My gramma’s grief over the loss of her only child devoured me! To see and hear her wailing and knowing she couldn’t stop was heartbreaking and frightening. Her sadness, and my inability to do anything about it grieved me, possibly as much as the grief I felt for the loss of my mother. I was eleven years old and my mother and grandmother had always been my emotional haven. I felt totally alone!
I recalled the words of my uncle on the night my mother died. His reminder that I must ‘be strong for my grandmother because now I was all she had’ rested in the center of my heart and I dearly believed that what he said was true. I promised myself that I would not only be strong for her, I would be good and do all I could to cheer her. My second promise to myself was not to cry or be sad in front of her. Little girls just don’t know, do they?
Because I needed someplace to go, I would crawl into the closet and bury myself deep among my mother’s clothes. In this quiet, dark sanctuary I could be with her, smell her, remember her and even feel a bit of comfort. This was the only place I knew where I could allow the quiet sobs to release… sobs that I could no longer control.
With this being the fabric of my strongest childhood memory, how could I have ever predicted or prepared for what would happen when I became a mother? The words of my son’s automobile accident and instant death pierced my heart with an intensity that overwhelmed even the words of my mother’s death.
Flying back to Iowa, my mind flashed back to scenes and scenarios of Dave as a baby, and a fun-loving toddler. I even remembered the shirt he wore to his first seventh grade dance. In my mind I saw his face everywhere and knew at the same time that I would never see it again. Then my thoughts were with Dave’s two small children. Anna was three and Andy was twenty-two months. Was there any possible way to help them in ways no one had known to help me?
Upon landing, I went immediately to the children and their mother. Anna was quiet, no usual smiles and she only spoke in a quiet voice to tell me that her tummy wouldn’t stop hurting. Andy kept saying, “Daddy’s at work! Daddy’s at work!” Anna turned to him and in a loud voice cried out, “NO, Andy! Daddy’s not at work. Daddy died just like Shuka died!” (Their dog had been hit by a car the week before.)
Thoughts of my childhood loss came flooding back and I prayed to know of something to do or say to help these precious children who were grieving in their own ways.
All of a sudden a thought came to me. Writing had been my salvation as I was growing up. I kept a diary or journal much of my life and as a first grade teacher I had integrated each child’s personal stories into the reading process. A child would sit with me and tell any story he or she wished to share. I would write the story and they could see that reading was simply talking on paper. I called them “Talk-a-Stories” and the children loved them.
I would try a Talk-a-Story with Anna. She was highly verbal for her three years. We sat together at the big kitchen table. I told her we were going to do a story about Daddy and when we finished, her tummy might feel better. (Please know those words were only based on a prayerful hunch.) She was excited to do this, and I started by saying , “Tell me everything you remember about Daddy!”
She started telling one thing and then another about her daddy. I wrote as fast as I could and suddenly she stopped and said, “That’s all!” After exchanging a few words, she ran outside to her swing set. Within two minutes, she was back and saying, “There’s more!” She remembered one thing and then another. I wrote every word just as she said it. When she was finished, the only editing I did was to put sentences that talked about the same thing (example: her reference to daddy and cooking) together. Otherwise, the story is just as she told it. I share Anna’s story with you:
Anna’s Talk-a-Story, at the age of three years and three months, as told to her Grammie Sharon:
“I remember Daddy. He always called me Sugarfoot!” I remember the fun things I liked to do with him. I liked to go to Edmunson Park with Daddy. We played on the swings and went on the merry-go-round. When it stopped we went to the horsies or the slide. Dad would watch us and he laughed. One time he took Andy and me down the BIG, BIG (words exaggerated) slide. When we went down, down, Daddy said, ‘WHEE-EE-EE.”
“At home, me and Daddy and Andy sat and read books. Daddy read books and then we ate supper. Daddy cooked me good things to eat. He cooked vegetable soup and meat loaf too. At Christmas time, when I was two, Daddy and me dipped pretzels.”
“Daddy took me swimming at the Y and at the motel. We had lots of fun. When we were at the motel, I almost missed the step and fell in the water. It was fun.”
(Anna is pensive and quiet…deep in thought and then she continues): “I remember about Daddy.”
“Andy used to put his toys on the heater and Daddy would say, ‘No, No’! (Anna quotes Daddy’s ‘no-no’ imitating a soft, gentle tone.)
“When we would come home, Daddy would always call, “IS ANYBODY HOME?” (She uses a lyrical voice, imitating Dave’s tone.)
“Andy asks, ‘When’s Daddy coming back?’ I tell him, ‘Daddy got killed. Daddy died just like Shuka died. They both got killed.” Andy says, “No sir. Daddy’s at work.” She looks over at Andy and says, “Andy, I wish he would come home too. I would like to do the fun things I used to do with Daddy.”
As I stood at the door, ready to go back to town that evening, I realized that my own familiar, childhood ache that I felt inside…the ache that Anna was trying to describe, had started to subside. Anna wasn’t talking about a tummy ache either. And the next thing that happened was something that I was sure was making the angels smile.
Beautiful little Anna pulled a chair up to the kitchen table across from where Andy was sitting. She had a pencil and paper in front of her as she said, “Okay, Andy, tell me EVERYTHING you remember about Daddy.”
Sharon Greenlee 2011