I have a prism that measures about four inches in length and it has a tiny chip out of the corner. For years, it set in my dining room window in Staunton and as the sun rose and began to make its way around our octagonal house, it would find that little prism in the window and the refracted light would make rainbows around the room. I have always loved prisms and remember even as a child, reading a story with pictures that showed a room full of rainbows made by multiple prisms. I thought even then at the tender age of six or seven that I would love to have a room full of rainbows. Before she was even a year old, my granddaughter Analia would chase those rainbows around the room, reaching out to touch them with her tiny little hands, only to find that she could not feel them. Often, her body would put a shadow on the wall making the rainbow disappear in front of her as the colors draped her little body like a mantle. She would look so surprised and I would smile at her perplexed look as she tried to figure out where the rainbow had gone. Shortly after we bought our new place in South West Virginia, I moved the little, chipped prism to our bedroom there. It takes a little longer for the sun to arrive in this “holler” as it must make its way up above the mountain ridges first and then work hard to shine down into this deep ravine where our little, white farmhouse sits. The rainbows made by the prism aren’t as plentiful here, but are perhaps even more beautiful, for with each reflection of color comes more memories.
About eleven or twelve years ago, that chipped piece of glass was given to me as a gift. It was damaged and dirty when I received it. I was happy to get the prism, even in its condition, but had no clue at the time what it would eventually come to mean to me. I remember clearly the prism passing from one hand to another, the smiles on the faces of both the giver and the receiver, and the look of satisfaction on my son’s face as if he had just given me the greatest gift ever in spite of the fact that he had found it in the parking lot at Fort Defiance High School. There’s no way that I could have known then just how valuable a gift that chipped prism was to become to me until after Josh’s death. At first, those rainbows dancing around the room seemed somehow cruel in the days immediately after his passing. How could there be so much beauty and brightness when my world had fallen apart? How could life continue when my heart was breaking into tiny little pieces and I couldn’t find my way out of the darkness. Eventually, those refracted colors of light became something that I anticipated and sought out. That little bit of color in my dark world gave me some measure of hope. It gave me something tangible, however fleeting, to hold onto. Days, weeks, years went by and still I would cling to the sight of those rainbows as if they were sent directly from heaven from my son. Slowly, I began to learn to make friends with my grief. We grieve because we lose something that is precious to us and we mourn that loss. Love is the very basis for grief and the intensity of our love is often mirrored in the intensity of our grief. Grief is not something that we can fight against and win. It is not an enemy to be conquered but rather, I think it is like a needy child that must not be ignored but also must not be allowed to call all the shots. Some days, the grief child needs to be wrapped up snuggly in a blanket and rocked while being held close to our hearts. On other days, that child needs to be sent to the next room within hearing distance to occupy itself while we do the things necessary to live a happy and fulfilled life. Finding that balance is most difficult but one of the greatest lessons I have learned in my grief is that one can allow space for two conflicting emotions. In the beginning, I somehow subconsciously felt that if I allowed joy to interrupt my grieving, then I was somehow dishonoring my son’s memory. Later, I subconsciously felt that if I allowed grief to interrupt the joys that life brought to me, I was somehow not being as thankful as I should be for all my blessings. Finally, I began to learn that allowing room for both those emotions at any given time was the correct and healthy way to not only honor my son, but also to honor all of those I love. It was only when I began to understand this balance and practice it that I began to really live again. I’m no longer afraid to give into the grief and allow myself the intensity of the pain for I know that I can handle it. I have survived nine years living with the loss of my son. I can survive one more day, and then one more day after that, one breath at a time. On the other hand, I am no longer afraid to give myself over to the kind of joy that sweeps over my heart and makes me forget my pain for a few precious moments as I look into the eyes of a grandchild, watch my children practicing being happy, find comfort inside the arms of my loving husband, watch the birth of a new calf, catch snowflakes on my tongue, breathe in fresh, mountain air, listen to the gurgle of the creek, taste cold spring water on my tongue, or watch rainbows being made from a chipped prism dancing across my bedroom.