Remember Dear Elena? It is the blog written by a father who had just lost his six year-old daughter to a sudden illness. I noted it in a 2006 post here, in which I wrote:
I was reading the blog tonight as my wife got our daughter Lauren ready for bed, and I realized all the similarities between our children. Lauren is a lively and cheerful six-year-old, like Elena was. Lauren recently lost a tooth, just like Elena. And Lauren spent Saturday evening throwing up, as Elena had been four days before. But on Sunday Lauren was fine.
I finished the last post, and then my wife called me upstairs and told me that Lauren was ready to say good night to me. We talked about our favorite and least favorite parts of the day, as we do every night. I told her that my favorite thing is that she has started to read to herself, without asking for our help. And — though I had just finished crying downstairs for another parent’s loss — I told her that I didn’t have any not-favorite parts today, because I was just so happy to be there with her, right then.
I think most people who saw the blog read a post or a few, and moved on. But it stuck with me. Over the years, I have checked back on the blog from time to time. The father is a very gifted writer, and he feels like a friend even though we have never met or even corresponded. His writing is that good.
If you’ve looked at your placemat in most neighborhood Chinese restaurants then you’ve probably looked up the year you were born to figure out your animal in the Chinese zodiac. Of course it can be used the other way around. Once you know someone is the year of the dog then they are either twenty-eight or some multiple of twelve older or younger.
Kim and Maggie are both the year of the rat. I’m the year of the boar.
Elena was a rabbit. Along with her Chinese name we have an image of a rabbit on her gravestone.
On the new year I was thinking of my little rabbit running across a field with her head tipped back so her hair flowed behind her. Most of my memories of Elena have her embracing life and doing something with abandon.
If you’re going to do the hokey-pokey you might as well skip to the part where you put your whole self in and you shake it all about. No need to be coy and just put an arm or a leg in.
With those memories of Elena, I headed off to the cemetery to spend some time at her grave. There was snow everywhere. Deep snow. The only footprints in her section were animals. I walked across the snow covered graves towards hers. There was a solid crust on top of the snow. I stomped down near where her headstone should be and my foot broke through and sunk way down. I was up to my knee in snow with no real chance of finding her stone.
I pulled my foot out of the hole I’d made and stood for a minute. If this were a movie, a rabbit would appear from behind a bush and wink at me. It wasn’t a movie. And it was getting a bit cold. I brushed off the snow and headed back to my car. It will be the year of the rabbit all year. I can come visit her another time.
I’d never thought about it but the Chinese New Year is yet another axis for memories. We have stories of friends and families that come up each year when we celebrate different holidays. Telling and retelling these stories become part of our tradition. We have stories we tell on Christmas Eve’s and Passover Seder’s and Fourth of July’s. We remember where we were for those holidays and people who are no longer with us by telling of the year that something happened..
For the Chinese New Year in addition to these memories of celebrating the holiday each year there are these extra leaps backwards of twelve years. We ring in the year of the rabbit — do you say “ring in” for Chinese New Year — and you remember. You remember other rabbits or you remember the last time it was the year of the rabbit. I also think ahead to next time.
Twelve years is too long. Who can predict where they’ll be twelve years from now or what they’ll be doing? What will the world be like the next time we celebrate the year of the rabbit?
Silly to ask.
On this, Elena’s twelfth birthday, please go leave her family a comment. And give your loved ones an extra hug.