Recently Vice-President Joe Biden addressed families of those who died in the service of our country.  He said some remarkble things.  Especially touching was a personal reflection about his reaction (years ago) to getting the news his wife and daughter had died in a car accident.  It was a story I had not heard before. I appreciated Biden’s candor and wiillingness to share this with the audience and, through the media, the larger world. One comment he made has stayed with me (I’m paraphrasing): I promise you this; the day will come when you think of your loved one and instead of feeling sad, you will smile.

At first, I thought this true; it resonated with my own experience when my mother died of ovarian cancer.  Early on in my grief when I thought of her I would cry, knowing, truly knowing, I would never see her again. Small reminders of this would occur: I’d be excited about some minor triumph in my life and think, I have to call mom and tell her. But of course the reality of that impossibility would register and I’d feel bereft anew.  Somehow this grief grew stronger with time compared to my initial sadness when she died, the certainty of her nothingness clear and anchored in my being.  Strange reminders would prick me.  An extra toothbrush in my travel kit unpacked months after after my final visit with my mom brought fresh pain: She was still alive the last time I used this. I hoarded that toothbrush for 10 years, a faux artifact pinpointing a place and time. It became a connection (albeit slim and rather odd) to our last visit together.  

Purchasing subsequent Mother’s Day cards for my sweet Mother-in-law became a test of mettle for me every year, often ending with me sobbing in the aisle at Walgreens.  I was not prepared for a mundane, routine errand to ignite the unexpected flare of memory.  And although time has lessened those occurences, I do not welcome them.

But now, as Vice-President Biden has suggested, when I think of my mom most of the time I do smile.  Or when one of my brothers makes a joke, I laugh and think how mom would have laughed too.  (My mother’s ashes had been interred in the sarcophogus at Church of the Epiphany.  Recently, my sister-in-law “rescued” them when the church was unexpectedly–and quickly–decommissioned.  My brother wrote an email to all of us with the news that he had mom’s ashes.  Then he added, “I keep hearing a voice saying, ‘clean your room.'”)  

Within the past year I have had two friends, women my age, each experience the death of a child.  Both deaths were violent and horrific.  My friends are inconsolable and it is impossible to say anything of comfort.  They know a particular hell most people will not.  One of them said, “When my daughter was born she changed my life. I guess she’s changing it again.”  

I think of Joe Biden’s promise and hope some day it may come true for them.  

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