At five o’clock as the last funeral guest bid, "Good-bye," and after all our caretakers had cleaned up and restored things to order and left us too, my husband, Joe, and I sat in the living room, haggard and exhausted. Anguished, we looked desperately at each other and wondered, "Where do we begin?" It was a terrifying feeling trying to imagine how we would go on living, much less make dinner that night. We needed a caretaker to ease us into our new life and there was no one there as we began our journey. After we had been coddled and pampered for a week by loving relatives and friends, we were now on "our own" to cope and struggle with our staggering loss.
Only seven days before, our 19 year old daughter, Peggy, had been killed instantly in an automobile accident and out 21 year old son, Denis, had been injured critically and lay unconscious in the intensive care unit of a local hospital following emergency brain surgery. Joe and I had raced between Peggy’s wake at the funeral parlor and Denis’ bedside at the hospital, with hearts broken and aching, yet filled with hope.
I don’t know if the doctors already knew the hopelessness of our son’s case and perhaps attempted to give us time to assimilate all that had happened; but early on Wednesday morning, the day after we buried Peggy, they performed some neurological tests on Denis and later that day declared him "brain dead."
So, in one week’s time, two of my three children had died. In a blur of activity, I had made two sets of funeral arrangements, planned two distinct funeral liturgies (choosing favorite hymns and readings and dear friends to participate), had prepared two special Mass booklets reflecting each of their personalities, interests and feelings, and had written two loving eulogies that I delivered at their funerals, proclaiming to the world how much I loved them.
The pain went to the very core of my being. My heart felt as if it had been put in a vice. Tears flowed without even thinking about them. Getting up in the morning took every bit of energy I had. Peggy and Denis haunted every thought in my head. It didn’t seem possible that my body could endure such incredible pain.
In those early days of my grief, all I wanted to know was, "How do I survive?" To learn, I read everything I could get my hands on regarding bereavement. I ran to the public library and devoured all six books they had on grieving. Then, I haunted the book stores, searching their shelves for words that would soothe my pain, reading the heartfelt prose and poetry of all those bereaved persons before me. Story after story touched my heart and gave me guidelines for surviving. On Sundays, I reverently carried my two paperbacks to church and read their comforting phrases, cover to cover, as the priest and congregation worshipped around me. I memorized and shared with my husband and daughter, anything that moved me and gave me a consoling thought. Reading was my first step to recovery in those dark, dark beginning days, pulling me out of the depths and filling me with positive thoughts to get through a day.
From all those books crammed with those inspiring words, I discovered how "to breathe" and to have a meaningful life. I learned to tell my friends and family what I needed to survive because they didn’t automatically know. I learned to do what gave me peace of mind; I learned to find activities that I could handle and to surround myself with the people who made me feel comfortable. I learned that we sadly lose some old friends and happily find some new ones who let us set our own timetables. I discovered that we do many things differently, making new memories. I found that it was healing to talk about Peggy and Denis; "sharing them with the world," as I call it, keeps them from being "erased." I learned to thank God for the good days and to "live through" the tough ones. I learned to make sure to communicate with my spouse, no matter how hard it is so we don't ’get isolated and lonely. I learned not to forget the "blessings" I have and to give lots of hugs. I learned that helping is healing and the more I reach out to other hurting people, the stronger and more at peace I will be. I discovered that I would become a "new" person never to be the same again, "weaving a new family tapestry," and that my priorities would be different. I found that memories of my children would bring joy to my heart, enriching my life and empowering me to do things in their honor keeping their memories very much alive.
Thank God for filling my heart with comforting words that so gently renewed my life. Indeed, "little words can mean a lot!"