After my son Scott and his cousin Matthew were burned to death in an automobile accident, I found the holidays to be extremely difficult. Anticipation of upcoming celebrations were often more difficult than the actual day. During those early years, holidays that used to be a time of joy and celebration filled me with regrets and memories of what I had lost. That first Thanksgiving and Christmas, I wanted to just hunker down in my bed and pull the covers over my head. However, I had family obligations, a husband and three daughters. Ignoring the days was not an option, so I just muddled through.
As the years have passed, I have again learned to enjoy celebrations and have received and given many gifts. One of the best gifts I received this year was at my friend Barbara’s birthday party, held at a pottery-making center in upstate New York.
Each guest was challenged to create a piece of pottery. During the process of working on my project, we discussed the joys and frustrations of the process. It seems that when potters are ready to fire their creation, they often make a mistake. The heat in the kiln can be too intense or the piece may be left in too long, like an overcooked birthday cake.
Frustrated with what they thought was ruined, the potters pull the piece out of the oven and rather than destroying their creation, they find a surprisingly beautiful result. Potters call it “The Gift of The Fire.”
As I reflected on this story, I thought about Matthew and Scott. I realized that I had missed their gift to me, “The Gift of The Fire.” Okay, you may say; this is really making lemonade out of lemons, but I and others who have suffered loss know that while our tragedies may define us, they do not destroy us.
In fact, over time, our losses can be catalysts for life changing direction, inspired by the spirit of those who have died tragically. My daughter Heidi and I have received the gift of interviewing thousands of amazing people who have found “The Gift of the Fire” through our foundation on Open to Hope radio and Open to Hope Television. I want to mention just a few of these people with the hope that their journeys will inspire you as they have inspired us. The full interviews can be found on our website at www.opentohope.com.
• Candy Lightner, who started Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) after her daughter, Carry, was hit and killed by a drunk driver. MADD has been a huge force in changing laws and saving lives.
• Michelle Neff Hernandez, who as a result of her husband’s death, started Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation to provide a unique peer-based support community for those who are widowed.
• Eric Hipple, past quarterback of the Detroit Lyons, whose 15-year-old son, Jeff, suffering from depression, took his own life. As a result of Jeff’s death, Eric educated himself on depression and has become the outreach coordinator for the University of Michigan Depression Center.
• Stevie and Susan Esposito, mother/daughter of Billy who was working for Cantor Fitzgerald in the World Trade Center when it was attacked on 9/11. In his memory, the family started “A Caring Hand: the Billy Esposito Foundation” to provide educational opportunities and counseling to those who have lost a parent.
• Reg Green raised awareness of organ donation in Italy after his son Nicholas was killed by highway robbers. Because of the family’s gift of their son’s organs, seven Italians were recipients and Italy’s organ donations quadrupled with thousands of people benefiting.
• Craig and Darryl Scott who as a result of their sister/daughter Rachael’s death in the Columbine Colorado school massacre, started Rachael’s Challenge, bringing an anti-bullying message to schools around the world.
• Patricia Loder, whose children Steven and Stephanie were killed in a motorcycle-car collision, went on to become the Executive Director of The Compassionate Friends, the largest support group for bereaved parents, grandparents and siblings in the world.
• Bonnie Carroll, who founded Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) following the death of her husband, Brigadier General Tom Carroll, in an Army C-12 plane crash. TAPS provides services, resources and information, for all those affected by the death of a loved one serving in, or in support of, the armed forces.
These are of course dramatic cases, but you don’t have to do major initiatives in order to begin to find the “Gift of the Fire” during this holiday season. If you have had a major challenge in your life, I suggest you start by giving yourself the gift of introspection. If you are early in your loss, give others the gift of service by simply letting them be of service to you. Later you can return the gift of service to others.
Please let me know of your losses, how you are coping and what “The Gift of the Fire” has meant to you.
Gloria Horsley 2012