And while there are happy days I can recall, like when I completed both my degrees, when I was given wonderful awards for my work, when my books were published, there are several difficult days that I’ve lived that caused me and those I’ve loved great trauma.
One was the death of my beloved grandmother, who lived, almost exclusively, a healthy life till her death at 93. She was my anchor when life handed me difficult times while growing up.
Another was my little dog, Daisy, who brought me so much joy every day for almost 13 years. My constant companion, she was always there to snuggle with when I needed her most.
But there was one particular day that, when I look back on my life, shaped and changed who I was and, even though I had helped so many in my life before who had struggled with bereavement, it was her death that catapulted me into leading support groups, writing books, speaking, and starting a national foundation for grieving children.
A 10 year old who came into my life when I met her father. Her older brother was then 13 and younger just 9.
I remember her bubbly personality, her courage to ask me those most pressing questions you’d never think would come out of the mouth of such a young lady. But I answered every one and she went away satisfied.
I specifically remember how much she loved shopping together. How she couldn’t choose between the pink or blue cotton candy.
Or the last holiday she and her younger brother spent with us. It was Easter, 1984 and I made a special dinner for us.
At one point after dinner we took a long walk together. I wanted to purchase film that day to take a few pictures but we didn’t pick it up. And that moment was lost to me forever.
And what followed were 18 years of an unsolved murder.
It took until 2002 to have enough evidence to charge the initial suspect and another two years to go to trial.
We endured a six-week emotional rollercoaster from the time they began picking a jury for her 20 year old murder, to the time he was convicted.
I often wonder what life would have been like if she were still here with us. Would she have been in my bridal party when her father and I married?
Would she have studied for a college degree? And what career might she have chosen?
Would she have married and had children? How many would she have had and what would they have looked like?
But today, I guess there is a part of me that, as my stepson texted me today, which says “I can’t believe it’s been 30 years.”
And he is so right.
Rest in Peace, Angela. You were with us for far too short a time, but the impact you had on our lives, both in life and death, will remain forever.
And while I’m so amazed at what it takes to be in the military and fight overseas with the constant threat of being killed, if they’re in a combat situation, I feel it’s also important to recognize the sacrifices a family makes throughout the entire tour.
A spouse who is left to raise a young family by themselves perhaps on a military base. The inadequate stipend they are given to raise that family. The increased level of responsibility they must endure.
And if their beloved is killed, they are left to raise that family alone.
Today I salute not only the veterans and remember all those who were killed to secure our freedoms, but for all the family members who are or have grieved a military family member’s death and the difficult road to recovery on an emotional as well as financial level.
I salute you!
When Mother’s Day swings around I usually have mixed emotions.
I’m grateful that my own mother is still with me, along with the other ‘mothers’ I have the privilege to still enjoy…my Aunt, my Godmother, and my friend Jeanne, all who really ‘get’ me since I’m anything but conventional in my thinking.
But my heart is with women, today, who are reminded that ‘motherhood’ hasn’t worked out quite as they’d expect. And I’ve met many who have had these experiences; some have had a few.
Like the lady who has lost a child, something she never anticipated. Perhaps her only child or all her children have died. The one who never knew her mother because her mother died before she was old enough to meet and enjoy her.
Or the woman who never had the honor to even becoming pregnant for a whole host of reasons. And the one who is still able to bear children but can’t keep a pregnancy.
We look at loss in many different ways; we see things others don’t see on these types of occasions. We don’t bring it up in conversation, instead we simply let it remain buried deep inside where a lot of that pain still sits.
My mother has graciously gotten to the point where she’ll wish me a Happy Mother’s Day with the caveat, ‘because you are a mother to many’ which is her way of soothing that wound and I’m at a place where I might well up with a tear or two but at least it’s not the piercing pain that I once had years ago.
Sometimes it’s not an actual loss of a mother, for some, that is difficult to grieve. It can also be what hasn’t occurred that can sting on a day like today.
We start to see the advertisements on television for roses, jewelry and heart-shaped boxes of chocolate weeks before this day. Restaurants feature special dinners for two on that evening. And when you were paired with someone you love, chances are good these ads didn’t affect you.
But they do now.
The anticipation of a significant holiday or date such as the anniversary of your loved one’s death or their birthday can bring many emotions that we might not have expected. But please know that they are natural and normal.
Most of us feel such intensity around holidays because we are sad that we can no longer enjoy the closeness, experiences and love we once shared with our honey.
Some of us also are angry that they died before us. Others of us struggle with the unfairness to the point of cloistering ourselves in an effort to never be hurt again.
But there comes a time when we consciously accept that we are still alive and if we were supposed to go first, then we would have. And since this is the way things have turned out, why not live life to the fullest.
When that turn in thinking eventually arrives, it can gloriously begin a guilt-free new life whereby you take a long deep breath and with a loving kiss planted on their picture, you decide to consider new adventures.
It doesn’t mean you don’t miss them. It doesn’t mean you will not honor their memory for your children’s sake. It only means that you are now beginning a new and perhaps a somewhat scary life where the unknown awaits.
And that is a good thing.
So on Valentine’s Day, find the right thing that will make you happy. Is it the chocolate-covered pretzels, cherries or strawberries? Shall you get that massage you have been promising yourself because you miss your husband’s touch?
Will you finally accept your buddies’ invitation for a round of golf and lunch instead of sitting in front of the television alone?
Will you decide to give a little time to someone who is hurting like you and share a candlelit dinner together with a funny movie?
Or is it, perhaps, time to give that little soul at the animal rescue shelter a new life with you?
Even if you find yourself melancholy at times, no need to be embarrassed. Those who love you know this transition has not been easy for you.
So accept that kind pat on the back or hug, accept all the well wishes of those who love and care for you and remember that your sweetheart would want you to enjoy your life. Their love for you will never die.
I had the privilege recently of speaking with a man who, once he learned of my work, told me a very interesting story.
It seems that both he and his father had been veterans and it had been many years since he was able to visit his father’s grave several states away.
During that time he had finished his deployment overseas, had married and seen the birth of his first child, a daughter who was now 3 and a ball of energy.
It was a melancholy trip since neither his wife nor daughter had ever met his father when his Dad was alive and that saddened him.
But the true joy came when they were walking to the gravesite and as they got closer their little daughter started to wave to the sky. This caused both he and his wife to look at each other with quizzical looks on their faces.
His daughter started to say “Hi…Hi…Hi.” And she nodded her head and seemed quite happy.
This veterans asked if I thought she was seeing her grandfather and I replied that I definitely believed that was the case.
I have personally, as have many I have known, witnessed what others would call ‘strange’ situations when you know the spirit of those who have died were kind enough to visit to bring comfort to those of us who are still living.
He told me that, yes, both he and his wife were thinking that too and it brought them such joy to know that his daughter was able to see his father after all.
When things like this happen, we might find ourselves questioning and perhaps even afraid. But if you look at it in a slightly different way, it can bring you a sense of comfort and confirmation that they are doing well and have come to let you know this. Consider it a beautiful event, similar to when you dream about your loved one. An event that can bring comfort to your soul.