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Honoring a child who has passed away

Posted by BJ Roche  July 18, 2012 08:59 AM

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I spent a Sunday awhile back digging up hundreds of daffodils in my garden, and in the evening we had dinner with friends who had lost their son a few years ago. Their world is still raw, and it seemed totally laughable when I mentioned my problem: too many daffodil bulbs and no place to put them. But then the kismet kicked in: they were making a daffodil field in their son's honor, and they sure could use a few.

This is what happens when a friend loses a child: you want to do something to fix it, turn back the clock, rewind the tape, anything to void this life-changing catastrophe. And yet, there you sit, not knowing what to say or do. And a lot of times, people just do nothing. That doesn't feel right, either.

I hadn't seen my friends in a long time, yet they had given me a gift: a way to help them keep their son's spirit vibrant and visible. A field of yellow in early spring. To me, the real definition of heaven is how we remember those who are gone, and it's hard not to be awed by the way the people choose to honor their children who have passed away.

The family of Allie Castner, who was struck by a car while crossing the street in Marblehead a few years ago, funded a scholarship at Marblehead High School that honors her sense of compassion and positive energy. They call the recipients "Allie's Army."

Emily List of Amherst, who died last Thanksgiving at age 26, is memorialized in a Performing Arts Fund that carries on the huge work she did, even for someone so young.

Her mother, Karen List, is a colleague in the UMass Journalism Program; we travelled a tiny step of the family's road while Emily received her treatments over the years at Mass. General. It's not easy for co-workers to be in such a near-but-far position; what we learned is that sometimes it is enough just to be present and try to keep the ship moving forward.

Karen has written an essay about life after the loss of her daughter.

I hope you will read it.

Karen also wrote this piece about the family's Mass General experience a few years ago, which ended up in the Congressional Record in honor of the Emily's fellow patient, Ted Kennedy.

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About the author

BJ Roche is a writer and teacher who lives in Western Massachusetts. She’s a senior lecturer in the Journalism Program at UMass Amherst, where she teaches writing, new media and More »

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