The lower level of our house gets lots of use, especially in the winter time. We watch television there and work in our home office. Fourteen years ago, we had new carpet installed and it had become worn and dirty. “Sorry, I can’t get it any cleaner,” the cleaning man said, and I believed him. It was time to install new carpet again.

Before the crew arrived, we had to clear out closets and cull legal papers. In 2007, four family members died and we took in items from three estates. My husband was managing these estates and the paperwork was incredible. The office floor was covered with cardboard file boxes filled with legal documents and tax returns.

During the sorting process, my husband came across our deceased daughter’s purse, a large black purse filled with items that represented her life. Her wallet. Her make-up kit. Medication. A pack of gum. Work keys. One by one, he removed the items from her purse and showed them to me. I began to cry. “This is so sad,” I sniffed.

Four years had passed since my daughter died and I was living a new life. Finding the purse tugged me back to my former life, a life I shared with my daughter and her twins. Thanks to years of grief work, I felt whole again and thought I was past tears. I was wrong.

Finding my daughter’s purse opened a Pandora’s Box of memories. I remembered graduations, two weddings, the birth of her twins, the jobs she held, and her hopes for the future. Unfortunately, I also remembered the day she died of blunt force trauma sustained in a car crash. I remembered the day the twin’s father died of the injuries he sustained in another car crash. Had I gone backwards on the recovery path?

The answer is “no.” I was a normal person with normal feelings. According to a Cigna Behavioral Health website article, “When a Loved One Dies,” the grief we feel after a loved one dies “will always be there.” This has been true for me and may be true for you. Yet we learn to live with loss and move forward with our lives.

According to “Managing Your Grief,” an article on the Grief Healing website, mourners need to identify people, groups and activities that can become a personal support system. “Write down each potential source of support,” including their name, telephone number, and address, so you’ll have them handy when you need them,” the article advises.

I followed this advice, created a strong support system, and more important, used it. Though I feel whole again, I also feel like parts of me have been re-shuffled. For example, I was empathetic before and am more empathetic now. Judy Tatelbaum, in her book, “The Courage to Grieve,” says facing loss can cause us to revise our sense of self. “Such changes may be essential for us to restore our lives and continue living,” she writes.

Today, I have a new life and am living it to the fullest. The tears I shed were prompted by memories and the love I still have for my daughter. The purse is gone and love remains.

Copyright 2011 by Harriet Hodgson

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Harriet Hodgson

Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 38 years, is the author of 36 books, and thousands of print/Internet articles. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. In 2007 four of her family members died—her daughter (mother of her twin grandchildren), father-in-law, brother (and only sibling), and the twins’ father. Multiple losses shifted the focus of Hodgson’s work from general health to grief resolution and recovery, and she is the author of eight grief resources. Hodgson has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, dozens of blog talk radio programs, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. In addition to writing for Open to Hope, Hodgson is a contributing writer for The Grief Toolbox website, and The Caregiver Space website. A popular speaker, she has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, hospice, grief, and caregiving conferences. Hodgson’s work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. For more information about this busy wife, grandmother, author and family caregiver, please visit www.harriethodgson.com.

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