When my four-year-old son Daniel died, I grieved my own loss, and for my other children. My daughter Rachel was only six at the time. With her brother’s death, she lost her best friend. As I was thrown into the pit of grief, I looked at this small girl and my spirit was crushed. Her life is over. She’ll never have a chance to success or happiness, I thought.
The years went by, Rachel grew older, and the harsh raw emotions of losing Daniel subsided. Rachel was in high school and looking forward to college. The day she wanted a tattoo with her deceased brother’s initials came as a surprise to me. Not that she wanted a tattoo, but that she wanted Daniel’s memory in ink on her back.
How silly of me to think that grief had left her. My eyes opened. This child, like me, had a hole in her heart from the death of her brother. Hadn’t all the books on grief warned me that siblings who have lost a brother or sister are often the forgotten mourners? Yet, for some reason, I felt the impact of Daniel’s death had not continued to touch her life all these years later.
And then one day, she talked to me about the early years without her brother. She wished we’d talked about his cancer death more. She had had fears. Sleeping had been difficult. She was grateful we spent time at his grave, the cemetery we affectionately called Daniel’s Place.
Being only six years old at the time of his death, she wished she could recall more. Watching the old VHS tapes of him and of her other siblings helped her to remember. The younger two—Ben and Liz—had each other, only eighteen months apart in age, and five and six years younger than she. She longed for her sibling companion of just two years younger to fill that gap. She dreamed once that Daniel had come back and how exceptional that dream was to her.
I felt she’d suffered enough from Daniel’s death, but as time progressed, there was more heartache for Rachel. Depression and anxiety run in the family history. After a series of poor choices and much drama, Rachel had to come to terms with the reality that she needed to take care of her mental health. With professional help, she has been able to maintain that goal. Yet, each day is a struggle.
One of her ways of coping is through art. Out of her talent, she made a huge poster for me, full of color, captivating a heart. I marvel at her work and designed a postcard from it. The result is a thank-you card with the words, “A grateful heart dances.” On the back the words “Thank You!” are printed.
I am grateful, and my heart does dance. The works of art that stem from a broken heart will always be priceless to me.
“Your heart has brought great joy to many. Those hearts can never forget you.” ~ Flavia Weeden
~ Alice J. Wisler is the author of five novels and a grief-writing instructor. Her book, How to Wake up in the Morning: Reflections of Comfort in Heartache, will be published spring 2013 by Leafwood. View Rachel’s cards at her website: http://www.alicewisler.com