I hope this story encourages others to hold onto our precious memories, traditions and the gift of life.
My granddaughter Elanna Leigh Zuller was born July 13, 1995. Our lives were enriched with Elanna’s birth. Our family members all have individual memories of Elanna, however the love and joy we shared with her was the same.
That love and the incredible bond between us helped me manage the grief I have felt since her premature passing last year, Aug. 31, 2011.
As an infant, Elanna lit up the room with her smile. When she was learning to walk and saw me, she would start dragging her diaper bag, bigger than she was, to me. Ready for fun, Elanna lived life to the fullest … and with her, I did, too. We rode every carousel in Rhode Island and found others in our travels. She called the carousel in Wakefield “the wobbly, wobbly one” and always loved trying to catch the brass ring.
I introduced Elanna to live theater when she was young, and her favorite venues included the Warwick Musical Tent, Radio City Music Hall, Madison Square Garden and Providence Performing Arts Center. Every December, Elanna, my sister and I visited New York City; on one occasion, Elanna sat in Katie Couric’s chair at CBS.
When we visited the White House, I told Elanna that she could be the nation’s first woman president, and I believe she could have achieved that goal had she desired it. She loved the rides and animals at Roger Williams Park and the Bronx Zoo. Her first ride on a seesaw was unforgettable. We visited Cape Cod on February vacations and traveled every July; she styled my hair and borrowed my clothes … the memories are endless.
We shared so much: Conversations at home, before plays or on bus rides to New York City; dancing, singing, games, stories, fun at the beach and more. Her teachers often told me they felt that they knew me well because Elanna mentioned me often.
My friends say they saw so much of me in her, especially our gift of expressing ourselves with words and that many of her qualities and philosophies about life reminded them of me. We shared a positive attitude, a zest for life and learning from our mistakes. We enjoyed many of the same foods and laughed about our poor sense of direction.
We shared the joy of our Jewish heritage and traditions. I first took Elanna to the Synagogue when she was only 2 months old. She especially loved Hanukkah and Passover.
At my work in social services, Elanna witnessed the hardships people experienced before they could achieve their goals of a better life.
Elanna’s tremendous heart shone brightly during her short life.
Our lives changed forever after the car accident that tragically ended Elanna’s life. I couldn’t fathom that our recent trip to Lake George, N.Y., or our Aug. 25 shopping day were my last times together.
Words cannot explain the heart-wrenching feelings of raw sadness or grasp the enormity of our loss. For months afterward, I woke in the middle of the night imagining that I was hearing yet again the news of her passing.
Grief, tears and overwhelming suffering have filled this past year. I not only mourn my loss, but I also grieve for my son who lost his first-born daughter, “a Daddy’s girl.” I feel, yet cannot fix, the pain that my son feels.
This past year has also been about finding a new normal, digging into my innermost strength, letting others help me, counseling and relying on faith and spirituality.
The grieving process offers no shortcuts, but love and support from family and friends gives me comfort, peace and healing. When my son’s words and other images come to mind, I replace them with happy conversations that Elanna and I had, and picture us poolside or laughing together. I keep the memory of our special relationship uppermost in my mind and remember that nothing can ever take that away from me.
I wish with all of my heart that Elanna were still alive, that we could change the past, yet I am blessed for the 16 years we had together. It was the most magical journey. She often told me that I was the happiest person she knew. I didn’t know if I could be that person again, yet I know Elanna wouldn’t want this unimaginable loss to ruin my life. She would insist that we all live on and be happy, rather than simply exist.
I struggle with everything I will be missing, knowing that I cannot watch her grow to adulthood, or be part of all her special moments, yet I concentrate on what we shared.
I came across the following saying a few days after our tragic loss: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” That quote helps and gives me hope and understanding that one day there will be an answer.
I know that love and beautiful memories can outlast grief. There is a place inside our hearts where love is unconditional and love lives for all eternity.
The gift of memory gives immortality. In life, Elanna brought me so much joy and pride (Naches) and her beautiful spirit is a source of inspiration. By doing positive things with our lives, we are able to honor her memory and celebrate her life.
The ZULLER family established the Elanna L. Zuller Memorial Fund, which makes donations to individuals and organizations to help students who want to play sports and continue their education. For more information, visit www.ELANNAZULLER.com or contact Michael Zuller at firstname.lastname@example.org.