Updated: May 2
Reflection Title: I CAN Imagine!
Book – I Can’t Imagine: A Powerful Story of Love, Loss, and Finding Purpose After Losing a Child by Emilia Quinn Sears and Chris Sears
When we come across a happy narrative, we love imagining ourselves living out that story as the main character, yet when faced with tales of human pain or suffering, we often awkwardly shy away, offer quick condolences, and say “I can’t imagine”. Human nature is to relish success, whimsy, and tales of happy endings. But by avoiding those “other” stories, the painful and uncomfortable ones, we often miss out on some of life’s most important lessons.
I Can’t Imagine is one of those “other” stories that will take readers through a powerful journey about a micro-preemie named Emilia Quinn Sears, who was born during a pandemic, at only 22 weeks old, weighing just over one pound, with the odds of survival stacked against her.
Inspired by her parents’ personal journals, passionately written to Baby Emilia, this book will take you on an epic journey of loss, love, and resilience. By the end, you will be able to imagine what it is like to fight for your child’s survival in the NICU, ultimately losing your battle and subsequently watching your world get destroyed. You will also experience the beautiful lessons and raw power of purpose that can arise from some of the worst things anyone can imagine.
Wow, we’ve arrived at the finish line. I honestly can’t believe we are here.
A wave of emotion just hit me as I started to type those first 2 sentences and I began uncontrollably crying. I don’t want this to end! However, Emilia and I both know that is time to bring this incredible chapter of our Living for 2 adventures to a close and get ready for our next adventure to enter our lives.
Jesus…I can’t stop crying! Get it together Team Sears!
Take a breath! Take another! Take another! Okay, let’s focus and break through this tape to officially cross the finish line of this most epic adventure.
Alright, we’re ready to begin…sorry about that. I haven’t cried that much in a really, really, long time.
20 Months ago, in September of 2021, Emilia and I sat down at the computer together to type our first reflection and kick off this magical journey. We had no idea what we were doing, we had no idea where we were going, and most importantly, we had zero idea how any of this would turn out. Back in September of 2021, our only goals were to have some fun, share some of knowledge and lessons we had been learning together, and complete our 1-month challenge of attempting to write down a lesson a day from the books that we had been reading together for the previous 20 months since her passing. We made it through the initial 30 reflections that first month and discovered that we were having a blast. Documenting the journey, and more importantly, sharing the knowledge and our own lessons with the world just felt right and we were hooked. We kept reading, writing, learning, and sharing until we arrived here today. 16 months and 363 reflections later, we find ourselves at the computer once more on April 27th, 2023, typing our final reflection for a book we’ve read together over these past 3 years of Living for 2. What an adventure it has been!
Obviously, the last book of this journey is a little different because we didn’t just read this story, but we wrote it, and most importantly, we lived this story. While there has been no rhyme or reason with any of the previous book selections on this journey, this one is different. I’ve always known from day 1 that if we ever actually got this far into the journey, that I Can’t Imagine would be our final book and reflection. And here we are.
A few months back when we hit 300 reflections, for the first time in this journey I started to let myself think that we just might actually finish this marathon and project into the future of when that might occur. That was back in late December 2022 / January of 2023. I did the math based on our normal daily reading cadence and started to count the days in my mind, books left to read, reflections left to write and boom…the projected end date hit me like a ton of bricks. The date April 22cd, 2023 was staring right back at me dead in the face. I thought to myself, you can’t be serious????
If you don’t know the significance of this date, this is the anniversary of Emilia’s passing 3 years prior on April 22, 2020. Of course, the universe would pick that date to be where we would finish this journey, could it be any more obvious. I feel like the universe was asleep at the wheel and wasn’t even trying anymore with this one. Anyone and their brother could have hand-picked this date as a way to symbolically end this quest with Emilia and I triumphantly crossing the finish line to proclaim to the world that you may have tried to separate us once on this date but look at where we are now and what we’ve accomplished together in this new life we’ve built together. I could think of no other better way than to honor my daughter than to give one big proverbial F U to this world that tried to separate us on this date only 3 years ago. I mentally locked in on this date as when we would finish this thing and charged full steam ahead.
As we entered April 2023, April 22cd still looked like it would be the date. I knew we’d have to step up our reading game just a little bit, but it was doable. Just like a runner gets a final wind as they are nearing the finish line, Emilia and I did as well. We’ve been on a tear the past 30 days and ripping off book after book after book as we got closer to the finish line. We’ve officially read more in this month than we ever have on this entire journey, which is saying a lot. Going into the week of the 22cd, I thought we still could pull this thing off and finish on that date. However, as we got a few days away, we were still 2 books short, and it became clear that there was no way we weren’t going to finish this by April 22cd. As it turned out, we didn’t finish our last official book until 4/25, just a few days passed the projected timeline we foresaw back in late December 2022.
I was pretty disappointed in myself if I’m being honest. I thought I had let my daughter down. I had committed to her that April 22cd would be the date that we cross the finish line and I had failed. However, that feeling got flipped on its head when on April 22cd the universe did what it always did and reminded Emilia and I in a not-so-subtle way that we still don’t know anything and to just stop trying to impose our will on this world. We had tried to bend time and space to make YOML finish on our timeline, but the universe had different plans like always and we discovered why as the day’s events slowly unfolded.
April 22cd, 2023 was a Saturday. On Saturdays from Nov -April I play tennis in a local league here in Indianapolis called our Industrial League. It is a uniquely formatted team match play league where the matches are timed versus playing traditional sets. We play for 1 and ½ hours each Saturday until the final buzzer sounds. The format is as follows…There are 6 courts going each Saturday and my team plays another team on each of these six courts (3 Singles Courts and 3 Doubles Courts). We compete for 1 hour and 30 minutes. When the buzzer sounds, whoever has the most games won on each court gets 2 points if they win, 1 if they tie, and 0 if they lost. We add up the scores on all the courts and whichever team has the most points, they win that week. We play for 6 months and then a playoff until a winning team is crowned. It is a lot of fun and a great way to spend a Saturday morning each winter weekend.
Well, April 22cd 2023 happened to be a Saturday so it was an industrial league match day. However, this wasn’t any normal run of the mill match day, this particular day was the final match day of the season and my team was playing in the championship. We were the #1 seed all winter and we were looking to bring home our first title ever as a team. While I normally wouldn’t think of playing tennis on a day like this, I couldn’t avoid it as it was the championship match. We were all pumped and ready to take home the crown.
The match began at 12:00pm and the final horn went off a 1:30pm. The 2 teams got together in the middle of the courts to report their scores and tally the final scores to determine who had won the championship. After adding up the point scores from each court, we discovered that the match had tied 6-6. The tie-breaker rules now were in effect to settle the champion once and for all. The first tiebreaker is most individual games won on each court by a given team. The 2 captains added up all the games scores from each individual courts and…we tied again. That is right, we tied twice. It was 58-58 in terms of total games won collectively on each of the individual 6 courts.
Both teams started chuckling and nervously looking at each other while collectively said, “What do we do now? Someone must win…right?” The 2 captains went to the rule book and discovered that the 3rd tie-breaker was apparently…A COIN FLIP! That’s right, a coin flip! 6 months of work, one epic match, and a coin flip determines who wins the championship! A coin was tossed, and my team lost. Some people got pissed, some immediately walked off the court, a fight almost broke out between a few players after a dispute about game scores was revealed, but I just sat there and laughed. I thought it was pretty funny to be honest.
I left the courts, got in my car, and started to think to myself about what I had just witnessed transpire and I started to chuckle. I thought it was a hilarious reminder of one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned on this journey in how irrelevant outcomes are in life. Both teams badly wanted the outcome of this season’s results to show that we had “won” that a physical fight almost broke out on the courts amongst friends. It was almost like the universe was trying to show me how much outcomes were such a joke that you might as well just flip a coin. That is because outcome don’t matter, have never mattered, and will never matter. I don’t play tennis to win a championship, I play because I love it, and I had a freaking awesome time playing every Saturday for the previous 6 months regardless of the outcome.
As I started to drive away from the courts and head home, I decided mid-drive that I wanted to make a detour to visit Emilia’s gravesite instead to pay my respects and spend some time with her on this horrible day in our history. I had planned to go later with my wife and son but thought this would be better for whatever reason as I was already out and about around the city and had a lot on my mind. 15 minutes later I found myself pulling up to her gravesite on this the worst of the worst days to visit.
I haven’t quite figured out how to feel or approach this day when I visit with her each year. For 364 days of the year, I know what to do. Emilia and I meet every Sunday at the cemetery and those are mostly happy conversations these days where we discuss our Living for 2 antics for the week and talk about what we plan to do together in the new week to come. However, this day isn’t the same and how I approach life needs to be adjusted because on this particular date nothing good occurred and I’m not visiting for anything other than to honor her and think about those last few painful days that led up to her passing. Due to this, I’m always mentally torn on how to approach the visit with her on this exact date. Do I pull out all the old photos and videos on my phone and cry uncontrollably as I think of all that we lost? Do I transport myself back into my memories of driving home without her from the hospital shellshocked and wondering how this happened to my family? Do I visualize Emilia’s incredible strength and courage as I replay her final few hours of fighting for every breath as she slowly expired in my wife’s arms? Or do I think about all we’ve done together since that awful day and visualize all that can be accomplished still together in the years to come with this new reality? I honestly don’t know, and it is confusing.
As I pulled up to her gravesite, something felt different in me this year than in visits on the previous 2 anniversary visits after her passing. On this day…dare I say that I felt good? If not good, just normal at least. I wasn’t too high or too low. I wasn’t debating in my mind how to feel or what to do or not do like I was in years past. I was just excited to visit with my daughter and share with Emilia what had just happened on the tennis courts so we could laugh about it.
As I parked my car in front of her headstone, I was talking to an old friend on the phone that had called on the way down to the cemetery. He had called to let me know he was in town and asked if I had time to meet up with him and his family later for a quick catch up while they were here for a kid’s soccer tourney. I told him I looked forward to it and we made plans to meet up at TopGolf later in the day. I thought to myself, TopGolf on the anniversary of my daughter’s passing??? Why not I answered back to myself! Emilia and I are about living our values these days and one of those values is to not do life alone. I had been almost a year since I had seen one of my best friends and his beautiful family. Was I supposed to sit at home crying all day, or go out and live while spending time with people I love? That was a no-brainer decision and I know that is what Emilia would want as we’ve discussed this 100 times on YOML adventure. Focus on your values and let them dictate your actions would be the answer. So yes, we are going to TopGolf later today day because and I don’t even need to think twice about it.
As my friend and I were wrapping up our chat and before I was able to get out of the car, my mother pulled up at the exact same time to Emilia’s grave. She had brought her flowers and wanted to spend some time with her granddaughter on this awful day. I hung up, got out, and hugged my mom, but I wasn’t sad. My mom said some beautiful things about Emilia, and she started to tear up…I did not. Not because I wasn’t moved by her words or actions, but because I wasn’t sad. I was just happy to see my Mom and couldn’t wait to tell to her about the craziness that just happened in my tennis league’s championship match only 30 minutes prior. My Mom and I talked about how much fun it was and I was glad to spend this time with Emilia on the courts that morning. I told her I wanted to honor her with a championship, but it wasn’t meant to be, but we had a blast. I thanked her for coming, but told her I had to zip off to go visit my friend at TopGolf and left her to hang with Emilia.
I was in good spirits and full of energy as I pulled away, and I was surprised! This day, of all days, wasn’t phasing me at all and diverting Emilia and I from our new life of trying to bring our values to life in as much as we can each day of our life together.
As I was driving away from the cemetery, the final reflection for this adventure came to me like a bolt of lightning. Emilia and I’s Living for 2 adventures unknowingly began on April 22cd, 2020 when she passed away. On April 23rd, 2020 I had lost my imagination. I couldn’t envision a life without Emilia in it and all of it felt meaningless. Through processing all that we went through in our book I Can’t Imagine we found each other again and discovered our shared purpose. That purpose was finding a way to imagine a life where we could still be a father and daughter living life together each day. And now, here we were, only 3 years later and Emilia and I have found a way to not only imagine a life together, but to truly enjoy ourselves and find meaning and purpose in all that we do. I couldn’t help but to marvel at how far we’d come together in this journey.
We began YOML in immense pain where we had lost our imagination, and now we conclude this portion of our adventures triumphantly saying that we can imagine once again. Our imagination, happiness, joy, and vigor for life have returned in all its glory. As long as Emilia and I are together and imagining new ways to connect through things we love to do, then I will continue to be full of life and excited about what the future holds.
I can’t think of a better way to end this epic journey than this story. It is not flashy, but it is our life. We find ways to find joy doing the stuff we love together each day. This practice provides immense joy and purpose in life and it strengthens us against the inevitable pain that will come again someday that tries to rip us apart once more. I have news for whatever that Black Swan in in the future, it won’t work.
What lies in store for us next? I have no idea, but I know how we will discover it…by focusing on our values and bringing them to life through our actions together!
Until the universe helps us to point us down the next trail, you can find Emilia and I out on the tennis courts, listening to our next audiobook, or taking a long jog around Irvington as we continue to explore life together and doing what we love.
Until the next adventure! Love Chris and Emilia!
Question: What kind of life do you wish to imagine? Now go live it…
PS - We officially laid Emilia's body into the ground on April 26th, 2020. The date that this final reflection was written was April 27th, 2023. Things always happen when they are supposed to happen, I guess. I'm done trying to figure any of this stuff out. I'll let the universe do its thing and I'll just try and keep my eyes open to observe the beautiful castle around me while trying my best to not drop any oil from the spoon. That's all we can do!
What is The Year of Magical Learning? - An Introduction
YOML Podcast Discussion - Coming Soon
YOML Bookstore - I Can't Imagine by Emilia Quinn Sears and Chris Sears