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Alissa Parker Headshot

The Last Goodbye

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On December 14th, 2012, I went up (as usual) to the bus stop with my three beautiful little girls in the back of our van. I remember vividly pulling up to the corner of the road and being welcomed to the normal handful of neighbor kids running and playing around. Living on a dead-end road limits the amount of traffic coming around, so our kids were in the habit of playing tag with each other while waiting for the bus. That was our routine, kids play tag, parents chat, bus pulls up, kisses and hugs goodbye and finally, once kids were on the bus, we all waved a final goodbye as they drove off to school.

I remember when the bus pulled up and Emilie came sprinting back to me and plowed a big bear hug right into my legs. I reached down and gave her a squeeze and we both said that we loved each other. As she ran off toward the bus, I could hear Madeline crying behind me. I turned to see her stuck on a small (but steep) hillside off the road. I had told her a million times that she was not allowed to go up there and I was not happy with her choice. Irritated that I might miss waving goodbye to Emilie, I ran towards her. With one scoop I picked her up off the hill and ran back just as the bus began to move forward. I saw all the neighborhood kids turn and wave goodbye. All except for one... Emilie. I saw the back of her head as she sat down in her seat and it appeared she was excitedly talking to someone. So, for the first time, I didn't see her wave goodbye. I didn't know why at the time it hit me, but I felt so disappointed. I remember reassuring myself and saying, "It's OK, it is only this once. There will be other mornings."

But after Emilie passed it WAS a big deal. This moment seemed to haunt me. I didn't get my goodbye! I played it over and over in my head... those final moments. It really bothered me. Feeling frustrated and angry that Emilie was gone, I felt like I had deserved at least a proper goodbye and I felt cheated! Throughout this last year, I really had to come to terms with WHY I did not get my goodbye.

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On December 14th this year, our family had decided we wanted to be out of town on the anniversary. We felt like it was better for us to be removed from our triggers in an effort to help us deal with the pure emotion of losing Emilie. The getaway was a bit down south, so we were able to enjoy a break from the cold temperature of Connecticut. Every day we did pretty much the same thing. We walked to the same places to eat, we walked to the same activities... there really wasn't a huge deviation of events. With each day I found myself, for no real reason, counting all the butterflies I would see. Most days I would see on average four to six butterflies.

On the morning of the year anniversary, I came out of our room only to have a butterfly fly right into my face. I smiled. One. After breakfast, my count had gone up to six! By noon it was 11. By nightfall, my count had grown to 19! Robbie just laughed at my excitement and with what that day meant for him didn't seem to grasp the significance the same way I did. As we headed out to dinner we talked a bit about the butterflies and how I thought it was a sweet way for Emilie to say hi to us. Robbie I could tell hadn't bought completely into the idea that this was something strange or significant. After all -- I hadn't told him much about my odd habit of counting the butterflies each day. While waiting for our food, there was this loud, unmistaken song we heard throughout the restaurant, "WHO LET THE DOGS OUT!" I looked at Robbie, whose eyes were wide, and I started to laugh. Robbie hated this song. He had always hated it. Emilie on the other hand had loved it! She used to tease Robbie by singing it, knowing what his reaction would be. "Now she is sending you a sign!" I said teasingly to Robbie. He just smiled and went back into our conversation. The song ended. And after a slight pause, "WHO LET THE DOGS OUT!" rang out loudly again throughout the restaurant. The song began to play for a second time! But it didn't even stop there; it also played for a third time! Robbie, laughing, held his hands in the air and said, "OK, OK! I get it!"

Previously, when I have told friends and family about my story with Emilie on the bus over a year ago, I almost always got the same response: "Maybe it's because she isn't really gone. Maybe that is why you didn't get your goodbye." What they said made sense, but it didn't help. I still felt cheated.

There are so many times through the grieving process, when people say things to you that are sometimes hard to swallow. Their thoughts are well intended and can be right, but the timing might have been off and you only leave the conversation feeling irritated. There are just days when "looking on the bright side" seems so childish compared to the pain you are feeling. Sometimes it took everything in me to hold back the unfiltered sentiments running through my head and spare the poor person the wrath of my grieving anger. I did fail occasionally, but I think I was forgiven (sometimes the volcano has to explode!).

But over time, my heart has begun to soften and I have seen the reality of her essence and influence all around me. The year anniversary was just one of many many ways we have felt connected to our little Em. So, as cliché as it might sound, I know I didn't get my goodbye that day because she has never truly left us. She is with us always. The Parker five.