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From Grief to Action

December 30, 2009
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In times of grief, unbelievable sadness, and unanswered questions as to why my friend Erin and her son Nicholas died in a freak collision with a train near her home, or why did a vibrant young anesthesiologist die of rectal cancer at such an early age, we have to embrace our feelings, let them marinate, and then act upon them. Four month-old Aven Brooke and 3 year-old Will have lost parents, and spouses are mourning their partner. Family wonders why tragedies occur, and friends are left grappling with how to reach out and support their families and each other.

At Nicholas and Erin’s memorial service, several people spoke of her work with domestic violence victims, rape crisis victims, and their love of animals. Erin’s father vowed to keep her community outreach efforts alive and well. Brant’s mother (who married us) spoke at his Christmas Eve memorial service, “Brant found light in the midst of cancer, pain, and losses.  And somehow even in this dark year for him, he was able to reach outside himself and give us hope.  Surely we also honor Brant by finding some light in the midst of our grief.”

As I reach out to my support network, words of advice, love, and encouragement have poured in. I have treasured all these words and am immensely thankful that I am surrounded in love and concern.

My friend Meghan encouraged me to “continue tuning into that big huge heart of yours and trusting in the universe & in god & in your gift of being here now reminding people of the love & light inside of them.” My friend Amy, who lost a friend to suicide at the beginning of this month, shared, “You must allow yourself to grieve though – go ahead and get it out – but then realize when you need to pull yourself up and return to positive thoughts and actions.”

My doula and friend Hilary reminded me that grieving death is a process that brings us closer together and lets us appreciate the finer points in life. She said, “Death is a powerful teacher… it teaches us that life is fragile and to cherish every minute. Without death, I don’t know that we would ever learn these things.” Hilary also shared a poem with me:

Let go of that which is gone.
Let go that which is lost.
Let go of that which is not happening.
What has happened in the past and what will happen in the future exist only in your mind.
What is happening now is the infinite caress of the universe.

To touch the eternal now and let it enfold you in its infinite love is the essence of being in love.

What is happening now is the perfect outcome of all
You have been and all you have done.
It is all here to teach you.
It is all here to love you.
It is all here to liberate you.
And it is all perfect.
Release that which is going out.
Embrace that which is coming in.
Leave alone that which has not yet come.
Want nothing, and embrace everything.
Relax into what is, and what is will take care of you.
Let it be what it is.
~Yogi Amrit Desai

In an effort to honor Erin, Nicholas, and Brant beyond grieving for the families and helping out in practical ways, I ponder, “How can I best use my talents to honor these vibrant lives ripped from the physical world? How can I turn my emotions into action?” It does me no good to wallow in sadness, despair, and confusion beyond the appropriate times for these feelings. Sure, I am going to feel those. However, it would be counterproductive to stew in anger, become bitter, or slip into a cynical cesspool of negativity and remain there.

As I was considering what do to, my father-in-law sent me an article entitled  Sewing To Save Lives about a woman from Morehead City, NC named Carol Helmlinger who lost her son to suicide. Her quilts go beyond memorializing her son and comforting the survivors: “But the reason she learned to sew, the reason she has carted the quilts more than 25,000 miles, is to educate and perhaps to touch young people thinking about suicide.” Each square tells a story of a young person who committed suicide, and she says that if we can save just one person, it’s all worth it. Helmlinger turned her deepest grief into a beautiful, selfless outreach act that has probably positively impacted those contemplating suicide and those dealing with the grief of losing loved ones to suicide.

As we welcome 2010 and embrace the hope the new year seems to bring with our resolutions, best laid plans, and auld lang synes, we’ll do more than drink a cup of kindness to remember these beautiful people we lost in December. The work now shifts to planning how I can best help. I think I would like to narrow down the focus to children who find themselves suddenly in a tragic situation of some sort through my sewing skills. I will be researching organizations and ways to do so. Please leave any suggestions in your comments to me.

Ideas so far:

  • Small quilts and blankets for the children whose mothers utilize Interact of Wake County. I am just imagining people fleeing from an abusive situation and coming to a shelter with nothing. Maybe one of my blankets or softies could comfort children when they are scared.
  • A quilt panel for the Parkinson’s Quilt Project
  • Jennifer McGuire’s Cards For Kids that provides “cards of encouragement, love, cheer and hope” for sick kids. There is no end date!
  • Join in the collective efforts of one of my favorite organizations on the planet called Craft Hope. Craft Hope is “a faith-based, love inspired project designed to share handmade crafts with those less fortunate. It is our hope to combine our love for crafting and desire to help others into a project to make a difference around the world.” Well, hello! This is right up my alley. Read the inspiring story of her plea for a sock manatee for a little boy with cancer who passed away on December 15. See how many offers came pouring in. Check out the beautiful manatee quilt someone made. The kindness of strangers is astounding on Craft Hope. I would be honored to be a part of something like this–a collective effort of strangers who like to sew on the internet who respond to a need for love and comfort.
  • 1 Million Pillowcase Challenge from allpeoplequilt.com

Tell your family and friends that you love and cherish them. Better yet, let your actions speak louder than your words. Waste no effort on complaining about things–just be glad that they are in your lives. I will try to also honor these people through a complete shift in perspective as I always try to treat others with kindness and love as my default setting.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Cliff Pearce permalink
    December 30, 2009 9:15 pm

    Your post reminds me of a quote from John MacArthur, one of my favorite authors. From his book, Safe in the Arms of God:Truth From Heaven About the Death of a Child, he says:
    “There is a question even more potent than the question ‘Why did my child have to die?’ That question is ‘What does God desire for me to do in the midst of this tragedy?’ The question of ‘Why?’ has no satisfactory answer. The question of ‘What now?’ can turn a person from grief to action, from loss to healing, from sorrow to joy, and from feelings of utter devastation to feelings of purpose. ‘Why?’ is a question that keeps a person looking backward in time. ‘What now?’ is a question that moves a person toward the future.
    Would be interested in discussing the Yogi’s poem with you, maybe Friday?
    I love you deeply, Dad-o

  2. December 30, 2009 11:08 pm

    My heart is with you at this horribly difficult time. Please lean on those who surround you and know we’re here to offer our support. I agree, taking action and helping others is a great way to honor those we have lost and help those who need it. What a beautiful and thoughtful post.

  3. Amy permalink
    December 31, 2009 9:40 am

    Beautifully said Lucy.

  4. January 5, 2010 8:57 am

    Wonderful advice and I’m so sorry for your loss. If you scrapbook, Jennifer McGuire does Cards for Kids where people can make cards for kids suffering from cancer and other illnesses.

  5. Liz permalink
    January 16, 2010 11:27 am

    Lucy,

    Hey it’s liz from High School. I’m not sure if you realize this or not, but I work in the Pediatric ICU at Mission Hospital in Asheville, NC. When I read your blog post, I immediately thought of a place where you could directly help children with your MAD sewing skills!
    Have you ever heard of Linus Blankests? They are blankets that people make and donate to this organization to be distributed to children in need every where. Personally, I have been given them out in my unit at work for years. So the project is legit. I love to find that special blanket and give it to a sick child, or to place it on the bed underneath a sick baby. It has made a difference! All of the blankets are donated and are the childs to keep when they leave the hospital. I have seen blankets that are hand knit, crocheted, quilted, sewn, fleece blankets tied together… I personally think your taggie blankets would be awesome for the babies!

    Here is the national website where you can look up all of the chapters and find one in your area.

    http://www.projectlinus.org/index.html

    Here is the link to my local chapter in WNC.

    http://www.thecloudwalker.net/projectlinus/

    I hope this helps… I am so sorry for the loss of your friends and I love that it has inspired you to donate your time and skills to make a difference.

    -LIZ (kellett) Smith

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