Published 5 years, 11 months past
Rebecca blows out the candles on a birthday cake.

In another timeline, an early alarm woke Kat and me this morning so we could sneak into Rebecca’s room with her siblings and wish her a happy birthday at the moment she turned ten, 7:24am, June 7th, 2018.

Two digits.  It’s a big milestone, in its way.  Rebecca’s best friend Ruth passed it a few days ago.  Ruth, who she called “Ruthie”.  Who shared all three of her initials, and practically had the same birthday.  Who was the last person to whom Rebecca ever spoke a complete sentence in her full voice, the morning of the day before she died: “Goodbye Ruthie, I love you, MWAH!”

Ruth, who still dreams of Rebecca, happy dreams that make her waking sad.

I have dreams like that too, when I remember them.  I don’t often remember my dreams.  But sometimes, I get to spend a little time with her, free of sorrow, on a nighttime walk or at an amusement park my subconscious constructed out of all the parks we ever took her to.

Kat and Carolyn and Joshua and I went to the grave marker this morning, because Kat works all afternoon into the evening and Joshua has an all-day LEGO and chess camp and Carolyn has friends to see before summer vacation gets crazy.  Because life moves on even when a part of you can’t understand why the sky doesn’t collapse and the world doesn’t crack open and time doesn’t shatter into a million sharded memories.  Classes get taken, grades get graduated, camps get attended, trips get planned, work has to be done.  Each day follows on the one before, pulling you further and further away from the last moments your life was normal.

We stood or sat or huddled around the flecked slate blue granite slab under the gray clouds of morning, emotions flaring and fading, subsumed by a profound sorrow without many tears.  We’re too used to it, now.  The sobs of previous years have given way to a steeled mourning.  Sometimes there is resentment at the stupid blind unfairness of the holes shot through all our hearts, the hole in our lives, and all the things she and we never got to experience.

Her playgroup friends still talk of her with their parents.  Rebecca was a good friend, she was funny, she was fun, she was so nice.  In their way, still trying to come to grips with what happened to her.  To them.

They don’t mention her to us.  Children, trying to protect the grown-ups.

Which makes sense, since they know, now, that sometimes grown-ups can’t protect the children.  Sometimes the killer gets into the house and there is nothing you can do to cast it out.

Sometimes there is nothing anyone can do, except hold the victim’s hand as her life ebbs away, and wish your desperate pleas to take her place had been heard.  That there was something to hear, anything to hear, and accept a frantic parent’s bargain of life for life.

Ten years ago today, Rebecca came into this world.  Four years ago today, she left it.

I can’t remember if I ever told her I would never forget her, or if I was too afraid of frightening her.

I clearly remember when and where she told me, sobbing, knowing she would die, that she would never forget me.

I can still recall the terrified strength in her arms, locked around my neck.

I hope I told her then.

Today she should have been ten.

Comments (14)

  1. Much love to you, Kat, and the whole family. I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been, must still be. Thinking of you today.

  2. So sorry Eric. Thank you for finding the strength to share this today.

  3. Toni, my oldest son passed away 8 months after his birthday on february 28 2012, I still cry every single day thinking what he would be doing now. But life goes on and I’m happy Núria and Aina arrived two years ago and two months ago esch one, but we all know now that life is fragile and love is our unique shield.
    Thank you for sharing.

  4. Late last month was the fourth anniversary of the death of my partner of forty years. I feel it is unfair, grossly unfair, that she has missed out on life for the last four years.

    The death I am coping with gives me a glimpse of your loss – of every parent’s worst nightmare. Sadly, the here and now is the new normal.

    I always look forward to your posts on Rebecca. For me your writing connects the reality and the unreality of it all.

  5. I can not begin to comprehend your terrible, terrible pain and anguish. I am reading these words and almost sense the absolute terror you are feeling. I hope you find strength where I can’t find any words.

  6. Your family is so strong. I remember you when times get tough. It’s never as tough as losing a child. May love warm your heart and the memories always remain no matter how hard they are. Much love to you all.

  7. Sobbing reading this. My heart goes out to you and your family… Happy 10th birthday, Rebecca!

  8. ❤️

  9. ♥️

    We miss her too and think of her (and you all) often. That photograph—her smiling eyes, so full of love for life, an excited grin, clutching that giant pink poof of an octopus— is etched into my brain. It’s how I’ll always remember her.

    Happy birthday Rebecca.

  10. I read somewhere there are three deaths. The day you pass away, the day your name is said aloud for the final time and the day someone thinks of you for the last time. Rebecca may have passed but there are still people saying her name and I can tell it will be a very long time before that changes. #639

  11. Thanks for sharing, Eric. You show life as it is, which is very valuable to me.
    May God bless you and your family including incredible Rebecca .

  12. Eric,

    On this peaceful evening, I was laboring away on my first big React app when I came across a rather unique CSS color name.

    So I decided to investigate. Suffice it to say I did not expect what I found.

    I was barely six, myself, when my parents lost a daughter. And it took me until my mid-twenties to realize how deeply it had shaped them and changed the course of my life.

    Rebecca’s story is, to me, a moving reminder that even a fleeting good can have a great and far-reaching impact on the world.

    I will sneak #663399 into my projects as often as possible.


  13. I wonder how long the dreams last. I lost a good friend 15 years ago, and I still have good dreams of them and wake up sad. Beautiful writing & explaining you did here. I’m sure she knew that Mommy & Daddy would never forget her.

  14. Eric, I just lost my husband at 34 as a small illness turned to ICU stay turned to signing the form to DNR. Knew for years we would have shorter time together than some, but never expected this. Trying to use tech is so painful right now that I keep thinking of your designing for crisis. How… poignant? appropriate? that in trying to contact you I find this page title. I always empathized with you – the emergency and the realization, the having to live with knowing your time together is short – but never more so than this moment.

    Design not for crisis is still all around. Do you collect examples?

    I can’t help but critique the usability of what’s in front of me. Even in the hospital, good instructions at the point of use on a blood pressure cuff. Cannula that makes it too easy to accidentally attach pieces upside down, unfamiliar machine that makes the respiratory therapists have to instruct the newer staff that it gives no clear indication of how fast the gas tank will run out, medication pump alarms that are far far too loud for the insignificance of their I’m Done compared to a vitals out of range alert. A different pump that can terrify you when it thinks there’s an upstream occlusion as a bag runs low and wastes the nurses’ time because merely restarting it fixes it, but cannot tell you that the tubing below it has formed a leak, which no one sees for a while in the jungle of tubes, and ultimately is of little importance this time, but whether the full dose is delivered could be the difference for someone.

    And now, the indignity of being confronted with the most recent photos, hospital deathbed photos, as I’m desperately trying to scroll backward to collect photos for a memorial. Recent photos that I don’t want to delete lest all my backups fail but software makes no easy way to hide. Or even worse, desperately trying to scroll backward to find a video to show my 18 month old – he is enthralled by videos of himself running around and I have temporarily suspended all screen time limitations – and he doesn’t understand why I won’t let him see the phone right away. Not trying to hide the truth, but to tell him in ways he can understand. He just learned about words. He can’t see that yet. But the designers didn’t think of that.

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