Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

August 23, 2013

In wake of death comes circle of life

— Instead of sending one kid off to college, it feels like I’m seeing about a dozen head off to school. If I had a college sticker for each one on the rear window of my car, I wouldn’t be able to see out of it.

Jocelyn’s friends have been a teenage life raft that we’ve all climbed aboard since she left us. They’ve taken us along on the ride we would have otherwise missed.

Her friends courageously and compassionately started showing up on our doorstep within hours of her passing. They’d text, asking if they could come by our new home. They “Friend Requested” us on Facebook. They joined us for dinner or dropped by. Finally, we started having monthly meals with more than a dozen of her friends.

We would swap stories about Jocelyn and share laughs. I heard all the secrets parents don’t usually hear, some amusing and some less so ... but they brought us into the inner circle.

And, sometimes, they’d pile on her bed and shed a few tears, mourning their missing friend.

We’ve walked through the mine field of grief with them over the last 17 months, offering each other comfort or a listening ear. When they text and ask to meet for lunch, coffee or to chat, I check in to see what phase they are in — denial, anger, bargaining, depression or acceptance. In turn, they reach out purposefully and thoughtfully — texting greetings on holidays, especially Mother’s Day.

We continued to be invited into their lives last fall as a couple of them went off to college and others started their senior year. The college freshmen would drop in when they returned home, while the high school seniors shared updates about the stress of the college application process, the adventure of campus visits and the excitement of their college acceptances. We saw prom pictures, heard spring break stories, and were sent a pile of graduation announcements and party invitations.

And in the midst of all these milestones, we gathered in January for what would have been Jocelyn’s 18th birthday, remembering her with a candlelight vigil on the lake shore. We spent a weekend in March with local teens and a big group visiting from Virginia, honoring the anniversary of her death with laughter over dinner and tears at her gravesite.

Being included in their young lives — as they encountered this important year — fused our lives with theirs and allowed us a peek into what we were missing. We didn’t get to share these milestones with Jocelyn. Instead, we shared them with about a dozen of her closest friends. There was more beauty in that experience than one might expect.

Most of them came from dissimilar social circles, various pockets of Jocelyn’s life. She was a mixture of many parts and each of these kids represent a different time, different state, different school or different phase. But they are all the best of her, her qualities uniquely evident in each of them — outgoing, outspoken, funny, sarcastic, intuitive, bright and creative. Full of life. Her best parts are on display in their personalities, while the parts that brought pain faded into the background.

Some of the teens didn’t know each other that well, weren’t strongly connected by any other person or path — except the person and the path that sadly and yet sweetly united us. They’ve come together, bonded in a special way that guided each of us through a terrible time. The bond, the dinners and the gatherings, made them feel less alone in their grief. We felt less alone in ours.

As the school year ended and summer days wore on, I heard from them less often ... and took that as a comforting sign — that they were moving forward and living fully in the here and the now. Still, they quietly visited her gravesite, took my youngest out for lunch or to a movie, and reached out to me to say hi.

Now, they are all heading to college or to new lives and our social calendar has been busy with good-byes from these bravely loving and good-hearted kids. Their parents should feel proud of the person they raised and are sending out into the world.  

Jocelyn didn’t always make the best choices, but she chose the best people to leave to us as her legacy. We are adopted family to them — and them to us — and we are very fortunate to have been brought into this circle.

We can’t change what happened and it changed all of us. We’ve all been robbed of the additional joy Jocelyn could have brought into our lives but the gift she left us was a close community sharing a common love for her and for each other. As the years go by and we move to brighter places on the path, we’ll know that we have other travelers on the journey who carry the memory of our loved one who isn’t here but who will never be truly absent from our hearts and lives. Crowded with this wonderful community, the journey is a little bit smoother and will eventually be happier and more hopeful because it is shared with these generous people.

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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