Bright Spots in the Midst of Pain

16 Aug

Liz & her Wencl cousins

Sometimes you go about the business of daily life and you put yourself out there and you never really know if your words or the sharing of your experiences are helpful to anyone other than yourself.  Sometimes you even begin to question whether or not you should continue to do so.

But then, something happens and you know that there is no doubt … you are making a difference.

That happened to me yesterday. 

This identical post was published on the OWNING PINK website( ) on Friday.  I really had no intention of re-posting it here.  But, after receiving a remarkable piece of feedback that literatlly took my breath away, I changed my mind.

        Every now and then I will share some of my life experiences when a bright spot has emerged and helped me through a very difficult time — because no matter what our situation may be, there is always a sliver of gratitude that can be found. I will admit that sometimes we have to dig really deep to find it, but it will always be there when we need it most.  And, sometimes, if we don’t find it, it finds us.

Unbelieveable Circumstances

I was numb as I sat in the chair between my husband and my father. I could hear the funeral director talking…I could see his lips moving, but nothing was registering in my mind. Even breathing was difficult. In the past twenty-four hours, life as we knew it had ceased to exist.  Our oldest daughter, twenty-year-old Elizabeth, had died of smoke inhalation from a fire in her duplex just a few blocks from the University of Minnesota, where she had just begun her sophomore year. Two of her roommates also died with her.

How can this be? Liz is gone? It just can’t be true. How can I go on without my precious first-born daughter? I had so many emotions running through my mind and I couldn’t deal with any of them. I was too shocked even to cry.

Question after question had to be answered. What is her birth date? Where was she born? What year did she graduate from high school? I answered each question without any thought, more like a robot than a mother. It was instinctual – it was rote – it felt void of emotion.

Part of me — no, all of me, wanted to scream and run out of the room, go home and find my beautiful, precious Elizabeth, safe in her room. She would look at me with that coy smile of hers and say, “Oh Mom, you just worry way too much! Nothing is going to happen to me! I’m just fine!”

Why couldn’t this be a horrible nightmare, or some cruel joke? Please God, please. No, this was real, and I had to sit and question-by-question try to acknowledge what I just couldn’t believe was my new reality.

Intense Sorrow and Pain

When the funeral director left the room for a few minutes, the silence was overwhelming. We each sat like statues, staring into space blankly. Conversation was impossible. The silence in the room was deafening. Each of us was trying so hard to keep it together, but it was an impossible task. My husband put his head in his hands and sobbed. Then he got up and said, “I’ve got to get some air.” We barely acknowledged him, as my Dad and I continued to sit in stunned silence with tears streaming down our faces.

The funeral director returned and gently told us that we would need to bring in clothing for Liz to be buried in. There was no hurry he said, but in the next day or two. As his words began to slowly sink in, I mentally scanned Liz’s closet – and it was empty. There was nothing left – she had taken everything with her when she moved into that duplex just three weeks ago.

An Unexpected Shopping Trip

The harsh reality was that I would have to go out and buy Liz an outfit to be buried in – one last, final new outfit. She always loved to shop and she loved new clothes, so it seemed fitting that a new outfit was needed for this occasion as well. But how could I shop without her? We never agreed on clothing, and now in this difficult, painful state of mind I had to pick out her final new outfit?!

My sister drove me to the mall – I knew I would go to a store where Liz used to work, as she had always liked the clothes there. As I pulled open the door and stepped inside I whispered, “Liz, you have got to help me here! I have absolutely no idea what to pick.”

I slowly walked around and began to peruse the racks. It didn’t take very long before I found a pair of khaki pants and a light blue sweater. I showed my sister and said, “I don’t know if this is what Liz would want, but even if I don’t get this right, does it really matter?”

A day after the funeral my sister-in-law came to visit. We sat in my kitchen drinking coffee and talking. The grim reality that Elizabeth was gone had begun to sink in.

A Precious Surprise

“I was going through pictures last night,” Karen told me, “and I found one of Liz taken last Christmas. I thought you might want to see it.” She reached into her purse and pulled out a picture, and laid it on the table in front of me.

There she was – my Elizabeth, smiling and happy sitting with her cousins. But… suddenly my breath caught in my throat and I couldn’t speak — Liz was wearing …  a pair of khaki pants and a light blue sweater!

your beautiful daughter

By Scott Sheperd  on Sunday, 08/15/2010 at 1:52 PM

Harsh reality, stunned, finality, sinking in, overwhelming and many more words that transcend discussion. I have worked for years with people who have lost loved ones, many times suddenly and unexpectedly. My oldest daughter lost a baby six months into her pregnancy totally unexpectedly. I sat here and read this and had all those words and feelings hit me as if your daughter was my daughter. I felt I in some way knew her. In these situations I always picture the survivors as almost like trapped animals. Nowhere to go. Nowhere to turn. Everywhere you look the truth is crushing. To not panic and go crazy just in and of itself is a major feat. You have shared and taught and inspired with this article. Most of all, I think, you have let us be moved by the beauty of your daughter. Your strength and that of your family is incredible but rising above all that is this beauty of your daughter. Her presence and spirit are tied into those khaki pants and blue sweater. Her smile in that picture shows a life raised in love and a life that loved and still gives that love. Words fail me Kim. I’m glad I got to know you and your family a little bit and most of all I feel honored to have met your daughter. Thank you for sharing her. In my own way I will pass her on to a lot of people.  


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