By Diana Doyle —

Until the year 2000, my life resembled a fairy tale.  I had a loving family, husband and an adorable two-year-old daughter.  Over the next three years, what seemed impossible back then, happened to me.

I lost three of the most important people in my life. My sister was killed in a car accident, leaving four little ones motherless; my mother was diagnosed and succumbed to ovarian cancer; and, most inconceivably, my previously healthy daughter, Savannah, died from a rare genetic disease.

Although each death was different, the tsunami of emotions was similar.  I felt like my life had become an out-of-control freight train.  Finding ways to honor the people that died helped me move forward in the grieving process.

Each relationship was different, so I honored each loved one differently. For my sister Tarnia, I planted a cherry tree that blooms with delicate blossoms around the anniversary of her death.  I also wrote detailed letters to her children, describing what she loved about them, her favorite perfume and other little tidbits that they’ll be desperate for in years to come.

For my beautiful mother Beverley, I bought a rose-covered photo frame and placed my favorite picture of her in it.  The photo reminds me of her spirit, and I smile whenever I look at it.  I wear something pretty for Mom on her anniversary and birthday, lighting a candle and placing a vase of roses next to her photo.

Savannah was the ultimate loss. We lost our future in many ways when she died.  Our daughter was cremated, which enabled us to create a special shelf in our family room where her urn sits alongside angel figurines, a rainbow candle we light and other presents friends have bestowed on us.

I wear a dainty, gold, heart-shaped locket designed to hold a bit of the ashes. “So, a small amount of what remains of Savannah’s earthly self is dangling over my heart every day.”  I find the locket to be healing.

Every year on her birthday, we release balloons into the heavens.  Letting go of them symbolizes her freedom from her painful disease.  We also planted a climbing rose bush that displays an abundance of white flowers most of the year, reminding us of our beautiful little girl.  We do something on those days that she would’ve loved, like going to a fun park, or sitting in the sun reading one of her favorite books with our other daughter, Dempsey.

I still buy a birthday card for Savannah every year and write in it about how I feel and what is happening in our lives.  Our surviving daughter will one day be able to read them.

I have a book-in-progress about this journey that I hope to have published.  Writing it has been a healing experience; I believe that I am honoring someone I love when I help others survive their grief.

I’ve read many ways people honor those who have passed out of our lives–some make quilts from their loved ones’ clothes. Some ask friends to send them a letter with a memory about the loved one.  Some, like me, light candles and think of the happy memories that will always live on in our souls.

However, the most profound way to honor someone who has died is to live, not just exist, but to try new things like skydiving or chasing your dreams.  Perhaps you simply noticing the glisten of morning dew on the lawn, or listen to the sound of children laughing.  Take a moment to be alive, in memory of those who can’t!

I know all of these things make me feel the person who’s died is somehow still alive – it’s something I can control and makes those difficult times seem a little bit easier.

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Diana Doyle

Diana Doyle lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Peter, and her six-year-old daughter Dempsey. Their daughter Savannah was born in 1999. She was diagnosed with Metachromatic Leukodystrophy, which is similar to Lou Gehrig’s disease at the age of two-and-a-half. She died at age four. Since then, Diana has been speaking and writing in hopes of helping others who are dealing with losses of all kinds.

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