
Yesterday my friend, Jen, and I went shopping for the final pieces to bring the living room together. We had so much fun laughing and shopping. I felt normal for the first time in a long time. And I heard myself saying things like "I have always hated shopping with the kids - even Ellie. She was such a pest when it came to going into stores." All of my memories of Ellie are not special, beautiful, Hallmark moments. It somehow feels good to weave them all into the fabric of my remembrances. It feels... real. Jen took it all in stride. We found some lovely little brushed silver figurines in ballet poses. I wanted one to go next to a picture of Ellie, but the ones I saw were a little off. The hair was in a bun, or the figure was too curvy. Then Jen said "look!" and pulled out this little form that almost looked like a stick figure - no curves with skinny little arms and legs in a ballet pose. My heart almost stopped. And then Jen said "look, she's bald!" You should have seen the two of us in that isle, exclaiming and giggling. It was wonderful. Needless to say, I bought the bald stick-figure!
So... this is my life. Life without Ellie. Grieving, laughing, crying... life. In the words of Ethan: "I'm a power ranger all alone. My sister is dead." Yep. She's dead. It stinks.