Thursday, July 8, 2010

Advice by someone who's been there

This letter was truly a gift. I had found it had become too hard to read the many heartfelt condolences I had received and had them piled up in a basket in my kitchen. Finally I was ready and I sat down to go through them. This letter was one of the first ones I came across. I knew that Laura's ex-boyfriend had lost his father at 12, but at the time it was only a footnote that didn't directly impact my life experience. Laura had asked his mother, who like me was left a young widow with four young children, to write me. I read the letter twice with tears streaming down my face, and after the second time, I impulsively decided to call her. It was late in D.C., but I knew three hours earlier in California where she lived. We talked for about an hour and there is nothing that can compare to the understanding of someone who has walked in your shoes. I also know that she has four wonderful children and a strong and loving family so that was an inspiration in itself. I found her letter so beautiful and its advice so pertinent that I asked her if I could share it. She graciously agreed and here it is:

Dear Katherine,

I am a friend of Laura’s, Peter’s mother. Laura is very dear to us and I feel like I know you from hearing about you and your family from Laura.

I was so sorry to hear about hour husband Thai. As you know, I have experienced the same loss at just about the same time you did. Four young children and very unexpected. It is so difficult to understand why this happens.

I saw the picture of your darling family from your visit to California. The boys are adorable. Laura thought I could pass on some thoughts that might be helpful. I can only tell you what I learned on the journey and I will admit I was muddling through most of the time!

I decided it was not going to help anyone by making the family victims of uncontrollable circumstance. Rather I took the path of letting them know what a fabulous and wonderful father they had. We talked about him all the time, what his favorite things were, sports teams, food, music. I think this was important because it gave the children an avenue to talk to me without worrying about upsetting me. This was really important for Charlie (he was 6) to remember his father with information shared by all of us. I reminded them of who he was and what a great guy he was by mentioning the small things. To this day, it comes up in conversation: “Dad said/likes/this or that.”

I was kind of tough when one or the other might think there should be an excuse for behavior because their dad had died. I did not let that happen—hard to do but it made them better able to accept responsibility.

Rely on friends and I know your family is close by which is so nice. Remind everyone to talk about Thai in regular conversation. The children like to know others feel the loss as well and that he is missed by many. People are sometimes uncomfortable, worried about bringing Thai up, but you will see the boys light up when his name is mentioned.

I also think it can be particularly hard on the children 11-14. Too old to cry and too young to understand. Peter was 12 and he kept a lot in—it took longer for him to understand.

You have a job ahead but it comes with many rewards. I have 4 wonderful children. They love each other and we have lots of fun. We have a great relationship partly because of Bryan’s death. We all share that loss and that is something special. I would have never thought it would be that way, but I am grateful. I do know I miss him everyday still and smile each time I think of him. He loved us very much and I know he would have loved to see the children grow up. There are rewards for me of seeing the family intact and happy. I know you can’t see it now but your future is bright. I know it was a blessing to have the children with me to share the loss and grow together. I can’t imagine being alone with a loss like Thai. I had to get up and going every day.

Please call if you feel like it. Take care of yourself and know you will see Thai in the children as they grow. I will be a surprise, maybe in the way they move or an expression. It still amazes me when it appears. And it is another gift I did not expect.

It has been 16 years and sometimes it feels like forever and others like just yesterday. The first year was a blur and I didn’t even realize it. I do feel fortunate to have had a great and loving husband—for too short a time for sure. From what I hear from Peter, you did as well.

Take care—Fondly, Margie

June 19, 2010

Remembrance from a sister in law

My sister Laura was born when I was 19 years old. She was an adorable little girl and I was crazy about her, but our relationship was much more like aunt and niece than sisters. As she's matured, however, she's turned into this smart, funny, and beautiful inside and out young woman who I so enjoy talking to and sharing things with. She was a huge support through this whole ordeal for both me and the boys. There is no question she is now a full fledged sister in every sense of the word.

The loss of Thai at this point in Laura's life seems particularly cruel. For years, I would find Thai at a family gathering espousing his views on world politics or the economy to a rather glazed over Laura. But as she attended business school and thereby fulfilled one of Thai's long term dreams, Thai and Laura could truly relate. He was fascinated by hearing about her classes, professors, and of course always had to dig a little into her love life. He loved brainstorming with her about her next career moves (nuclear energy!) At the memorial, Laura did a reading of the poem that was printed on the program and discussed Thai's influence:

I give you this one thought to keep
I am with you still
I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush,
I am the swift, uplifting rush of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not think of me as gone
I am with you still
In each new dawn.

Thai held everyone to the highest standard and always pushed people to do and be their best. I always valued that quality in him. Whenever talking about my school and career choices he would always challenge me to do something bigger and better than I even thought possible. After Thai passed, I was driving with my mom on a perfect summer day and I was surprised by the feeling that he was present in everything around me. His presence gave me a sense of security and an increased feeling of motivation. Motivation to take on my future endeavors in a way that would make Thai proud, in a way that would make a difference in this world. He left an indelible impression on me and after that day I know he will be with me forever.