Today was Elyse’s birthday. I say “was” because Elyse is with us no more. She died on an April night at the age of 16 when a congenital aneurysm that no one knew she had ruptured. I knew her parents because I worked with her mother, and when I heard of Elyse’s death, I went to their house, where a large crowd had gathered to be of what comfort we could. Elyse was brain dead but being kept alive on life support so her organs could be donated. That was important to her parents, who were overcome when they learned Elyse’s heart was too damaged to be donated.
“She had a good heart,” I reminded her mom, one of those stupid, useless things you say when you want to be comforting but there are no words that can do that.
My friend told stories. Elyse was a quiet elf of a child with an engaging grin. She had asthma, but like most teens, she wanted to fit in with her peers. So for months she did not tell her gym teacher about her condition. My friend told about how she learned that when the class had to run sprints, Elyse bravely puffed along, well behind everyone but willing to try. I could see her in my mind. It sounded like an Elyse thing to do.
I had to leave the next day for a planned visit to family, but my husband went to the funeral. He said it was crowded, and he was on a long line to see the family and pay his respects when another coworker saw him and took him on a shortcut through a side door. “The Bishop was there,” my friend told me when she returned to work weeks later. Seeing that Elyse’s father was the principal of one of the city’s Catholic schools, I didn’t find the Bishop’s attendance excessive, but I was glad that my friend had that comfort.
Five months later, on Elyse’s birthday, two airplanes slammed into the twin towers in New York City. Today everyone is remembering, and mourning, the people who died in that attack. It is appropriate that they do so.
But I woke up this morning remembering a little blonde elf of a girl who will never be older than 16, and whose death was no less tragic.
Happy birthday, Elyse.