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Ever since 2000 when our daughter Elli was born with life-threatening heart defects and nearly died three times the first three weeks of her life, I’ve experienced blindsides.

I wish I referred to the movie.

Blindsides are swift and completely unexpected emotional breakdowns, often experienced when sharing your story with a stranger or a group of strangers.

As the parent of a child with special needs, I have shared Elli’s story countless times with medical personnel, school staff, new acquaintances, and random strangers we’d meet out in the community. I have had the opportunity to share our story for some college classes for special ed teachers and therapists, and for potential donors to our hospital.

I never know how those presentations would go. Will a blindside slam me into a teary mush pile this time? Or will I be able to communicate clearly and strongly?

When Elli passed away a year and a half ago, the blindsides changed. They began striking at any time, in any place, doing anything or nothing at all.


A wisp of a memory… her sister’s laugh that sounds exactly like hers.

A glimpse of a familiar-but-no-longer-visited place… driving past her aquatic therapy pool.

The scent of the hospital’s blanket warmer, so comforting after yet another general anesthesia.

The discovery of a long-buried personal item… her bath towel.


…sitting at the piano in church on Sunday.

…driving down the highway.

…laying in bed, drifting off to sleep.

…watching a movie with my husband.

…waiting for my son’s school bus.

At first, they assailed me daily, even hourly. With time, less frequent and more unexpected… except in the fall near the anniversary of her death and in the winter near her birthday. Those are memory minefields.

At first, the pain was bitter, cutting deeply, exposing raw wounds. Now it’s more of a wistful dull ache, a pain of long separation, hidden under scar tissue and wrapped in hope of heaven one day.

Have you seen me? The random weeping girl in front of the yogurt at the grocery store? If you do, would you spare a tissue? I promise, if I run into you, eyes red, face puffy, I’ll dig one out for you.

Where’s the craziest place you’ve ever been blindsided? What helps you get through it?