As I arrived breathlessly at our monthly bereavement group meeting, announcing that I had just returned from seeing a Broadway play in New York City, one lady approached me and asked unbelievingly, "You mean some day I’ll want to go to the theatre again?" And she sat down with a mystified look on her face with the hope that what I said would come true!
Another lady who bravely came to her first meeting exclaimed, "I can’t believe it—people are wearing clothes that match and are putting on make-up!"
Newly bereaved constantly want to know if their hearts will feel joy again; will that terrible pain disappear or is that to be a part of their life forever? And I can honestly say, that after losing my 19 year old daughter, Peggy, and my 21 year old son, Denis, in the same automobile accident nine years ago, that as time goes on, the excruciating pain in your heart dissipates, making room for little pieces of joy to take seed there. So as spring approaches, it is a good time to think that in every ending is the seed for a new beginning. As we release the past and let it go, we are planting seeds that will produce a rich, new harvest.
In the first year of my grief, I think I was a robot. I tended to my needs and those of my family, home and job in a mechanical way—feeling very little but the "unending" pain and utter exhaustion. Then gradually I felt tiny rays of joy penetrate the hard shell of grief which encased my heart.
One of my first memories of smiling and truly enjoying something in those early days of grief was driving in our new car. I had always loved my little red Plymouth
Horizon with the white racing stripes on the side. It fit into every place I wanted to park it and was so easy to maintain. But riding in my new Buick Park Ave. was like a dream and it was then that I realized why my son used to tease me about "that little piece of plastic" as he referred to the old -car. I laughed every time I got behind the steering wheel because I knew Denis and Peggy were as thrilled as I was and that they were enjoying the ride with me.
Another joy that opened my heart to happy things was the party we hosted on Peggy’s and Denis’ first anniversary to launch their Scholarship fund, which had accumulated $7,000 in the first year, but needed to reach the $10,000 mark to become an official Scholarship at the University of Dayton. Over 100 dear friends gathered at a lovely seaside restaurant to give us their moral support, big hugs, and to boost our Scholarship – which went over the $14,000 mark that day, becoming very "official." Being surrounded by loving friends on that first anniversary was such a bonus for me, turning a nostalgic time into a very special day.
Cards with heartfelt messages sent to me all during the year, on special occasions and just "thinking of you" times touched my heart deeply. To know people care carries you on those rough days and makes your heart sing on good days. You see, most people who haven’t suffered a loss don’t realize that loving notes sent spontaneously lighten the burden in your heart. You need "on-going" card therapy: sympathy cards and notes delivered at the time of the funeral need "follow-up" notes as your grief becomes more real. These simple messages bring immeasurable joy.
Whenever I felt particularly down, I would listen to a favorite tape of mine that had the most inspiring music, sung by our dear friend who sang at Peggy’s and Denis’ funerals. His melodious voice and soothing words immediately eased the pain in my heart and made me hum along with him, which in turn, brought joy into my day. I played the tape so much I wore it out! Thank God, Ernie sent me a new tape, which still has the same joyful effect on me.
Getting to the beauty parlor once a week used to be a delightful treat for me as a working wife and mom. After my children died it took me a year to return there. I simply couldn’t sit that long in one place without crying my eyes out and since I really didn’t want to do that in public, I didn’t go. When I got stronger, I timidly returned to "getting beautiful" and even bravely had my hair "frosted." It’s strange but that frosting, little blonde highlights on my brunette hair, made me smile and feel good. I learned to put "frosting" on my list of "Things To Do Again." You never know what it will be that takes you out of the doldrums! I say memorize it and do it ten times!
When my children were in diapers, I put my name on a county list for a "beach cabana" right on the ocean, ten miles from our home. Twenty years later, after I had buried two of my three children, my name got to the top of the list and a phone call came from the beach office offering me a cabana rental! Even though my son had been a life guard at that very beach and my daughter had been the gate-keeper at the entrance booth, and my children had died on the bridge that leads to the beach, I couldn’t say "no" to the man. Mainly because I had waited so long, but also because the beach held so many happy memories for us. Our family had spent summer after summer there as a family. So my husband and I decided to drive there and see what our hearts felt. Would the ocean be soothing and peaceful as we remembered or would it be soul-wrenching for us? It would be the first time I went over the bridge since Peggy and Denis had died. Could I handle that? So, we bravely drove there and walked the beach. My heart felt at home there, even though every tall, blonde guard made my heart jump. We had three precious years there until our turn was up, enjoying the sand and surf, beautiful sunsets, hungry seagulls and time to mend. I think it was a special part of our healing, getting us out every day to delight in nature’s beauty and God’s healing power.
As a newly bereaved mother, anything that gave my heart a moment’s respite from pain and provided a moment of joy was welcomed by me. Reading everything I could get my hands on about "surviving" supplied me with some positive thoughts to get through a day. Finding touching poetry that echoed my personal thoughts and feelings was a great joy to me. Having someone write exactly what was in my heart eased my pain and even made me smile. Every Sunday I carried my favorite two paperbacks to church and read my cherished passages over and over, oblivious to the priest and congregation worshipping around me. Those few thoughts carried me, answered some of my soul’s questions, soothed the wild spirit of my grieving, and inspired me to put on my "rose-colored" glasses.
These little seedlings of joy nestled into my "winter" heart and as the "spring" of my grieving arrived these tiny joys grew and blossomed, nurturing me along a hard journey. So look for those little "seeds" which stir your heart and put them in the sunshine of your love and nurture them so you too will feel that in every ending there is a seed for a new beginning which will bring joy to your heart.