Rosemary's Blog

Bless His Heart
May 25, 2009, 2:04 am
Filed under: Family and Friends

JOECLAUDIAMay 2nd, 2009 was a very special day in so many ways. Lori LaMay, a Fellow Traveler from Huntington, NY hosted an incredible screening for my documentary “Space Between Breaths” in her hometown. Lori and I met back in March of 2003 when she attended a workshop at which I was a presenter. Her precious son Jared had passed in a car accident only weeks before. After hearing from Lori that September, she and I never spoke again until she called me in the fall of 2008 with her idea of hosting a screening for my film. I was thrilled to hear from her and proud that she wanted to have a screening.

Four of the twelve families interviewed for the documentary honored Lori by attending her screening. Lori rented the beautiful Cinema Arts Center and she and her friend Regina Boccard served breakfast for the two hundred or so attendees. What a selfless act to host a screening free to the public. Elaine and Joe Stillwell came with many members of their TCF group in tow. May 2nd was a special day for them in another way in that it was their daughter Annie’s birthday. Tessie and Joe Hunter came with their son Sean and his wife Rosemary, the other Rosemary Smith. Have I told you that story? My precious Sean, one of two siblings we interviewed for the film, married a wonderful girl named Rosemary Smith. I love it! This was the first time I had met the other Rosemary and I loved her!! She and Sean make the perfect couple.

Claudia and Paul Grammatico were also there for the Long Island screening. Like Elaine, Claudia had spread the word about Lori’s screening and many of her family and friends were there to share the day. I try to meet each person who comes to a screening. While speaking to a family, I noticed a man enter by himself. He seemed so familiar to me. Who was this man? I could not come up with a name and before I could get to where he was, he had been swallowed up in the crowd. About a half an hour later. Claudia said she had someone special she wanted me to meet. As she led me through the crowd, the mystery man was suddenly right in front of me. Claudia said, “Rosemary, this is Joe Senatore, my son Paul’s heart recipient.” I was stunned!! Claudia had shared photos of Joe with me on many occasions but to be face to face with him gave me cold chills. He was alive because Paul’s heart was beating in his chest. Standing before me was a miracle that sprang from a terrible tragedy. The above photo was taken when Joe came to take Claudia for a ride on his motorcycle. The Gift of Life really is a miracle!

Lori’s screening was a huge success on Derby Day, May 2nd. She and Regina worked for months to bring our film to the Huntington area. I know I am forever changed by the events that transpired that day. I have posted the comments from the attendees on my website.

Kate von Alt’s precious mother, Estelle von Alt came to this Huntington screening. Kate and I had become online friends after she found my documentary website. Kate lives in Austin, Texas but grew up in Huntington, NY. She saw the notice for Lori’s screening in her hometown and sent me an e-mail. Could she have a screening in Austin? I was thrilled. I had no idea anyone from Kate’s family would be with us on May 2nd, but her mother came. Kate, meeting your mother opened my eyes to the source of your compassion…precious Estelle. I am looking so forward to our trip to Austin for Kate’s screening in the fall.

My family made the trip with me to NY for the May 2nd screening. Our son Fong and his wife Xinyu came from Nashville to join Luther and me. Fong is the technical coordinator for each of our screenings. I would be a nervous wreck if I didn’t know he was in charge. He has traveled all over the country with our film. Without him, none of this would have been possible. Thank you Fong. Xinyu was able to make this trip and was such a positive influence on each of the bereaved families and professionals who attended. Luther and I were so blessed to have her with us. Thank you Xinyu.

What a day May 2nd was. There is no way I could mention all the special people who came that day. Our dear friends Eleanor and Artie Foss were there of course. Where would I be without all of you?

Carolina Blue Dragonflies
May 22, 2009, 4:27 am
Filed under: Family and Friends

Chris McLean Photo

When a loved one has died we feel shock and disbelief that someone of such significance in our life could be gone from this world. The world has drastically changed for us, and we expect that it should be changed for others, too. We don’t want the period of our life marked by their presence to be over. Struggling to find meaning, we question everything and wonder about the the significance of their life and death. Our mind is consumed with our loved one as we try to make sense of all we have experienced. Some of those memories may bring tears and some may bring joy, but still we do need to remember. We need to tell our story and their story. Others need to know about our special person, others who will be born later or who we will meet later. We don’t want our loved one to ever be forgotten, yet how can we move forward in our lives and still address these needs which hold us so tightly to the past?

For me and for many others, the key was found in journaling. We should and must actively remember all that our loved one meant to us, all with which they gifted this world, all that we experienced, and all that we hoped to experience with them but lost. All of these memories define us and our relationship to the one who has died. Remembering and writing down these memories means that our loved one continues to inspire or to motivate us in ways that, perhaps, they could not when they were living.

My other son David attended a series of grief sessions for youth offered through our local Hospice organization. He was given a series of questions on which to reflect to help him in his recovery. In looking at his journal questions, I realized that the questions the counselors had given him were the very issues I’d addressed in my own writings, though I had no one to direct me. Realizing that the need to address these issues must be common among the grieving, I approached our local Hospice chaplain about making grief journals for others, journals that they could receive that would help them through their grief and would also be a beautiful keepsake to pass on to future generations. Her enthusiasm and encouragement helped to birth the journal now in your hands.

This journal also grew out of a story and experience with dragonflies, an encounter that God used to comfort me and others in the days after Chris’ death. That story is included here and explains the significance of the dragonfly on the cover. It is my prayer that this journal will help you as you move through this period of loss and pain and that God will use it to help heal your heart. My thanks go to my niece Meghann Oriet who helped in the planning and preparation of this journal, Woody’s Printing who patiently endured my questions, Nancy Sandgren who painted the cover design and dearly loved my son Chris, my friend Sally Springs who gave me the first journal, my friend Kim Faulkenberry who took me to the grave that day and kept me looking for dragonflies and hope, Vern Womack who told the story to the youth of our church that day, Nancy Willard who told me the story and opened my eyes to God’s many ways of comforting us and to my wonderful family and friends who bless me with love and dragonflies. I especially thank my husband Steve and son David for their love and encouragement, and I thank God for loving me and blessing me with dragonflies and hope.

The Dragonfly Story

Several people have asked me why I wear a dragonfly each day. Even strangers have wondered about the significance of the beautiful dragonfly pins they see on my lapel. It is hard to imagine that God used an insect to comfort me and others in the days following my son’s death, hard to imagine that comfort could come from anywhere. However, on the morning that Chris and his friend Josh died, the youth of our church met for prayer. A pastor friend explained death to them by recalling a dragonfly story. He told the story of a group of water bugs (dragonfly larvae) that lived beneath the surface of the pond. They kept noticing that occasionally one of their group would begin to climb the reeds out of the water and would disappear never to be seen again. They were very curious and agreed with each other that the next one to climb the reeds would return to tell the others where everyone was going. One day, one of the group began climbing a reed. He climbed until he was completely out of the water. He was very tired, so he fell asleep. When he awoke he found that he had beautiful, gossamer wings that lifted him high above the water. He played happily until he remembered his friends at the bottom of the pond. He tried to return to tell them about the wonderful thing that had happened to him, but he could not penetrate the surface of the water. He no longer had a body for living in the water, He finally decided that he would have to wait for them to come to where he was. Then, they would find out for themselves what a wonderful change had come over him.

The pastor concluded the story by saying that God has a beautiful plan for people, too. We can be assured that God has received them in a much better place than this world. The next day, the youth met again to pray and the youth minister told about seeing two dragonflies playing around my back door that very morning and how they reminded her of Chris and Josh playing and enjoying themselves. It also reminded her of the wonderful change that had come over them and that they were indeed happy and complete.

The beautiful story of the dragonfly stuck with many people who heard it. On the day after Chris’ funeral, one of his friends shyly told me her story about an encounter with a dragonfly at the cemetery and asked me if her story was crazy. Unsure of what to say, I told her that God comforts us in ways we can understand at the time, and I believed he had used that dragonfly that day to comfort her. A few weeks later a friend took me to the cemetery to place flowers on Chris’ grave. As we approached the grave, I noticed a blue dragonfly on the dead grass covering the grave but was too distraught to think much about it. My friend held me and prayed with me for a while until I remembered the dragonfly and looked down to see that he was still on the grave. Finally realizing that something special was unfolding, I sat on the ground in front of him. He hopped up on my foot and looked at me tilting his head from side to side. After a few moments he flew behind my back and returned to the grave with another blue dragonfly a little larger than himself. I could not believe my eyes. Josh was a little larger than Chris, and the two of them had said for years that they were going to be roommates at Carolina. These two dragonflies were so much like Chris and Josh that I couldn’t help but smile and feel strangely warmed by their presence and their refusal to leave before I did. Instead of being filled with tears, I was filled with peace and an assurance that Chris and Josh were indeed fine. Was God trying to reassure me through those Carolina blue creatures? I believe He was. I was at Chris’ grave many times that summer but never saw dragonflies there again. Several other friends had interesting dragonfly encounters in the following days. Amazingly, dragonflies are a fad this year and can be found on clothing or jewelry in almost every store. Everywhere I look God seems to be saying, “See how much I love you. I have placed this reminder everywhere that you look to remind you that Chris is safely with me.”

Whenever I see a dragonfly now, I think of my Chris and his friend Josh and the freedom that is now theirs. When I start to sink into despair, the dragonfly reminds me that Chris and Josh are free from the struggles of this world and are truly complete and happy. Surely, God gave us these miracles of nature to remind us that he has a wonderful plan for all of his creation, and we can look forward to a haven far above this mire where we will never have to say goodbye again.

Allison McLean, Southern Pines, NC

(Allison has lovingly donated copies of her grief journal to be included in my bereavement packets going forward–Rosemary)

Eighteen – Eighteen
May 21, 2009, 12:37 am
Filed under: Family and Friends

Taylor (5)Should this be a magical number…would this be the one to pick on “Deal or no Deal?”
The first 18 was a magical number for us…you were physically here on this earth for those 18 years.

The second 18 is a sad number because you have been absent from this earth for those years.

Would we choose the first 18 if we knew about the second 18? Yes we would, because you brought us great love and joy and our memories have carried us through the last 18 years.

You changed our lives and you have made a difference in the lives of over 80 students who have attended or are currently attending the University of the Cumberlands. You may have passed the day before your own high school graduation, but, because of your life, you are permitting others to fulfill their dreams.

To the graduating class of 2009, fulfill your dreams without regrets.

In loving memory of Jim Taylor, II
7/26/72 – 5/20/1991

Dear Fellow Travelers,

You know how upset we get when others don’t remember our children on their birth or angel dates? I have found that it is up to me to make sure people don’t forget, so I start telling everyone a week before.

Each year at young Jim’s high school’s baccalaureate, we place the flowers in memory of Jim because his father gave the baccalaureate address for Jim’s class, and young Jim was killed the following day…the day before his high school graduation. We always have 18 orange roses, and then the number of white roses that represent the years since his passing. This year he has been gone from us as long as he was here and it is really a tough year for us.

What would he be doing? Surely I would be a grandmother by now…but this is not to be. But he continues to change lives, even in his death.

The way I would like for you to remember Jim on the 20th is by imagining him laughing. He did love to laugh and he had a great laugh, with his one cute dimple deep enough to lose yourself in. He is still a shining star and I hope you will go to the web site and read “Jim’s Page” just to refresh your memory of him. He is also chapter 2 in Rosemary Smith’s book, Children of the Dome. Also, if you would like to read how young Jim’s death effected my family, their comments are in Issue 54. You may want to ask the members of your family to write about their grief after your child’s death.

If you have a lot of time on your hands, each May and July newsletters will have different things about Jim’s life. He was and is a precious young man.

I have given you fair-warning. Don’t forget Jim on the 20th.

Love from a fellow traveler,

Young Jim
May 20, 2009, 2:07 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Taylor (1)Today, May 20th, 2009 is the eighteenth angel day anniversary of a special person in my life, Young Jim Taylor. How can a person you have never met be such an integral part of who you are? How has he touched the lives of literally thousands of bereaved parents and siblings since his passing? What imprint has his life left on the world?

My knowledge of Young Jim began on an August day back in 1992. His mother Dinah had contacted me shortly after our sons Drew and Jeremiah had been killed in a car accident. Who was this woman reaching out to us in our most desperate time? I will never forget what I was wearing on that first meeting with Dinah in Williamsburg, KY. As she welcomed two lost parents into her home with a reassuringly warm embrace, she made reference to my dress. I have saved it all these years because I could not bear to part with my “horse dress” chosen without thought that morning. How was I to know that Young Jim loved horses?

Dinah shared Young Jim’s room and life with us that day. Hope started to seep into our thoughts as we sat in his room surrounded by his cowboy hats, boots and ropes. His life and the compassion with which his parents Jim and Dinah pursued theirs became a lifeline to us.

Stories of the escapades of Young Jim have made me laugh when I never thought I would laugh again. Just now I see him kneeling on his parent’s bed looking through his new telescope out the window. Young Jim’s new fascination with the telescope had nothing to do with the stars; the girls’ dorm beside the President’s home where they lived was the attraction! Through Dinah and Jim I know their son. He is a part of everything I have become in the years since Drew and Jeremiah’s death.

One last story of Young Jim never fails to amaze me. After appearing on The Early Show after my book was released in 2000, I went back to my hotel and immediately called Dinah. Sitting at a desk looking out over Central Park, she and I were sharing the excitement of being on a national show when the desk light suddenly went out. Young Jim was letting me know he was there. As soon as I told Dinah about the light, it came back on.

Dinah and Jim Taylor lost their only child eighteen years ago today. They have honored his life every day since then by their selfless acts of compassion to others. I know he is proud.

(As I was adding Young Jim’s photo to this post, “Every Breath You Take” came on the radio here in my office!! Thank you boys for letting me know you are near.)

Kristin’s Challenge Message
May 18, 2009, 3:59 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Kristin with ARC buddyOur family is very pleased and thankful that Kristin’s friends would want to remember her love, laughter and competitive spirit by organizing and participating in a memorial bowl-a-thon. We think this type of fundraising activity is particularly appropriate since Kristin’s favorite volunteer activity was the Monday afternoons she spent bowling with her ARC buddies, as can be seen by the beaming smiles on the Facebook page for this event. Any money that’s raised as the result of this fundraiser will benefit two worthy causes; the Kristin Marie Harkness Memorial Award and Scholarship that we’ve established at Osbourn Park High School, and a foundation that supports programs that are designed to increase awareness of the negative effects of binge drinking and works to prevent its disastrous results, which all too often include alcohol poisoning, accidental injury or death, and suicide.

The first beneficiary, the award and scholarship, celebrates and honors all the good things we knew and loved about Kristin—her joy in living life to its fullest, her exuberant laugh, and her competitive spirit. However, as most of you already know, Kristin died by her own hand in the early morning hours of February 22nd, 2008 after a night of binge drinking with friends at Florida State University. While we have no choice but to accept her death and all the tragic consequences that go with it, we believe the circumstances of her death are unacceptable, and we hope you do too. That’s why we’ve selected the SAM Spady Foundation, as the second beneficiary for this inaugural Kristin’s Challenge. Established by her parents, this foundation honors the memory of Samantha Spady, a 19-year old student at Colorado State University, who died of alcohol poisoning on September 5, 2004. Like Kristin, “Samantha affected people’s lives in a unique way. Her friends remember Sam as a fun-loving, sensitive and “amazing” girl, who was a champion for the underdog and a good friend.” As we believe was the case with Kristin, Samantha’s death was an unintentional tragedy that was ultimately caused by binge drinking. It is our hope that the SAM Spady Foundation, with our help, can prevent a similar tragedy from happening to another beautiful child through the programs it supports and provides.

As is true for each of us, Kristin was faced with her own set of challenges, whether they be studying to make good grades, fitting into a new social scene, dealing with the pressures of work, or finding a job and making a living. Kristin’s biggest challenge, however, came in the form of binge drinking. Whether it was just to have fun, as she would always tell us, or to escape from other challenges she faced, we’ll never know. Certainly none of her challenges were insurmountable or even came close to those she had already met and overcome. From what we knew about Kristin, and from what we’ve since been told by her friends, she was doing everything right to work her way through the challenges she faced, everything except her continued reliance on binge drinking to “have fun,” or was it to relieve the pressure and anxiety she may have been feeling? Again, we’ll never know. The one thing we do know is that through the last moments of her life she still demonstrated the desire to live and make positive changes in her life by talking with a friend about things they would start doing the next day and making phone calls to other friends and family, asking them to call her back the following morning. That’s why we firmly believe that if not for a .202 BAC and the insidious depressant effect of alcohol, she would not have acted impulsively in that moment, she would have survived that night, and she would still be alive and with us today. Instead, all we have left are our memories of her and this, Kristin’s Challenge, which is her challenge to you to learn from her mistake by answering—what would Kristin do now?

Tom, Linda, Eric and Jessica Harkness