There is a group of people that is often overlooked when we talk about the bereaved - those who have been grieving for many years. I would like to honor four of these people by sharing their stories with you.
Mae's first husband, James, died almost 60 years ago when they were both 24. He was an Air Force captain who died during a training mission. "We said good-bye at 8 o'clock that morning and he was gone by noon." They were the parents of a 5-month old son at the time.
"Having that baby gave me something to live for. My life became full of challenges and each one gave me another reason to go on," she said. Her family and friends were extremely supportive, as were the men in James' outfit.
Mae remarried, but never spoke about James out of respect for her new husband. "That is my only regret, that I did not talk about James. There are many people who do not even know that I was married before and that makes me sad. I will always love and miss James - I think we all have a special place in our hearts for our first love - but that doesn't take away from the love I have for my husband. I wish I had better understood that years ago."
Geri's father died 40 years ago, when she was 6.
"I didn't understand what death meant. How can you when you're 6 years old? I didn't feel like I could ask my mom about it because she was so unlike herself, so distraught. I didn't want to inflict any more pain on her, but at the same time, I had nowhere else to turn. It all hit me four years later. I didn't want to go to school for fear that my mother would not be there when I got home," she said.
Geri received counseling and felt she was helped by it, but has suffered from depression off and on for most of her life.
"I always relished any information I could get about my father because I had so few memories myself. I don't think you ever get over the important losses in your life; you learn to live with them. Sometimes I feel like I am still 6 years old and all those feelings come back to me in an instant. I miss my father terribly and often wonder how my life would have been different had he lived. I've always thought my father was watching over me. In a way, he feels like God does to me."
Kathaleen's mother died in 1987 after suffering from Alzheimer's for 10 years.
"I was 32 when my mother died, but she was lost to me ten years earlier - no more communication, no more happy memories. I have three sisters who are much older than I am, so we experienced her death very differently. I was always 'the baby' of the family and they wanted to protect me, so we never really shared our grief at losing our mother. No one really acknowledges my mother's life anymore except my immediate family.
"It makes me sad that no one remembers her love of life or amazing generosity. Even though I am a grown woman, I still feel like a motherless child. Our time together was so short and I still need her so much. You're never too old to want your mother."
Paula has experienced many deaths in her life, but the hardest time for her was when a close girlfriend was killed in a car accident in 1997.
"I just couldn't move on. I had other friends who were grieving this same loss, so we were able to support each other, but I found myself clinging to Kathy's memory in a way that did not allow me to heal. A year and a half later another friend died suddenly, and as difficult as that loss was, it gave me an opportunity to say good-bye to both of them. After Jon's memorial service I went outside and sat alone with a million stars overhead. I looked at that dazzling sky and said, 'I love you, Kathy, but I've got to say good-bye,' and I blew her a kiss. Then I said, 'I love you, Jon, but I have to say good-bye to you, too,' and I blew him a kiss. I felt both of them really close to me so I said, 'I know you're here, show me a sign.' A falling star shot across the heavens and I laughed out loud at their complete lack of subtlety."
Mary Cook is the volunteer coordinator at Hospice and Home Care of Juneau.
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