From the Editor

Accidental Loss
The past month has brought back many memories and feelings I can’t yet understand—feelings of sadness, joy, pride, embarrassment, anxiousness, and patience, accompanied by tears and smiles. The anniversary of September 11. The anniversary of Peoria Police Officer Jim Faulkner’s death September 19, 2001. I didn’t personally know anyone who lost their lives that month, but I’ve grieved for their families just the same. Funny how a color, a song, a season, a smell, a holiday, a birthday, or an anniversary can bring unconscious, often suppressed emotions to the present in a split second, devastating the moment.

I’ve read some stories of the women left behind, watched some clips of the beautiful new babies playing with their mothers, never to know their fathers, since their births came after September 11. Some of the women talk openly and eloquently of how their lives have changed, some are coping with anger, and some organizing support groups and protests. Most, however, are just trying to get through the days and nights. It’s those women and their children whose lives changed forever. To our community’s own Faulkner family and other young people who have lost a parent to death way too early in life—we need to still remember.

It’s been five years—six, actually, when you include the year of illness—since I lost my first husband of 24 years and the father of my children. The one and probably only thing I know to be true is that everyone must cope with loss in their own way and at their own pace. There is no “right” way to grieve or to accept loss, no acceptable time frame. After the series of “firsts”—first holiday, first season, first anniversary, first anniversary of death, etc.—it gets less painful. I’ve tried to change some traditions and add new ones in attempts to make special days enjoyable—or in some instances tolerable.

The widow or widower usually has the extra challenge of needing to work through their own grief while helping their children work through theirs. I tried to keep tears private, but sometimes found they could not be stopped when in the company of close friends. Memories—good and bad—are never forgotten. My actions today and in the future are the result of my personal history and include exaggerated sensitivity to certain issues. One of the most surprising emotions as a young widow with children was fear. Fear I wouldn’t be able to adequately provide for my children, to have the strength and time to attend to all their needs, to be both mother and father to them.

The children, depending on their ages, also cope in different ways. My work was and still is a tremendous comfort to me as I can escape in it. Their escape can be school and friends, and feeling “normal” would be most desirable. Complaining about your parent’s discipline is normal. Feeling a twinge of anger that you can’t because your father is dead is not. Talking about your weekend visit with your non-custodial parent has become normal; visiting the cemetery in respect is not. My efforts to help us feel like a “normal” family included planning parties, celebrations, and vacations, in the attempt to create new happy memories.

The loss is always there, although the pain is numbed with time. But the women and children who experienced loss early realize they are a little different. By accident, they have been inducted into a select group of people that only they understand. Only survivors of this type of loss understand how hard some days are to just get through. My heart breaks for the young mother who looks into her child’s eyes every day and is instantly reminded of her husband. The women and children left behind do survive, with a special gift of understanding the pain of loss.

The first anniversary of September 11 is behind us now, but it triggered in me a reminder that we mustn’t forget families like the Faulkners; we must not assume they’re getting along just fine now. We are saddened for the thousands who died prematurely, but we must remember the thousands of family members left behind to cope with their loss. I’m proud of my son when he says he’s going to a benefit for a cancer victim and his family; I’m proud of my daughter when she sought out a high school friend whose mother was dying of cancer. I was proud my oldest son chose to wear his father’s tuxedo at his wedding. Be thankful as we approach the holiday season, and let someone who’s suffered an early loss know you keep them in your thoughts. TPW