Friday, February 11, 2011

Small Mementos

The time spent in my classroom teaching international students is truly priceless.  No price tag can be attached to the healing that I experience as I teach.  Even when I am teaching grammar, I am happy.  I get excited teaching such topics as the one we covered today:  past progressive.  I'm in my element when I do this.  I explain.  I draw charts to show the concept.  I give examples.  I ask for the students to give examples.  I wear myself out.  It feels good to teach again.

When I am teaching, I laugh a lot.  I listen to my students making their first few sentences in a classroom that is taught in a language that is not their first language.  I learn about their cultures.  I learn about each student as an individual.  I see growth.  I experience healing.

My mind is not on my loss.  My heart does not feel quite as broken.  I see the future that is in my students' eyes.  I am a part of something that is bigger than I and my sorrows.  It does feel good to teach again.

On a day like today, I leave my classroom feeling upbeat and happy.   I walk across campus to my car grateful for times of peace, joy, and accomplishment .  Our class had just had a small Valentine's Day Party.  As I walk to car,  I see a young mother approaching me.  She has her darling sleeping daughter in her arms.  The young toddler is dressed so cute in a little hat, coat and boots.  I wonder if she can even walk in those cute boots.  She seems so small.  Suddenly, I find I am weeping.  Babies still do that to me.

I think of my darling Julie.  I see her in her dressed in her cute little pink coat and her Raggedy Ann hat.  I see her impish little smile.  I think of how many nights I walked the floor with her because of her persistent earaches as a toddler.  I remember her finally falling asleep in my arms only to wake when I put her down because of the pain in her ears.  I remember what a sweet baby and child she was.  How could I have ever imagined that one day she would take her life.   She was a such a sweet, fun-filled, vibrant, loving child. I want to go back to those days when I could hold her in my arms and make whatever was bothering her all better.  I want to hold her.  I want to carry her.  I want to have her curly head tucked on my shoulder.

After the wave of sorrow washed over me today, I came home and made a hot cup of tea.  I drank the warm comforting brew from a tea cup that Julie gave me a number of years back.  I have not been able to use that cup since her death.  I have been afraid that I would somehow break it.

I've always loved that cup.  Julie knew that I like to drink my tea from china mugs.  She found the perfect one for me.  I always think of her when I use it.  After losing her, I just couldn't risk losing the cup that I loved using.  It is the special tea cup that she had picked out just for me.  Today, I knew I had to use this small memento.  It seemed that the only comforting thing I could do was drink some hot tea from the cup that had been a gift from Julie.

I brought the tea up to my study, settled into my favorite chair, and sipped the tea.  I looked at the rainbow rock that has always been on my reading table.  Julie painted the rock when she was about four or five years old.  She would paint rocks and try to sell them to the neighbors.  She gave her rainbow rock to me.  It has been one of my favorite treasures ever since.  It has always kept its place of honor beside my favorite chair that I have used for reading.  My Julie rock painted with rainbow colors always makes me smile.

My favorite family photos, books and keepsakes are found in my study.  That is where I also have my favorite chair.  This place is the place where I go for relaxation, reading, and reflection.

Julie smiles at me from the photo made on Amy's wedding day.  She smiles at me again from the photo of her, Amy and me that was taken just before a Christmas season parade in Lafayette, Colorado a number of years back.

I then looked at one of Julie's small wallet sized senior pictures.  The photo shows my dear eighteen year old Julie.  She looks so happy.  The truth is, by then she was already suffering from depression.  Usually she was the life of the party.  She had loads of friends who adored her.  She was successful in school.  She ran track and cross country.  She also was just beginning the long, difficult struggle with a disease that would haunt her until her death.

Not long after Julie's death, I decided to reframe this particular photo, one of several that were her senior pictures.  The old frame had become tarnished.  I found a frame that I thought the photo would fit.  It had hearts on it.  The photo was just a bit bigger than the frame, so I trimmed a small amount from each side.  That is when I noticed writing.  Quickly, I turned the photo over and realized she had written on the back.   She had written:

This is one to show my happiness & I would like you
to show it to me when I'm down
to show me that a smile
lights the world.
Even though you make me feel better just being around.

Thankfully, I have these small mementos.  I can pick them up and remember the beautiful child that gave them to me.  I won't ever have new photos of Julie.  I won't ever receive another card with her sweet message written inside.  I won't ever be able to make it all better for her like I tried to do for so long.   I won't ever see that smile again, but I promise you, that beautiful smile did light up my world. 

All I have now, are those mementos, many photos, lots of cards, and my precious memories.


  1. Oh Sally, my eyes were teary reading your words. I wanted to be there to give you a hug. I am so very sorry. I'm glad those mementos of your beautiful Julie can now give you more comfort than pain. It almost feels like I can see her spirit with her arms on your shoulders in those photos...smiling at you, telling you she'll always be with you and wanting you to be happy.

  2. Remembering is good. It is helping you to work through your grief. I'm glad you are using that mug again.
    I also know how teaching and working with students can be a healing balm. Though I have never dealt with grief like yours, there were days when I would have to start off with very frustrating meetings that would make me angry. My co-worker would ask, "Are you going to be alright?" I would always answer, "I will be once the kids arrive." And I was.

  3. Whew, this one is a tough read! I understand the helplessness of wanting to make everything better. When we admitted my son to a treatment program for his substance abuse I cried for days. In my mind I just wanted to hold him and rock him. He'll always be my baby...and I'll always want to make it all better.

    It's good that you're using the cup. And although I also think I understand the fear of breaking the cup, it isn't really the cup that is important. It's the memories. It's always the memories because we can't hold on to the past even when it's not a tragic ending.

    What a blessing that you rediscovered Julie's note to you on the back of the photo. It's the Universe at work sending you messages that you need to hear.

    This is a lovely piece of writing. The love shines through the pain.

  4. This post reminds me of Larry Bell's quote... "On your worst day of the job, you are still some child's best hope."

    I'm proud that you used the teacup.

  5. This tender and touching piece moved me. I know that the pain will never fully go away, but being able to juxtapose it with a moment of joy surely is a step toward healing.

  6. As you know, I can relate to the loss of a child. It's so hard, and every once in a while something will remind me of Chris, my son who died at 40. And then the tears come, unbidden, just like what happened to you.

    I'm glad you are teaching again, and I'm also going to be very interested to hear how the other thing we share is progressing.

  7. It's wonderful that you have those messages from her, and the mementos that help keep the memories at hand. I'm so sorry for your great loss.

  8. So good to hear your delight at working with the international students and seeing the young girl.

    So good you are able to use Julie's cup.

  9. Your words and the precious way you remember touched me. I can't imagine going through what you did. Blessings.

  10. I will remember this post when I return to the classroom in the fall. You inspire me with your words, your life, your heart. My heart aches right along with yours and rejoices, too.

  11. So touching. It makes me know how fortunate I am that my own daughter was able to climb her way back from that abyss. We came so close to losing her. My heart goes out to you. :')

  12. Your pain shows through this post. I am so sorry. I wish I could write something that would help you. All I can do is pray that God eases your heart. Please God. Blessings, Joanne

  13. This is such a poignant post. I am so sorry that you lost a child and can't even begin to imagine the pain you must feel.
    Memories are like tiny stars... flecks of light in the blackness of grief.

  14. I had breakfast on Saturday with my [retired teacher] friend Kate[ who is 77], and whose oldest child of five children moved on by choice at the age of 24. I was telling her about your sadness and she immediately had understanding in her eyes. She said that she hopes that you are going for counseling in some capacity even if you think that you can't do it. And to hold on tight with your spouse. Oh how I wish you enough strength to keep going one day at a time and to keep reaching out to Julie's siblings as a way to connect with all of your children. When I was 18, my 22 year old brother was lost in a helicopter accident while in the Navy. I have always wished that I didn't miss out on sharing more of our lives than we got to share. So the way that I relate to your situation is in the loss of a brother. Perspective is everything. That is why I encourage you to reach out to them. God bless you all.

  15. So touching -- such a wonderfully bittersweet day. My heart breaks.

  16. You bear a sadness I can only imagine. I'm so glad you have your teaching, your Family, and your Friends to light your life so that as you grieve and remember, you also can find your way back to happiness.

  17. I am so glad to read the good feelings that teaching has help restore in you. Reading this post was painful as we lost our beloved son at age 27 to the effects bi-polar. Be well English Teacher. My spouse also carries that honored title.

  18. You are lucky to be teaching again . I wish I could but I have Buddy to tend to. Today I took the time to get to know more about you. Blogs sure do allow us a great privilege to share our lives and now I understand your deep sorrow. Julie has not yet been gone a year. Time is needed for the wound to be a bit less painful. It seems you are doing all the right things to manage the grief. Patience. God bless you. Your pain is felt by those whom you are allowing into your heart. We will be there to listen and console you. It's the least we can do. HUGS

  19. Sally, this is one of the most beautiful and thoughtful posts I have ever read. It is indeed so very hard to lose anyone -- much less a beloved daughter. But to hear you surround yourself with things that remind you of lovely times with this thoughtful young woman, well, that's healing a heart. It takes a long time for a heart to heal, but that is a major step.

    Take care of your mug. But gently use it. Julie would like that -- you will, too.

    Teaching is one spot where miracles happen every day. I'm glad you see some.

  20. My eyes are teary too after reading this loving tribute to Julie, your much loved and much missed daughter. I am so glad that you have those loving memories of your dear daughter. All I can do is send you a hug.

  21. The last comment on this post from 2011 is from me. And there is nothing I can add to it apart from being grateful that you shared this post once again.

    Sending love.


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