The day began at 5:30, a little earlier than I had planned on rising to begin a day of reflection. Will came to my bedside seeming a bit disoriented. Finally he decided that a drink of water was what he really wanted, and I sent him back to bed. It wasn’t until after 7, when I did get up to find him looking still just as miserable, that I thought to check his temperature. 102.9! I had planned on dropping the kids off at 9 at a friend’s house so that I could have some alone time to reflect and pray on this day that marked Emma’s 4th anniversary in heaven. I guess I would have at least one little one with me to keep me company.
After normal morning routines, I dropped Elise and Seth off at nine and headed home hoping for some time alone with God. But of course I hadn’t eaten breakfast yet, so I started with that, and then since Will was happily watching a movie I decided to try to start with quieting my mind, since I wasn’t feeling particularly reflective. I sat still for awhile, but try as I might I found it impossible to completely empty my head of thoughts. And they weren’t deep thoughts either, just the normal shallow ones that fill my waking moments. Once I reached the realization that the only way I was going to shut down my mind was to fall asleep, which my body was threatening to do at that point, I gave up. I got up and did a couple of the chores that had been on my mental to do list. At least I could get those out of my head.
After a short burst of housework, I pulled out Emma’s photo album deciding I should have some time alone looking through it before sitting down with the kids later in the day. At that very moment, Will decided he was done watching his video and he came to join me. So we sat together, me remembering, he discovering for the first time. At first he just went through naming each face he recognized. Elise, Mom, Dad, Nana, Pop, even Emma when prompted. But then we reached the page describing Emma’s open heart surgery and his sensitive eyes caught sight of the photos of Emma after surgery during recovery. Tubes, wires, and blood covered her tiny little body and I could see the worry in his eyes. I tried to encourage him by showing the pictures from just a few days later when she looked so much better, but he kept coming back to those pictures. When Dad walked in to see how we were doing, Will had to turn the pages back once again to make sure Dad saw them too. This is going to be hard, I am realizing. I want my boys to know the story of Emma’s short life, but until now I guess I didn’t really see how much pain and hardship I would have to explain that went along with it. I’ve taken it for granted with Elise, who grew up knowing these things. She lived through them with us, albeit somewhat at a distance. But she’s seen the pictures over and over, and has developed for herself a somewhat simplified explanation for the troubling parts of the story. Though even Elise has come up with some harder questions this year as her mind tries to piece together the parts of the story she doesn’t know. She was not here the day Emma died, and up to this point, she has accepted our simple explanation that Emma stopped breathing and went to heaven. I remember when she finally put two and two together and realized this meant Emma “died,” since we hadn’t used that word. But just a few weeks ago Elise asked me how I knew that Emma died. Was she just gone that morning? What did I find when I woke the morning of her death? I hadn’t realized that even that simple thing was still bothering her little mind. So I explained how we don’t need our bodies anymore in heaven because we get new ones, and so that is what I found that morning. Emma was gone, but her body was still there. Later I went further, thinking maybe she was ready for some more of the details, explaining how we called 911 and I tried to breathe for her to save her life, but that it didn’t work because she was already gone.
I had to leave off Will’s and my exploration of the photo album as I needed to go get the kids to drop them off at their next play-date. I had some urgent errands to run as well, so I was gone probably about half an hour. When I returned, Will was sound asleep on the couch. John said he’d wandered in there by himself and fell asleep. I left him there and he ended up sleeping about 3 hours straight. With the house now quiet again, I went to my bedroom and did some journaling and Bible reading, realizing that reflection is not forced. The most reflection I got out of that time was more on simple changes I want to make in my daily life and a renewed desire to spend more time in Bible study and prayer. Perhaps that is all God wanted to say to me on that day. I’ve had more reflection pertaining specifically to Emma today as I have planned out this blog post than I did yesterday, but I started the day wanting to be open to what God had for me, and I am content in that.
I had lunch, went to pick up Elise and Seth, and then had a little nap. Then Elise and I spent some one on one time together as we went grocery shopping. We finished out our Wal-Mart excursion with picking out flowers for the cemetery. Elise chose the brightest bouquet she could find because she said: “It is almost Spring and these flowers look like Spring flowers.” She was very positive that Emma would like them. Again she asked me the question she has asked me many times: “Does Emma come and get them? Does she get to see them?” “No,” I answered, then paused. “Well, maybe God lets her see them, I don’t know.” Truth be told, I guess we put flowers on the grave more for our own comfort than for anything else. Elise then asked why some of the flowers on the graves never get old, and we had a discussion on fake vs real flowers. I told her I preferred putting real flowers on the grave, and she decided that must be so we could change them.
We went home and everyone got dressed for the cold so we could all go to the cemetery. On the way Elise voiced something I don’t hear her say often. “I wish Emma didn’t go to heaven. Because if she were here now, I would get to play with her.” I sympathized and tried to comfort her as I always do, saying how when we go to heaven, we’ll get plenty of time to play, but Elise is worried that she and Emma will be all grown up by then and not really interested in playing. “Well,” I offered, “I think that heaven will be a lot of fun for everyone, no matter how old they are.” We placed the flowers in the vase at the grave, and I praised Elise for making such a great choice. The bright colors shown bright in the brownness of the winter cemetery. We got some pictures and then gathered close for a quick prayer before bundling back in the car. You can tell by the picture we got that Will was pretty miserable as fevers and cold biting winds don’t mix well. We decided to all go out to eat as a family, which was a lot of fun.
After we got back and Seth went to bed, I sat on the couch with Elise and Will and we looked at Emma’s book. I read portions of it, but mostly we just looked at pictures. I tried to remind Elise of little things she did during that time. We pulled out the card she had made for Emma and sent to the hospital so she could read it. I took time to read several of the most important things to them, though I know much of it still goes over their heads. The book ended in tears for me and I think I noticed a few in Elise’s eyes as well. She announced loudly her dislike of listening to me cry and covered her ears, which kind of ruined the moment, but oh well. I don’t know how much Will understood from our day, but I am sort of glad that he got to stay home with me as this is the first year I would expect him to start to piece any of it together.
Today at dance I overheard Elise mentioning to one of her friends about her sister in heaven. To me that is the real sign of the day being a success. It was meant as a reminder, a reminder to me to teach my children of the grace of God as it was shown through our little Emma, a reminder for the children to remember their sister and to speak proudly of her to others, and a reminder as well for me to remember that Emma is not all of who I am, but just one page in this adventure God has called us to.
4 thoughts on “4 Years in Heaven.”
Miriam, Thank you for sharing the journey with us. It’s hard to know what to write because so many thought and emotions run through my head. Know that your family (Emma too) is a blessing to ours. You have been an encouragement to me in my family’s journey through loss. God bless you today.
Miriam, As i read through your blog, I both smiled and cried. Thank you for sharing so openly with the rest of us your journey. Emma touched all of us and still continues to impact our lives. I’ve had similar conversations with both Benjamin and Abigail about both Emma and my nephew David. I cry every time I talk about it with them, but it is a good cry. We cry together. Thank you for posting. God uses even the worst things to bring Him glory.
Oh, Miriam. I don’t even know what to say… but this touched me.
Although I never met Emma, her life is still touching so many…
If you ever want to talk…
Love you, friend.
thanks for sharing, miriam. you are a good mother. i will forward this to dad and steve and karen (in Japan). love, aunt sue