I'll never forget it, but I'll never remember it, either. I crawled out of the car my brother was driving. My wife was in the backseat next to me. After a never-ending moment to ourselves, I walked over to get her door without looking up at the crowd of family and friends who were surrounding the tiny hole in the ground where my daughter would rest for eternity.
I glanced up through tears on the way to our seats and didn't see a thing. I listened to the rabbi, but didn't hear a thing. I made my way up to the small podium on a grassy hill alongside this tiny hole. I was a shell of person. I couldn't look up out of fear. I couldn't look into the hole out of sorrow for the beautiful little girl in the small casket next to it. I stared at the index cards that I had scratched out my notes on. I spoke about how I knew Ilana would have inherited the dynamic qualities of her great-grandparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and of course, her beautiful mother.
At one point, I almost fell down. I found myself leaning on the podium that wasn't built to support my weight. My legs were turning to jelly and would soon give out. I skipped the rest of my notes, and said my final goodbye by putting Ilana's twin sister's hair bow in the ground with her.
I watched friends and family cover her with dirt. I remember noticing there wasn't enough dirt for everyone to participate. Just a reminder of how small the hole was, and how G-D took her back too soon.
It's Jewish tradition to form a pathway for the mourners on their way out. I walked through and tried to look up. I'm not sure if I was successful in doing so, but I remember trying. I opened the door for my wife and walked to the other side of the car. I tried to nod to the crowd, but don't think I successful at that, either. We got in the car and went home. We saw Ilana in the clouds as we looked past our tears and through the moonroof. Julie and I fell asleep. Exhaustion had overcome us.
It comes as a momentary blackout. Not in the sense that I'll lose control of my vehicle if I'm driving, but more like a complete tunnel vision of mental focus for a minute here and there. I think of a question that can't be answered and my mind wanders into an abyss of shock. My eyes glaze over and I lose track of my surroundings. At this point, a year later, I can normally jump out quickly. It wasn't always so quick -- and when I find myself alone with time to let my mind wander, I embrace these moments and let them take over me.
Recently, I heard about a friend whose wife give birth to their daughter as a stillborn. She'd somehow gotten the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. I couldn't not email him:
Those of us who have lost a child know things about life that others do not. We have been through a terrible life-situation that fundamentally changes us as people. From the day my daughter, Ilana Libby, passed away, I walk with a heavy heart.
We are left to an eternity of questions that can never be answered, such as: 'What would her laugh would have sounded like?' and 'How big she'd be now?' These questions torment Julie and I and they are impossible to escape."
I don't think we'll ever escape them, and honestly, I don't want to escape them. I want to embrace them. We didn't get much time on earth with Ilana, so we're left with hypotheticals. We do know that she forever changed the world. Even if it was just my families' world.
The questions that torment me a few times a day for a few minutes at a time are ones like those mentioned above. Ilana's twin sister, Goldie, started crawling at nine months old. She laughs a lot, and is such a busy-body who bounces from toy to toy at just over a year old now. Essentially, she's a healthy baby caught in between nine months and one year. Her giggle-voice is so amazing, it could soften even the hardest of hearts. She sticks her tongue out when she's laughing really hard. It is impossible not to think of Goldie and Ilana laughing together. How would that have sounded?
These questions are just beginning. In the coming years, Julie and I are going to be left wondering what books Ilana would have enjoyed. Would she want to play softball or soccer, or neither? Would she want be an actress? Would she be studious, rebellious, artistic, athletic? Who would have been her first date, first kiss (not that she'd tell her parents) or husband? What job would she have ended up with? Could she have been a businesswoman? Or a member of our armed forces? Would she be a non-profit worker or maybe a doctor or nurse inspired by her entry into this world?
And the one that gets me the most: How would she affect the world around her? I know that in her death, she made her mother and I better people. She melts the hearts of those who say her name, Ilana Libby Krashin. She wipes up tears while picking up falling chins. To Julie and I, she's omnipresent. She's in the playroom when Goldie plays. She's by my side while I'm working at my office. She's on Julie's shoulder while her and Goldie play at the playground.
We will never know why G-D called her back after only three and a half days of life. But the only way I get through the day is to think that it's part of His plan, and there's never going to be an explanation that I'll comprehend. Because I know that she didn't deserve to die.
Ilana isn't getting the chance to affect people herself, so Julie and I talk about her as much as we can. It makes people squirm. (You get to talk about your kids, why can't I?) We have kept many details of her time with us private, and plan to continue to do so. The truth is that we do our best talking about her when we are considering what she could have done, rather than discussing how she lived.
One of the lessons Ilana taught us is to not take a second for granted with our children. Some of us would give everything we have to spend another day with ours. So make sure to kiss your children today, and every day. Tell them you love them. That will make you happy, and it will make them happy. Ilana inspired a lot of love in her short life and still is doing so posthumously. Julie and I tend to think that had she had the chance, she would have kept right on inspiring in the same loving way.