Newsletter of The Compassionate
Atlanta Area Chapters
January - February 2002
"The mission of The Compassionate
Friends is to assist families in the positive resolution of grief following
the death of a child and to provide information to help others be supportive."
A Nonprofit Self-Help Organization
Offering Friendship and Understanding to Families
Who are Grieving the Death of a Child
Carrying Memories Into The
With the church bells' ringing
the new year enters
echoing the days of yesteryear
memories of happiness
the smiles of our children
the sunlight within each face
Who will remember these dear ones
far from our yearning arms
Who remembers all they were
the way she danced, the hat he wore
With the old year gone, will they
no longer be known?
We will remember them, each one
We will hold them in our hearts
as we carry memories
into this new year.
We will allow the memories to
make us laugh, to make us sing.
Their lives will fill the air
as the church bells ring.
---Alice J. Wisler
~reprinted with permission from Tributes, January 1, 2002
A free monthly online magazine to offer comfort and hope for
those who have had a child or sibling die and for those with
---Alice J. Wisler
After my four year old died, I was certain my family would
never be the same again. It is true and has been proven over and
over that we will no longer be the typical family living at the end of
the cul-de-sac. We may look the same (only because I have not been
daring enough to don all black as our Victorian ancestors) but our hearts
have been mangled and our future dimmed. Through death we have been
In the course of any given week I can clearly note how the changes have
come and stayed with us. Events that seemed insignificant when Daniel
was alive now hold powerful and emotional memories. Seeing the boxes of
Cocoa Puffs on the grocery store shelf, hearing the lyrics to Toy Story's
theme song 'You've Got A Friend In Me' and driving past the local McDonalds
bring jolts of pain to my broken heart.
People may feel uncomfortable as they see my eyes well up with tears
during these times of remembering some of the favorite things a lively
little boy with an infectious grin enjoyed so much. The neighbors may be
bothered by my woeful cries as I stand on my deck and stare into the night
sky, wondering where Heaven lies and what my child is doing.
Yes, we have changed. I, as the mother, can no longer promise
(as I used to) that nothing bad will ever happen to any of us. Nor
can we believe that if you pray hard enough and just hold onto faith your
fervent prayers will be answered as you desire. For now, in our grief,
all we can see is a little boy with cancer who died one cold winter night
though surrounded by the prayers of church leaders and believers.
At first when Daniel left us, I seldom went to the cemetery but now
we often take a picnic and venture to the grassy lawn beside his marker.
We named the cemetery Daniel's Place and the kids and I leave messages
for my husband to meet us there after work. We eat, decorate Daniel's
grave and the older two run and do cartwheels. The baby picks at blades
Now, whenever my two year old passes a cemetery with flowers on the
markers he says, "I wanna go playground and play."
No, we are not the same. How many two year olds say they want
to watch their deceased brother? I am not sure if Benjamin understands
exactly who Daniel is but he loves to tell me, "I wanna watch Daniel,"
and I know this means to pop a video of his older brother into the VCR.
Benjamin sits in his highchair, his pudgy face round with a big smile.
How many seven year olds write on their list to Santa that this Christmas,
they want things to remind them of their brother who died? How many of
them have to tell you that the line "if you wish hard enough it will come
true" is not a true statement, and they have proof it is not?
Our innocence has been lost and we will never be able to have that sunshine
existence that many like to hold onto (I know I sure did). But I like to
believe that in spite of our devastation due to Daniel's death and our
yearnings to have him here as a part of our family again, we have, though
broken, grown to be strong people of character. More than ever before
we are able to mourn woefully with those who are in despair and pain. We
are able to comfort with truths like "I don't understand" instead of
"Well, it will get better."
I know I have been to the bank of life where death meets and begged
death to take me, too, for I knew there was no way I could live without
my son. I have since learned that living and thriving on this difficult
earth takes much more than just being happy. I have extended my view to
see that I am not the only one who suffers or feels life is unfair. I'm
sure both my neighbor who has a mentally handicapped child and my friend
whose husband suddenly left her and their children feel life is no bowl
of fresh peaches.
Through Daniel's death I have learned life is really short, and so I
argue less with my husband and children and when I do lose my temper, I
am much quicker to apologize. I eat more ice-cream and not just the generic
brand for I think after all I've been through, I am worthy of Haagen-Dazs.
(This is quite an achievement coming from one of the world's most thrifty
people.) I want to send more cards to friends, just because....
I want to spend less time working on trying to get grouchy people to like
me and instead focus on those who appreciate my love.
And now at family get-togethers, I hug everyone tighter when I tell
them good-bye, not just my 86 year old grandmother. For in this extended
family we have, over the years, seen death take three children and therefore
know that death cares not about one's age. Anyone could die before
I see them again.
Sometimes I get so excited when I let myself think what I would do if
Daniel were to come back to live with us. I think for the first day
I would want to spend it in intervals of hugging him and making pancakes
with lots of maple syrup for him to eat. But whether I like it or
not, and as marked and wounded as I am, life still calls me to live.
So I don't want to just be the "lady whose child died." I want
to be the lady who gained wisdom, enlarged her heart, supplied the box
of 'Puffs' to those with teary eyes and daily seeks to love like
the Bible passage of I Corinthians 13. And when seen talking to the
starry night sky, I want others to hear not just the anguished yearnings
over a precious four-year-old son, but the great revelations that have
been received-- knowledge of how to really be alive, teachings of life
that can only be discovered from the death of a part of us--the death of
Sometimes the people we love, leave
and much is left unexplained, so, we find it hard to believe
We are left standing with heart wrenching pain
we ask ourselves why go on when nothing will change
She had bright silver wings
I want peace of mind not bitter stings
With a shotgun size hole blown through my life
I must never give up for God gave her wings to take flight
With hope of understanding my pain
like the caterpillar to the butterfly, she changed
The faint flipping of whispering wings, I sense here near
with every fiber of being, I wish she were still here
Yet, through my heart breaking pain I remember
God gave her wings and nothing stays the same
I, who got left behind
realize God gave her wings
because angels are hard to find
And with wings pure as light
she took flight
and flew away home
by Kimberly K. Cole, Canton, GA
In Loving Memory of her daughter Christina M. Edwards
by Roberta Hermansen
This winter’s desolation is my desolation,
It’s barrenness, my heart.
Some say spring will come
Trees will leaf,
Buds will swell, New life will emerge.
But I feel winter in my heart,
In my soul,
In my being,
I wonder if the ice will ever thaw
So I can drink from it again
To nourish my spirit.
There’s a Valentine Waiting
By Mary Cleckley, Lawrenceville, GA
Bereaved Parents USA
There’s a valentine waiting for you,
That’s different from all the others.
It’s there every month at our meetings
Of heartbroken fathers and mothers.
Its envelope is made of caring
The glue of understanding seals it tight.
This non-judgmental group who’ve “been there”
Help to take away your fear and fright.
So, come join with us together,
Read your loving message printed clear.
In not only this month’s valentine,
But all those throughout the year.
I would like to share another poem of mine that is meaningful to me
I know that others can relate to and it is one they will never forget.
Each Life Is Like a Song
A life is like a song we write
In our own tone and key,
Each Life we touch reflects a note
That forms the melody.
We choose the theme and chorus
Of the song to bear our name,
And each will have a special sound,
No two can be the same.
So when someone we love departs,
In memory we find
Their song plays on within the hearts
Of those they leave behind.
Isn't this beautiful? Our family and our childrens'
'SONG' plays on within our hearts.
Each day, we are all writing our own ‘song'. Let us all make
Elma Burns Semko, Atlanta, GA
Mother to Bobby Burns
SHARED THOUGHTS ON "MEMORIES
by: Marie Hofmockel, TCF Valley Forge
Our son, Douglas, died 15 years ago on February 7th. Time does
not erase the memory of those early years when my pain was so intense.
I began each day with a prayer that the world would end, so there would
never be another bereaved parent. I did not want anyone to experience
the degree of agony I was enduring. I never once regretted having
Doug. I've always felt the joy he brought was greater than the death.
SO, as I look back, that was a foolish wish. Had the world ended,
all those beautiful subsequent children would never have been. I
was looking for a quick fix to my pain.
Frequently, we get caught up in hurrying our recovery. Our pain
is so intense, we feel we can't endure one more day. Once the natural
order has been violated, a deluge of fears overcomes us. It is very
normal to be out of control in such an abnormal situation. It is
important to recognize our grief, for much of it can be resolved through
expressing ourselves. When talking to other bereaved parents and
siblings, we realize our feelings are very natural reactions.
There are many books on grief that can offer a sense of direction.
There are also many guidelines that warn of pitfalls. These are great
tools to aid in our healing. But I feel nothing is as comforting
as another bereaved person saying "I know". If you have been there,
you fully understand. The love you give is unconditional and this
type of support is what sustains us.
If we devote time to grief work, and deal with our problems as they
arise, it helps to clear our hearts and minds so we can make room for the
new situations that we must handle. If we shelve our feelings, we
soon have such an insurmountable load, that we can't deal with any of it.
We must always take one day at a time, and face it little by little.
Some days we may have such little strength that we not only did not gain
ground, but we have slipped back. Don't run away from it, meeting
it head on, helps to gain a better foot hold.
We slowly begin to heal, the happy memories will bring some smiles rather
than pain. Our sorrow softens, and the death becomes less important.
The life of our loved ones become more important. We appreciate the
beauty and happiness our loved ones brought. We can not expect to
return to the way we were. Life will be different as we deal with
the "memories of grief". But that is a far cry from dealing with
grief itself. We will always regret the death. After surviving
the grief, the scar we carry becomes tolerable.
I enjoy life again. My vacations are wonderful. I look forward
to each new day. I enjoy being creative. I look forward to
family gatherings. I feel life is worth hanging around for.
Believe me when I tell you I dreaded each of these in my early grief.
I could not even feel complete joy when my first granddaughter was born.
I just couldn't feel anything. There wasn't any "complete joy" to
be had. This particular grandchild has brought me so much joy in
subsequent years, and now I know it was my grief that denied me these pleasures.
I wish for you that your grief will turn to "memories of grief", and
happiness will fill your lives again.....God Bless.
Lovingly lifted from TCF Lower Cape Fear Newsletter
Wilmington, North Carolina
I am sure you all agree with me: Thank God the holidays are behind us!
This is just something I wrote for the St. Paul Chapter newsletter and
thought I would share it with the rest of my Sharing Line friends. Though
we have never met face-to-face, I feel like I know you all and I feel pain
in my heart for each of your losses. I wish all of you as much peace and
reasons to hope as you can find in the year 2002.
Hugs sent to all in every direction,
Cathy Seehuetter, Nina's mom
St. Paul, MN
THOSE DIFFICULT “FIRSTS”
I remember New Year’s Eve, December 31, 1994. Nina loved any opportunity
that called for a celebration. She invited a couple of her high school
friends over, planned games, tried some new recipes, and bought her customary
bottle of sparkling apple cider to drink out of plastic champagne glasses.
Nina rivaled Martha Stewart when it came to her enthusiasm for entertaining!
Her friends stayed overnight and their joyful laughter could be heard well
into the wee hours of the morning. Luckily, I have such a sweet, pleasant
memory of what turned out to be the last New Year’s Eve with our Nina.
Because of those “Lasts”, we are faced with the “Firsts”. With only
two days left of the year 2000, I was tempted to write about New Year’s
resolutions. However, since I make my resolutions on the 1st and notoriously
break them by the 2nd, my credibility is definitely in question!
But since Monday will be January 1st it seemed like a good time to mention
what for many of you will be the beginning of those difficult “Firsts.”
- the first holidays, first birthday, first death anniversary, the first
family vacation without your child, and so on. Unfortunately, this
is an area that I am qualified to write about because, of course, I have
I know that, in particular, those who are newly bereaved face the new
calendar with apprehension because of those “Firsts.” Whether there is
a major holiday in that month or not, each one brings its own emotional
challenges. For those whose children sadly died before they had memories
of what their child had done the year before, the calendar speaks to them
of shattered dreams and hopes that died along with their child. For the
rest of us, it is the bittersweet recollections of years’ past. With
February comes memories of hand-made Valentines with childlike scribbles
of “I love you Mommy & Daddy.” Maybe March brought attempts at
kite flying and April dying Easter eggs. May and June with Mother’s and
Father’s Day and the stab of pain in your heart that your child is not
here to celebrate such important days with you. Fourth of July celebrations
and summer vacations, school clothes shopping, the excitement of meeting
new teachers and new friends. In October carving pumpkins and trying to
decide what costume to wear trick or treating. And then right back to those
most painful of months where in a short time span we are thrust into family-centered
Norman Rockwell-like celebrations of Thanksgiving and Christmas where our
loved ones who are missing are so conspicuously absent. When we enter in
our child’s birthday and the anniversary of their death it is frankly overwhelming.
It is no wonder that at each bi-monthly meeting we hear the same words
spoken over and over again, “This has been a very hard month.”
I cannot imagine facing these “Firsts” without the support of The Compassionate
Friends. I sadly think of even a few decades ago when there weren’t any
groups like TCF to assist those whose children had died. Those unfortunate
parents were only allowed the time of the funeral to grieve. Then the expectation
was, especially if they had other children, to get on with their life for
those surviving family members. They buried their child and many times,
because they weren’t allowed to, never spoke of them again, as if they
had never existed. They didn’t have other bereaved parents to walk
the grief path with them and to validate that what they were feeling was
“normal” , for us, anyway. They didn’t have another mother or father who
had been down that same path available to tell them that though the “Firsts”
are difficult, most often the anticipation of the day is worse than the
day itself. They didn’t have the veterans of TCF to assure them that they
too would rediscover the ability to laugh and find reasons to live again.
Though it is unrealistic to think that the holidays and any of the other
special days will ever be the same again, I, and so many others in our
group of The Compassionate Friends are here to tell you that they do gradually
become easier to bear. Undoubtedly, the holidays will always be tinged
with sadness But we, who have made it past the “Firsts” and the “Seconds”
and beyond, are present at each Compassionate Friends meeting, or only
an e-mail or phone call away. We want to help, in any way that we can,
those of you who are on this grief journey. Please remember always - you
are not alone.
~Cathy Seehuetter, TCF – St. Paul, MN
How Can I Improve Communication
With My Spouse?
I believe in marriage and the value of communication. Years ago
we met, fell in love and chose this special someone to share our life with.
Our children were born out of that love.
After the death of our child, it becomes a greater challenge to keep
the lines of communication open. We know it requires time and effort
from both partners to work at keeping the marriage alive and healthy, but
how do we do it? Here are some suggestions:
1) Have you seen the movie “The Story of Us’ with Bruce Willis and Michelle
Pfeiffer? The Jordan family had a ritual every night going around
the dinner table telling each other what their own high and low was for
the day. Think back what happened during your day. What made
you smile and what made you sad? That is your high and low.
2) Read a grief book together—take turns reading a chapter each night.
Then discuss what you have read sharing what you agree and disagree with
what the author has written.
3) Schedule a meeting to tell each other what you need from one another.
If it is difficult to talk about your feelings—organize your thoughts first
onto paper, then set up a time for both of you to share face to face.
4) Make plans to go on a date once a week —it does not have to cost
a lot of money. Go to the Dairy Queen for an ice cream cone or go
for a walk around the neighborhood holding hands. No children, no
cell phones just the two of you without distractions.
5) Cry wrapped in each other’s arms. If this opportunity presents
itself—go with it. Tears are healing and wonderful to share with
someone who loves your child just as you do.
6) Take time to reminisce about how you first met and fell in love with
each other. Remember the funny and touching moments when you were
dating. Talk about the good times you have shared over the years
since the day you were married. Listen to the old songs, “your special
song” and dance holding each other close.
7) Do an anger exercise. Buy a large package of Styrofoam coffee
cups. On each cup, write one reason why you are angry. After
you have finished writing, go outside on the driveway or a hard surface.
Take turns reading one of the cups out loud and then stomp on the cup smashing
8) Talk about your child. Remember and laugh about the day
your child was born—their first step—their first day of school and all
of the other wonderful memories that no one can ever take from you.
9) This may sound so simple, but touch and hug each other. Tell
the other that you love them. Tell them why you love them.
This sounds so simple, but often we forget to touch each other, a squeeze
of the hand, an arm around the shoulder, a soft kiss.
10) Work together on a Memorial in memory of your child: a college scholarship
fund in your child’s name or plant a garden in memory of your child.
Develop an idea of your own and work together on it.
Oh, one last thing, be kind and love each other~
Susan Van Vleck – Marc’s mother
May 21, 1973 - July 18, 1992
TCF - Marietta, Georgia
Susan is also the author of “Men
and Women Grieve Differently” which was published in the May-June 2001
The new year comes when all the world is ready
for changes, resolutions - great beginnings.
For us, to whom that stroke of midnight means
a missing child remembered,
for us the new years comes
more like another darkness.
But let us not forget that this may be the year
when love and hope and courage
find each other somewhere in the darkness
to lift their voice and speak:
let there be light.
"The Sorrow and the Light" by Sascha
Tribute to My Sister
You always held within your heart a strength and purpose that
few others would have known. My success in life and joy I owe to
you for helping me along the way. In the eighteen years that I was
blessed to have you in my life, you taught me so many things. You
gave me new challenges, and a new place was created in my heart the day
you were born. You were there when I stumbled and fell, and you gently
helped me up again. Your little hand I held while rocking you to
sleep at times. At darker times it was you who held my hand, always
a beacon of light for me to focus on. And, always, when I needed
a friend, you were there.
Throughout the years you were always my family. You honored me
with your love and trust, and though different than you, always accepted
me just as I was. More than my own flesh and blood, you were my sister,
and I will always cherish the time we had together. We have laughed,
complained, and sometimes wept, but we always persevered. The good
times, the bad times, the joy and sorrow, will always bind our hearts as
long as I am able to draw my breath.
We traveled together for awhile and our journey was fulfilling, but
now our paths have diverged and we had to say goodbye. To my years
with you, I bid farewell. Ahead of me lies a life without you, a
new definition of myself. For all that I may someday become, you
will always be a part of me.
On some distant day, when something reminds me of you, I will lovingly
think of you and remember the smile you had. From time to time, I
will remember the years spent with you and what we have shared. I
will always miss your sweet voice and your unconditional support and endless
companionship. May we carry that beyond the grave.
For all the smiles and tears, for all of the love and laughter, and,
above all, for being the person that you were, I will carry you in my heart.
I will always, always love you.
Loving Memory of Ashley Marie Sockwell
Tuesday, January 31, 1978 to
Tuesday, October 22, 1996 (5:01 p.m.)
~from Lisa Sockwell Meredith, Snellville, GA
Only for a slight moment, the realization that this would never end.
All hope gone, and love-failed eternity.
We would never meet again, never touch, never smile, never love.
This, only for a second, this stabbing pain, this stinging tortured
For as distance allowed, it revealed to me a cocoon.
Broken and torn its case, a struggling beauty.
I was told that the delicate being must struggle or it would never fly.
It would fall.
But why must such sweet innocence tempt such fate, for its life was
destined to last such little time?
No such question is answered.
If out of such ugly pain comes such beauty
Therein lies the hope.
For if I wish to die, I must first emerge and live.
But if even for a second, my tear breaks the fall of a butterfly.
May I sleep and never wake.
by Rachel Fulton-Robb, Berkshire England
You will live in me always,
Your words, your touch, your heart,
your soul are all a part of me.
My heart is full of your memories.
My soul has been
Forever touched by you.
Thank you for the gift of your life.
I will never forget you.
From ANGEL CATCHER, by Kathy and Amy Eldon
TCF Atlanta Online
Dear Online Friends,
I am writing because I want your advice. I have been reading with much
interests the letters about planting gardens in honor of our children.
I am not much of a gardener, so unless a miracle happens, I probably won't
be planting a garden any time soon. But it was important to me to do something
in honor of my son Jamie. Jamie died two months after I sold our retail
business, with the big idea of starting a business from home on the internet.
His death tore a hole in my very existence, which you all can relate to.
So this business of mine is just beginning, almost a year and half later.
I have named it after Jamie's nickname. He was a very avid bicyclist,
riding three or four hundred miles a week. All the neighbors knew him,
as well as half the people in our county who saw him routinely on his bicycle.
Many folks referred to him as bikeboy and the internet screen name he chose
for himself was Georgia Bikeboy.
When I owned my retail store, Jamie was right there helping me run it
from the time he was thirteen years old. He loved that store so much. He
knew everyone in downtown Athens and all of our regular customers by name.
The womenfolk just loved him and usually wouldn't let anyone else wait
on them if he was there. When I decided to sell the store, it hurt him
deeply, but then the new owners asked him to stay on and help them get
situated (not me-him!)
He was so proud to be staying on with the store. But my plans were to
start a gift basket business from home and he felt like at least he would
be involved with me in that venture after the new owners didn't need him
anymore. He really loved owning a business, meeting people and going to
food shows, etc. The summer before Jamie died we went to the Fancy Food
Show in New York City. He was the happiest I had ever seen him. I am so
grateful that he had that experience.
Well I am making this story long. I have named my new business Georgia
Bikeboy Gourmet. Since my real specialty is candy making, I am creating
some gourmet food items that will help tie the name in with the products
offered such as Twelve speed truffles, Reflecters, Chain Links, etc. I
think this would make Jamie extremely proud.
But here is what I need help with. On my web page, I tell a brief story
about Jamie and his death and the fact that I have named the business for
him. I have had several people hinting around to the fact that it is a
turnoff. At least one person was honest enough to tell me to my face that
I overdid it and that some people would not order from me because I mixed
a sad story with a business web site.
I am remembering Jamie in a way that pleases me and I think would make
him proud. But I need feedback from other folks who plant gardens and do
remembrance web sites and write poetry for the same reasons. My feelings
are this--if I never get any business out of this web site, I don't really
care. I just need to know that for a while longer, my son lives on. Also,
I want to include a small tea light candle in every basket I sell with
a card that reads something like-"light a candle for someone you love today".
Is it unprofessional or too sentimental to take this step? Advice anyone?
Julie, Jamie's mom (Summer's mom too)
Georgia Bike Boy Web Site
“Sign of Hope” Memory Tree
To My TCF Family,
I thank you all deeply for the hard work and time you spent making the
memory tree so incredibly beautiful.
I went to the Festival of Trees today and just stood before the tree
and cried. I know people walking by didn't understand just how precious
that tree is and why this woman was standing there crying, but I knew why.
A little part of my darling Amanda was there on that tree, put there by
the love of all of you who worked so hard. I thank you all so very
To Everyone who helped with the Memory Tree:
I just finished visiting the website. The trees are absolutely
beautiful!!!! As I sit here and the tears are flowing, I cannot thank
all of you enough for the wonderful job you did on the tree. Your
and your time given so freely show through. The time and effort
you all put into making this memorial tree is simply fantastic. The
colors and the ornaments give me such a feeling of comfort and peace.
They are so soft and soothing.
I know our children are smiling, as they look down at your gift to them.
My son Shawn-Bert wasn't exactly a "holiday" kind-of-guy, but I can just
see him smiling that beautiful smile of his and saying to all of you......."Cool"!!!!
THANK YOU!!!! You have made my holiday a little easier to bear
and I can now bring that picture of the tree to my mind as I try to make
it through another Christmas without my son.
You will never know the extent of the comfort and help this sharing
line has given to me. I am unable to travel there to actually SEE
the tree, as I live in Aurora, Colorado. So being able to see the
pictures over the net has been wonderful. Without this group, I would
be lost and totally confused. Now!! I sort of have a map and
am just a little less confused.
The love you extend to me in making this group available to me and so
many others who miss our sons and daughters is no small treasure!!
It is enormous to me as it slowly, ever so slowly makes this grief journey
of mine manageable. Now after 3 years, without my Shawn-Bert, I am
able to look to tomorrow with a smile on my face along with my tears and
to work at healing my broken heart.
Love and Hugs to You,
May our Creator, the Great Spirit
send to you, on eagles wings,
Peace and Comfort in your tasks
Shawn-Bert's mom (Forever 26)
Every year I try to find something with some meaning to it
as the new year comes along - something to focus on, some thing that makes
some sense to me and helps me to find some thinking on a new track as I
continue to try to live in this upside down world. This
poem was on a bookmark and I thought the words were really good.
To live content with small means;
to seek elegance
rather than luxury,
rather than fashion;
be worthy, not respectable
and wealthy, not rich;
to gently, act frankly;
to listen to stars and birds
study hard, think quietly
talk to babes and sages;
with an open heart;
to hear all cheerfully,
do all bravely,
await occasions, hurry never.
In a word, to let
spiritual, unbidden and
unconscious grow up,
through the commonplace.
This is to be
by William Henry Channing - 1810-1884
shared by Meg Avery
mom (7/15/83 ~ 9/22/97)
A Boy Named John
by Aaron Espy
As both an EMT trainer and TCF supporter, I instruct fire fighters
on how be sensitive to the needs of bereaved moms and dads. Patiently and
graciously, bereaved parents have taught me, so that I may teach my fellow
fire fighters. As I share what I've learned, I continue to see my peers
reveal misconceptions about what it means to lose a child.
Oddly enough, though, as I talk to bereaved parents I find many of them
also have misunderstandings, particularly about what a fire fighter feels
as he does his or her job. One such assumption I've heard on multiple occasions
is that rescue personnel must develop an immunity to sorrow. A woman once
commented to me, "You must get used to it."
When an infant or child dies, do we view the tragedy as just another
unpleasant aspect of our profession? As something that falls into the category
of "all in a day's work?" Believe me, the death of a child is never routine
in the 911 world. Frequent? Sadly, yes. But routine? Never.
He was a typical eleven-year old boy, mischievous, active, full of life.
The crew of Station 11 got used to seeing John pedal his bike down the
highway beside our station. He'd always wave, and occasionally he'd pump
his bike up our driveway, park it in front of the bay doors, march up to
the office and ask for a tour.
Now you must understand that when a child asks to see the fire engines,
a firefighter's memory automatically spirits him back to his own childhood
when fire engines seemed twenty feet tall, and the fire fighters who drove
them seemed to stand even taller. Not surprisingly, the guys couldn't resist
John's request, and, depending on how many other projects they had going,
would either let him leisurely explore the rigs, or, if time was short,
give him the abbreviated tour version. A soda and a cookie would usually
follow, along with a lecture about traffic safety and bicycle helmets as
he skipped out the door.
Two years ago we saw him as just another little boy. As another little
guy who loved blazing lights, blaring sirens, racing fire trucks and medic
units. A kid who would probably lose his fascination with fire fighters
and fire engines like ninety-five percent of all kids do when they hit
their mid-teens. Of course, the other five percent of us never outgrow
that fascination. We'll never know which category John would have fallen
It was the highway beside our station that claimed him. A momentary
loss of balance, a car in the wrong place at the wrong time, and two minutes
later an alarm ringing through our station loudspeaker: "Station eleven,
car-bicycle accident, 6100 Braven Road." The first-arriving crew recognized
the bike before their engine had come to a stop.
I've heard bereaved parents torture themselves by playing the maddening
"if only" game. Sometimes, so do we. If only we'd been closer, if only
we'd been there sooner. But on that October day in 1994, there were no
"if only's" for Station 11. The accident happened only two blocks away.
The crew was in quarters and responded immediately, and a paramedic
widely believed to be the best in the county, maybe even the state, at
dealing with traumatic accidents was at John's side in minutes. The men
who had given him multiple tours and countless cookies fought efficiently,
fervently, but in spite of their best efforts, John did not survive.
When an especially tragic circumstance is shared by fire fighters, the
firehouse is not unlike any other home during a stressful time. The hall
is unusually quiet, the laughter is gone, and some of us are angry without
knowing who we should be angry at. Station 11 was no different when John
died. The loss of a child knocks the wind out of a fire fighter like an
unexpected punch in the stomach. We know it is inevitable in our field.
Exposure to this pain is a purposeful, deliberate, open-eyed risk we take
when we are sworn to protect life and property. Yet it hurts, just the
Dozens of kids come through our firehouse doors on their trek to adulthood.
When a child's journey is cut short, like it was for John, do fire fighters
remember? Are they touched? I can't speak for every fire department in
every state or city, but I can speak for the crew of Station 11.
At his family's request, Station 11 fire fighters put John on his favorite
fire engine one final time. His casket was hoisted through the misting
rain to a place of honor, and in a tradition usually reserved for fallen
firefighters, he took his final ride in the hose bed of the 38,000 pound,
rumbling red and chrome diesel. He rested just a few feet from the seat
where he loved to sit and pretend that he was responding to a call. His
soda dispensing, blue uniformed fire fighter friends sat in the engine's
front seat as it carried him from the funeral home to the cemetery.
Was John just another patient? The crew at station 11 has responded
to thousands of people in need, but only one of them has his picture hanging
on the station's office wall. He looks down on us from behind his square,
black-rimmed glasses and smiles the same crooked half-smile that would
spread across his face when he'd con us out of a Pepsi and a peanut butter
No, John wasn't just another patient. But neither is any other child
we lose. Their picture may not hang on a firehouse wall. They may not have
ridden to their final resting place atop a fire engine with lights flashing,
like John did. But every child occupies a place in a fire fighter's memory,
dances through his thoughts, does cartwheels through his quiet moments,
or watches from the hidden corners of his deepest dreams.
No, we don't forget. And no, we never, ever "get used to it."
Hurtful Things People Say…..
The thoughtless things that the non-bereaved say...couldn't
we all write a book? It seems that even if we give them information
and literature and our first-hand knowledge of it, they have such
a mind set already. I think it has just been too long that the general
public has had timetables and the cliches of grief drilled into their
heads. We've heard them all and it appears to be universal: "It was
God's Will," "She is in a better place," "It was her time," (geez, I hate
that one! For those of us who have lost our children, it is never
enough time!), "At least she didn't suffer," on and on and on and
on! Or regarding timetables, "It has been two months. Shouldn't you be
over this yet?" (comment made from my supervisor at work) Makes my blood
boil every time I think about that one! This was my daughter who died....not
I think that we all find as time goes on, in my case it has been six
years since Nina died, that we are able to cut these people some slack.
We know that it is either their blessed ignorance because they haven't
been there or they just don't know what to say. I think most people
mean well; they don't want us to hurt anymore. The one thing I have
told people who tell me that they just don't know what to say, that
sometimes that honesty is the best approach. Just say, "I really
don't know what to say, but I am so sorry for your loss." A simple
heartfelt "I am sorry" or "I am thinking of you" along with a warm
embrace, if you are comfortable with that, is all that needs to be
I wish I could find where I read it, but one bereaved mother wrote something
like, "I will never get over it...not in nine months, not in nine years,
not in 900." It is not that the pain remains at the same intensity
as in the early years. No one could survive that kind of unbearable
pain. It becomes something that we learn to live with...it is there
but it is gentler; it loses some of the sting. After all, we love
our children so much...I think Darcie Sims said, "Grief is the price
we pay for love." And, oh how we love them!
Cathy Seehuetter, Mother to Angel Nina St. Paul, MN
~reprinted from TCF Atlanta Online Sharing
~And can it be that in a world so full and busy, the loss of one weak
creature makes a void in any heart, so wide and deep that nothing but
width and depth of eternity can fill it up!
The Holidays are Behind Us
It is the new year. The holidays are behind us. We did with
them what we could. Whether they were a time of sorrow, a time of joy,
or a combination of both, they are now a part of our memories. In a strange
way, as a memory in our hearts and in our minds, our child's place is there
among all the other memories of the season. There is hurt along with the
memory, but also a thankfulness for the memory.
Now we look out at the winter landscape. The earth is cold, the land
sharply defined. Yet underneath the hard crust, the energy and warmth of
our earth is guarding and providing life to all that grows. We may personally
know the coldness and hardness of a grief so fresh that we feel numb -
a grief so hurtful that our body feels physically hard, our throats tight
from tears shed or unshed, our chests banded tightly by our mourning
If we are not now experiencing this, our memories recollect so easily
those early days. Yet, as we live these days, like the earth from which
we receive our sustenance, we too, in our searchings, find places of warmth
and change and love and growth deep within. Let our hearts and minds dwell
in these places and be armed and renewed by them, and let us have the courage
and love to share them with our loved ones, to talk about even that first
dim shape of new hope or of
new acceptance or of new understanding or of new love.
These are the new roots, born of our love for our child, that are forming
and stirring within, gathering strength so that our lives, at the right
time, can blossom once again and be fruitful in a new and deep way.
~Marie Andres TCF So. MD Chap., MD
Another poem written now that Christmas is over.
Now that the holidays are over
All the presents put away
The brave face that I put on
I can now toss away.
I surround my self in memories
That had been neatly put away
And allow myself to feel
What I couldn't this holiday
The grief is overwhelming
The tears they freely flow
And I really feel the sadness
Of how I miss you so.
Mom to Ashley 6/29/99 - 10/11/01
A Love Story
Once upon a time, there was an island where all the feelings
lived: Happiness, Sadness, Knowledge, and all of the others including Love.
One day it was announced to the feelings that the island would sink, so
all repaired their boats and left. Love wanted to persevere until the last
possible moment. When the island was almost sinking, Love decided to ask
for help. Richness was passing by Love in a grand boat. Love said, "Richness,
can you take me with you?"
Richness answered, "No, I can't. There is a lot of gold and silver in
my boat. There is no place here for you."
Love decided to ask Vanity who was also passing by in a beautiful vessel,
"Vanity, please help me!" "I can't help you Love. You are all wet and might
damage my boat." Vanity answered.
Sadness was close by so Love asked for help, "Sadness, let me go with
you." "Oh....Love, I am so sad that I need to be by myself!"
Happiness passed by Love too, but she was so happy that she did not
even hear when Love called her!
Suddenly, there was a voice, "Come Love, I will take you." It
was an elder. Love felt so blessed and overjoyed that he even forgot to
ask the elder his name. When they arrived at dry land, the elder went his
own way. Love realizing how much he owed the elder and asked Knowledge,
another elder, "Who helped me?"
"It was Time," Knowledge answered.
"Time?" asked Love. "But why did Time help me?"
Knowledge smiled with deep wisdom and answered, "Because, only Time
is capable of understanding how great Love is."
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