A Grateful Heart Dances: Viewing a Daughter’s Loss

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

Alice Wisler

More Articles Written by Alice

Alice J. Wisler, founder of a grief-support organization, Daniel’s House Publications, is a full-time writer and author of contemporary novels. In 1997, her four-year-old son Daniel died from cancer treatments. Since then, her writing focus has been on how to help others in grief. She gives Writing the Heartache workshops across the country. Through her organization, she designs and sells comfort cards/remembrance cards and at her Carved By Heart imprint, carves personalized remembrance plaques. When she isn't writing or speaking, she is promoting her novels---Rain Song (2008), How Sweet It Is (2009), Hatteras Girl (2010), A Wedding Invitation (2011), and Still Life in Shadows (2012). Her devotional, Getting Out of Bed in the Morining, offers comfort and purpose for those dealing with grief and loss. Her cookbooks of memory---Down the Cereal Aisle, Memories Around the Table, and Slices of Sunlight, contain stories of food and memories of children who have died. In 2009, Alice married Carl in Las Vegas, and they live with her three children in Durham, NC. To Listen to Alice's Radio show To learn more about Alice visit her website: http://www.alicewisler.com and go to her blogs: http://www.alicewisler.blogspot.com and http://www.writingtheheartache.blogspot.com/


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  • Keri Bishop says:


    We have just lost our beautiful 16 year old daughter, Becky. She lost her battle over cancer. We have 3 children, Ben 12, Sitha 9 and Adam whose 4. I’m so worried about them especially Sitha. She is so quiet and I don’t know how to reach her. Do you have any ideas?


  • I hate that you have to join us on this rocky bereavement journey . . . My heart goes out to you and to your children as you long for and miss Becky. I know all about the awful pain, the confusion, and the agony.

    One of the things that helped my daughter Rachel was a program called Reflections, run by the local hospice. For about five weeks, she would meet in a group setting with kids who had also experienced recent loss. Check to see if there are any programs in your area like this. She also went to a weekend camp—free of charge. This camp has a program for siblings who have lost a sibling to cancer and it is in SC. Both of these programs helped Rachel to open up and bond with kids her age. She was able to express her love for her brother through crafts and music.

    Does Sitha like to read? A book on sibling loss might be something that would benefit her. Also, if all of you could do something together as a family in memory of your daughter—a balloon release, volunteering at a cancer benefit, etc.—–that might also provide some solace and freedom to talk about how much each of you miss Becky.

    This journey is a tough one, don’t let anyone tell you any differently or try to make you feel you should be “back to normal” after a few months. Feel free to email me @ [email protected] any time.

  • Amy Burgess says:

    On May 22, 2012 I lost my 17 Daughter in a house fire. I cant seem to stop crying. Every time the phone rings I pray that it was all a dream and I am going to hear her voice saying “Hi Momma” on the other line. My family has tried to support me during this time but they are unable to put aside their differences with my husband to help me through this so I had to step away and do this on my own. My heart aches so bad and I miss her so much. I have 3 other kids and I dont know how to help them through this HECK I don’t even know how I am going to get through this. I feel all alone and don’t know what to do or if what I am doing is right. My daughter was such a good girl. She was student of the year, always putting the needs of others ahead of her own, loved god so much and always was looking for ways to get closer to him. I have tried to stay positive but it still hurts not having her anymore. I have felt every emotion there is to feel and think I have invented new ones ( anger, sadness, loneliness, sorrow, agony, guilt) I cant sleep anymore and haven’t been able to eat at times. I have tried to return to my normal daily routine and my heart just isn’t into it anymore. I have prayed and cried, I just want to know how long is it going to hurt like this and does life go on? Does it get easier? How can I make things better? Will I ever be able to be happy again? How can I help my other children ages 6yrs, 10 yrs, and 14 yrs? What is normal? How am I supposed to be feeling? What have I done wrong? Could I have done anything to be a better mother for her.? Am I a good mother for my other kids? each new question triggering more questions? I just need answers? This is a pain that no amount of pain killers can heal?

  • Alice Wisler says:

    It is a tough journey. The only way to get through it is one day at a time.

    My heart goes out to you in your anguish. I have been there in the dark pit. It does get better. One step at a time. I hope you can find friends to support and love you.