Under the Bed:  Healing in its Own Time

published in the Bereaved Families Ontario Newsletter

Our eldest son, David, died of lung cancer at the age of 37. In the eight weeks from diagnosis to death we had precious time with him and with one another, his son, his partner, his two brothers, his sister, his father and me, his mother. We were all very conscious of the range of feelings that we experienced, from anguish to tenderness and finally to relief as he breathed his last.

Our family journey of bereavement continues years later as we toast him and miss him at significant family events. He figured in his brother’s poem that toasted my husband’s eightieth birthday, enriching the heart of the gathering. He is toasted every Thanksgiving on the island where he spent his summers.

At the same time, each of us has had our own journey of mourning reflecting our role in the family, our relationship with David and our personal resonance with death, dying and loss. We each carry specific memories of times with him, words spoken in word or glance. We each count the blessings that David’s life gave us as we are changed for having known him.

More deeply, perhaps, we each have quietly found the ways in which our spirit experienced his early death. For me this took a somewhat unusual but powerful form. I decided to make a banner for David. I am not a sewer, but for some reason I knew exactly the colour of teal blue silk that was right. It sat on the mantleDavid's Sundial with his ashes until we buried him on the island. Then I set about letting my hands sew him into the fabric on my lap. In one corner were two pines, one large and one one third as large, representing his son. In another was a button with ribbons to eight other buttons representing his role as beloved uncle. I fashioned our barge, with three Muskoka chairs and fishing rods high in the sky recalling the view I had from the porch so often. Finally the corner of the cottage appeared with the flower boxes and his big boots emerging from the water pipes whose perpetual leaks were his department. The centre remained empty. Any idea that I had did not suit. Disappointed but clear, I put the folded banner under our bed, where it rested for two years.

Then, one Remembrance Day as I watched the mothers of fallen boys and felt my heart break again, I knew what was at the heart of the banner. I doubled and tripled the red thread and made the rich circle that was the centre of my body that had held him. Death, the black thread came from the outside, ripped into the centre, claimed its power and vanished. Behind and holding the centre I stitched needle by needle the cedar, my husband’s companionship in the creation and in the wounding. With tears falling on the silk, I came home to the centre of my grief and, in its own time, my psyche gave my hand the joy of manifesting a mother’s visceral experience of the death of a child – a child at any age.

I have come to value this under-the-bed experience, trusting in the deeper flowing of the river, and surrendering to rhythms beneath my awareness. There is no map for this territory. There are companions, each with their own under-the-bed, each in their own time and manner creative. Deeper than words, our individual paths of mourning converge to form a living tapestry of David’s lasting place in our family.


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