The Power of Full Circle Love
Yesterday was a full circle day. Have you ever had one of those? This is the story of how yesterday turned into an extraordinary blessing that went beyond my ability to imagine it.
I’ve been working on the Healing Chickadee. If I haven’t mentioned it 100 times, well let me say it again; it’s a grief program for children. It’s a non-profit and I don’t make money from the initiative. It’s my passion and purpose based on my experience of early loss of a sibling. I am focused, organized, creative and lean into this in all my spare time. Until I don’t. Every once in awhile I hit an invisible wall. It’s my own grief that pushes back and I can’t put my foot forward since that day. I am currently reading a book by Brene’ Brown and she said, “Sometimes we have to lean into the discomfort of the work.” And I did that yesterday. That’s how the blessing happened.
I had reached out to the original funeral home, back where, in 1971, the trauma reached a pitiful peak. I’m going to give you details. If you are going to stop reading this, now would be the time to scroll away.
My brother, Mike, died on a Sunday morning. By noon our home filled with people and food. More food and more people rolled in all day long. I think there were runs to the airport when relatives began to arrive. I was ten and the chaos and noise swirled around me as I spent most of that day confused. I remember someone took me out for ice cream and while finishing my cone, something made me laugh and I had a giggle fit. The person, or people, who I couldn’t identify now if my life depended on it, said, “Well I guess she doesn’t really care that her brother is dead.” That was the last day I ever giggled as a little girl. Childhood was over that day.
Sometime on Monday, I think it was Monday, I was told to “Get dressed, we are going to the funeral home.” I’m trying to remember this correctly and some of this is fuzzy. Until it’s not. I think there were several cars going to the funeral home, which oddly was just up the street and around the corner from our house. We drove by it every day, never thinking for a minute that we would need a funeral home. I didn’t really know what a funeral home was. I never really noticed it before, except as a building we drove by on our way to somewhere else.
By Monday, and I think it was Monday, there were out of town relatives and assorted others filling up the cars. It all seemed kind of festive to me in a way. There was nervous energy that resembled fun to me. Food and family and a trip to the funeral home. I didn’t ask and no one ever told me why we were going there. It had something to do with Mike’s funeral. As a Catholic kid in a Catholic school I was aware that funerals happened. My brothers, as altar boys, could get money for doing a funeral. Maybe I wasn’t the brightest child but honestly, nothing was piecing together for me as we arrived at the front door of the T. M. Ralph Funeral home.
Starting at the door, the memory is as clear as the keyboard I am writing on. We were moving together, as a unit it seemed, like running lemmings off of a cliff. The door opened and there was a man in a suit who greeted us and his right arm rose as his hand motioned to his right and to our left. As a Catholic kid, I knew when I was being “ushered” into a space. There was a unique and overpowering smell. I didn’t like it.
It was a huge room with lots of chairs all facing to the back wall. As we came around the corner, in that place to our left, at the very end of the room, past the many empty chairs was my brother. My dead brother. The running lemmings in front of me huddled and grabbed one another for support, arms over shoulders, gasps and guttural cries rose up from the group as if in a sick song.
I stood. Frozen. I could not move. The group moved forward. There is nothing that would have been able to separate my feet from that floor. Not a muscle in my body could or would move. I wasn’t standing there, by myself, to get attention or pitch a fit or be difficult. I was a statue, frozen in time and space, traumatized by the sight no one had mentioned I would see. Perhaps they thought I knew we were going to see my brother dead in a box that was only half open. I did not know. I don’t know how long I stood there. I remember the man at the door came close. I don’t know what he said. I am only sure that I did not speak. I could not speak. The man’s presence was my only tether to a world that existed before I cleared that corner into that room.
At some point someone came to bring me forward. I did not want to go any further into the room. I was only sure of the floor and I could not be separated from it. There was only an abyss beyond this spot. Of this I was sure.
At some point I began to cry. I cried very hard. So hard that my Aunt Peggy came over to me and said, “You stop this now, you are upsetting your mommy. Your brother Michael is looking down at you and he doesn’t want to see you this upset.” I tried to obey. I tried to comply.
I have been pretending to not be sad every since. Don’t feel. Be quiet. Disappear. In some ways, my feet have remained in that spot for fifty years.
If you are still reading this, you are brave and I am grateful. Finding voice on this, is the place where I have to lean into the discomfort.
All these years later, creating bird characters with stories for children has become the outlet. It made perfect sense to me to reach out to the T.M.Ralph funeral home to tell them about a children’s grief program. I figured it was probably taken over by a conglomerate or they thought I was trying to sell them something and wouldn’t respond. I got oddly nervous about even sending an e mail. I asked their permission to utilize their name in a video I created for other funeral directors that may wish to offer it to children in their care. I wanted TM Ralph Funeral home to give birds to kids in that building, in that place. I needed that. I had to be brave.
I held the hand of my ten year old self and called. As God would have it, Patty Ralph picked up the phone and knew who I was. She told me they got my message and the video. I am certain as can be, and trust this with my whole heart: All timing is perfect timing for those with an open heart. Patty and I spoke at the exact moment that was meant to be.
She said that “Certainly I had permission to utilize the video with their name.” She went on to tell me that her dad was happy to see the video. They showed it to him on Father’s Day. It was a difficult video to create because I am moving through emotional super glue. My heart was warmed knowing that it’s never too late to say “Thank you.” I was glad Mr. Ralph knew I remembered his kindness. His very presence was essential.
Patty and her family still continue the sweet gentle care that her father started all those years ago. They are a kind, and compassionate family who have been called to a difficult and necessary task. It’s more than a job for them, it is a mission. In the same way my chickadee is my mission.
Talking to her about her family and the things I remembered about how her dad knew I was cold and went to get me a sweater. He was caring for me. I remember his wife, with her warm smile. They were young, new to the profession, committed and their children were adorable. One of those adorable kids was now talking to me on the phone.
It was a full circle day. Filled with connection and caring. Some plush chickadee birds flew her way in the mail yesterday. A scared and grieving child will hold that bird, listen to the songs and watch the videos I created because I once stood there too.
Thank you for reading this. Giving voice to children and our own inner child, ministering to the pain and trauma from early loss is within our power.