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In Mourning: Homage to Dana

May 22, 2017

 

I am in mourning- active and raw mourning for someone I love very much. I'll let the eulogy I offered in her honor, yesterday, on the day she was interred into the earth with her precious daughter stand: 

 

This is for you, Dana Sue.

This is for you.

April 7, 1968- May 10, 2017

I love you, and I'm so sorry.

 

My name is Dr. Joanne Cacciatore.  As a tenured research professor at an R1 institution and as the founder of an international organization that helps families through the death of a child, I’ve met thousands upon thousands of people in the two decades I’ve helped those suffering traumatic grief. I help both grievers themselves and the providers who serve them. Each grieving family member, police officer, firefighter, doctor, nurse or social worker has taught me something about life, death, and love.

 

But, there are some we meet in life who render themselves unforgettable: who leave an indelible mark upon our hearts.

 

We are here, today, to mourn for and to remember one of those people.

 

I met Dana in 1998. She was working in a hospital where I was teaching about traumatic grief and compassionate psychosocial support. She remembered me, clearly, when – in 1999- she received the worst news of her life. She was pregnant with her second child, Kylie Noelle, and found that she would likely not live. Kylie had a fatal condition that would cause her probable early death. Dana, devastated, called me from Hawaii. Ironic. Our first encounter was so she could learn how to help families suffering the death of a child: now, she was facing her own dark night of the soul.

 

Dana and her family moved back to Arizona to be near her mom and family.  Meanwhile, specialists told her that Kylie would probably not survive the stress of her birth.

 

We met often during her pregnancy, processing her fears and her grief, most frequently during the final trimester. Her greatest fear was that Kylie would die before or during her birth. She wanted time with Kylie, realizing that every moment, each day with her would be a gift. Dana loved her children, Devin and Kylie, fiercely, and she knew that time with them both together was not likely. Still, she felt hopeful.

 

In August of 2000, I met Kylie just moments after she emerged into this world. 

 

I can remember walking into Thunderbird Samaritan Hospital, thankful that she’d survived her birth. When I saw Dana and Kylies dad, Dan, I knew they, too, were overwhelmed with gratitude. And yet the fear of losing her did not dissipate that day. Dana knew that the odds were against Kylie’s survival.  Still, the beauty of this little child permeated the fear and love prevailed.

 

I’d like to say a few things about Devin and Kylie because I know quite well its what Dana would want and expect.

 

Devin was a wee little lad when I met him the first time. It was Kylie’s birthday. He was glowing, sweet, loving, excited and so proud to be a big brother to her. Dana was tender with them both, and the love that overflowed in that hospital room soon became bigger than the fear. Still, I remember Dana saying, “I hope she lives long enough for me to take her home.”

 

And live Kylie did.

 

Kylie, like Devin, knew she was adored and loved by many and she exuded the same love back to everyone around her. Her smile could warm any heart. In February of 2001, when I visited them at home, I was holding Kylie on my lap. As I held her in my arms, her piercing blue eyes and pure joy captivated me. I could barely stand to look away from her. And if, for one moment, my eyes wandered from Kylie, she would protest. That same visit, though, Devin walked in the room. Kylie saw him and her smile changed, it got even brighter and bigger. It was clear that she loved and recognized her big brother as a very special person in her life.

 

I drove home that day in tears. I cried tears of wonder that this little child and her devoted family had so much to teach the world. That love is strong enough to conquer fear. That family is forever. That there is hope during times of greatest turmoil.  But mostly, that each and every day, every moment, with our loved ones is a gift.

 

Dana and I talked often about death and grief for the duration of Kylie’s time on this earth. Dana’s realistic perspective was inspiring. More inspirational than that, though, was her love and devotion to Devin and Kylie.

 

On January 18, 2004, Kylie Noelle Southworth left her human body. Just as I was there the day of her birth, too, I was there the day of her death. Dana’s mourning held an ineffable grace and beauty that transcended the material world. Even amidst her own sorrow, she organized a beautiful farewell to precious Kylie. During the butterfly release, one butterfly landed softly on Dana – it wouldn’t leave her for the longest time. When her eyes met mine, we both broke into tears. I’d like to share something that I read at Kylie’s funeral, one of Dana’s favorite stories from Henry Scott Holland, a Professor of Divinity at Oxford University:
 

"I am standing on the seashore. A ship spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts off for the ocean.  I stand watching her.  I watch her until she fades into the horizon.  Someone at my side said, “She is gone.”  Gone?  No.  The loss of sight is in me, not in her.  Just as she has disappeared from our sight, others are watching her arrival.  Other voices who take up the shout, “Here she comes,” and that, my friend, is death.”

 

Even when we believe in the continuation of life after death, losing something so very precious to us changes us. After Kylie’s death, Dana descended into a grief she didn’t realize existed. She shared with me that while she tried to prepare herself for losing Kylie, nothing could have braced her for the depth and intensity of her grief emotions.  We worked together – with her grief - for several years until she was ready to put her love and grief into compassionate action. That’s when Dana became a powerful force in helping grieving parents. She mentored, facilitated support group, helped teach medical providers, organized conferences with Sue Ann, spoke at memorial services, and gave selflessly to countless people for nearly a decade helping desperate parents seeking support from the MISS Foundation.

 

If I ever wanted anything done, and done perfectly, I knew Dana was the go-to person. Yes, she had high expectations of people she loved because she never hesitated to give so very much of her own love to others. And yes she could be a little bossy but it was only because she really did have a penchant for perfection and detail. Few people could keep me on task the way Dana could. Simply, Dana was one of the most fiercely compassionate, deeply loyal, competent  and organized humans I’d ever known. She was my student and study, my teacher (she taught me to tolerate pedicures, how to wrap gifts, and how to pack a suitcase), a fellow grieving mother, my volunteer and our devoted helper. But mostly, she was – and is - my friend and I loved – and love – her very much. We cried many many many tears together. And we also laughed, big bellowing laughs until we cried, together.

 

Her death has shaken me in the center of my being. And yet, for her mother, Sue Ann, who now faces life with two children who walk and one who soars, for Devin who will miss his mother as he navigates through every moment of his life, for Carrie and Katie who are now two sisters in this world, three sisters everywhere else, Dana’s death feels a bottomless well of grief.

 

And that is because the reason for extraordinary grief is extraordinary love. What else is there to say about such profound loss? There is so much to miss about her.

 

What can we do in her absence, when life feels incomplete, a family piece missing?

 

We protest her absence. We grieve.

We speak her name. We grieve.

We see her light rise with the sun. We grieve.

We imagine her walking with us. We grieve.

We miss her more than words can express. We grieve.

We live our lives to honor her, to make her proud. And, we grieve. 

 

And… we also remember.

 

Remember her every time the sun rises and sets. Remember her in troubled times. Remember her on holidays and ordinary days, and let her continue to inspire and move you to do better in this life- to be kinder, more compassionate, and less judgmental. 

 

Remember Kylie on behalf of Dana and think of her inspirational love and devotion for her two children…Remember – really and not in a trite way - to live your days as if they were the last- don’t be afraid to try new things- that smiling (her smile could illuminate the darkest room) is contagious- remember to go barefoot – that family is forever and life is fragile so go home and hold your children and your parents and your partners and your siblings close - think of her when you see a butterfly and remember that true love is absolute and unconditional and moves beyond the boundaries of our mortal existence.

 

Remember her when you dance.

 

And when we willingly remember our precious Dana and Kylie, we may also experience something bigger than grief, one day, if our hearts allow.

 

One day, the grief makes space for something else, in its own time and way. Something changes profoundly and viscerally. We learn to hold both grief and a kind of pure, albeit reluctant, joy in the expansion, the way that the sky holds both the sun and the moon. 

 

Life goes on, but it doesn't because nothing is ever the same. Death has taken, but it hasn't because it cannot take what never dies.

 

While the body perishes, love, indeed, never dies. The boundaries of our mortal existence are but a horizon and our horizons are merely narrowed by sight.  Although Dana will be gone from our sight, she lives each and every day in the hearts those who love her and in the way that she touched all of our lives.

 

Remember her when you dance. 

 

Sue Ann, Carrie, Katie, and Devin… this is from me to you:

 

My heart shattered,
broken, into millions of pieces, 
the day you died.

And because there was nothing else to do,
I let those shattered pieces land
softly in the world.

And when I could, again, breathe,
with a regular rhythm,
I noticed, quietly, painfully
the places where splintered shards of my heart
came to a rest.

Somewhere amidst the fragments of your too-brief-life,
reflecting ineluctable grief, I know
that your love is, by comparison, 
so much more vast and infinite than my shattering.

 

We will always love you, Dana; I will always love you.

 

I'm so glad we talked, and I was so happy to hear and say, "I love you." I wish you could've made that visit north to me. That's a regret that will stay in my heart until I die.

 

We will MISS you, and we will never forget you. I hope you and your exquisite, dainty feet and fastidiously manicured toes are dancing with Kylie.

 

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