In one second, one phone call, one blip in time, our lives were shattered. I screamed. I couldn’t even muster a prayer from my lips. I just began screaming Jesus’ name. I still can hear myself. I can still feel the panic in my gut. I arrived at the Riley Hospital ER that day all alone to find out whether my baby was alive or dead.
It’s been three years and that day is as fresh in my mind as if it happened yesterday. The flashbacks can be crippling. The pain is still so immense. I’m not sure if it will ever ease. Regardless, life moves on but I’m powerless against the memories of the day that our lives changed forever. They are always waiting just below the surface, ready to consume me at a moments notice. My days are dotted with reminders of our crushed dreams….the other morning at breakfast, our eyes brimmed with tears watching a dad with his three year old daughter out for a breakfast date together…..the other day when I overheard a little girl tell her mom that she loved her….when we go for a walk and stop to watch the little cheerleaders cheering for the local youth football team….the other night when a million little Elsa’s came to our door shouting “Trick or Treat!” and watching their eyes light up at the sight of candy. All of those are reminders of a life our little girl will never get to experience. In each of those moments, my heart breaks just a little more.
Chad and I often talk about how little we were able to comprehend during those days at Riley. I guess it would be safe to say we were in shock, unable to even imagine the life that we now live. We literally had no idea that Elena would be forever changed. We assumed once the medication wore off, she would spring back to life and all would be well. And reality sure smacked us upside the head that first year. When I think back to her first year of life, all I can remember is an inescapable, lingering darkness. We were always teetering on the edge of being consumed by it. Looking back, I would call it the depths of despair. I can’t explain to you how unbelievably sad it is to say that my baby’s first year of life, we were all fighting for survival. I remember nearly nothing but sadness.
The second year brought reality and fear. It was (and still is) scary to face the future. We began to understand what our lives would look like….therapy, doctors, wheelchairs, equipment, likely permanent feeding tubes, surgeries. We finally understood that there would be no “snapping out of it”. But, I also remember there being hope. I remember beginning to understand (again) that God’s plans are not our plans. And even though we had planned for complete healing for Elena, that perhaps God’s plan would be more fulfilling. I began to realize that we will never know why, but it isn’t always the why that matters.
Right now I feel as though I’m in a place of perpetual healing. I have far, far more good days than bad days. Most days are treated as normal life and are genuinely happy. But the hard stuff is always lurking there too. It can hit out of nowhere. The healing is ongoing. The grieving never ends. It gets more bearable, but it never ends. I’m really good at spontaneously bursting into tears (part of this is genetic…I come from a long line of criers) but tears are healing. I’m realizing that it will take longer than three years to recover from the trauma we’ve endured and that’s ok.
Any time you face a major life altering moment you have a choice. You can crumble into a pile of nothingness and be sad forever or you can do your best to pull it together and fuel your purpose in life with the perspective gained and realize despite EVERYTHING you have endured, you inevitably have WAY more to be thankful for. It felt as though we crumbled for a bit but we clung to each other and to our faith to pull us to our feet. We have felt our way through the darkness, often desperately clinging to single strand of hope for the past three years. You must keep your eyes forward and not dwell on the what happened but focus on how you recover from it. It’s beginning to feel like we are emerging, no doubt stronger. God has given us grateful hearts. We have been overwhelmed by the love and support of all our family and friends. We have been humbled by the impact our sweet little girl has had on the hearts of many.
Three years ago Elena’s precious little heart stopped beating. By the grace of God, He breathed life back into her and in a way, she was reborn. For a little girl who has never uttered a word, the lives she has touched is pretty amazing. For three years our motto has been Ephesians 3:20, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or even imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” We knew God was capable of physically healing Elena and we clung to this verse. But perhaps God saw more opportunity. Maybe the physical healing isn’t the most important part, but it’s the spiritual healing. I know God IS doing immeasurably more than we originally asked for, or that our prayers ever could have imagined.
It’s too difficult to try and think about what our lives would look like today if November 3, 2011 had been different. I would do anything to change what happened that day. Unless you’ve experienced it, you can never imagine what it’s like to watch your child struggle like Elena does. As hard as life has become for Chad and me, it will never come close to what Elena has to deal with. This anniversary will always be incredibly difficult. I’m sure that will never change. It was the worst day of our lives and set us on a course we could have never imagined. But Elena lived that day and we will be forever grateful for that. We have experienced the lowest of lows and the highest of highs in just three years, but we continue to move forward with thankful hearts. We’re thankful for life, every precious second, and the perspective we now have. Most importantly, we’re blessed every day by our sweet Elena, her story and all we learn from her. She is love, perfect, innocent, pure love.