The 5th anniversary of my daughter, Ella’s passing was on May 11. Each year since she’s been gone, I’ve tried to plan something special for Ella’s birthday and her death anniversary. Honoring my daughter’s memory is both meaningful and necessary for me.
I’m ultimately disappointed and depressed with the way these days turn out. I put too many expectations on myself and others to make these the perfect commemorative days. There’s a lot of built up, planning, and raw emotion that lead up to honoring my daughter’s memory.
Two years ago, on Ella’s birthday, I made an appointment with a glass blower to inquire about creating a blown glass piece including Ella’s ashes. I was very excited about this and made our whole family go to the appointment only to have the glass blower not show up. I was crushed and I took the artist not showing up way too personally. I cried for 2 days.
Before this appointment, I had never moved or touched the box that the undertaker gave me with Ella’s remains in it. Three days after Ella died, he delivered the box, I put it in a cabinet and that’s where it stayed till the day we were supposed to meet the glass artist. I took the box out of the cabinet and brought it to the appointment with us. This was a very big deal for me and felt like a big step in moving forward in my healing. When I returned home from the appointment hurt and disappointed, I put the box back in the cabinet, along with my feelings and healing process and that’s where everything stayed until last spring.
My husband and I have been working on a garden in our backyard since Ella passed.
We call it our Ella Garden, a gift to ourselves and Ella’s little brother, born a year after she died.
When we designed the garden, we wanted to make sure it was full of fun, color, life, and whimsy. Just like Ella. It is a significant undertaking but is befitting of how I want to honor my daughter’s memory.
Last spring, we added a few new plants and one tree to the design. As we were digging holes to plant, I mentioned to my husband that we should put some of Ella’s ashes into the ground. He thought it was a great idea. I came into the house and removed the box from the cabinet. This all felt very sacred to me.
However, when I handed the box of Ella’s ashes to my husband, he opened it, tore open the bag containing the ashes, scooped a handful, and threw them in the hole.
I stood frozen, mouth wide open. There was no pomp and circumstance, no ritual, and I was both in shock and also in awe of his casual, comfortable nature with Ella’s remains. I watched as he took the box around the garden and repeated throwing the ashes in with each new plant. Finally, he stopped his planting, noticed that I hadn’t moved from my spot and asked if I was ok.
I asked how he could do that, touch her ashes, throw her ashes with such ease. He smiled, put his arm around me and said,
These ashes are not her. Her body was just a vehicle for spirit, and that’s always with us.
He handed the box back to me and I put it in the cabinet.
I do believe what he said. I believe that part of Ella’s graceful presence is around me all the time. However, I thought that I had to do something sacred with her remains, out of respect for her life, to honor her memory. I thought that I had to honor not just her ashes, but also these special dates so Ella is never forgotten and so she knows that we still love and miss her deeply every day.
Observing my husband’s ease with Ella’s remains in the beautiful garden we created for her and watching her little brother play joyfully in the sand pit located in the garden is memorializing her.
I don’t need grand gestures to prove my lasting love for her.
It just takes a bit of slowing down to see that each day I live can be a celebration of Ella. Each day, I can teach Ella’s little brother about his amazing sister by both honoring my daughter’s memory and living her example of unconditional love.
The day after Ella’s death anniversary this year was Mother’s Day and we went on a family hike. Whenever I’m out hiking or walking I’ve made a habit of always sitting on benches along the paths.
Benches are usually placed in spots for a reason. I like to figure out the reason. Most of the time they have the best views, sometimes they’re put at the top of a steep incline for rest, sometimes they are dedicated to someone and have lovely messages, and sometimes I have no idea why they’re placed in certain spots.
I started this habit many years ago when Ella was alive and I would take her hiking or walking. Because of Ella’s deformed body structure, stiffness, and extreme spasticity caused by her cerebral palsy, she was unable to sit. So, I carried her all the time. On walks and hikes, we took lots of breaks to rest. It wasn’t easy carrying her because she weighed about 30 lbs and couldn’t hold on. Therefore, when hiking or walking with Ella, I took every opportunity to sit and rest.
For many years, I resented these stops. I wasn’t getting places fast enough, I didn’t have time to sit, and I wasn’t getting the workout my body craved.
However, as I aged and my outlook softened, I began to truly enjoy this precious time of just sitting with Ella in my arms and enjoying the view.
After Ella died in 2014, my husband and I took three months to travel across the country and flew to Hawaii for a few weeks. We visited many of the amazing national parks across the US and we did a lot of hiking.
I made a point to sit on every bench as an homage to Ella, a quiet moment to be closer to her. It became a joke between my husband and me. Hiking times had to always allot extra minutes for my bench sitting.
On our Mother’s Day hike this year, my son, like most 4-year-olds, asserted his independence and wanted to walk on his own, no stroller or backpack for him. Our family hike took a substantial amount of time to include detours to look at bugs, trees, and feathers, or pick up interesting sticks.
I’ve never explained my bench sitting habit to my son, but he is very aware of it. He’s observed me taking time to sit whenever the opportunity is presented. When we reached the top of a steep hill there was a bench before I could make my way to it, my son said, “Look Mommy a bench, we need to sit.” I nodded and silently thought, yes, yes we do.
We sat, had a snack, talked about monster trucks and Katy Perry, and watched 3 millipedes crawling on a rock. These incredible moments of calm, peace and exploration are presented to us so many times throughout every day. I dare say that if I had not learned from Ella’s necessity to slow down and loiter a bit in her very deliberate daily care I’d most likely still be rushing to get somewhere. I’d be worried about getting my workout and missing the opportunity to be quiet, to be still, and to think about the gift of both of my children. I would completely miss these beautiful moments, beautiful views, and beautiful messages—a moment to teach my son to take in the view and get a little closer to the sweet nature of his amazing big sister. A beautiful memorial to Ella indeed.