Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Memory, Empowerment and Pictures

This afternoon I enjoyed the privilege of reading my book, I Remember Mommy's Smile, to the 7- to 12-year-old children participating in bereavement camp at Chandler Hall in Newtown, PA.  Each child had lost a parent--unusually, in this group all were fathers. My book presents my memoirs, in my child's voice, of my mother's illness and death when I was ages 9 to 11.

I had barely begun when one child asked whether I still miss my mother.  Yes, I said, I miss her all the time even though I live a happy life.  And I told them how fortunate I am, though it has been so many years, that I still have her memory. I assured them that they will never forget their fathers. At that point, one boy (who otherwise rolled himself around in his blanket but peaked out at the end of every page to see the picture) said that today is the anniversary of his father's death.  Others followed by calling out the dates of their dads' deaths.  It was a simple, brief and moving moment of memorial.

Each child responded to different portions, based on his or her experience.  Mostly, I saw this in their eyes or body language.  But when I read about learning that my mother had cancer, one boy whispered "My father had cancer," and when I recalled the funeral a little girl teared up.

Upon inviting questions at the end, I learned that the children were particularly fascinated by the funeral vignette, in which I kicked away the funeral home employee who tried to lead me out when I began crying during the sevice.  The question, "Why did he want you to leave?" led to a discussion of well-meaning adults who may not understand what we need.  But mostly, the children were fascinated by my defiance and had a spirited conversation about what they would have done if kicking had not been enough.  I gathered that the empowerment of fighting for my place at my mother's funeral held great appeal to all the children.  If they came away believing in their right and ability to claim some strength in their situation, then I feel good about the reading.

When there were no more questions, and I got up to leave, two of the girls came up to me with their picture albums, so I could see the photos of their fathers that they cherish as I do the one I mention in the book of my mother at my dance recital.  I'd donated one of my books to the Chandler Hall library, and one of these girls had already decided to take it home this evening.

I am 40 or so years older than these children, but we share a bond: a deep understanding of how valuable memory can be after loss.  And I hope that, through my book, they found the assurance of empowerment and even normalcy in their future--without ever forgetting.


  1. Dina, thank you for writing your book and providing such a valuable and caring support for others who have experienced loss such as yours. This account of your experience with the children at the bereavement camp reminds us all of the importance of sharing and caring - and how the human experience of grief is universal; and also how even the smallest acts of kindness can inspire and help in healing.

  2. Thank you, Priya, for your kind and lovely response.