Death of a daughter
Hello again, Have you ever written or dreamed of a “bucket list”….things you hope to do before you die? When Kristina Chesterman’s grieving parents began the painful process of cleaning out their daughter’s apartment, they discovered a rare treasure tucked away in a make-up bag. To their great surprise, their 21-year-old daughter left a “bucket list,” probably written in high school. Her exuberant spirit of adventure rings through, from plans to take flying lessons, to wanting to visit 7 of the Wonders of the World including Niagara Falls, or to simple pleasures like running in a field of poppies. A beloved nursing student at Chico State, she even included “saving a life,” which actually happened by being an organ donor. A Plan for Creative Mourning Now her mother and father knew exactly how they wanted to continue their love for Kristina. I rarely post videos. However, I found her parents choice to mourn her zest for life by living out her dreams a beautiful story. They know this offers a way to continue their enduring bonds, rather than the futility of trying to forget. After her family posted the list on Facebook, to their amazement, thousands of people have written to say they are inspired to also do these in her memory! Jim and I leave in the morning for the Chatauqua Institution in New York where we are the Writers-in-Residence for a week, then off to Boston to enjoy a week with our two grandchildren and family. Hope you are also finding moments of summer fun, such a gift after a long winter. Have you ever been surprised after the death of someone you loved by finding or receiving something that gave you a further glimpse into their life? Enjoy this CBS interview!
Parents mourn daughter’s death by living her bucket list http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/parents-mourn-daughters-death-by-living-her-bucket-list
First Thanksgiving after Hurricane Katrina (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Setting the family table for Thanksgiving gives a painful reminder of losing ones we love. Empty places… once exuberant with life. Especially during the early years after a death, holiday celebrations take intentional planning because our hearts pulse with grief.
But Thanksgiving is unique because it’s very nature calls us to be thankful during loss. After the harsh 65-day ocean crossing in the Mayflower and the brutal winter of their early settlement in Plymouth, the Pilgrims had lost nearly half of their 102 members to disease and death. Yet, even grieving the 49 losses in their beloved community, they still celebrated in 1621 when their harvest came in and added abundant venison, cod, bass, and turkey. The remnant looked to the future with hope.
So did the New Orleans families celebrating after Katrina in the picture above where their decorations related to life after the disaster, including an MRE package, cans of water, battery and cel-phone. Even the Phillipine parishioners gave thanks in recent Sunday church gatherings after their devastating losses. Each have discovered that digging deep for gratitude becomes a tool for resilience. But it’s not easy.
A friend told me of one defiant and truthful mother who told a counselor, “I don’t want to find blessings in a broken heart.” She may have been responding to friends trying to comfort her with the panacea of”counting one’s blessings” too early after a death, before she engaged in grief work.
But ultimately, the pilgrims clearly were on to something. Parents tell me they only entered peace and acceptance when they could eventually remember with thankfulness all the child meant in their life.
There’s a small book of poetry by Dom Helder Camara called A Thousand Reasons for Living that has been a companion during the years following our daughter’s death. An archbishop in Brazil, he was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the poor. He’d often rise at 2 a.m. to write brief meditation/poems that his friends collected into small books. His poetry, alive with awe at the wonders received if we stay open to each day, reminds me to stay both present and hopeful during difficult seasons.
A Thousand Reasons for Living Poetry
Don’t let yourself be torn
Live always and only
God’s today. 14 February 1964
I’ve written earlier about the healing power of nature and Helder Camara speaks to this too.
What a curious charm
Why do I feel so happy
as the leaves
when I know
they will soon be falling,
leaving the tree
stripped and bare?
My joy lies in the certainty
that life will prevail over death:
new buds will burst,
29 February 1976
Last night, as we celebrated an early Thanksgiving feast with our son’s near-by family before leaving for New England to visit our daughter’s family, I looked across the table. Though Krista is with us only in spirit, we cherish the wonder of Erin, our six-year-old surprise granddaughter who enlivens our life immensely. She reminds me of the joy in staying open to “new buds that will burst.”
Have you found it’s possible to have gratitude amidst grief?
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?