Wednesday, December 31, 2008


" make an end is to make a beginning."

T. S. Eliot

Jill and I don’t know how to feel today, the last day of 2008. We are torn between tears and cheers. This is the last day of a year our daughter walked this earth with us. At the same time, 2008 is the year she was taken away. Rachel will not see this New Year, or any other for that matter. Every subsequent year will simply be another year without her.

This past weekend we watched CBS Sunday Morning, and they profiled the notable individuals who had passed away this year. Rachel didn’t make the list, of course, because a drunk driver deprived her of the chance to realize her potential. The world will never know the great things she could have done.

Today began like so many others: with tears. We ended a daily devotional book, Healing After Loss by Martha Whitmore Hickman, that we have been reading through this past year. It felt like another ending was being thrust upon us, as if even this grief were something that must be left behind. To me, at this stage, grief feels like my last link to my dead daughter, the last string stretched thin to breaking. I know this is not true. Love is the tie that binds us together eternally and cannot be broken. But my heart is not there yet.

I am glad this year is over. At the same time, I fear what new horrors the New Year may hold. I want to be hopeful, to anticipate life’s sweet surprises, to believe that we will be able to both cling to our love for Rachel and move forward with confidence. I am thankful for Lindsay and Brian’s baby, Jack, who will be born in 2009, and I look forward to a new president who has a hopeful and progressive vision for the country. But I can’t ignore the lesson I have learned so bitterly: that the worst can happen, even if the worst has already happened before. The woman who killed my daughter has killed my faith in the future. Perhaps that faith was inappropriate in the first place...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Her Eyes, Her Words, My Response

10 nice things about me

Rachel Amaris Elliott

Well I’m not usually asked to list nice things about myself so some of these may be out of desperation.  As you already know I have low self esteem so this may prove to be difficult.  Anywho here I go.  Ok well I can sing well or so I’m told.  I am a generally nice person.  I am easy to get along with.  I have relatively good pen man ship.  I have decent fashion sense…providing that I had time to try on 50 million different outfits.  So I’m half way there.  Just five more!  I know how to save my money and spend it well.  A lot of people trust me with secrets.  I guess along with that goes a lot of people trust me.  I generally know how to act in different situations and I guess that calls for a certain amount of maturity.  I have a younger brother and I think that I am a pretty cool sister to have.  We have a really great amount of understanding and if you can believe it we rarely fight.  Ok for the last one ill go for something physical.  I love my eyes.  No one can tell me just what color they are.  There, there is 10 god things about me!  Self esteem:



for RAE 5/24/08

Your eyes:

your eyes were two beautiful

jewels which colored the world.

The world is not the same

without you. Now

everything looks different. Everything


and nothing is clear.

Steven Elliott

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Everything has been redefined by this experience. Jill and I decorated the Christmas tree alone this year. Erik had no heart for it. We are going through the motions of a happy family, and it just doesn’t fit anymore. The Christmas tree is almost an insult, a constant reminder of happier times, forever gone. 

We got the tree, because that is the tradition. It sat naked in the corner for days. We finally had to deal with it. Jill organized the decorations while I hung the lights, as usual. When we finished, we set about hanging the ornaments. I dreaded the moment when Jill would hang “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament - the ornament that commemorated Rachel’s first Christmas when she was only six months old. We purchase commemorative ornaments every year, but this particular ornament has the most significance in our family. It was a bone of contention between Rachel and me every year. The ornament has a baby bear in a cradle that rocks when it is plugged into a Christmas light socket. Over the years, the tiny motor began to wear out and the cradle would grind as it rocked. It would annoy me when I would get up early and turn the Christmas tree lights on. I would unplug it, so I didn’t have to listen to the incessant grinding. When Rachel would notice that I unplugged it, she would get upset and demand that I plug it back it. It was HER ornament! There was no way of denying Rachel. She was right. I would relent and plug it back in and grin and bear it as I listened to the grinding.

It’s just a silly ornament, made in China, I am sure. It has a silly history, but it is our history. I always imagined that someday Rachel would be hanging “Baby’s First Christmas” on her own tree in her own home and tell the story to her own children, my grand-children, of how she and I used to fight every year about whether to leave it plugged in or unplugged. That is an impossible dream, now. “Baby’s First Christmas” will always hang on our tree as we grow old together and wonder what might have been and what will never be. Jill and I wept and held each other as we held the ornament and tried to decide where to hang Rachel's ornament. We found the right spot.

I plugged it in.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday all my adult life. I love it because it has always been uncomplicated. The powers of commerce have not figured out how to exploit it. We gather with our loved ones, feast, and express our gratitude to Whomever and Whatever has blessed us at this time in this place with the gifts of life and of love with these dear people. The fact is, we all have cause for gratitude. Even if we don’t know Who or What to thank. This is one of the most compelling reason for me to believe in God. Who else could I thank for all the goodness in my life which I did not and could not arrange for myself? 

This Thanksgiving was complicated. We were all conflicted. Despite losing Rachel, I knew the family had cause for gratitude. But we could not ignore the empty place at the table.  I was asked to say grace. At our last family gathering, after a trip to Chiloquin, Oregon, I broke down in tears and had to excuse myself from the table when I asked the blessing. Rachel should have been there. She had been there the last time. At Thanksgiving, I held my tears and choked back the lump in my throat and focused on the positive: we were glad to be together; we were thankful for the bounty at the table; we were grateful for the joyful news that Lindsay and Brian were expecting a baby boy. 

Our last memories of Rachel are of the holidays. Because she was living away from “home” attending school in southern California, we saw her at the traditional holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year. Though the last nine months have been long and dreadful, time has folded upon itself as it pertains to Rachel. The memories feel so recent and vivid, the intervening time seems like a dream. A nightmare. The holidays will be forever haunted by her absence. 

Thanksgiving highlighted the struggle for me. I am at a loss to account for what has happened to my beautiful daughter, my family, my life. The good things I expected are lost to me now. There will be unexpected joys, but not the ones I imagined and feel entitled to: Rachel’s bodily presence, her love, her marriage, her children, the marvel and mystery of her life as it unfolds...And still, I know, I have reason to be thankful. To have loved her is more goodness than I could ever have expected, than I could ever have deserved. That she is gone now and I am returned to that state of deprivation I never knew to regret before she entered this world causes me to reflect: knowing what I have lost, am I better off now...or worse? I can only conclude that I am grateful to have known her. It is painful beyond words to miss her. Her death was so unnecessary, so ridiculously preventable; and for that I am angry. Still. I am grateful for her life and her love, and I would be remiss not to offer the thanks that are due for the miracle and blessing she was, and still is to me even in death.

I had a dream the other night that was an answer to an unspoken prayer, the dearest desire of my heart: Rachel came back to me, as an eight-year-old little girl. I knew it could not last, but I held her, just held her and stroked her long, beautiful, silky hair. Jill laughed at me because I brought her back as an eight year old, but this was my dream, and the fulfillment of the longing of my heart: the sweet, uncomplicated affection of her childhood, her unreserved bodily presence.

I have returned again and again to to ground my grief in thankfulness. As horrible and miserable as losing Rachel has been, I constantly try to remind myself to be grateful for the sweetness and the goodness I have known because of her. I light a candle and weep. I could easily and justifiably become an angry old bastard. But I know that would dishonor Rachel. I can’t see my way through this grief, but I know when I come out the other side I want to be a better person. I believe, somehow, that thankfulness, gratefulness, gratitude - whatever you call it - is the only bridge, the lifeline of love that still connects me to Rachel and the person I want to be.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

NINE MONTHS: 11/21/08

This morning I stepped right into the routine. I staggered out of bed at 4:30 am and let our dog, Ida, outside. I stood on the patio and braced myself with the chill morning air. The sky was clear and dark as it can only be when the moon is down. The stars were in their glory, shining the brighter for the darkness. As I stood there taking it all in, wondering what the day would bring despite my efforts to order it and keep it all safely predictable, I saw what we used to call a falling star streak across the sky. Falling star, meteor, or space junk? A sign? A portent for a day already fraught with significance, or just another piece of meaningless debris from the unknown reaches of space, disintegrating in the atmosphere before it can be identified?

Nine months. It was on a day that began much like this one nine months ago that we received the news that Rachel had been killed. There were signs, but I could not read them. That night there had been a lunar eclipse. It began to rain. I don't believe in signs. But I do believe it is human to try to connect the dots, to make constellations out of the scatter-shot of stars, to impose where we cannot recognize some significance, some bigger picture.

I dreamed last night of a powerful spirit being, a force of nature personified, that attacked the restaurant I was in (O.K. it was Carl's Jr., if you must know), ripping the roof off and hurling it at the structure - at me. It was a towering, dark pillar of cloud, like a tornado, vaguely but recognizably human in shape. And it had a name. It was on the tip of my tongue, but I could not speak it, and all my efforts to identify it through research ended in frustration.
That is part of the struggle. Is there some personal force behind the seemingly random and impersonal calamities we suffer? Is it a personal attack? Can the assailant be identified and named?

Nine months. The time it took to produce and reveal the miracle of Rachel's life. Of all the terms used to describe that period, I like the word "expectant" the most. It perfectly captures our state. We were waiting for a miracle. But we were not waiting in vain: we were expecting it, anticipating it. We knew this miracle would arrive as surely as the new day, as joyfully as all our childhood Christmases. We marveled as the miracle grew day by day, barely concealed beneath the skin of Jill's swelling belly. We hoped and we wondered. And we were acutely aware of how small a part we played in the magic happening before our eyes. We simply welcomed a child. Love prepared a place, and Rachel grew into it. Of course, when she arrived, she was not what we expected. She was something wholly different, other, new. We do not possess the powers to imagine such a thing. Rachel was a pure gift. We received her and were perfectly, abundantly blessed.

Nine months. We are no longer expecting. This is a period marked by loss. And it is indefinite and terminal. Nothing has been birthed in us but grief in all its aspects, and we expect nothing else. All that we know of the miracle we called Rachel in this life has been revealed. The rest is remembering. What makes it so difficult is that we know what we have lost. There are so many children we could have had. But we do not know to miss or mourn them. We had 18 years to learn how much we loved Rachel. Now she is gone. And that makes all the difference.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


This phrase sums up our approach to the problem of drunk driving: a plea to the common decency and good sense of intoxicated people who would get behind the wheel. I am here to tell you they don't have any, and this approach is pathetically inadequate.
In the months that have elapsed since my daughter Rachel was killed, I have thought long and hard about what it is going to take to keep people from choosing to drive when they are drunk, and prevention is the only satisfactory solution. Our nation is indifferent to the consequences of drunk driving, because most of us are unaffected and believe we are immune. Of course we read stories in the paper everyday, and we think, "What a shame!" When Rachel was killed, the story barely registered in the local newspaper. Because it is such a common occurrence, the story of the life of an innocent, promising, beautiful young lady being senselessly and violently cut short by a drunk driver isn't deemed newsworthy. We don't demand the change required to put an end to the body count. We will not tolerate our freedoms being abridged, until, of course, we are convinced the security of our own live or our loved ones is imperiled. That, of course, is the lesson of the aftermath of 9/11.
Prevention is expensive. And the fact is, people only spend money on what they care about. We can't afford to help the poor AIDS orphans in Africa, but somehow we find the money to pay for our plasma t.v.'s; universal health care is prohibitively expensive, but we can spend trillions of dollars on a pointless war in Iraq and on a bail-out for Wall Street without any debate or public discourse. The public has no idea of the real cost of drunk driving - a price we are already paying. Of course the personal costs are inestimable and catastrophic. But when medical, judicial, penal, social wellfare and productivity costs are tallied the price tag of drunk driving is astronomical. M.A.D.D. reports that in the year 2000 alone, the public paid an estimated 114 billion dollars in costs associated with drunk driving. If we have that kind of money to spend cleaning up the devastation caused by D.U.I., why can't we spend it on the front end and use it to prevent the tragedy in the first place? We would still be out the money, but we just might have our own lives or the lives of our loved ones to show for the investment.
The real problem is indifference. But I can tell you this now as a father who has lost his only and precious daughter to this senseless crime: I would pay any price to have prevented her death; I would sacrifice any "freedom". And you would, too, if you truly believed your life and the lives of your loved ones were imperiled. Unless we do something now to change our approach from and impotent plea to the common decency and good sense of intoxicated drivers to real prevention, we may very well be reading about you or your loved ones next. That is, if the story makes the paper.