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Sugar Cookies and a Nightmare

How My Daughter's Death Taught Me
The Meaning of Life

 

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CHAPTER ONE: DEAR DOCTOR EXPERT

Moving Forward

I hope you find the following poem enlightening. It was written by Pam Towan after her daughter Rachel was killed by a drunk driver.

It's Your Birthday

How old are you today, my Child?
You see, it's your birthday here on Earth.
We should be celebrating and eating cake. Tell me,
What is a year where you are worth?
How old are you today, my Child?
You were so young and beautiful when you died.
I wanted to get you a special present this year.
Tell me, Do you keep track of time on your side?
How old are you today, my Child?
You were only 19 when you were killed.
I hoped that we would spend this day together.
Tell me, Do your days have meaning when life here is stilled?
How old are you today, my Child?
This isn't an ordinary Birthday, but a very special one.
We both looked forward to this day, didn't we?
Tell me, Do you keep counting when counting is done?
How old are you today, my Child?
You've had your last birthday here. There won't be another.
I wanted to give you a big fat hug today.
Tell me, Are You Okay? Can You See Me? Do You Know
I'm
Still Your Mother?

For Pam, her deceased daughter's birthday is always difficult. I cannot accept that she shouldn't be supported by others on this day. In fact, this support has helped her to move forward: Pam has taken on a new job, a promotion; she's a loving mother to her two other children, and she doesn't use drugs or alcohol. Pam even teaches a class of DUI (driving under the influence) violators on the subject of losing a loved one to drunk driving.

Time alone will not heal grief.

For a parent to survive such a crisis and develop normally as a fulfilled being, she must receive continued understanding and support. A client of mine, a 36-year-old woman, was seeing me because of her parents' deaths within six months of each other. In the course of therapy, her friend's five-year-old daughter drowned in a lake. My client commented about her dual experiences of grieving for her parents and also feeling for her friend:

I look at the process that I'm going through with my parents, and it is extremely difficult. The suffering is enormous, and yet it is a logical end to a long, rich life. When you think of a five-year-old dying, you really think of a life that's not complete. You think of things that the child will never be able to do and never be able to experience, and you think about the shared experiences that the parent won't be able to have with that child, and it touches you. It's also frightening because it reminds you that life is so short and so temporary and that it can end at any time. So, you have the sense of your own mortality and of your children's mortality. You feel a great sympathy for that person, too — an empathy.

For the most part, when a tragedy occurs, people want to do something. They empathize with the bereaved, feel good when they help, and lessen the isolation of the person grieving. Your advice would deprive not only the bereaved but also their friends from a chance to feel better.

I cannot stress enough how much support aids the process and helps the bereaved to actually transform grief into personal growth. The bereaved parents can become something more than they once were. Though they must accept their child's death, they need not sever all ties and bury all memories. Memories can be built on and used to establish a new kind of relationship in ways that can enrich their lives.

Genesse Bourdeau Gentry, whose 21-year-old daughter, Lori, was killed in a car accident, wrote a beautiful book of poetry following the death. Genesse's book is called "Stars in the Deepest Night--After the Death of a Child."

Dr. Expert, you need to read her poems, for they reflect the process of grief and the importance of support from others. Genesse has clearly gone forward with her life, and in her Acknowledgments she remembers family members and friends who have honored Lori's birthday and the anniversary of her death over the years.

This is my favorite poem of Genesse's:

Chance Encounter
Sitting at my table, a stranger, lost in thought,
holding her cup closely until my eye was caught.
She told me of a friend of hers, whose child died months ago,
and that she wanted so to help, but how, she didn't know.
"My friend still seems so fragile; her grieving fills her days.
There must be something I can do, or something I can say."
I looked across the table. Her eyes had filled with tears ...
How to answer simply, in words that she could hear:
"I, too, am a grieving mother. I've been there, you could say.
Her hurt is like no other. Have you hugged your friend today?"
"Well, I don't really see her much; time seems to go so fast.
She's always on my mind, but I don't seem to get the chance...
And I feel so helpless with her; I can't think what to say.
There's so much changed about her; a stranger in some ways."
"I know you care about her, and I understand your fears,
but her life has been so shattered; her days are filled with tears.
She really needs the contact with you and all her friends,
or the walls of isolation will close her sadness in."
She sighed, "I feel so guilty. I've tried in the past, you know.
Her conversations get so strange; I'm not sure where they'll go.
She talks of dreaming visits with her child who's really dead.
I know it's wishful thinking, that it's all just in her head."
"I believe our children do try to show us they live on.
They touch us in so many ways; they aren't completely gone.
Your friend needs you to listen, to show her that you care.
You can't take the pain away, but it will help to have you there."
"I wish I could help her. It's just so hard to know."
She took a breath and let it out and then she rose to go.
"Good luck," I said, before she turned and slowly walked away.
If she will only listen and hug her friend today.

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