Monthly Archives: October 2013
Still hearing the voice of a loved one who dies often proves comforting.
Bill Pence recently shared a story from the last months of his daughter’s life when her doctor asked gently, “What is your greatest fear?” This mother of two young children didn’t hesitate as she responded, “that my children will forget me.” Her answer gave this grieving father a gift as he saw a tangible way he could help Molly as she endured the ravages of metastatic melanoma. A Cal Tech graduate, he said, “Honey, your kids are growing up in a world of computers, websites and virtual images. We can put your voice on a website and you can leave them your thoughts and messages on anything…on friendship, college, dating or anything kids are curious about. I will take care of the rest. I can do it for you.”
He told me, “I imagined my grandchildren waiting anxiously for fresh messages to pop up on their private website, a multiyear stream of reminders of their mother’s love, like getting loving phone calls several times a year, insurance that they would never forget her.’ Molly understood and said, “Let’s do it.”
For the last weeks of her life, they collaborated with a list of questions she thought might be important some day for her son, four-year-old Max and eight-year-old daughter Remy. They chose 63 questions and sqribbled them on index cards. For an hour or so in the afternoons, boosted by oxygen and Fentanyl, his daughter was comfortable and alert enough to work on their project.
Questions like: “How do I be a good friend?”
She responded, “Be kind, consider their point of view. Don’t gossip. Be trustworthy. Be fun!”
“Will you be watching over me?” Her response? “I’m not sure. But I believe in Heaven. I believe I’ll be with you aways. When you need me, hold still, listen and maybe you will hear me. And also listen for yourself–the answers are within you.”
Molly directed a long answer to her daughter for the question, “How were we alike?” and mentioned their shared love of animals, reading, and “dress up.”
Her father, who attended grief groups after her death and found solace in writing, eventually wrote a book called Love Stays, available on Amazon. In an essay, he explains how healing this project has been. “My love for Molly was always manifested in actions. Loving deeds were easier to finish than long sentences. I hung shelving for her stuffed animals, taught her to drive a stick shift, carried her bags and showed her New York. The love stays as I finish my last promise to her. Since her death at 39, I have edited and posted a half dozen of Molly’s messages. I choose a photo or two to post with her words–she is close by, almost touching my shoulder. I smell the coffee she loved. I ask her ‘Which message goes next?’ and I listen.”
The Value of Voice Memories
“A voice recording can help people deal with their loss,” believes Dr. Holly Prigerson, a professor and grief researcher at Harvard Medical School, quoted in an October Associated Press article by Tom Coyne. “The main issue of grief and bereavement is you have lost connection with the one you love…You pine and crave than connection.”
This resonates with persons who lose someone suddenly and often find themselves listening to earlier voice mail messages and greetings. In a future blog, I’ll include information on how important it is to transfer such prized phone messages to a permanent recording. Unfortunately, phone carriers often erase such messages during upgrades, causing immeasurable grief.
In what ways have you found technology a source of solace, if any?
Can we imagine becoming stronger in our broken places? There’s a tradition in Japanese pottery called Kintsugi, where a broken pot is restored through a type of gold joinery. Potters cherish seeing the imperfections as a creative addition, making a pot more gorgeous and more precious than before it was fractured. When something has suffered damage and has a history, they assert it becomes more beautiful, even giving rebirth to the bowl’s life story.
I first heard of this shortly after our daughter died through writings of the poet, Mark Doty. He describes the ancient Japanese ceramic cups, once the property of some holy monk. Centuries later, a cup was dropped and broken, but even in this condition it was too beautiful to simply destroy. So it was repaired, not with glue, which wouldn’t hold for centuries to come, but with a seam of gold solder repairing the break in what could never be repaired perfectly. The gold solder added a beauty to the cup, making part of it quite visible.
Doty writes, “The metaphor offers the possibility to ‘honor the part of oneself that’s irreparable-to fill the crack with gold means to give the break prominence, to let it shine. Wearing its history, the old cup with its gilt scars becomes, I imagine, a treasure of another sort, whole in its own fragmentation, more deeply itself, veined with the evidence of time.”
I found this story and image held healing power. I was so moved by it that my husband surprised me on my birthday that year by giving me a picture of Krista from high school inside a stone frame with golden veins. It always reminds me that if we can keep our hearts open to love and grace after profound loss, enduring strength finds space to come forth from our broken places.
I love naturalist John Muir’s words written long ago from Yosemite that “Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” I often hear persons in grief still echo his words of truth. Over and over, persons tell me of experiences in nature which have nurtured their path into healing and restoration of emotional strength. Whether it is the visit of a swarm of yellow butterflies at a memorial service, beginning a morning cup of coffee looking out at the flaming maple tree planted in memory of a red-haired daughter, or collecting rocks from the Kiniksu National Forest beloved by a son, these moments give harbingers of hope that life will continue with meaning and joy again. For my husband, backpacking for a week of solitude in the Olympic Rain Forest with our retriever Scout, two years after our daughter died, became a gentle turning point towards peace.
A contemporary naturalist from Oregon, Kathleen Dean Moore, writes of a season where several devastating deaths left her immersed in sorrow. So she turned to the comfort of the wild to see what the natural world might teach her about sorrow and gladness. She writes meditations of these excursions of tracking otters on the beach, wading among migrating salmon in the dark, cooking breakfast in the desert, canoeing in a snow squall in her book Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature. She found such intentional connection to the natural world gave reassurance to her soul, moving her to hope and courage, healing and gratitude. As she expresses,
“I have felt their peace, the steady surge and flow of the sea on sand, water slipping over stones. There is meaning in the natural rhythms of dying and living, winter and spring, bones and leaves. Even in times of bewilderment or despair, there is steadfast ground underfoot–pine duff, baked clay, stone turned red in the rain. I am trying to understand this, the power of water, air, earth, and time to bring gladness gradually from grief and to restore meaning to lives that seem empty or unmoored.”
When I walk outside, the leaves on our Witch Hazel, burning bush, lace-leaf Japanese maples, and Virginia Creeper have begun their magic metamorphosis…and my heart still leaps at their stunning beauty.
Have moments in nature offered solace for you? I’d love to hear your stories!