Few ask how I’m doing these days. Friends have resumed their lives and so have I. Today, I’m living a new, meaningful and happy life. Yet there are times when the pain of losing my daughter in 2007 hits without warning. Suddenly, I am transported back in time and see terrible images from the hospital emergency room.
Since these mental pictures drag me down, I consciously switch my thoughts to positive pictures, such as my twin grandchildren graduating from high school. I’m glad I learned how and when to do this.
Though we all go through grief, Americans tend to avoid the topic. But talking about loss and grief helps mourners to recover. Judy Tatelbaum makes this point in her book, The Courage to Grieve. “Talking about death in natural conversation can be freeing, enabling us to accept death more fully as a fact of life,” she writes.
Tatelbaum thinks sharing our grief is crucial to recovery. “It is an opportunity to examine your own beliefs, feelings and experiences.” Death has taught me many things and one is that I need to say my daughter’s name. The Compassionate Friends, a national organization for parents and families that have lost a child, is one of the few places I can do this.
Why do I need to say my daughter’s name?
Talking about Helen is a way to keep her alive in my memory. Four years into the grief journey, I can tell stories about her without breaking down. Many stories generate laughter. One of my favorite stories involves my grandchildren’s pet hamster. Somehow, the hamster caught his tail in the cage, and he lost the tip of his tail. My engineer daughter re-attached the tip with super glue and it worked!
Saying my daughter’s name is a way to honor her accomplishments. Though she made self-defeating decisions in high school, she recognized them, and turned her life around. She became a nursing assistant, earned a two-year business degree, became a composite engineer, earned her MBA, and six special certifications for industry. Clearly, she was an accomplished woman who died too soon.
Saying my daughter’s name keeps her memory alive for her children. My twin grandchildren moved in with us after their parents were killed in separate car crashes. They were 15 years old at the time, stunned by grief, and lost. The court appointed my husband and me as their legal guardians. Our pledge then and now: Helen, we will not fail you.
As the years passed, the twins were able to tell stories about their mother. In fact, they love telling stories and hearing them. Recently I met a man who had worked with my daughter before she earned all of her degrees. He described her as a hard worker. I shared this story with my grandchildren and my granddaughter replied, “Of course!”
Though few ask how I’m doing, I tell them anyway. I tell them about Helen, all she accomplished in life, and about her marvelous twins. Her values live in them. I am proud to speak my daughter’s name aloud and proud to be her mother.
Copyright 2011 by Harriet Hodgson