My husband, Bob and I met in graduate school in 1978 in Cambridge, Massachusetts and have lived in this area for the past 35 years. While starting our careers and growing our family we eventually settled south of Boston. Reflecting on those years I am flooded by fond memories of both the busyness of our lives as we juggled careers in teaching and human services and raising our 3 precious children, Orah, Avi and Chava. These walls of our home have seen the love and care we poured into our children. From their first cries as newborns, to their first steps upon this earth, through those formative years of elementary school, and on. Perhaps we all have different memories but mine are ones of our home filled with creative play, reading, singing and much love and laughter. Those were the years of wonder and awe.
Our summers were spent on our small family island up on the St. Lawrence River in Canada which we share with a large extended family. During our couple weeks on the river as a family we were surrounded by nature and lived simply being away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Our days were filled with creative play from building model sailboats to sail on the river or building teepees from sticks on the island. Our days would often end with a canoe ride as the sun set and reading until our eyes would droop. The summer holidays were shared with the many cousins and grandparents. The island was bursting with constant activity and endless fun.
We also enjoyed hiking in the White Mountains, camping in our large family tent and cooking over the fires we loved to build. We explored mountain streams, sliding down rushing water ways, and taking dips in the icy pools. We cherished those peaceful times together as a family when our children were young.
School and overnight camp enriched their lives in those formative years and were an intregal extension of our family life. The kids were involved in basketball, swimming, theater, dance, and singing. Their friends were in and out of our house constantly and there was much carpooling to activities and celebrations. Our children experienced the normal bumps and bruises associated with coming of age but they, and we, weathered those times. Having three children kept us on our toes. Those small communities enriched our lives and embraced us in happy times, and through tragic times.
That was then, and this is now.
Our world turned upside down the summer of 2002 when our youngest daughter, Chava, was diagnosed with cancer, the year after she graduated from 8th grade. Her older sister, Orah, was heading off to her first year in college away from home, and Avi, her brother, was starting his junior year in high school. Chava bravely began high school that fall while having chemotherapy treatment and having repeated hospitalizations from side effects. The prognosis was hopeful at that time, but the medicine “to cure” soon took it’s toll making it unrealistic for her to continue in school. In January of 2003, just a short 5 months from her diagnosis of cancer, and the pursuing aggressive treatment, Chava’s tumor continued to grow and we were told she would not survive. For 5 months we were by her side constantly doing all we could to ease her pain and help her face her death. As parents we were being asked to do what seemed impossible. How does one tell their 14 year old child that she will die, and then help her fathom that as reality? As her parents we only had the strength to put one foot in front of the other and give her all of ourselves. At times those months felt like we were walking in a fog, but at other times, the specifics stab me as if it all happened just yesterday. Chava died in our bed the morning of her 15th birthday June 23, 2003.
It will be 10 years this June since Chava’s death, and it has been a long journey. I’ve experienced the roller coaster of feelings from numbness, disbelief, anger etc.and gradually have moved from not wanting to get out of bed, to putting one foot in front of the other, and now, I can once again find joy and beauty in the world around me as I hold Chava close to my heart everyday.
My healing process began when I realized I couldn’t do this journey alone. Individual therapy with an incredible therapist helped me through those intial panic attacks, and once I was ready, it expanded to include 2 other mothers who also had lost children. We quickly formed a bond and safe haven to share the pain and agony that few others could understand. In later years when the 3 of us were stronger we wanted to reach out and help others so we created a grass roots non-profit foundation ; “The Memory Room…nurturing families after the loss of a child “.
Simultaneously I found that expressing my grief through quilting became very cathartic. It all began from seeing a fallen torn red leaf on the ground while on a walk in the fall. That leaf symbolized how I felt inside….torn and broken. From that moment, I experienced an organic process during which my hands, and the pain I was living with, led me to create a quilted piece that depicted and celebrated Chava’s life. The quilt took me a year to create and it now is displayed in the school , which was her second home, for all who pass it can remember her and read the embroidered words from her journal, “ If I were to give you all one message it would be to ….please, please, please, take a minute, stop, and just look. Appreciate what you have before you before you lose it.” Since that first quilt I have made several others all which communicate my long journey of healing. Chava’s words have led me to once again open my eyes to see the wonder of life.
Over the last few years I have encountered other mothers who have found creative outlets to ease their pain, and by so doing, began their long journey of healing. It’s a journey that is ongoing but begins with one single step. My hope is that by sharing our paths towards healing we can offer each other support and hope. For hope is what allows us to carry the precious memories of our children alongside the light that beacons us forward to live life fully
I hope you will join me on this journey and share your stories. …….francie minder