The same year my daughter died in a car accident, 1994, just a few months later, two brothers also died in a freak car accident. Their mother Nita Aasen put into words what it meant to her to have others mention her children’s names in everyday conversation. I have often used the powerful words she spoke, giving way to tears as I talk to groups of bereaved parents, sharing my story along with hers. Its meaning is clear. We will never forget our children and we hope others won’t either. I share her words with you in memory of her sons, Erik and David Aasen.
On Thanksgiving Day, 1994, two of my three young adult sons, Erik and David, were killed in a freak car accident. Years after the accident, my husband and I were at David’s college alma mater for a holiday event. I was in the dessert line when a woman came up to me and said, “I saw your name tag—are you David Aasen’s mom?” After doing a double take (it had been some time since I had been asked what used to be a rather common question),, I replied with much appreciation, “Yes, I am!” With those three, almost magical words, this person gave me five gifts.
Her first gift was saying David’s name. Instead of just thinking to herself, Hmmm, I bet that’s David Aasen’s mom, but I better not say anything, she said something. Her second gift was sharing a story with me about how her daughter, a classmate of David’s, still treasurers the friendship she and David shared. Acknowledging that I’m still a mom was her all-important third gift. While my sons’ deaths have resulted in my becoming a bereaved mother, death cannot take away the fact that I am, and always will be, Erik and David’s mom.
The fourth gift was permission to share a bit of my grief journey with her. Since their deaths, I explained, there haven’t been any truly easy, carefree, feeling on-top-of-the-world days, but taking each day as it comes has been the most “doable” way for me to go on. Her questions and manner did not make me feel obligated to cover up my grief and was the fifth gift. I felt valued for my honesty and my integrity remained intact.
The warmth of those five gifts has lingered on in my heart and has comforted me. As I reflect on the experience, I marvel at how just a few simple words had such an impact. I have come to the conclusion that most bereaved parents want nothing more than the opportunity to talk comfortably with others about their children. Just being able to share stories about our sons and daughters in a safe place, along with the permission to mourn in our own way and for as long as we need, even for a lifetime, is what matters most to us.
The real treasure comes when others introduce our children’s names and stories into an everyday conversation. Knowing our sons and daughters are remembered and live on in the hearts and lives of others is a measure of the meaningful legacy that our sons and daughters have left to us and to the world.
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