Grief Has No Age
Article originally appeared on National Alliance for Grieving Children
“Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after the other” – Walter Elliot
I remember my speech teacher giving me a book and the Elliot quote was on the first page. I have never forgotten it probably because at the age of nine it took me at least three minutes to sound out the word ‘perseverance’. HA!
I had no idea how often I would return to the quote over the next 19 years.
I remember a hazy summer day in 1997 as I sat on the couch with my mom. She was sick… so all of my family came over to help her clean. This was odd, because my family usually only got together on holidays. I think their gathering was meant to happen that way. We finally convinced her to go to the ER. I remember her looking so pale and only wanting to eat banana popsicles. She finally agreed to go after battling back and forth with her sisters. Mom didn’t want to go as I had my first day of fourth grade the following day and she wanted to see me off on the bus. She didn’t trust my father to get me on the bus, I assume. My mom was the kindest person I have ever met, no one had a negative thing to say about her and she loved me with every ounce of her being. I loved her too; she was my best friend.
I remember asking her to stand up and that I would help her. She was so weak, but she tried to stand. Before I knew what was happening my mom collapsed to the floor and took her last breath. At that moment, my life as I knew it, would be a thing of the very distant past. My family heard the commotion and my screaming, and came running and immediately called for help. My mother’s sister Anne was giving her mouth to mouth resuscitation until the paramedics arrived which seemed like a life time. When I peeked in to check on her the only thing I remember seeing was my mother’s eyes roll back in her head. I knew at 9 years old that I would never hug my mom again.
I remember asking the paramedics “Did you save my mommy?” They didn’t even look at me. They rushed my mom to the hospital where she was pronounced dead at 5:47pm.
I didn’t cry, I couldn’t. I didn’t know how.
Even though I had no idea what was going on, I realized how fragile life is. I remember holding a flashlight and turning it on and off. Bright to dim, and I told my family as we all sat in the living area that we were like flashlights, one minute shining bright the next minute fading away. Pretty deep thoughts for a 9 year old.
Visitation came and went, I kissed mom on the forehead. (I tell you this because it was the first time I had touched a DEAD person.)
I had questions, a lot of questions, most of which would go unanswered for years. I remember asking the funeral directors what would happen next and they told me not to worry that it would all be over soon… (easy for them to say, I was going home without my mommy!) I just went along letting people pat me on the head and continue to converse about who was going to “take care” of her little girl.
I didn’t have any other choice.
Now you ask, where was my father in all of this mess? He was more than likely drinking and wondering where he was going to find the money to bury her. My father was very abusive and he was a long-time alcoholic.
He didn’t go to my mother’s funeral (burial) so in turn neither did I.
Let me say it again, my own father didn’t let me go to my mother’s burial. I never got closure. I never got to say goodbye. The pastor who preached the funeral said that in his 30 plus years of preaching he had never witnessed a husband and child not attending their loved one’s funeral.
I didn’t want anyone else to have to witness that same nightmare.
It was on August 25, 1997 that I knew my calling in life was to become a funeral director. I didn’t want another person to go through what I experienced. I didn’t want another child to be left grieving alone. I wanted to be the one with answers. I wanted to be a shoulder someone could cry on.
Here I am, 19 years, 3 children, a husband and 1 pug later working with what I consider the best company in the world SCI/ Berry Funeral Home, Knoxville, TN. I have grown so much with this company and I owe all of my future successes to them.
From my largest most painful experience came my greatest calling.
I now have the opportunity to make things easier for families and children. I can help them understand the process and give them the tools to get the proper help they may need to grieve.
I was one of the lucky ones, I believe my life could have gone either way. Now don’t get me wrong, it has not been easy. I sought professional help and even though I struggle daily I have not let it define me. It has, in fact, been the “wind beneath my wings”. (my mom loved Bette Midler)
Every day I think of her and what could have been, but I also know that I would be different, my path in life would have been different. Death is a part of life, but when you experience the loss of a parent as a young child without the proper tools grief is very hard to work through.
This life was handed to me because I am strong enough to live it and if I can be of help to just one person, one child, then it has been worth all the pain.
This is my life’s purpose, this writing (righting) here, right now…. My story.
Grief has no time limit, no age.
I was put on this earth to change the future for someone, and in a beautiful way I am finally finding closure — because I too, am still a grieving child.