On earth as it is

Children die everyday. It is, when you pause to consider it, a terrifyingly ordinary fact. Ordinary. Except that she was our daughter, and grief, as much as love, is resistant to reason.

I wish this date would not hold us captive. Tears line up like soldiers, poised to sweep straight through the sorrow. Except it's never really straight.  Grief is, apparently, also resistant to anything remotely linear. The conveyor belt that moves us away from her twists and lurches and stalls. I let the boys watch too many cartoons and feed them too many marshmallows and dispense too many I don't cares.  And, during a day filled with what might otherwise be emotionally neutral activities, I find myself thinking she would have been six and a half.

Five Januarys ago we sat in a hospital room inhaling horror. Our daughter had Batten Disease, and Batten Disease would have her. When I realized my ebullient little girl was terminally ill, I contemplated dual death. How could we leave her alone, traveling to whatever unknown territory she was headed without us? I looked in dazed terror at the darkness of her destiny and wondered how we’d ever live without her.
Visions of her sad and sick still haunt me. Unthinkable thoughts, so hideous they cause something inside me to actually flip over, do too. I envision her father carrying her into the morgue and my chest spasms, laying her body on a cold metal cart and my throat constricts. The worst part was zipping the bag, he says, and his voice cracks without permission.  It’s hard to believe that life would give us to each other, and then take her back.

It does, finally, feel less like we've been run over by a combine. Her voice, long absent, still fills my ears and I can almost feel the way her fingers held my own. I remember her skin, so thin, hinting at bone underneath, collar, shoulders, ribs all forcing their way to prominence. I need only close my eyes to conjure her face, to recall the way her eyes crinkled when she smiled. Two years later, though, I do struggle to bring to mind how all those elements of her being alive fit together.

Her heart stopped for good, and ours, even with fair warning, were left stunned. We wondered, still, how we'd ever live without her. It did not come quickly, but two years removed, I believe it to be true: We don’t have to.
She is here, faded, further away, on a different frequency. She is in the sky, in the falling sun and the rising temperature. She is in my heart. She is in Tucker's head and in Tolliver's hair. She is in the flowers. She is in her daddy's dreams. She is with this world and apart from it all at once. She is everywhere.


  1. I am thinking of Celia and your family today. Much love from the McIvers.

  2. Thank you, Jenni. Thank you for the poignant reminder that every day is precious. My heart hurts for you, and my prayers ask for peace for you today.

  3. I'm so sorry for all you've had to endure. I am glad you can write about it to "release it" and allow others with experience it with you. Praying that Jesus comes quickly to reunite you with your dear daughter.

  4. Hi. My name is Janna Shelton (Bryan and Jenny Shelton’s sister-in-law). I was married to Bryan’s oldest brother, Robert, until Rob died suddenly on Sept. 20, 2011. Years ago, when Bryan and Jenny were visiting us, Bryan was showing us what a blog was (we really were that behind on technology and such then). He showed us your blog on his laptop and I have been reading it ever since. I was excited for you and with you from afar when your sons were born and you became a family of four and then five. I was overjoyed for you and with you from afar when your oldest son was declared healthy. I smiled with glee for you and with you from afar when the hair of your youngest shone as brightly red as the hair of your oldest. And I cried for you and with you from afar when I read of the death of your family as you knew it when your first red-headed child slipped from our earthly world.

    As I look at your photos in your blog posts and notice the glaring absence of Barbie dolls, tutus, hair bows and pink and as I look at my own photos and notice the glaring absence of a daddy hoisting his youngest son up onto his shoulders or teaching his oldest son how to tie a tie or kissing his youngest daughter on the night of her Senior Fall Formal or walking his oldest daughter down the aisle on her wedding day, I can’t help but also notice the very present smiles, laughter, and growth of all of us who are left here to keep living life as it continues to roll on by. Because, with or without our consent, life does keep rolling on by. And little by little by little, I’ve even found that I want it to.
    And although I believe I will always somewhat experience moments measured by the moments I miss having (or never had the privilege of having at all because he didn’t live into our future), I look forward to experiencing and appreciating each one of those moments as they come. And I look forward to continuing to see your moments on your blog.

    So thank you for sharing your daughter while she was living among you and thank you for sharing your daughter as you are now the tender caretaker of her memory. Thank you for sharing your sons as they grow and develop. Thank you for sharing your family of five.

    And even though I never met your Celia, I miss her today. And my heart aches for you and with you from afar.


  5. I feel your words in the deepest part of my soul. Horrors, unthinkable thoughts, yes. Anniversaries hold me captive too. I try not to suffer over my suffering but sometimes tidal waves of despair sweep me away. I'm thinking of all of you.

  6. Jenni, Every time I see Isobel's curls, I think of your sweet Celia...every time she speaks and plays with her toys, I am thankful...when I see Tollie's red hair, I am so happy a part of her beauty lives on...hugs and prayers for your entire family.

  7. She is everywhere...but especially in our hearts. Thinking of you all...always.