In September, I was luckily enough to get one of the spots in Beryl's Illuminate Photography class.If you are a BLM, have any interest in photography and have a little spare time (which really isn't that necessary because I was extremely busy and still did it!), you should sign up for her class! She is so nice, sincere and good at what she does! She really forced me to think about things I haven't wanted to in a while and deal with them. And I learn some more about my camera, which I've been intending to do since we got it!
Each week, there is a lesson, a photography assignment and a writing assignment. I chose to post my Illuminate assignments on a separate blog because I wasn't sure I wanted to share them... but I think I'm ready to share a couple of them. This specific week's assignment was about light- where you find your light and taking pictures in different light. We were supposed to take pictures of an object that comforted us after our child passed away, in varying lighting situations. I really enjoyed this assignment and loved learning how to take such great pictures in my camera....
Ellie Lauree, My Light
Ellie was by far the happiest and most joyful baby I have ever come across. She was curious, silly, loving and tender, but still a little bit of a stinker. Her eyes had a sparkle and her smile would light up a room. For a nine-month old, she had quite the sense of humor. Ellie didn’t want to miss a single thing and was happiest sitting on someone’s lap and taking it all in.
Every child is special. And as a mother of two, I realized that you can love each one of your kids like they are your only child. Our son, is a crazy, smart and sensitive toddler. Autism has shoved him into his own world but when we get a glimpse into that world, it is amazing. Max is a wonderful little boy who works so hard every day, and his incredible memory will take him far in this world. And wow, does he keep us laughing- he’s very funny, and he knows it!
But from the first minute I held Ellie in my arms, I knew she was different. Something about her felt special to me. I always felt like Ellie’s life was going to be bigger than what we were expecting. Mother’s instinct told me there was something terribly wrong with our beautiful little girl, but I could never put my finger on it. There were never any signs. All I knew is that when Ellie came into our family and into our house, life changed. It was happier, more joyful. It was brighter.
All of this changed in the early morning hours of October 25th when we left our daughter’s disfigured body on a white bed in a dark room. The darkness that fell over our house, lives and hearts, were undeniable. I was broken, shattered and lost. Within two weeks we were handed a lifetime of therapies and struggles for our two year old, and even worse, a lifetime without our baby. Ellie’s illness happened so fast, there was no warning. It was as if someone had just flipped the switch on our life.
I’m not in any way minimizing the depth and intensity of the pain I felt and still feel over losing Ellie. But we have survived. We have gone on. People always ask us how- this drives me crazy… Of course, Max got me out of bed, especially in the early days. But what has carried me through the pain, is Ellie. Ellie was so happy, so joyful, so silly, that we knew she wouldn’t stand for us dissolving into a useless bag of bones. I had to get up, and do something. For her, for us. So we did.
Immediately after Ellie died, people starting asking if we wanted flowers or money. Strange right? I didn’t want either- I wanted my baby. We said flowers were ok as long as they weren’t old lady funeral flowers, but money was best, we would do something in her memory with it. My husband immediately decided we would use the memorial money to buy toys for “Toys for Tots.” Just under two months after she died, we spent over $3000 on toys.
The day Ellie died, our family and friends crowded into our house to be with us. All I wanted to do was see Ellie. So we hooked up the video camera and watched every single home video we have of her. There were tears, but there was laughter. A lot of laughter. I remember looking around the room at everyone’s face as they watched our silly girl on TV and seeing her light reflected in their faces. It was an incredible feeling.
When we met with the pastor to plan Ellie’s funeral, we said over and over again, we want this to be a celebration- she was a little girl, not an old lady. So we had a celebration for the little girl that always had a smile on her face. We, the whole congregation, sang her favorite lullaby- “Baby Beluga”- to her one last time. We sent her off with white roses and colorful balloons on a bright sunny day in a beautiful green memorial garden.
Within days of saying goodbye to Ellie, I decided to start a non-profit that would benefit bereaved families at the hospital where Ellie died and to bring joy to children in Minnesota. I easily decided on a name for our organization, Ellie’s Light. It just fit. Ellie was our light. Since we can’t have her to hold and kiss every day, we want to keep her light.
Without even thinking about, certain types of light became very symbolic, comforting and powerful to me after Ellie passed away. Pink and purple sunsets and sunrises have never been more beautiful. Each night I wait for the sunset so I can see what Ellie is painting for us. Ellie has been such a good girl since she went to Heaven, and she sends us signs ALL the time. A couple of weeks after she died, I was crying and telling my husband I was mad she hadn’t sent me anything in a while. Minutes later, he told me to look out the window and there it was- an incredible pink and purple sky from Ellie…
When we returned from the hospital that awful morning, our house was dark. I remember collapsing on the stairs before making my way up to Ellie’s nursery. My husband and I stood in her nursery, rubbed our hands across her crib sheet and hugged her giraffe. Her giraffe that she slept with every night is the only thing that smelled like her- I can still smell her. I remember standing at her crib and staring at her glowing nightlight.
I was so excited when I bought that nightlight. It’s so pink and girly. I love that nightlight. We have kept that nightlight on every night since Ellie died. Before we moved, I would sit in her rocking chair with the door closed. The glow of the nightlight and familiar shadows would take me right back to that place I so badly wanted to be, rocking my little stinker to sleep. Memories of a frantically hungry (totally faking!) girl, a silly girl that would quick close her eyes, put her head down and pretend she was asleep, only to open her eyes seconds later and smile. Memories of a sweaty little girl with her chubby thighs in tight fleece pajamas cuddled up with her blanky, giraffe and nuk.
Sometimes the bad would come back too. Sometimes I would think about the night I picked her up out of her crib that last time, the smile she gave me, the fever that was brewing. Often the tears would come. But more often than not, that nightlight would bring me comfort that I just couldn’t find anywhere else.
At Christmas time, I bought a battery powered candle to sit in our window sill in honor of Elle’s first Christmas. We didn’t really do Christmas last year, we only put up a small purple tree for Ellie. We put Christmas lights on the tree by Ellie’s spot. We keep that candle going in our window, and every night a soft glow shines, to remind us and those who know, of Ellie.
I’ve never been one for mushy or corny stuff, but since Ellie died, that’s all changed. I’m a big puddle of tears and while my outside has hardened more than I ever thought it could, my insides are mush. I never knew a heart could be so full of happiness, and shattered and empty at the same time. In the last ten months, the glow of a candle, of a nightlight, of a pink sunset, have come to mean a great deal to me.
Like the glow of a candle, my life has been a contrast of light and dark. There are days when I secretly hope that I won’t wake up in the morning. I still don’t know how my own heart didn’t stop when the doctor clamped that last tube. And then there are days when I watch her videos and laugh at how amazingly goofy and beautiful she was. I am thankful that we were given nine months with the most incredible little girl, who seemed to be sent here just to shine her little light.
I will gladly keep her light. It’s not what I had imagined for my girl, but she’s still here. Her light still shines on…
This morning, something told me to look up the meaning of Ellie’s name. I don’t think that we’ve ever done this. Ellie was a name that I’ve loved for as long as I can remember so it was an automatic choice when we found out we were having a girl. I got goosebumps when I found the meaning… Shining Light…
Remembering October 18th, 2010
Ellie's Last Swimming Lesson
My mom came to swim lessons with us so that both kids could go one right after the other- first Max, then Elle...
Elle watching her brother swimming- seriously what a little cutie...
I LOVE this picture so much because you can see BOTH of her teeth. The second one had just popped through her gums on the one side, and it had finally come all the way through the day before she died. It's crazy how much pictures like this mean to me now...