About every six months or so, I rummage through old files at home and discard those that I no longer need. Last week, I discovered a paper that I wrote for a graduate social work class. The paper was dated December 13, 1997. December 13th is significant because a young girl, whom I will refer to as S. and whose story touched my heart died as a result of cancer at the age of 16. Additionally, a young man whom I will refer to as T, and who touched the life of a dear friend of mine also crossed over on that date. I also discovered, in the same folder, a memorandum dated March 1,2000. On March 1,2003, my daughter Jeannine died of cancer, a type very similar to the one that took the life of S.
The paper that I wrote was titled: A Sociocultural and Developmental Perspective of Five Smooth Stones. Five Smooth Stones is a book that was written by Ann Fairbairn in 1966. It is a fictional account of the life of one David Champlin, a black man born in poverty during the Great Depression. He graduated from Harvard Law School and becomes a prominent lawyer in a Boston legal firm. He eventually sacrificed position and comfort to return to the South in the 1960’s as a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. A white male who personalized David Champlin’s role in the Civil Right’s Movement eventually murders him at the age of 30.
A Community of Souls At Work
My mentor Don, who also supervised me for 12 years at my former place of employment, originally recommended Ann Fairbairn’s book to me. Don also succumbed to cancer in February of 1998. It appeared that I had a small community of souls urging me to take a second look at this paper to determine its relevance in the present. Lately, I have let my intuition dictate the subject matter of my articles and as a result have made some discoveries that have provided me more clarity on my journey as a parent who has experienced the death of a child.
David and Goliath
The title of the book Five Smooth Stones was derived from the following biblical passage:
And Saul armed David with his armor, and he put on helmet of brass upon his head; also he armed him with a coat of mail. And David girded his sword upon his armor, and he assayed to go… And David said unto Saul, I cannot go with these; for I have not proved them. And David put them off him. And he took his staff in hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in a shepherd’s bag which he had ever in a scrip, and his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.” (I Samuel 17: 38-40)
In my paper, I concluded that the five smooth stones that David Champlin chose to address the challenges created by the “Goliath” of oppression, prejudice and discrimination were: wisdom, persistence, patience, resilience, and love.
To Redefine, Learn and Love
The five smooth stones that I attributed to David Champlin were actually attributes that I believed help him redefine who he was and in the process, effect paradigm shifts in the civil rights movement. Though this book was fiction, there are many lessons that I believe apply to a parent’s grief journey. Re-reading my paper about David Champlin’s journey, motivated me to identify the attributes that I need to embrace today to continue to evolve in my journey.
- To not only continue to learn from my past, but to rewrite it when possible: From July 5, 2013 through July 7,2013, I will be at the national conference of The Compassionate Friends in Boston, Massachusetts. The last time that I was in Boston was in June of 2002. At that time, me and the rest of my family were with Jeannine when her cancer diagnosis was confirmed and her prognosis deemed to be poor .It will be important for me to return to Boston to create some new memories and perceptions of a city whose beauty and charm was overshadowed by the pain of knowing that my daughter was eventually going to die a gruesome death. Additionally, given the fact that the fictional David Champlin initially rose to prominence in Boston, reinforced the need for me to revisit this city under different circumstances.
There is a medicine story that tells of Crow’s fascination with her own shadow. She kept looking at it, scratching it, pecking at it, until her shadow woke up and became alive. Then Crow’s shadow ate her. Crow is Dead Crow now.
Jamie Sams & David Carson, Medicine Cards, p.133
I include this excerpt from Jamie Sams teachings about crow medicine as a reminder that we can define how we let our past influence our present and shape our future. We can either be consumed by the pain of our past until we experience a spiritual and eventually physical death, or we can peck at the shadows of our past so that we can embrace a different perspective and experience spiritual awareness and meaning in a new world. The choice is ours and ours alone.
- To continue to learn from all that is a part of the universe and all who is a part of the universe. In my own journey, I have embraced teachings from other parents whom have experienced the death of a child, the Native Americans, Kent Nerburn and Neil Peart, among others, to address the challenges presented to me by Jeannine’s death. Doing this has allowed me to embrace life again and develop a sense of contentment (on most days) that I thought was once impossible.
- Love trumps everything: I believe that parents who have thrived as a result of the struggle with the death of their children do so because the love that they have for their children is given without condition to other children and parents who have experienced the unfathomable. I believe that has also been the case for me. It is something that I will continue to practice without reservation on my journey. David Champlin’s journey also reminded me that I need to practice understanding and even forgiveness of those whom have either hurt me or whom I have judged on face value in the past. I have stated my intent to the universe…all that remains is to see is how this part of my journey unfolds.