Bryan’s favorite girl cousin was tragically killed three and a half years ago. Her 38th birthday would have been tomorrow.
One of the most difficult things I ever had to do in this life was tell my son that his cousin had died at the hands of a “friend” who was high. I tried to ease him into it by telling him Jessie was hit in the head by a bad man and she was in a coma in the hospital.
And, then, when she was taken off life support, the unthinkable task of telling him she was dead was almost too much to bear. I was so caught up in my own grief that I struggled to find a way to explain this tragedy in a concrete way which Bryan would understand. None of us really understood how this could have happened.
I tried to hide the news from him, but her death happened the day before Thanksgiving and we had all traveled to western PA to be together for the holiday – and, ultimately, to grieve together. It was all over the television station where Jessie had worked. There was no escaping the news.
There was small comfort in that he didn’t see her face so swollen that her left eye was no longer visible. I felt relieved that he didn’t see her hooked up to so many beeping monitors, wires jutting out of her bald head which was stapled like a baseballs’ stitching where half of the skull had been removed due to the intense swelling. He didn’t see the bruises on her arms where she fought off her attacker. The unresponsive eyes. There’s solace in that.
He didn’t grieve right away. It took Bryan a while for the import of the situation to set in. A week after the Thanksgiving from hell, we were back home at a meeting in Bryan’s apartment. It was necessary in order for him to maintain his waiver monies from the state of Pennsylvania. There were over 100 questions asked of us in that meeting. One asked if he traveled anywhere to visit family.
His head jerked up. He stared at me for several long seconds. We simultaneously cried “Jessie”! He rushed across the room to the surprise of the seven attendees in the middle of our meeting and grabbed onto me. We rocked back and forth, crying and sobbing. He finally was able to let the tears flow.
There were more tears at the funeral that following month. Bryan wrote about his cousin in a booklet, “Something for Jessie” which his aunt had put together. But it seemed like there would be no end to his (or our) grief.
We sought counseling for him. One kind doctor had him draw pictures and journal the events leading up to the tragedy. Bryan had so much difficulty expressing his grief that this process began the long road to healing.
He is now on counselor number two. Jessie is a weekly topic of conversation. He told the doctor that holidays are hard for him. We still travel to see family in western PA on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Labor Day is another tough day – marking the last time we saw our dear one alive.
However, Bryan found his own way of healing in something he announced at a family gathering in the spring after Jessie’s passing. He announced to my devastated brother and sister-in-law at dinner “Every time the wind bows, I feel Jessie with me”, he observed. That brought tears to many eyes at the table.
And, to this day, when I’m visiting my still-grieving family and sleeping in Jessie’s bedroom, I go to sleep each night listening to the wind chimes outside of her window with the comforting thought that Jessie’s spirit is still with us. If only we could be as open as Bryan is about finding our departed loved ones in the sound of the wind – an ever present reminder of her presence and that of the Holy Spirit who consoles and grieves along with us.