Johnson County Library is pleased to announce that LeAnne Hansen has won our Essay writing contest on the theme of Unlocking the Mind with "Thoughts of Grief and Healing."
LeAnne Hansen is a mother, community volunteer, speaker, and world traveler. Her time in India, Nepal, the United Arab Emirates, Italy, Thailand, Vietnam, and numerous other countries have taught her to look for and value those experiences that are common to the human condition, especially as we seek to heal the divisions in our own families, communities and country. A lifelong writer, reader, and lover of libraries, LeAnne has only recently ventured into the larger writing community.
Thoughts of Grief and Healing
Marlow. The first time I saw her, with her thatch of dark brown hair, her creamy skin and perfect cupid’s bow mouth, I was besotted. When she came home from the hospital, everyone in the house—Marlow’s parents, my husband, and I—jockeyed for a turn to hold her and gaze into her large, blue-brown newborn eyes. When I held her over my shoulder at church, one of my friends sitting behind us texted me, “Thanks for the eye candy.”
Marlow, my darling granddaughter, died in her sleep, six weeks after she was born.
Once, when I was a young child, I got a third degree burn from hot ash landing on my hand at a marshmallow roast. The top layer of skin blackened and sloughed off. The skin underneath was too soon exposed, nerves inflamed, and even to brush against something was excruciating. That’s what my grief was—damaged, raw, and frighteningly painful. I sobbed with my husband and with my daughter and son-in-law. I moved through our house like a shade, unseeing and bewildered, my surroundings leached of joy, leaving behind a grey film of desolation and heartache. I was confused by Marlow’s absence, when evidence of her life was all around me. Our other children and their spouses gathered to mourn and to offer what comfort they could. One of our daughters came to our house and like a sentry, blocked entry to all but family. She received condolences on our behalf and protected us from those whose well-intended grief might rub against ours, when it was more than we could bear. Another daughter flew in from Houston. She observed that my lips were cracked and brought me water to drink. I hadn’t even noticed.
My youngest daughter, Marlow’s mother, asked me to give the eulogy at her funeral service. I was desperate to soothe her pain, so I said yes. I reached backwards through my grief—that burning haze—to memories of Marlow’s face, her smell, and the way she made me feel. I selected words to celebrate her being and to soothe her loss—words of gratitude and wonder. How her favorite place was swaddled against her mother’s chest, sleeping next to her heart. How only a little hand and a big hair bow were visible above that swaddle most of the time. How she was eagerly welcomed by aunts, uncles, and cousins, who marveled at the newborn perfection of her. How I sat with my legs crisscrossed while I worked at my laptop in the kitchen, and she fit perfectly in my lap, and how I paused every few minutes to breathe her in—baby lotion, new skin, and the vaguely soured breast milk trapped in the folds of her neck.
When my children were little, they insisted on being “tucked in” as part of their bedtime routine. They would lie down in bed, and I would push their “covers”—usually a sheet and blanket—under the outline of their body. It was a way of helping them feel safe, secure, and loved at the end of a day filled with the little triumphs and tears, the bumps and bruises of childhood. And on the day of Marlow’s funeral, as I stood at the pulpit in a dark dress and pink cardigan—a nod to our beautiful baby—I looked into the faces of Marlow’s young, heartbroken parents sitting on the front row in our church sanctuary. I wove a blanket of words—soft, warm, and blessed—and I tucked it around them, hoping to give them a moment’s respite from the weight of their loss.
Later, after the condolence flowers had wilted and most of our children had returned to their children, jobs, and school, I wrote for me. Not the memories of the day she died—those terrors that still haunted my waking and sleeping. I refused to feed them, hoping they would eventually shrivel and disappear. No, I wrote about Marlow’s brief, indelible time in our home, hoping those words would be a fixative, preserving my memories in vivid recall. I wrote about the burden of my grief, which needed somewhere to go. The sadness and longing Marlow left was too big to share with the people I loved. Sometimes, grief can’t be shared, because those who truly understand it have no way to contain more than their own. Instead, I spilled my grief in words. I let it surge and pool on a page, where I could revisit it or ignore it—but either way the words gave space for me to heal.
Much later, I ventured back to revisit those pools of grief. I brushed the surface gingerly, cautiously wary of memories that would surface and devour me.
Sorrow and pain are teachers who wait for our attention and then teach us about ourselves, remind us of our resilience, and equip us with the tools we can use to tend to someone else’s anguish. I’ve yet to plum the wordy depths of those memories, but when I am ready I’ll plunge in and like a deep-sea diver explore the shipwreck of my grief and carry with me to the surface the wisdom and strength, the love and light that will be Marlow’s legacy and my treasure.