Lifelines can rescue you after the death of a loved one. I understand this firsthand. Why? Because my thirteen-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, was treated for one year for a rare pediatric bone cancer, and despite her valiant battle, she died in my arms 365 days after her diagnosis. After Elizabeth’s death, I nearly drowned in grief.

My first lifeline was tossed out to me by family and friends. They held me, comforted me, brought me meals, and sometimes simply sat by my side listening to my keening cries. They drove me to appointments when I was too weak to drive, walked with me along woodland trails and along shorelines.

I began to feel the ground under my feet rather than the shifting sands of uncertainty.

Writing, Walking Brings Relief

Another lifeline was writing in a journal, a practice that I began as I sat by Elizabeth’s bedside during her yearlong illness. I wrote of my hopes and dreams and my fears and anxieties, about the days in the hospital and my fright at night. And after Elizabeth’s death, I wrote about my daily struggles, about being a parent to my surviving older daughter Olivia and how we grieved together and grieved apart, about unexpected events that set me back, and surprises that brought me a whisper of relief.

I also discovered lifelines on solitary walks in the woods, during kayaking on a still lake in the early morning light, and while watching a thicket of stars twinkle at night. More than ever before, I was drawn to the beauty of the natural world, the frosty edges of a stream on a winter’s day, the golden light of a late fall day, the ferns as they unfurled in the spring, and the moon’s light that cast shadows over a landscape of snow.

Being in the natural world was a soothing balm to me.

What other lifelines did I find?

On the first anniversary of Elizabeth’s death, my friend Lisa brought a van full of shrubs, roses, and groundcover to my house. With the help of two strong men and my daughter Olivia, we dug up overgrown yews and errant roots and rocks. We added soil and fertilizer and made a fertile garden bed.

Then we planted the white foam roses, verdant boxwood, and the purple-flowering groundcover, myrtle. Instead of being overwhelmed by grief on the first anniversary of Elizabeth’s death, my family and friends worked with me to make a beautiful new garden. Being with them and creating a garden of beauty restored me.

What else did I discover? Several years after my daughter’s death, I brought home an eight-week-old puppy. We named him Charlie. He greeted Olivia and me at the door with wild enthusiasm, woke us up each morning, cuddled with us at night. He was always ready to play, yet he knew how to be quiet and be by our side when we felt sad.

In times like these, his steady presence was soothing.

Work Can Be a Lifeline

Unbeknownst to me, my return to work became a lifeline too. My colleagues welcomed me back warmly. I had a separate identity in the workplace—not as a bereaved mother, but as a woman engaged in her career, seeing possibilities for my future development and growth.

And what happened in time? These lifelines brought me more and more relief from my grief; they brought me the promise that spring would follow the wrenching winter of my despair; they brought me comfort in the arms of loved ones. Woven together, they gave me hope. Hope that I would survive my grief, hope that I could hold my sadness while still finding joy in life, and hope that I could survive after Elizabeth’s death and slowly find meaning in life again. Lifelines saved me.

 

 

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Faith Wilcox

I had a journey from shock and fear at my young daughter’s cancer diagnosis to anguish and despair at her death just a year later, and finally to peace and acceptance of my new life. When my thirteen-year-old Elizabeth was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer, I was in awe of my courageous child, who faced her plight straight on and inspired all who met her. Despite an army of medical professionals who provided innovative care for Elizabeth, she died, and I and my surviving daughter, Olivia, were thrown into a maelstrom of grief, yet we found unexpected comfort in the arms of our family, friends, and community. I faced another shock when I had my own cancer diagnosis while navigating the uncharted waters of a life I never expected. In time, I discovered moments and places of comfort and peace, and I slowly changed from a mother in despair to a woman with hope for the future. At turns, heartbreaking and heartwarming, my story reveals how abiding love can heal a family.

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