Ellie

I can't sleep. My mind is swirling with everything I need to do at work. I finally gave up trying and came downstairs figuring I might as well not fight insomnia.

The house is still, so quiet. I can breathe and think. The air conditioner has a low hum that's oddly relaxing.

As I sit in the quiet and observe my surroundings, I find myself immersed in Naya thoughts and stories. They are a tidal wave tonight. 

In the family room, we have the couch she helped choose. I remember the time we picked it out. It was the week before the ER trip that changed our lives. When it arrived, she took it over. It was her couch and she appropriately named it the "girls couch". It drove her crazy when Zak would sit on it. Poor Zak would be kicked off every time. Now it's Zak's couch, and Sam jumps on it. I sometimes think Sam sits on that couch because Naya is luring him to it.

I see one of her favorite stuffed animals - Ellie - on the fireplace mantle. Her favorite one, Murphy, was always with her, even as she left the our world. Stuffed animals played a large role in Naya's life before cancer. Before she got sick, she had at least a dozen stuffed animals in her bed. At bedtime, she'd spend what seemed like an hour arranging her animals. On nights when I was exhausted, this routine would drive me crazy. But it was equally adorable and lovely. Her 3 'sister' Au Pairs - Claudia, Anna and Karolina - all have their own stuffed animal that was bought with or by Naya. Claudia's is the original Ellie. 

 Naya with Claudia - the original Ellie owner.

Naya with Claudia - the original Ellie owner.

The hospital psychologist told us how familiar things, like favorite stuffed animals, were comforting to kids going through the scary journey of cancer. She was right. Naya's animals - stuffed and real - kept her happy, comforted and feeling at home. Naya was so strong and an old soul but she was a child, terrified of the word 'cancer' and thrown into a world that was out of her control. We never fought Naya on taking Ellie and Murphy on trips, even though they took up 1/2 the suitcase. 

Ellie, a Build A Bear stuffed rabbit, kept Hank company when I was sleeping with Naya. Naya eventually bought Hank his own Ellie for father's day so that he would stop borrowing her Ellie. The second Ellie is in our room and its original Build A Bear box is in Hank's closet. I wonder if the psychologist would have predicted how important the stuffed animals were going to be to us.

There's more surrounding me. Pictures of her smiling or laughing, things she made, things we picked and bought together. I've kept the important things. The things that remind me of our experiences and life together.

As I write, I'm realizing my insomnia is because I've let life get so busy that I have starved my need to connect with Naya. I don't get to hear her voice anymore, hug her or just be with her. Everything I have is stored in my memory, and the things in our home help me reconnect with her. 

My heart has a constant wound. It's like someone ripped a huge piece of it out. I know it'll never heal. I'm okay with the pain. It's existence is important and sometimes the more it hurts, the better I feel. There is beauty in the pain as it reminds me of how beautiful my life with Naya was, and the gift I was given.

Even though I can't touch her anymore, Naya is as real to me now as she was when she was alive. Thinking about her and having her things around are my stuffed animals. They comfort me, and remind me of her energy, generosity and love of life. I feel myself more at peace now. While my heart is aching and tears are streaming, the tidal wave is allowing me to reconnect with Naya.

It's 5 a.m. and the birds are awake. I'm tired but no longer starved. A good day awaits.