Ever since 2000 when our daughter Ellie was born with life-threatening heart defects and nearly died three times the first three weeks of her life, I’ve experienced blindsides. Unfortunately, I’m not referring to the movie.

A blindside is a swift and completely unexpected emotional breakdown, usually experienced when sharing your story with a stranger or a group of strangers.

As the parent of a child with special needs, I shared her 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 are going to go. Will I be hit with a blindside and crumple into tears 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.

It might be 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, such a comfort after yet another general anesthesia.

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

Anywhere.

…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. Now it comes every few weeks or so, except in the fall near the anniversary of her death and in the winter near her birthday. Those are difficult, memory-laden weeks.

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 seeing her whole and healed one day.

So I’m that random weeping girl at the grocery store. And I suspect many other mothers of special children and many who have lost loved ones find themselves the target of blindsides.

If you happen upon one of us, eyes red, face puffy, would you spare a tissue? That’s another trait of blindsides… we’re never prepared!

How about you? Where’s the craziest place you’ve ever been blindsided? Have you found anything that helps get through it?