Foundation, reminding you that a fully-integrated approach for assisting survivors of
traumatic loss involves a balance of head and heart. Wednesday Wisdom is written
and copyrighted by Carolyn V. Coarsey, Ph.D. and distributed by the Family
Assistance Education & Research Foundation Inc., fafonline.org. Reprint is available
with written permission from the Foundation.
Death Ends a Life, Not a Relationship
“All the love you created is still there. All the memories are still there. You live
on—in the hearts of everyone you have touched and nurtured while you were
here…death ends a life, not a relationship.”
– From the book Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom
A couple of weekends ago, the United States celebrated the Mother’s Day holiday.
A woman whose 19-year-old son had just died in an automobile accident received
a card from a family member. Inside, the relative had expressed their own personal
sentiment (as opposed to a pre-printed verse). The handwritten note referred to
celebrating her motherhood in past tense. The sentiment on the card was so
upsetting that the newly bereaved mother shared her feelings with other family
members in order to feel validated and connected to others whom she knew would
understand her feeling that her motherhood had not died with her son.
This grieving mother had never considered the possibility that others might see
her in a different light-as if her motherhood had ended when her only son passed
away. Listening to her family members describe the suffering the card had
caused her led to the subject of this Wednesday Wisdom. Healing from the death
of a loved one always begins with recognition and identification of changes in
one’s narrative or story—and this is especially painful for a parent who loses a child.
Writing about this second assault (an unintentional harm by an uninformed
person) so near Mother’s Day reminds me of interviews with another mother.
Her daughter was the captain at the controls of ValuJet Flight 592, which crashed
in the Florida Everglades in 1996. All 110 people aboard were killed. Marilyn’s
daughter Candi was the first female captain of the Airbus aircraft operated by
Eastern Airlines prior to their shutdown in 1991. Born on Mother’s Day, Candi was
Marilyn’s pride and joy, and it was particularly ironic that the crash that took her
life occurred the day before Mother’s Day.
Around the 20th anniversary of the crash, Marilyn was thrilled that Foundation
leaders Carolyn and Russell flew to San Diego to interview her again as part of
a recognition of the twenty-year anniversary of both the ValuJet accident and the
passage of the Aviation Family Assistance Act of 1996. Not surprisingly, Marilyn’s
home was filled with photos, awards, and numerous tangible memories of her
beautiful daughter who still, after twenty years, remains the joy of her life—even
though her brilliant career cut tragically short at age 36. Marilyn’s narrative was
drastically changed when Candi died—yet others in her life, i.e., airline pilots,
employees, and others who knew her, have helped Marilyn keep Candi’s memory
alive by sharing stories about her flying career and other accomplishments in
her short life.
Many parents like Marilyn tell us that their best day is one where the name
of their precious child is called out in a story or memory that someone else
chooses to share—and the length of time since the death occurred makes it all
the more precious. Yet sadly, many people refrain from mentioning a deceased
child because they feel it will be a painful reminder of the loss. Discussing that
myth, one proud father said, “I think about my daughter every day, and I’m
honored when people speak up to share a memory of her.” So while a parent’s
narrative is indeed different from before the child’s death, their entire life story
will always include their children.
It is not the years lived, but the life in the years lived.
-Adlai Stevenson II, Diplomat, Scholar, 1900-65
Supporting parents of those who have lost children, regardless of age, involves
recognition that the relationship must be honored throughout the parents’ lives.
Experts on bereavement encourage parents to do the same. Whereas in the past,
those planning memorials, funerals and other rituals following death, automatically
sent flowers from the organization as a way of expressing condolences, informed
leaders of today choose instead to ask about preferences of the family involved.
It is never a surprise to learn that a donation equivalent to flowers and
delivery charges, to a favorite charity or cause is preferable. This is especially
true in the death of a child where parents wish to see their child live forever
by leaving a legacy of helping others through scholarships, foundations,
and other creative efforts.
© 2017 Higher Resources, Inc./Aviem International, Inc.
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