After our elder daughter died in 2007, my husband and I searched for ways to keep her spirit alive. Our daughter, a composite engineer with an MBA degree, was 45 years old when she died. Like every parent who has lost a child, we felt she died too soon.
Other family members had also died — my father-in-law, brother, and former son-in-law. We sobbed for them all. As days became weeks, and weeks became months, our tears slowed. “It was time and past time to heal the stones of sorrow within our hearts,” Bettyclare Moffatt writes in Soulwork. The time for memorials had come.
How could we honor our daughter’s memory? We brainstormed on options and narrowed them down to parental goals, interests, giving and personality.
Our daughter wanted her twins to be healthy, educated, and kind. After she died in a car crash, and her former husband died in another crash, we became our grandchildren’s guardians. This designation made it easier to continue her parental goals.
Five years have passed since the twins moved in with us, and we have thought of her goals every day. The twins graduated from high school with honors, were awarded college scholarships, and are in college today. Both are on the Dean’s List. They have big goals, too, goals we think they will achieve, and we’re doing all we can to help them. Raising our grandkids is our memorial and the greatest blessing of our lives.
Gardening, decorating, baking, refinishing furniture, volunteering — all interested our daughter. As a former teacher, I’m committed to life-long learning. When I’m learning I think of my daughter. Whenever she could, wherever she could, she supported her children’s intellectual pursuits. We’ve continued this, proofreading school papers when asked, suggesting/providing resources, and supporting travel as learning.
We also helped the twins find their way through the college search. If you asked them what we did, they would answer, “Nothing.” But we let the twins conduct their own searches, steered them gently, and supported their decisions. It was a tricky path, but we made it.
Our daughter’s best friend stayed in contact with the twins. We met for coffee several times. “I remember the day Helen gave me a cutting from a raspberry plant,” she shared. “She didn’t have much, but she was always giving.” In memory of our daughter, we’ve given money to churches and national grief organizations.
I also give away copies of the books I write. Recently I donated books to the Elder Network library. Giving makes me feel better and connects me with my daughter. Presentations are also a way to give and I speak for free. Many times, especially in recent months, I’ve felt like my daughter is cheering me on.
Our daughter was really funny. Working at the church rummage sale is one of my funniest memories. One church member donated some new bras, something we had not received before, and we didn’t know how to price them.
“Twenty-five cents a cup,” my daughter quipped, and everyone laughed. At 50 cents each, the bras sold quickly. Working with my daughter at the rummage sale is a treasured memory. Today, when I laugh, I say to myself, “This one is for you, Helen.”
Are you thinking about creting memorials in memory of a child? If so, please consider your child’s goals, interests, actions, and personality. Think of how these memorials might comfort you. As Judy Tatelbaum writes in The Courage to Grieve, “Each of us can be a cretive survivor. We can choose to turn great personal tragedy into life-affirmation action or personal change.”
Harriet Hodgson 2012