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To my daughter on her eleventh birthday

Elli 8th birthday
Dear Elli,

We miss you. Your dad and I think about you every day. We savor those rare vivid dreams of you, where we can see, hold, and hear you again. (Those dreams can’t happen too often.) We love to talk about you.

So bitter-sweet. Every morning, the school bus that you used to ride drives past our house, reminding me of the life you once had with us. Sometimes the missing dredges up the taste and smell of the raw grief when you first left.

…stinging salt-raw eyelids

…gritty eyes that have shed every drop of moisture yet somehow summon more at each new recognition of the ways you are gone

…throbbing aching can’t-breathe sinuses

…swollen lips from the Ugly Cry

…mind-numbing exhaustion

Then I force myself to think of The Now.

Your little brother knows who you are, even though he was but a baby when you left. When he sees a picture of you, he points to it and tells anyone who will listen, “That’s my sister.” Today, he asked if you were going to come here to our house. I had to explain that you died and can’t come visit anymore. How can a 3-year-old understand death?

Elli snowsledding

Your bigger brother is very matter-of-fact about you being gone. He doesn’t understand why his sister is still processing everything. He has accepted this new reality, and is uncomfortable with dwelling on the changes.

Your little sister talks about you all the time. She asks questions about what made you sick when you were born, why you are gone, and why we started the Find a Voice Fund. Especially lately, this last one.

I think you would be pleased with the Find a Voice Fund. We are helping to purchase “talkers” like you had for other kids who can’t speak. Your brothers and sister got to meet a boy who has a new talker in your name just this week. Now they get it, what we’ve been working on.

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate your birthday than to introduce your siblings to a boy like you and let them see the joy in his face when he uses his computer to talk with them.

Happy birthday, beautiful girl.

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  1. ((((hugs and love)))) I have no words, friend, just my love.

  2. thinking of you….

  3. Wow. What an amazing and heart wrenching story. You are such an inspiration! THank you for writing.

  4. Happy birthday, Elli xx

  5. Thinking of all of you…

    Happy Birthday Elli!!!

  6. How beautiful this is.

  7. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy.


  8. Happy birthday Elli. I work with your grandma and she has shared you with us through the years. We love seeing pictures of all the birthday cakes and cards she has made for her family. I tell her she has made some wonderful memories for all of you. Diane is a wonderful person to be around. I just wanted to tell you I’m sorry for the pain you all feel. God bless each of you.

  9. Sending hugs and lots of love. Grief is so not what we ever want with our children. So grateful for how you share your journey here and praying for strength and God’s hand of comfort in the bittersweetness of the day.

  10. thank you for sharing your sweet memories of your daughter Elli! Happy Birthday Elli! ((hugs))

  11. Aunt Heather says:

    Happy Birthday to a girl who was so amazingly happy and who’s laughter was/is contagious!

  12. Thinking of you and thank you for sharing this…it helps us all support you and others grieving and reminds us we don’t have to hide in it and that God can do amazing things through these valleys.

    Bless you Joy!


  13. my eyes welled reading this. what a lovely way to honor elli’s legacy and involve the family.

    hugs to you on this difficult day. may God fill you to overflowing with peace and comfort.

  14. So beautiful and such a way to honour your girl, Joy! Happy birthday to Elli. And happy ‘birth’ day for you, too, you courageous mama.


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  2. […] The tears welled up before I even clicked the link. After I read the story, I couldn’t stop crying for this little boy and for his mother. My grief for them was as fresh and raw and full-bodied as my grief for my daughter Ellie. […]

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