Happy 13th birthday! I am so happy for you on your special day. How beautiful, sweet, kind, and loving I know you are. God must be very proud of himself when he sees that smile light up even a place as bright as heaven. I cannot believe that I have not been able to celebrate by your side in over five years. It seems so crazy, I think it cannot possibly be real; but the pain in my heart, the tears that come every morning, and the tears that put me to sleep at night tell me otherwise.
How can you be gone so long when I can still hear your laugh so clearly, and I am sure I sometimes see you sitting at the kitchen island? Sometimes Kasey is sitting in your spot, so that makes sense, but sometimes I am alone and I see and hear you. Those are the best moments, but then you’re gone again and again. There is not a single day that I don’t feel you, Emma, and Katie etched deeply into my brain and my heart. I could be in the middle of a busy day, out with friends, or having one those choking moments of grief in the middle of the night.
I know we don’t always get to make our own choices in life. You didn’t choose to leave me that horrible day, and I didn’t chose to be without you and your sisters while here on earth. It is the hardest thing in the world to be without you girls! There is no greater love or bond than that of a mother and her children; I have never been surer of anything. My tears will not stop and the pain will not end until I get to hold you, Emma, and Katie again. This is not a reality just for me, but for any mother who has lost a child and it can only be truly realized when a mother cannot protect her child anymore.
This year, my birthday gift to you is this list of what I have learned to be grateful for since you went to heaven.
1- I am grateful that because of you I know what true love is. Thanks to you and your sisters, I know love that envelopes me with a sense of completeness, a love that pushed me through the fear of having your sister, Kasey.
2- I am grateful I learned to have faith that no matter what happens and which way life goes, God will be by my side. Not just in everyday ways, but in a way to help me survive spiritually. I don’t like what happened, but I am grateful that I was given the tools to become spiritually knowledgeable of God and heaven. It helps me to know you are in a magical place.
3- I am grateful that I learned little things can make the biggest difference in a person’s day. A friend saying a prayer, sending a card, stopping by with coffee, or taking Kasey for an hour so she can have fun and I can be sad… these mean the world to me. Thoughtful gestures like these can be a bright light in a grieving parent’s day.
4- I am grateful to all the board members and advisory board members of the foundation; it was formed out of love and friendship. I am grateful for all the volunteers who have taught me that giving of one’s time is the most generous gift of all.
5- I am grateful that I learned you don’t have to be related by blood to call someone your sister or brother.
6- I am grateful that Daddy gets out of bed each day and works hard to live life as productively and positively as he can for all his girls. He lost so many people he loves so much, I am grateful that he has the vision to believe we can still have a good life.
7- I am grateful to the gift you and your sisters gave me: Kasey. She gave me a purpose again. She makes me smile, laugh, and pull my hair out just like you guys did. I get see glimpses of you through her and I tell her stories every day about the three of you. She wants to know when she and I will go to heaven and see you. So innocent, yet so complicated.
8- I am grateful to have learned I need to let go of the guilt I have about that terrible day. I am trying to shed an ounce a day. I have 1000lbs, so I will be working on this the rest of my life, but I am doing it for you. The guilt makes me so sad, so mad, so tired, and so unhealthy. Terrible, heartbreaking things happen, but life does not have to be completely ruined because of them. I have felt every raw emotion: love, grief and joy. I am grateful that I am able to show you and your sisters that love and joy can win!
Alyson, I will always wish I could blow out the candles with you, shop with you for your present, and take you and all your friends out to celebrate. But this is the life that was given to us, so enjoy your day with your sisters and your family and friends in heaven, and I will do the same down here with Daddy and Kasey!
The Hances and Cat Greenleaf on the screen in Times Square! Click to listen to Warren’s speech:BEAUTIFUL ME GALA – WARREN HANCE SPEECH.