Have you ever had an unseen boarder that caused emotional turmoil, penetrating all of your carefully closeted borders and refusing to leave?

Only recently did I recognize unresolved grief as an emotional boarder that relentlessly hung on for too many years.  Now that I am nearing life’s sunset, some of my daily patterns have begun to be more clearly understood.

It wasn’t until my Aunt Stella died that the grief I felt from losing my mother had never really been resolved.

Mother had passed away three months before Aunt Stella’s death, having fought a courageous battle against a rare form of cancer.  She was 72 and had enjoyed a full life prior to the onset of her disease.

At the time of her death, we had four children and in my concern for their well-being, and in an attempt to minimize their loss, I must have buried my own grief.

I was unaware of this until I bent over Aunt Stella’s casket to say a final goodbye.  Seeing her lying there in her burial clothes caused an unexpected and immediate surge of sadness so intense that I ran sobbing from the mortuary.

When I was able to contemplate this unexpected outburst, I realized that the sorrow I felt at Mom’s death had never been resolved and surged forth when triggered by seeing the body of my aunt.

An even more startling incident occurred years after my sorrow at losing my mother had resurfaced.

When I was four, my mother gave birth to her first son—a little brother for me to love.  Since I was an only child, this was an especially exciting event.  Little Thomas was born in our home after a difficult labor and he did not live.  I saw him, swathed in blankets, only briefly, but was well aware of my mother’s tears, as she knew the unbearable sadness at the loss of her baby.

My father and grandfather, in our dismal basement, fashioned a tiny casket and baby brother was tenderly placed in it and borne to his miniature grave in our local cemetery.

I was too young to understand the full impact of the loss of this little guy, but not too young to feel the sorrow that encompassed our home.  I dealt with it, by finding a discarded aspirin bottle, filling it with water and stuffing in freshly picked violets. I carried it to my mother’s bedside.  She smiled, as tears filled her eyes and she thanked me.

Over 50 years had passed since my brother’s death, when our young friends lost their first-born son at birth.  I attended the graveside service, feeling sorrow at their loss, but not suspecting that it would personally impact me.  Shockingly and much to my chagrin, I felt such an uncontrollable rush of sorrow that I ducked out and stumbled to my car.  I managed to drive a short distance and parked out of view.  There I huddled, sobbing, for several minutes.

It was only later that I realized that grief had lingered and lodged within my heart (as a boarder) and having no set borders, had emerged, uninvited, once again.

We all tend to harbor boarders without borders.  They are sneaky—hiding without our knowledge; but ever present, waiting to seek release.  They come forth at unexpected moments when triggered by one of life’s events.  Sometimes a poem, a song, or even an aroma can act as a trigger to release pent-up emotions that seek expression.  It is to our benefit to welcome their release and know it is our soul’s way of making peace with our sorrow.

Joan Haskins 2011

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Joan Haskins

Joan Horsley Haskins, BS, MSW, CSW, lives in Salt Lake City Utah and has four children and eight grandchildren. She is the author of five published books, including The Miracle of The Ivy: A True Tale of Comfort for Times of Loss. Joan writes for the Kern County Family Magazine and for Kids’ Reading Room at the L.A. Times. She is a time management and organization consultant and has her own non-profit organization, Greatest Gift, to help prevent child abuse. The proceeds of Joan’s books go to helping orphans in Rwanda gain an education, she has lectured and taught many subjects. In 2009 Joan’s son Rick had a school built in a village in Ghana and had it dedicated and named in honor of his parents, Joan and Richard.

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