It was just an ordinary day. Until it was not.
It was Monday, December 10.
I went to school that day and then babysat for a family in the neighborhood. An unexpected knock on the door and the instruction that I was not to go home that night disrupted the ordinary.
It was another “Terror Night”. Something happened that summoned my parents to the hospital that evening to be with Emily. My brother and I had a sleepover on a school night at our neighbor’s house. Before going to bed, I remember thinking, praying and hoping that everything would be all right as it always was in the past. Maybe it was another setback and, sure, that would be rough. She’d get through it, though, just as she fought all of the other curveballs preventing her from getting healthy and coming home.
The next morning we ate breakfast and our friends went to the bus stop without us. We were not told to get ready for school. I walked up the block to my house, four doors away, to pick up the board game Mall Madness. I tried not to consider it strange that I wasn’t going to school and would be able to sit at home and play games all day.
My dad’s car was in the driveway. I opened the front door and headed down the hallway. There, in the living room on the couch sat Emily’s plush Santa, clown and teddy bear. Why were those there? They should be with Emily at the hospital in her crib, I thought to myself.
My dad was on the phone and I tried to capture his attention, but he waved his hand away.
I stormed off. Somewhere, deep down, I knew something was wrong.
Upstairs, I found my mom and learned the terrible truth.
Emily, two days shy of her five-month birthday, died peacefully the night of Monday, December 10.
And in that moment, the stress and anxiety of the past 132 days vanished in a blink. There would be no more ups, no more downs, no more hope, no more disappointment. No more of anything. Only emptiness and a terrible, horrible void.
The whirlwind of joy that I had a sister to her too-short life had come to an all too abrupt end. Here I was, a few weeks from turning 12 and I couldn’t quite understand what happened. There had been plans made and discussions had to bring Emily home sometime after Christmas, maybe the beginning of January around my birthday. I’d already decided that Emily home would be the best birthday present ever.
But there must have been other plans, bigger than me, larger than any of us, that I could never grasp. To be fair, no matter what your age, when someone is taken from us before we wanted or expected there are always more questions than answers.
Two weeks before Christmas, grief and memories replaced visions of sugarplums dancing in our heads.
I don’t remember much about the weeks that followed or that first Christmas without her except for a few things here and there. I know we had to begin coping without Emily in our lives. I know it was strange that visiting the hospital was no longer the routine.
But, I’ll never forget the Santa, clown and bear sitting on the sofa on a day after the day that would never be ordinary again.