The holiday season is a time of heavy hearts for those that grieve. To lift your spirits, I
offer you my very favorite Christmas story. Could my Aly be the small but curious angel? I would like to think so. Merry Christmas and happy holidays to us all. -Lynda Cheldelin Fell
The Visited Planet By J.B. Phillips
Once upon a time a very young angel was being
shown round the splendours and glories of the universes by a senior and
experienced angel. To tell the
truth, the little angel was beginning to be tired and a little bored. He had been shown whirling galaxies and
blazing suns, infinite distances in the deathly cold of inter-stellar
space, and to his mind there seemed to be an awful lot of it all. Finally he was shown the galaxy of which
our planetary system is but a small part. As the two of them drew near to the star
which we call our sun and to its circling planets, the senior angel pointed
to a small and rather insignificant sphere turning very slowly on its axis.
It looked as dull as a dirty
tennis-ball to the little angel, whose mind was filled with the size and
glory of what he had seen.
"I want you to watch that one particularly,"
said the senior angel, pointing with his finger. "Well, it looks very small and rather
dirty to me," said the little angel. "What's special about that one?"
"That," replied his senior solemnly,
"is the Visited Planet."
"Visited?" said the little one.
"you don't mean visited by…..?
"Indeed I do. That ball, which I have no doubt looks to
you small and insignificant and not perhaps overclean, has been visited by
our young Prince of Glory." And
at these words he bowed his head reverently.
"But how?" queried the younger one. "Do you mean that our great and
glorious Prince, with all these wonders and splendours of His Creation, and
millions more that I'm sure I haven't seen yet, went down in person to this
fifth-rate little ball? Why should
He do a thing like that?"
"It isn't for us," said his senior a
little stiffly, "to question His 'why's', except that I must point out
to you that He is not impressed by size and numbers, as you seem to be. But that He really went I know, and all of
us in Heaven who know anything know that. As to why He became one of them - how else
do you suppose could He visit them?"
The little angels face wrinkled in disgust. "Do you mean to tell me," he said,
"that He stooped so low as to become one of those creeping, crawling
creatures of that floating ball?"
"I do, and I don't think He would like you
to call them 'creeping, crawling creatures' in that tone of voice. For, strange as it may seem to us, He
loves them. He went down to visit
them to lift them up to become like Him."
The little angel looked blank. Such a thought was almost beyond his
"Close your eyes for a moment," said
the senior angel, "and we will go back in what they call Time."
While the little angels eyes were closed and
the two of them moved nearer to the spinning ball, it stopped its spinning,
spun backwards quite fast for a while, and then slowly resumed its usual
"Now look!" And as the little angel did as he was
told, there appeared here and there on the dull surface of the globe little
flashes of light, some merely momentary and some persisting for quite a
"Well, what am I seeing now?" queried
the little angel.
"You are watching this little world as it
was some thousands of years ago," returned his companion. "Every flash and glow of light that
you see is something of the Father's knowledge and wisdom breaking into the
minds and hearts of people who live upon the earth. Not many people, you see, can hear His
Voice or understand what He says, even though He is speaking gently and
quietly to them all the time."
"Why are they so blind and deaf and
stupid?" asked the junior angel rather crossly.
"It is not for us to judge them. We who live in the Splendour have no idea
what it is like to live in the dark. We hear the music and the His voice like
the sound of many waters every day of over lives, but to them - well, there
is much darkness and much noise and much distraction upon the earth. Only a few who are quiet and humble and
wise hear His voice. But watch, for
in a moment you will see something truly wonderful."
The Earth went on turning and circling round
the sun, and then quite suddenly, in the upper half of the globe, there
appeared a light, tiny but so bright in its intensity that both the angels
hid their eyes.
"I think I can guess," said the
little angel in a low voice. "That was the Visit, wasn't it?"
"Yes, that was the Visit. The Light Himself went down there and
lived among them; but in a moment, and you will be able to tell that even
with your eyes closed, the light will go out."
"But why? Could He not bear their darkness and
stupidity? Did He have to return
"No, it wasn't that" returned the
senior angel. His voice was stern
and sad. "They failed to
recognize Him for Who He was - or at least only a handful knew Him. For the most part they preferred their
darkness to His Light, and in the end they killed Him."
"The fools, the crazy fools! They don't
"Neither you nor I, nor any other angel,
knows why they were so foolish and so wicked. Nor can we say what they deserve or don't
deserve. But the fact remains, they
killed our Prince of Glory while He was Man amongst them."
"And that I suppose was the end? I see the whole Earth has gone black and
dark. All right, I won't judge them,
but surely that is all they could expect?"
"Wait, we are still far from the end of
the story of the Visited Planet. Watch
now, but be ready to cover your eyes again."
In utter blackness the earth turned round three
times, and then there blazed with unbearable radiance a point of light. "What now?" asked the little angel,
shielding his eyes.
"They killed Him all right, but He
conquered death. The thing most of
them dread and fear all their lives He broke and conquered. He rose again, and a few of them saw Him
and from then on became His utterly devoted slaves."
"Thank God for that," said the little
"Amen. Open your eyes now, the dazzling light has
gone. The Prince has returned to His
Home of Light. But watch the Earth
As they looked, in place of the dazzling light
there was a bright glow which throbbed and pulsated. And then as the Earth turned many times
little points of light spread out. A
few flickered and died; but for the most part the lights burned steadily,
and as they continued to watch, in many parts of the globe there was a glow
over many areas.
"You see what is happening?" asked
the senior angel. "The bright
glow is the company of loyal men and women He left behind, and with His
help they spread the glow and now lights begin to shine all over the
"Yes, yes," said the little angel
impatiently, "but how does it end? Will the little lights join up with each
other? Will it all be light, as it
is in Heaven?"
His senior shook his head. "We simply do not know," he
replied. "It is in the Father's
hands. Sometimes it is agony to watch and sometimes it is joy unspeakable. The end is not yet. But now I am sure you can see why this
little ball is so important. He has
visited it; He is working out His
Plan upon it."
"Yes, I see, though I don't understand. I shall never forget that this is the
No one ever says I want to grow up to write a book about
grief. But life has a way of throwing us
a curve ball, and then handing us a mitt.
A few months ago I was invited to co-author a book featuring women from around the world who have all faced and endured a traumatic challenge. Our task was to write about our difficulty and
then offer a lesson to help others who are facing the same challenge. It is touching for me to share with you that our
book, The Missing Piece: A
Transformational Journey, was released in print today on Amazon.
It truly is an honor to be part of such a collection of tender
stories. One chapter is written by a
woman who found herself completely bald by age nine, resulting in relentless
bullying. Others wrote about enduring physical
abuse, verbal abuse, addiction, and loss.
But what makes this book so unique is that the authors share not only
their personal struggles, but also how that struggle resulted in
an unexpected blessing.
Jazzy is home from the NICU!
While being a published author is one of my own silver
linings, this book means much more to me than seeing my name in print. You see, one of the chapters in the book is
authored by my little sister, Stacy Roorda.
Seven years ago, she was a happy, healthy wife and mother of two
adorable little girls when, at age 37, she visited her doctor for aching in her
arm. The resulting diagnosis was shocking: stage four breast cancer with metastases to
An aggressive treatment plan
was immediately established but quickly halted when lab
Jazzy, a happy healthy infant.
work yielded another
surprise: she was pregnant with her
third child. The panel of doctors stood
firm, and the ultimatum was cruel. My
sister was unanimously advised to abort the baby immediately to save her own
life. Despite pressure from family,
friends, and the best oncologists in the state, my sister couldn’t bring herself
to do it.
Her chapter, called “Pregnant
with Cancer,” is a naked and honest portrayal of finding courage and holding
steadfast in one’s faith while challenging medical advice meant to save her
Despite all the pretty lights and glittery packages, the holidays can be a time of struggle
for so many. But my sister’s story, along with all the
others in The Missing Piece, encourage us to never give up despite the harshest of circumstances. And no matter how you package it, the gift of hope is the most precious of them all. The Missing Piece: A Transformational Journey, compiled by Kate Gardner and co-authored by 27 remarkable women from around the world. Now available at www.amazon.com. Happy holidays to us all.
For most, the holiday season
is a cherished time of year when families and friends come together to honor
their faith, enjoy a formal dinner, or simply spend precious time
together. But if someone in the
gathering is in the midst of profound grief, it can turn the merriment into a
tense and stressful time. Why is the treasured
holiday season so difficult for grievers?
Not only are they grieving the loss of someone close to them, but they
are also grieving the loss of future holiday memories with their loved
Grief is one of the most
profound of all injuries, yet the absence of physical wounds can make it
difficult to manage.To help you understand
what the griever is facing, it can be helpful to consider the griever as not
only gravely injured, but also facing a lengthy recovery that has no end in
sight.With this frame of mind, the following
tips can help you support the griever as they work hard to survive an
emotionally overwhelming time of year.
the griever to set the tone for how they wish to cope with the holidays, and
honor their choices.Whether they wish
to maintain their normal holiday routine, desire to leave town, or ignore the
holidays entirely, resist the urge to pressure the griever to handle the
holidays “your” way.They know what’s
best for them, even if you don’t agree.
that you simply cannot lessen a griever’s pain.Trying to do so will only exhaust you and, simply put, you cannot do or
say anything that will ease the gaping wound of sorrow that follows in the wake
of profound loss.Instead, replace your
words with a hug as often as necessary.
not feel guilty when you forget tip #2 above, it happens to all of us.Remind yourself that the griever is coping
with a significant wound that cannot be healed any faster than life itself.If a simple statement or gesture could fix
it, they would have done it.
not avoid the griever.Your absence will
be noticed more than you think.If the
griever asks to be left alone, honor their wishes if it is safe to do so.Otherwise, include them in the festivities
and treat them as you would any other significantly injured guest:with kindness, compassion, and gentleness.
the urge to try to fill the griever’s calendar with festivities as a way to
cheer them.Just like all healing, grieving
is physically and emotionally exhausting and the griever may not have the
energy to keep up with all the celebrations.
around the griever, do not pretend nothing has happened.That only creates the elephant in the room.But don’t coddle them either.Remember, treat them with kindness,
compassion, and gentleness.
not feel guilty for enjoying your own festivities.And give yourself permission to take time out
for yourself.The holiday celebrations
are a wonderful way to recharge your own batteries, and depriving yourself
serves no purpose.If the griever is
present most of the time, then carve out ways that allow you to celebrate in
private.Even small ways can recharge
your batteries, like indulging in whipped cream on your favorite hot holiday
drink or enjoying a night out with other friends.
the griever to have cranky moments.From
lashing out in anger to having a meltdown like a small child, pain can easily
overload our emotions.Recognize that the emotions of grief are far
too powerful for us to control every second.If you are having difficulty finding compassion during one of these
moments, go outside for a breath of fresh air and take a moment to remember
that pain makes us all cranky.It’s
possible, help the griever find a way to honor their loved one’s memory during
the holidays.Treat them to coffee, then
“pay it forward” to the person in line behind you in the loved one’s memory.Or buy a small bouquet of balloons in the
loved one’s favorite color and leave it in a public spot for a stranger to find
while you both watch discretely.Or help
the griever donate to a cause that was close to their loved one’s heart.
10. Should the griever find themselves caught
up in the moment and enjoying the merriment, celebrate with them.But be patient if the moment doesn’t last
long.Over time, those precious moments
of joy will grow as the rawness softens.
You need not understand the
complexity of grief in order to have compassion and sensitivity toward the
griever’s discomfort and sadness during the holiday season.Past memories of merrier times and traditions
magnify the loss and sorrow that those times and traditions are no longer,
abruptly replaced by a new, often unwanted future.
Remember that the griever is working hard to
cope with a profound injury:a genuinely
broken heart.Honor the griever’s sorrow
by allowing their tears when the emotions become too raw to keep inside.Tears offers a release from the emotion, and
your warm hug and dry shoulder offers the most precious holiday gift of
It's that time of year again
when mornings are downright chilly, foliage is finishing its grand finale, and
holiday décor is rapidly filling store shelves.It comes around like clockwork and for most, the hustle and bustle of
the holiday season is festive.But for
those of us who have a heart full of sorrow, this time of year brings a
kaleidoscope of emotions heralded in by the first pumpkin spice ad.And if the grief is still raw, the holidays can
be downright terrifying. What is the best way to help manage
the emotionally charged holidays? The
approaches are as varied as there are people, but the following suggestions
offer a few heartfelt ways to help navigate the festivities.
to maintain your usual holiday customs.A
familiar routine offers a sense of reassurance that not everything in life has
changed.And staying true to what was
once familiar can help us stay grounded through the holiday hustle.
oneself lots of breathing room, and avoid packing the schedule too full.Grieving is emotionally exhausting most days and
one must allow for plenty of rest to minimize raw nerves.But this is even more important during the
holiday flurry of shopping, school performances, and parties.
yourself some slack and buy store-bought.Grieving is naturally distracting, which invites opportunity for kitchen
disasters, which in turn can cause coping skills to quickly evaporate.If the family expects your legendary dinner
rolls, then cheat elsewhere on the menu such as purchasing gourmet mashed
potatoes and gravy from the deli.
yourself to lots of TLC.Tenderly soothing
sensitive parts of your body is an attentive way to honor your emotional pain
during exhausting times.Wear an
especially soft pair of socks.Treat
yourself to a dollop of whipped cream on your mocha.Indulge in a bar of aromatherapy soap to use
in the shower or bath.While these small
gestures do nothing to erase the emotional heartache, they do offer your
physical body a reminder that not all pleasure is lost.
time to create peaceful surroundings.Turn off your computer, light a fragrant candle, grab a soft blanket, and
plan to watch one favorite movie or show each evening.
yourself permission to feel some joy.If
you catch yourself humming to the holiday music piped over the store speakers, don’t
stop.Feeling joy during the grieving
process does not invalidate your loved one’s memory, and can help to balance
out the sadness.
a way for you and/or your family to include the loved one’s memory in the
festivities.Fill your loved one’s
stocking with cat toys or dog treats to share with the family pet on Christmas
morning.Or visit your loved one’s favorite
coffee stand and “pay it forward”.Or
buy a small bouquet of balloons in your loved one’s favorite color and leave it
in a public spot for a stranger to find.
something in the community that lifts your spirits. It is humbling yet
gratifying to help others, and is a good reminder that we aren’t alone in our
struggles.It helps us keep perspective that the holidays
can be challenging for many.
you need to hide from the world during this difficult time, take comfort
knowing that many need to hibernate this time of year, and apologize to no one.
10.Give in to the tears as often as
needed.There is no shortage of raw
emotions over the holidays, and crying is our way of releasing those feelings.And always remember that tears are healing no
Even though it comes around
like clockwork, the holidays can remain one of the most dreaded times of the
year if your heart is full of sorrow.Allow yourself to try a handful of the suggestions above as you navigate
the emotional kaleidoscope that begins with those first pumpkin spice ads. And don’t forget the whipped cream.
August 5, 2009, dawned like any other lazy summer morning, with a quiet and serene sunrise that created little rainbow prisms in the fresh morning dew. Unlike most 15-year-old teenagers, Aly rarely slept in, preferring instead to rise like clockwork at 5 am for early morning swim practice. Wrapping her favorite fuzzy blue blanket around her small 5’2” frame, she grabbed her bulky swim bag and quietly crept downstairs to wait for her daddy to finish making his coffee.
Aly at Lake Chelan, May 2009
The drive into town every morning was a father-daughter time treasured by both. Classic rock from the truck radio often played softly in the background while Aly rested her sleepy head on Lammy, her favorite stuffed animal. On this morning, the 17-minute trip to the pool was nothing out of ordinary. “Bye-bye, daddy, love you,” Aly murmured softly as she and her bulky swim bag slid out the truck door, leaving Lammy and the fuzzy blue blanket to fill her now-empty seat. “Bye-bye, Lovey. Love you. Have a good day,” my husband tenderly replied. He watched fondly as his youngest daughter made her way through the aquatic center's door. My husband usually enjoyed their morning drive to the pool, but as he drove away on this particular morning, an ominous feeling swept over him. And it was there to stay.
The day’s itinerary promised excitement for Aly and a handful of senior swimmers. After morning practice, they planned to carpool to Seattle to watch the U.S. Open, a championship long course meet. Home of the 1990 Goodwill Games, Aly had competed in this pool many times herself. But today, she and her teammates would be spectators, watching the nation’s top swimmers compete for a spot in the Olympics, one of Aly’s own goals.
Following practice, the small group of swimmers stopped for breakfast, then divided into two cars driven by parents before continuing on. It was an exciting day, and I heard from Aly several times, her voice always full of giddy teenage excitement. Although glad the kids enjoyed the field trip, by day's end I was anxious for their return.
As day gave way to evening, and evening to dusk, a brilliant full moon eased its way over the horizon. It hung high and bright in the dark summer sky. Our other kids were out that evening, offering my husband and I some rare quiet time.
With her beloved cousin Jasmine
At 10:20 pm, Aly called home one final time. They were dropping off two swimmers, leaving Aly and two boys, Donovan and Patrick, to continue the final leg home on their own with 18 year-old Donovan at the wheel. Aly had deep respect for Donovan, a quiet yet popular swimmer with a strong work ethic and, like Aly, greatly admired for a powerful butterfly stroke. Just weeks away from starting his senior year in high school, he was a solid team leader and well respected by all. Closer in age to Aly was Patrick, a favorite teammate both in the pool and out. He and Aly immensely enjoyed their spirited friendship and on that fateful night, rather than sitting “shotgun” next to Donovan, Patrick chose to sit next to Aly in the back seat, a move that would save his life.
In that final phone call, Aly said they were 30 minutes away, and would meet me at the local aquatic center. I told her I loved her and would see her shortly. I hung up the phone, kissed my husband good-bye, and headed out into the night alone.
Because of the late hour, the drive to the pool was quiet and peaceful. Arriving in the deserted parking lot, I sat in my husband’s truck playing on my cellphone to pass the short time until the swimmers arrived.
As 11 pm drew near, the day’s fatigue began to set in and I began to wonder where the kids were. I texted Aly, but received no reply. Waiting a few minutes more, I called her phone. She didn’t answer. Waiting a few more minutes, I tried again, then twice, three times. Still no answer. Believing her phone battery had died from overuse during the long day, I had no choice but to sit and wait.
Suddenly, startling me in the dark, my phone rang from an unknown number. “Hello?” I answered, wondering who would be calling at that hour. “Lynda, this is Sean….Donovan’s dad. There’s been an accident. We are on our way now, 9-1-1 is guiding us.” Sure it was nothing more than a minor fender-bender, I didn’t panic as I told Donovan’s dad that I too would make my way to the kids. I drove out of the parking lot and was soon heading south on the freeway towards Burlington, a 30-minute drive away. I called my husband, “Honey, the kids have been in an accident. I’m sure it’s nothing, but I’m heading that way now.” Panicked, my husband pleaded with me to come pick him up, but since that was in the opposite direction, it meant a delay of at least 45 minutes. I told him that would take too long and I wanted to get to Aly as soon as possible, but promised to call him as soon as I was by her side. He pleaded again, but not wanting to waste precious time, I held firm and kept driving south.
Playing in the home pool
I called Donovan’s parents back to let them know I wasn’t far behind, hoping they could tell me exactly where the accident was, but this time I received no answer. I tried again and again, no answer. I then remembered they had called 9-1-1 for directions. I decided to try the same. I dialed the number and calmly explained who I was and why I was calling. The emergency dispatcher was hesitant, but agreed to give me directions. I asked if she knew which hospital the kids had been transported to, but she wouldn’t offer me any further information. I reassured myself that the accident was minor, and hospital transport probably wasn’t warranted. The dispatcher then shared that support staff was on the scene. Support staff? How strange. Why in the world would support staff be dispatched to a fender-bender? My brain just simply didn’t comprehend the possibility of anything more than a minor accident.
Despite the bright full moon, I soon got lost on the dark and unfamiliar roads, and once again called the 9-1-1 dispatcher for directions. Finally, in the distance, I saw the lights of multiple emergency vehicles. But this accident was far too serious, and didn’t even remotely fit the scenario I envisioned; I assumed I had come upon the wrong accident. Feeling confused and having nowhere to turn the truck around, I approached the scene. I slowly drove up to the emergency roadblock and an official step into the road to greet me.
From this moment forward, I recall the events as if in a dream, like little snapshots blending together as my world shattered with each spoken word. I rolled down my window, but my voice left me as an officer approached the truck. For an awkward moment, we just stared at each other. Finally, I manage to utter two tiny words: “My daughter.” The words came out in a flat statement, not a question. The officer stared at me, hesitant, as his eyes searched mine. He asked quietly, “15?” “Yes,” I confirmed. “Alyssa Fell?” he continued in our hesitant exchange. “Yes,” I mumbled as I stared at him. The officer continued standing outside my window, his eyes piercing mine. He was unsure what to do with me. Others approached my window. At that moment, with all those faces gazing at me, I knew.
Her favorite AlyBlue gown
My world had suddenly shattered into every parent’s worst nightmare. The gathering group grew larger as I quietly mumbled my final query, “She’s here….isn’t she?” It was more of a declaration than a question, and all those faces continued to stare at me. The night became very quiet, still no one replied. “Take me to my daughter,” I softly commanded. Not one person moved, all frozen in place, as they watched my face for signs of hysteria. “Take me to my daughter,” I repeated. Not waiting one second further, I opened the truck door, climbed out, and began making my way toward the two crumpled cars in the nearby field. I was vaguely aware that the group was following me. Although this didn’t fit protocol, no one dared stopped me. Instinctively, like a wild animal searching for her young, I knew where I would find my baby girl.
On the ground, next to a rear passenger door, my precious baby girl with the smooth tan skin and long blonde hair, the strong broad swim shoulders and tiny waist, my stellar student with fierce determination and dedication to reach the Olympics, was strapped to a backboard and draped by a stark white sheet. I knelt down beside her as my eyes surveyed the car’s blood-spattered interior. Reaching across her covered body, I searched for her hand under the sheet’s edge. Finding it, I held it as I sat next to my beloved Lovey, too shocked to cry. My daughter’s soft skin was still warm, and I could feel random muscles twitches of the dying nerve cells. I fought the urge to lift the white sheet from her sweet face for fear of seeing the likely disfigurement I wouldn’t ever forget. Instead, I looked down at her cute little feet peeking out from under the white sheet and I thought to myself, “Where are your shoes, silly girl?” My brain has ceased to absorb my new reality.
Behind me stood a large group of emergency responders and law enforcement officers, hushed respecfully as they took in the scene. As I held Aly’s small hand in mine, I could feel the powerful and raw compassion from those standing behind me. Then, for a brief moment, I looked up into nothingness, nothing but the dark field that stretched before us, and that is when I saw her. My beloved grandmother, who passed thirteen years before and from whom Aly had inherited her small stature, had an arm around Aly and was gently leading her away. Aly was looking over her shoulder at me as she walked beside the great-grandmother she never knew. Walking away from me, forever.
My cellphone’s intruding ring suddenly pierced the stillness. My robotic body automatically answered. It was Jamie. He was impatient, wondering why in the world I hadn’t yet called him. In a monotone, I remember telling him Aly hadn’t made it, that I was with her now in the field, next to the crumpled cars. I don’t remember his reply or the rest of the conversation.
Alyssa Victoria Yvonne Fell, age 15
That point forward is a blur, and would remain so for many months. Like little snapshots of time, I only remember glimpses from the remainder of that night. Being lead to the hospital by support personnel. Jamie arriving at the hospital, driven down by our brother-in-law. Sitting together in a small private hospital room, discussing Aly’s organ donations with the coroner. Kissing Donovan and Patrick on their foreheads as they both lay crying. Telling them both that it will be all right, hoping I could convince myself of the same. Of walking out of the hospital door at 4 am with an ER full of people watching, my legs threatening to give way as we exited into the night. Leaving for home. Together. Without our precious daughter.
"Why is your name so familiar?Where do I know you from?” I cringe
every time I am asked these questions.My mouth automatically mumbles a rehearsed, “oh, I don’t know.” Even though I know the probable answer, I play
dumb yet again.
Why do I
avoid confessing why I seem so familiar to you?To shield us both from the inevitable awkwardness that accompanies
the moment of truth.Once, I made the
mistake of assuming I was being asked that question because of Aly's accident. After all, the accident made headlines across
the state. One media photo showed our 13
year-old son and myself sobbing into Aly's favorite stuffed animal.Who wouldn't remember that? But this one time, to my horror and that of my
acquaintance, my incorrect assumption resulted in a really uncomfortable
situation for us both.
It is also uncomfortable waiting for one's
friendly smile turn to utter pity as my name is suddenly recognized.Yes, I am THAT mom, the one who lost her
swimmer daughter in that tragic car accident. Oh yes, they remember. And while I am enormously grateful they
haven't forgotten my daughter, I desperately wish, even muse on occasion, that I
could be recognized inside our community for having done something notable,
honorable. Something not associated with
a tragedy involving my child.
Losing a child thrusts us headfirst into an association with tragedy from which
we cannot escape, and we will forever be publically associated with it. Our pain and loss naturally create a great
deal of discomfort not just in ourselves, but in those around us and some even
find it so unpleasant they avoid us altogether.Knowing this stark reality can compound our selfconsciousness when out
in public.But aside from isolating
ourself at home for the rest of our life, the only alternative is to go about
our public routine and accept having to witness the pronounced pity and
compassion reflected on the faces of others when that inevitable “ah-ha” moment of recognition
You see, it takes
an enormous amount of courage and effort to reintegrate back into society after
losing a child and when we do, it can be extremely awkward.Coupled with our natural tendency like all
wounded animals to seek seclusion, the eventual return to our public routine
can be filled with anxiety and dread.
So next time
you encounter a grieving parent, resist the urge to avoid them and instead extend
an encouraging smile and gentle embrace.These simple actions encourage us and helps ease our transition as we
move from isolation back into society. Eventually
as we find our footing, we may be able to return a genuine hug and smile when
you are in need yourself, offering healing to us both.
couples divorce after losing a child," offered one well-meaning friend
after another in the months following Aly's accident. I can't help but wonder
why people feel compelled to share this with newly grieving parents. Meant to
be comforting, it is anything but. Yet hear it, we do. And repeatedly.
So why is it that two people who love each other until-death-do-us-part might
find themselves, in the aftermath of a tragedy, in divorce court?
In the immediate days and months after losing a child, both parents are in
"the fog" of shock. They cling to each other as terror fills their
days and nights like a never ending nightmare. The only way to cope with the
fog of grief is through autopilot. Our brain no longer functions, but our body
continues to instinctively go through the daily motions of making dinner, doing
laundry, washing dishes. We have “to go on" for the sake of the family.
Although our body seems to automatically manage everyday tasks, our heart and
spirit are in the Intensive Care Unit. Our lungs keep breathing, our muscles
keep working, but our mind and spirit are frozen in shock.
In the early days of the aftermath, family, friends, and neighbors help care
for the bereaved. But, as those of us grieving know all too well, intense pain
lasts long after the meals stop coming. Furthermore, whether physical or
emotional, intense pain is incredibly distracting, consuming, and exhausting.
Our entire focus remains on getting through the worst until the next wave hits.
Now imagine living like this day in and day out for months and months. Just
getting through the day is exhausting, leaving very little reserves for
anything else, including our marriage.
Add to this the biological fact that men and women are just wired different. As
young girls, women learn from older female relatives to talk, share, and
discuss. In contrast, boys are often taught to hold feelings in, to
"toughen up.” So the coping mechanisms we use during great hardship are
vastly different. Grieving mothers often seek comfort under the wings of other
communicatively nurturing females. Grieving men tend to shut down, preferring
instead to find comfort in solitary activities such as working alone in the
garage or spending longer hours at work.
These conflicting styles can cause a couple to separate from what started out
as parallel paths, sometimes leading to a complete and permanent disconnect.
And when grief shatters both of us into unrecognizable versions of our former
selves, it can be a challenge to find mutually familiar ground again, if ever.
But grieving parents can find satisfaction, even happiness, in a marriage given
time and the right tools. Consider resisting the urge to share baseless divorce
statistics and, instead, support the parents as they walk the journey as
husband and wife, and encourage them to hang tightly to one another as they
ride the waves of pain together.
once said, "Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable."
In the face of tragedy, ignore public perception and allow patience, compassion,
and tenderness to fill your marriage until solid footing once again takes hold.
Here it is again.....August 5. That dreaded date on the calendar. As the hot days and warm summer nights of July lazily march forward, August 5 continues to advance on our family with as much foreboding as always. A date when, no matter how busy we force our bodies to be, our minds replay the painful events from that night over and over. Why is August 5 different from all the other painful dates we navigate through each year such as her birthday, Christmas, Mother’s day? For every person in our family, August 5 will forever be a permanent life marker of “before the accident” and “after the accident.” It also serves as a milestone, an unspoken anniversary of our own personal healing. Do I cry less? Smile more? Function better than this time last year?
On this particular day, in addition to my own pain, I'm fraught with worry over how our remaining three children will cope through the day. I know DJ will seek solace in fishing, Natalie will focus on work and her young son Caleb, and Shaun, I pray, will focus on his next drum corps performance. But what if he falls apart and forgets the choreography in front of a stadium full of fans? What if DJ, too distracted by the grief, falls into the river and drowns? What if Natalie has a meltdown at work, or worse, in front of her young son? These are the additional worries my mind juggles on this day.
The single most popular piece of advice we hear is that we must move forward, get on with our lives. But those very words grate on our exquisitely sensitive nerves like nails on a chalkboard. For you see, each and every day I work hard to help our family move on by attempting to put the pieces back together. But gluing it back together isn’t as easy, neat or tidy as repairing your favorite mug. Some days the glue is set hard as stone, the mug seemingly appearing whole and good-as-new to the outside world. On the inside however, the glue might inexplicably be wet in spots, soft to the touch, ever threatening to spring a leak without a moment's notice. Even if the glue carefully holds all the pieces in exact position, it will never truly again be a whole vessel, free of blemish or fracture scars, forevermore announcing to the world it once had shattered.
So you see, August 5 will always remain the one glaring date every year when our family's smooth, colorful, comfortable mug suddenly and violently fractured beyond recognition in 2009. August 5 is, and always will be, our personal day of "before" and "after."
Yes, I will always hate August 5. But I’m grateful that tomorrow is always just around the corner, bringing promise of a new day full of healing, another day of hope. And for that, I am thankful.
The warm summer day started out just like any other. I was busy organizing the kids' activities, planning dinner, making a mental note to fill the car with gas and pick up a gallon of milk on my way home. Suddenly and without warning, I was engulfed by a raging fire. I suffered third degree burns over my entire body; not an inch of me was spared.
People rushed to my side to help, but there was nothing they could do to ease the excruciating pain. Medical resources were limited in the face of such devastation. Even their best medications did little to ease the agony. I wasn't sure I could survive such intense suffering. Worse, nobody could tell me how long the agony would last.
The medical community gently advised me that although my physical self would heal, the disfigurement is permanent and complete. My family, friends, and coworkers no longer recognized me. I no longer recognized myself. Mirrors were to be avoided at all costs.
At first, doing little things like sitting up in bed or standing was so excruciating, it took my breath away. The mere thought of eating, bathing, and dressing left me feeling nauseated, helpless and hopeless.
Pity and sadness were apparent in the eyes of everyone who came to visit. I understood the sadness, but I hated the pity. Why on God's green earth was I spared the peace of death?!
Learning to live with complete disfigurement and extreme pain is overwhelming. It is excruciating, slow, and exhausting. Years of great effort is spent trying to master even basic activities. Some days I hurt too bad to even try.
Other days, when out in public, I pretend to be normal so as to ease the discomfort readily apparent in the eyes of those who are brave enough to glance in my direction. Some avoid me altogether, adding further angst to my broken spirit. Pretending to be normal is exhausting, and quickly depletes all my reserves. By the time I finish errands and return home, I'm utterly spent.
And worst of all, there is absolutely nothing that I, nor anyone else, can do about it.
For you see, that complete disfigurement and intolerable pain described above is on the inside of my body. The pain is unchanged, the disfigurement is still complete and the scars are permanent. The new life that was thrust upon me that day when my child died caused a firestorm that engulfed every part of my life. The only differences between me and the patient who suffered third degree burns over her entire body is that I lived. And my pain is invisible to the world.