Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

November 16, 2012

'Grief vacation' brings memory, smile

We had craved a “grief vacation,” as we came to call it. A break from the sadness, the draining tears, the comforting words and the hugs. The journey through grief is exhausting and one needs a rest mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. We wanted a few days where we didn’t feel defined by the tragedy, the loss, and even the sense of purpose we now have to prevent others from experiencing this pain.

“Fun, fun, fun, play, play, play,” had been my husband’s mantra when we met more than two decades ago. He’d been focused on his career, continuing education and other consuming and serious things. So he wanted to bring some fun back into his life.

This was before marriage and kids. We were young(ish), single and free from obligations other than the jobs we enjoyed. So we had fun, fun, fun, and played, played, played.

Eventually, we entered into a new phase that included marriage and children, which brought with it more depth and a new kind of fun and play.

Life became more complicated with parenting and there were some times that were definitely not fun and involved little play. But those sleepless nights of colicky babies or endless days of two kids with the stomach flu were just part of the parenting story. Then there came the greater challenge of teenage drama. We had an extra dose, with our oldest struggling with greater issues than the standard adolescent angst.

Understandably, there’s been little fun or play for the last several months. We’ve been doing well to trudge through our days following the loss of our daughter to suicide. But we also knew that we had to carry on our lives and that laughter should be a part of that, that new experiences should be embraced, and that we eventually had to move forward.

However, I differentiate between moving on and moving forward — we aren’t setting down our grief, our love and memories, and moving on. Instead, we are carrying them with us as we try to map out a new life and move forward.

So, here we were, celebrating a friend’s 50th birthday in Las Vegas. We were gathered with dear friends we’ve known for decades, friends we knew before babies and diapers and depression and death. We had declined the invitations to the big life events we’d been invited to over the years but this time we said “Yes” to celebrating, to reconnecting, to creating new memories. We said “Yes” to living life at a greater volume.

And it was fun and we played.

We also talked about our daughter and shared some tears. Then, as we waited to board the plane home, I turned around and looked into her eyes. They weren’t really her eyes. Honestly, they weren’t nearly as beautiful as hers. But they were big and brown and expressive and they were placed in a lovely face, younger than hers but a glimpse of the young girl she once was. It took my breath away for a moment and I found myself watching the girl as she interacted with her parents. I think I even saw a familiar eye roll.

I’ve heard of people seeing strangers who reminded them of their loved one and how, for a moment, it brings them back to life. But that hadn’t happened to me. Now, here I had a scent of that disorientation as I stood in an airport with public address systems blaring and video slot machines chiming.

I turned my back to her and caught my breath. I’d already cried that morning when I read a moving text from a family member in California, sharing a story of how my daughter’s death was touching lives. I didn’t want to start the tears flowing again.

I had to turn away from this grief avatar that stood next to me waiting to board. I had to look away from those eyes.

Although we were able to laugh and visit and enjoy our friends and each other, we knew jumping on a jet to Vegas wouldn’t carry us away from our grief. We knew it was packed in our luggage.

But it was refreshing and rejuvenating to be distracted and engaged by celebrating a friend’s life and enjoying family and friends. So, when I looked into those stranger’s eyes I think I was more prepared than I might’ve been otherwise. I wasn’t at home in familiar places where she walked. I was across the country in a city and state she’d never been.

After a few minutes of stolen glimpses at those unfamiliar but familiar eyes in an airport three time zones and several months away from her life, I was able to smile to myself, thinking of her. Thinking warmly of her beautiful brown eyes, the electric smile that could light up a room like a neon sign on the Strip, and the laughter that would rock the air around her. Whenever I can smile when I think of her — which happens more than one might expect this soon — that’s a real grief vacation and I’m thankful for those moments.

Jaletta Albright Desmond is a columnist who writes about faith, family and the fascinatingly mundane aspects of daily life. She lives in North Carolina with her family. Contact her at jdesmond@bdtonline.com.

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