Losing Todd, A Mother's Journey
In Honor of 1LT Todd Weaver
KIA, Sep. 9, 2010
When the book was published, I set up a dedicated website. For one year, I wrote monthly blog essays. Here they are all together.
One Artist's Philosophy
June 16, 2017, Jeanne Harris Weaver
Painting by Jeanne Harris Weaver ©
It was January, 2011. I was spending time alone at our condo in Florida. It was there where I had last spent time with Todd and his family before he deployed to Afghanistan and was killed in action on Sep 9,2010.
Four months had passed. Months spent in tears. Months spent searching for direction on how to live with the overwhelming loss; searching for courage to face each day with dignity; searching for strength to support other family members. Sleepless months spent listening, observing, searching, writing.
Now, in January, I picked up my paint brush and began to paint. Not the seascapes painted in year’s past; but paintings in memory and honor of my son, Todd. I painted to music— inspirational music Todd’s brother had compiled for me and patriotic country music which Todd enjoyed.
I established a simple routine. Each day included some beach time soaking in the warmth of the sun and long walks on the beach. Those hours walking alone at the water’s edge brought me inspiration and resolve. They were and are my time of prayer and reflection. Meals were simple with little or no preparation. The evenings were spent reading and writing in my journal. The majority of the day was spent at my easel.
I kept an artist journal as I painted. I knew the journal would keep me on task. It contained notes on each painting, corrections to be made, hours spent, the palette I used. The subject matter for each painting was inspired by the words of others, spoken or written in those first four months.
The first three paintings were painted in unison. They were Todd’s shoes - his red leather baby shoes purchased in Hungary where we lived when Todd learned to walk; his baseball cleats caked with mud from his last game; his army boots returned with his personal effects to Todd’s wife, Emma. The three paintings would be a Trilogy of his life.
I painted and I cried. I did not think of the process as being therapeutic. Intuitively, I knew I was to paint. In time, I realized the process of painting those canvases was a form of prayer. Each completed canvas led to another. Twelve months later I signed painting #21. With that signature, I knew the series was complete.
Painting is a therapeutic activity which directs the brain to use your hands in a creative manner. The process of visualizing a person’s emotions by communicating with their hands brings healing effects. In my case, the emotion which I most needed to express was the love I have for my son and the life he lived.
Could it be that therapy is much more simple? I believe that each of us is born into this world with a gift. That gift will see us through the most difficult and darkest hours in our lives. Perhaps that gift is a form of art. Perhaps it is something else. Perhaps it is writing, dancing, music, drama. Perhaps it is leadership, organization, public speaking. Perhaps it is empathy, teaching, or service. The knack may be to identify that innate gift and to regulate the time to use it.
I was extremely fortunate. Although I did not identify the process of painting as being therapeutic, I painted. My vocation as an artist allowed me the time. Most important, I allowed myself the time to grieve in the process. Through that practice, I not only found complete peace; but I also became a better artist. I am grateful to my husband and my family who allowed me the time to grieve using my God given gifts.
Note: Later, Jeanne wrote about each of the paintings and how those paintings evolved. The paintings and writings were compiled into a book, Losing Todd, A Mother’s Journey, which was published by The Muscarelle Museum of Art and The College of William and Mary and is available on Amazon.
The Gift At the Waters Edge
March 10, 2017, Jeanne Harris Weaver
and painting by Jeanne Harris Weaver©
Three days after our son 1LT Todd Weaver was killed, I walked the beach near our home, not knowing whether I had the physical strength to keep my legs moving or whether I would collapse onto the sand. I walked, searching for peace in my heart and some degree of comfort or understanding.
I thought, “Who can I turn to? Where do I turn?” I reached the jetty at the far end of the beach, a mile from our home and turned around. My swollen, red-rimmed eyes caught sight of a little shell glistening on the wet sun swept sand. I picked it up. It was rare to the beach, not the typical cockle or clam shell. I held it in my hand as I walked.
My thoughts turned to Todd’s life—full, yet cut short. He touched so many people with his zest for life; their lives better just by knowing him. He lived with conviction and dignity. He knew friendship and he knew love of family, wife, and child. He knew disappointment, sadness, sorrow. He knew faith and love for God, understanding that our life here on earth leads to eternal life. His life was complete. He has Eternal Light.
I carried the shell home and researched its symbolism—a moon shell, simple, smooth, old, with a small hole at its apex showing its inner core. It symbolized life eternal. Later, I recorded my thoughts of that walk in the journal I began to keep.
Two days earlier, our family had witnessed the dignified transfer of Todd returning to American soil. It was a rainy, dreary morning as our family caravanned to Dover. Todd’s flag draped coffin was carried out of the transport area and I watched a general kneel to say a prayer at the coffin. At that moment, the sun broke through the dark, grey clouds and I felt the comfort of a warm, brilliant light and a first sense of peace.
I recorded my experiences of that day in my journal. My writings included laments, letters to Todd, recordings of the day’s events, inspirational statements by friends and family, quotes, anger, sorrow, and memories. I continue writing in it today, two years later.
As an artist of oil paintings, I work alone in my studio at home. I had closed the studio when Todd was killed. Dried oil paint brushes sat upon their pallets. Unfinished canvases rested upon easels. I could not bear to even consider painting. My emotional state would not allow me to think about the typical seascapes I normally created. The studio remained dark. But subconsciously, I was building a portfolio in my journal and in my mind.
Four months after Todd was killed, I began to paint again. The first paintings were of his shoes—his little red baby shoes made of soft leather bought in Budapest, Hungary where we lived on a Foreign Service assignment with the U. S. State Department; his baseball cleats, all muddy with tattered shoe laces from the last game of baseball he would ever play; and a pair of Army boots returned from Afghanistan to his wife Emma. They completed a trilogy of Todd’s life through his shoes.
As I painted, I listened to the music Todd’s brother, Glenn, had recorded for the memorial service: inspirational music and patriotic country music which I remembered listening to with Todd and his family just before his deployment to Afghanistan. Over and over the music played. While it played I painted, tears streaming down my face.
Why would I force myself to such levels of emotional turmoil? I had to reach the depths of that turmoil in order to dig myself out. I painted more than 40 hours a week, taking time away from the studio only for the family or for events related to nurturing Todd’s memory. I would not allow anyone to view the paintings. They remained protected in my studio.
With artistic discipline and creative energy, I worked to develop strong compositions which captured my emotions and the light. The light shown in Todd’s life, the light cast upon the little shell I had found on the beach, the brilliant warm light I had experienced at Dover the day after Todd was killed. I did not know what the end would bring. I only knew that each painting seemed to bring another.
Each painting symbolized words spoken, memories cherished. With each painting completed, I captured Todd’s life and his death. I began to feel strength and resolve. It took me close to a year to build up the courage to paint the female notifying officer at my door that morning of September 9, 2010. Memories had raced through my mind that morning as I stood frozen in my tracks, alone in the house, unable to move forward to the door. The painting needed to encompass all of those raw emotions.
Exactly one year after Todd was killed, seventeen paintings entitled Losing Todd, A Mother’s Journey, went on exhibition through the Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. The series was not yet complete; but it was important to me to share what I had created at the college which had rallied together in support of the loss of a great student, citizen, soldier, loving husband, father, son, brother, and uncle.
I continued to paint full time until I reached painting # 21, the moon shell symbolizing eternal life which I had found three days after Todd’s death. It was my first gift and it came from the sea. This was important to me, spiritually, as it was found at the edge of the cleansing water and has led me on an awesome journey which brought, and continues to bring me, grace and peace.
Each of us finds their own will to go on. This was mine and I cannot imagine where I would be today if I had looked past that little shell. When I finished its painting, the series was complete.
Losing a loved one is always hard. The journey through grief is personal. It is lonely. I chose to contend with my grief through my painting. It allowed me the emotional stream to endure reality. Throughout the journey, I have learned that I can share it with others.
Todd died defending his soldiers, his family, and his country. I honor and share his sacrifice and the sacrifice of those families whose loved ones have made the ultimate sacrifice. I hope my series of paintings is of some help to those who have witnessed similar grief. I hope the paintings also offer witness to our country of all those brave men and women who have given their lives in defense of our freedoms.
The 21 paintings hang in our home in memory and tribute to Todd and will continue to be a part of our family’s heritage. I am always willing to share the series so that others may begin to understand the national treasure our country has lost in the lives of our loved ones.
This article first appeared in TAPS Magazine, Winter Issue, 2012.
A Best Friend
Sep 9, 2016, Jeanne Harris Weaver ©
photo taken at Blue Jays game
Today is the sixth anniversary of Todd’s death in Afghanistan.
I think back to that day two days after Todd was killed when we gathered at the Queens Gardens at William and Mary and other events which took place during that first year. There were so many of you—his best friends. So many came to us with the wonderful memories and said to us —He was my best friend. How fortunate Todd was to understand the worth of unconditional love in friendships.
I wonder how Todd gained the wisdom of understanding friendship at such a young age. He was only 26 when he was killed. From the time he was just a little boy it was evident he had to have friends. In our mobile lifestyle, he had to make new friends quickly. I remember one particular move we made during the summer time when he saw many young teenagers the same age as himself at the place where we had moved. They were stand-offish. They had their clique; and at first were not welcoming to him. He watched them from a distance for a period of a couple of weeks. I suppose he was assessing them. Then, he dove in to get to know them. Many of those teenagers became his friends for life and beyond.
Todd was a man of commitment, honor, respect, and compassion. He was a man who loved to have fun and to party. His friends came from all walks of life and interests. He met you on your terms and appreciated you for who you were. You could confide in him and trust that you were safe. He had your back.
A best friend is someone you want to share those most important times of your life—your birthdays, your first car, your wedding, the birth of your children; your disappointments and heartaches. Time and distance does not take away a best friend. So many of you have shown that to be true.
As he had your back, now, you have his. You accompanied him from Dover to his final resting place. You gave a Eulogy at his Celebration of Life service. You spoke at the Tree Dedication and other such events. You gathered at a Blue Jays games in memory of him. You created events to honor him. You posted on his Facebook page and on yours. You talked of him and remembered his family with notes and e-mails. You continue to visit him at Arlington National Cemetery and leave something of significance. You continue to leave something at his tree on the grounds of William and Mary.
His physical presence may not be here; but he is still your best friend. When that special something happens in your life, know that Todd is looking down on you and smiling. He still has your back.
(love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. —Romans 12:11)
A Family of Veterans
November 10, 2016, Jeanne Harris Weaver
and painting by Jeanne Harris Weaver ©
Todd comes from a family of American veterans. Both his great-grandfathers fought in WWI; his Grandfathers were Marine and Navy volunteers in WWII; his father enlisted in the Army and became an Infantry Officer 1968-72. His great uncle fell in combat as a 1LT infantry officer in WWII in Italy; one of his aunts served in the US Navy; and his oldest brother was an Army Infantry Soldier during Desert Storm and became an officer and helicopter pilot later. That Todd would be a veteran was never in doubt. The events of 9/11 accelerated the process. My husband, Donn, frames Todd’s service as a soldier this way:
Being a veteran on this Veterans Day, November 11, 2016, brings service and sacrifice to the fore. I like the saying, If you love freedom, thank a veteran. Our son Todd grew up, served, and died with that same sense of why not me, why not now focus of country above self and even above family if that is to be what unfolds. Since the Revolution more than 1.3 Million Americans have died in combat. That would be our reality. America, as we know it, does not exist today without those veterans, all of whom knew it might have been them who fell.
Maybe not every year, but most of those in Todd’s 26 years of Veterans Days, it was a special time to reflect as well as get some time off school or pick up some shopping bargains. One stands out. Just before Todd decided to drop out of college and enlist in the Virginia National Guard as the Iraq War build up accelerated, I asked him if he had veterans day off and would like to go to a special ceremony planned in Williamsburg. He said no and yes to the two questions then by early November he told us now was the time — he would join the Virginia National Guard and live up to his statement made at the kitchen table on September 11, 2001 after he got home from football practice as a senior at Bruton High School that day. . “Mom and Dad, I don’t know how or when, but I have to do something to help our country that has given us so much after the events of today”. A year plus later, he became a soldier. Two years after that he was fighting in Iraq as a combat engineer, returning home as a 21 year old, hardened veteran.
Just 5 years later, this time as an Army Infantry platoon leader and first lieutenant, he volunteered for his second war and fell in combat at the age of 26 — he came from veterans and the veterans who came before him are very proud of his service and sacrifice. This Veterans Day picture Todd’s grave marker, along with 660,000 others at Arlington National Cemetery, and find any veteran in your area, thanking them and knowing, like Todd, their service has made it possible for you to be free and a citizen of the greatest country on earth.
For Todd's Birthday
Oct. 22, 2016, Jeanne Harris Weaver ©
photo: oath of office given by Todd's father at Todd's Commissioning
Today is a private day for me. My thoughts are deeply my own. My thoughts are of Todd. My thoughts are of that day I came to know a new being would bless our family. My thoughts are of those moments I shared with Todd, whether just the two of us, or in the midst of our busy family. Today is the day I am thankful he experienced the love of fatherhood. Today, I thank God for the twenty-six years I shared with this remarkable person. Today is the day I am thankful, O Lord, for the knowledge Todd is close to You for eternity.
And so, today, I share the following poem as a gift to Todd’s father, my husband. Todd certainly grew into adulthood with the blessings prayed for in this poem below.
A Father's Prayer
“Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak,
and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid;
one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat,
and humble and gentle in victory.
“Build me a son whose wishes will not take the place of deeds;
a son who will know Thee—
and that to know himself
is the foundation stone of knowledge.
“Lead him, I pray, not in the path of ease and comfort;
but under the stress and spur of difficulties and challenge.
Here let him learn to stand up in the storm;
here let him learn compassion for those who fail.
“Build me a son whose heart will be clear,
whose goal will be high;
a son who will master himself before he seeks to master other men;
one who will learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep;
one who will reach into the future, yet never forget the past.
“And after all these things are his, add, I pray,
enough of a sense of humor, so that he may always be serious,
yet never take himself too seriously.
“Give him humility,
so that he may always remember the simplicity of true greatness,
the open mind of true wisdom, the meekness of true strength.
Then I, his father, will dare to whisper,
I have not lived in vain.”
NOTE: written for his son by GEN. Douglas Macarthur
while he served in the South Pacific, WWII.
April 4, 2017, Jeanne Harris Weaver
painting by Jeanne Harris Weaver ©
In times of traumatic grief, it is hoped that a person has stored up enough grace to see themselves through this most difficult time with compassion and love. Often and sadly, survival instincts come to the forefront and it is very easy to become the person who is thinking only about what they are experiencing. Perhaps they say to themselves. No one else can feel what I am feeling. Why aren’t they considering my feelings? I am grieving too.
Each of us goes through trauma in our own personal way. There is no right way, there is no wrong way—as long as a person attempts to stay open to other’s feelings. And, just as important, others give them the same consideration. Yes, perhaps an impossible task; but also one of those lessons in life, which brings wisdom once experienced.
During the past six years since I experienced such traumatic grief in the loss of my son, Todd, I have done a great deal of soul searching. At first, I was not even aware that while I painted the series, Losing Todd A Mother’s Journey and later, while I wrote the book, that I was also searching my heart, searching for truths and learning in the process.
Could I have been more compassionate and loving to others? Did my words or actions hurt others while I was in such a fragile state? I hope not. I know I tried to consider others and to be inclusive, as did my family.
For those who did not consider the depth of the journey I was taking, I do not feel bitterness. As I say in my book, Losing Todd, A Mother’s Journey—
I am also grateful to those, after the first few weeks, whose discomfort did not allow them to share my grief: the promises for lunches that were never followed through…those who thought I should be able to accept my son’s death because I had other children….
They were part of the whole in God’s plan to bring me to where I am today. Solitude (while I painted) allowed me the introspection to observe, listen to God’s whispers, to feel His presence in my being and to build strength and knowledge….Solitude allowed me time to realize and ask forgiveness for my shortcomings and to forgive others for theirs.
If ever I should be tasked to again go through such a journey, I hope the lessons I have learned will aid me in grace. For to take such a journey there needs to be compassion; there needs to be love; there needs to be forgiveness. Without forgiveness, a person is left with bitterness, resentment and anger. Those emotions destroy lives and leave lasting raw wounds. But, with forgiveness there is hope, gratitude, and love. And where you find those graces you will find peace in your heart.
Mark 11:25 “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.
Grateful for Chaplains
Dec. 9, 2016, Jeanne Harris Weaver
and painting by Jeanne Harris Weaver ©
Recently, I ran across a video of the Terra Nova Memorial held in Afghanistan on September 14, 2010, which we received after Todd was killed. I don’t remember receiving it. I suppose it was one of many occurrences which happened in those early months which I blanked out of my mind; or did not have the emotional stamina to digest.
I watched that video for the first time. I could not only hear the words; but I could watch the body language of those who spoke in memory of Todd. I could see how they spurred Todd’s platoon on to fight in honor of Todd’s sacrifice; to not be brought down by his death. Top Guns never quit.
Most memorable for me now, nearly 6 years later, were the words by the Chaplain.
“He was truly a servant leader…A great void is left in his absence. Even greater is the richness he gave to us—his smile, wisdom, compassion and courage. He was faithful to us to the very end. Even greater than the void is love and love never dies.”
It is this chaplain who I believe left his cap with Todd’s personal belongings and which made its way home to Todd’s widow, Emma. It was this cap which Emma allowed me to borrow and to paint. And when I began to paint it, I noticed the small cross. Not Todd’s cap; but the Chaplain’s cap left for me to discover and to realize just how much he cared for my son. That cap is pictured in the painting shown with this blog writing-“Personal Items Returned”. As I set up the still life for this painting I noticed sand in Todd’s gloves. I painted that sand into the painting. The sand, from Afghanistan, where Todd had walked, and where he took his final breath.
There were other Chaplains as well whose caring nature touched me during that first year. CPT Jason Nobles conducted the Funeral Service at Arlington National Cemetery. CPT Nobles contacted our family in advance of the service. He asked how he could make the service personal to our family’s needs. Over a period of time we were able to suggest what scriptures would be read and aid him in creating a personal service for Todd.
There was the William & Mary Chaplain, Pastor John Kerr; also, interim Rector of the historic Bruton Parish. As of a year ago, Pastor Kerr, who I have never met in person, had included Todd in two of his sermons. He said in a letter to me, in part:
In fact, as I walked back and forth from the Wren Chapel, I passed the memorial to Todd in the College grounds (Todd’s tree) and always stopped and prayed: many Canterburians can acknowledge that.
This Chaplain had been a child who grew up in a military family. He understood the personal and honorable sacrifice made for one’s country and God.
About six months ago, I was having a discussion with a minister who had recently lost a loved one. I could see the emotional trauma he was experiencing on a personal basis. He had officiated many funerals throughout his life; but I think that with this loss he could understand, perhaps for the first time, the compassion needed to help a person undergoing personal grief.
Recently, I was contacted by the Central Florida National Veteran’s Foundation. The Chaplain for the Chapel at the Lake Nona Memorial created to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, from WWI to the present, wished to have a copy of my book, Losing Todd: A Mother’s Journey, included in the Chapel’s library. I was greatly honored to present them with a book. They understood the underlying message of spirituality in my book. It is my hope that those people who visit the Memorial and Chapel will perhaps find comfort and compassion in reading the book.
Chaplains have a unique perspective. Perhaps it takes a person experiencing the grief and loss of honorable sacrifice to God and country to have that compassion and understanding and be able to give of themselves to those who are mourning this unique loss. I am grateful to each of these Chaplains for the love and compassion they have shown to me in honor of my son, 1LT Todd W. Weaver.
I Drive Your Truck
June 13, 2016, Jeanne Harris Weaver ©
photo: Todd in favorite t-shirt driving to Key West
I was recently reminded of an incident which took place two years ago. I believe there are no coincidences in life. There are incidents which, upon reflection, help us to understand our human condition.
A mother was headed home from work one day when the song I Drive Your Truck played over her radio. She called her son to ask him if he was aware of the song. You see, her son had bought a soldier’s truck one month before that soldier deployed to Afghanistan, two years earlier in 2010. The young man’s father had accompanied him to meet the soldier and to test drive the silver blue Toyota Tundra. He later said of the soldier and his truck.
“It seemed to be a nice truck and had been taken care of very well…I told my son that the soldier seemed to be an honest guy who should be easy to deal with. His personality bore that out.”
Two years after purchasing the truck, and after listening to the song on the car radio, they were reminded of the soldier who had sold his truck and given his life for his country. They decided to contact the soldier’s mother through the website which had been built in his memory.
“I told her about meeting her son…I told her that I thought he was a hero and how much I appreciated his service.”
The soldier was my son, 1LT Todd W. Weaver, KIA 9/9/2010, Kandahar, Afghanistan.
I sent the father a coin which I had designed. I created the coin in memory of Todd and gave it to his dad as a Christmas gift. Today my husband, Donn, continues to carry that coin with him each day. He presents the coin to others as a symbol of military legacy in remembrance of Todd.
The young man who purchased Todd’s truck attached that coin to the dashboard of his silver blue Tundra.
One cold rainy night in 2013, the young man was driving the wet slick backroads of Kentucky. The truck fishtailed on an S curve. Barely missing a tree, the truck plummeted into the middle of a pond. He grabbed a few personal items including the coin and made his way safely to the top of the truck. As the truck gurgled and sunk to the bottom of the pond he called his dad and swam to safety.
“He was fine and we have thanked God many times over for his safety", said the father. "We think he had an angel on board. He has a new truck now. Again, Todd’s coin is adhered to the dashboard.”
It's My Life's Journey
July 15, 2016, Jeanne Harris Weaver ©
photo taken of Jeanne, Christmas day, 2010 at Arlington National Cemetery, courtesy of Eze Amos
It was the third day after the Army Captain and Chaplain had come to our door to notify us that our son, Todd, had been killed in Afghanistan. Our family had traveled to Dover to witness Todd’s return to American soil. He was close. I felt his presence. It would take time, and an open heart to understand.
On that third day, I ventured to walk the beach. I wasn’t sure I had the stamina. Would my knees crumple? It was along the water’s edge where I grew strength. It was where my mind created artistic images. It was where I prayed. I knew that I must.
I walked a mile down to the jetty and turned around. My swollen, red-rimmed eyes caught sight of a little shell glistening on the wet sun swept sand. I had not seen this shell on this beach before. I had found a similar shell on another beach on Mother’s Day, the last day I spent with Todd. I felt compelled to pick it up.
As I held the shell, my thoughts turned away from my own despair and sorrow; rather, to thoughts of Todd’s beautiful life; a life filled with promise and opportunity; conviction and dignity. At the age of twenty-six, he knew love of family, wife and child. He knew disappointment, sadness and sorrow. He knew faith and love for God. He touched so many people with his zest for life. Todd’s life here on earth was complete. He was in eternal light.
I carried the shell home and researched its symbolism. It was a moon shell symbolizing eternal life. Although I was unaware at that time, finding that shell was the beginning of learning how to navigate through my new state of being. It would become my red thread. Later that day, I entered a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson onto my e-mail signature—
“It’s not length, but depth of life”
I knew I needed help. I began to research books on grief. They were too clinical. I needed something emotionally tangible. The first book which gave meaning to me was Resilience by Elizabeth Edwards, her autobiography of travel and living in foreign cultures while growing up; her journey through cancer; and the tragic and unexpected death of her young adult son. Her words reminded me to dig deep into my own experiences to find my own resilience.
The second book was the Autobiography of Rose Kennedy. I had read her book when it was first published. I knew I would find strength by reading about the life and stamina of a mother who had tragically lost 3 sons in service to our country.
The third book, Discovering the Treasure Within, by Carroll Travis, helped me to realize that I needed to hone in to my time in meditation and to listen seriously to God’s whispers.
The three books, together, helped me to understand that I had to reach deep into myself. I had to reach deep into my own life’s lessons and experiences. I had to reach deep into my God-given talents, if I was to survive the death of my son and find peace in my heart.
It is an on going journey. It is my life’s journey. Through it, I have learned to trust in my faith; to trust in my prayers; and to ask God to guide me and thank Him for His many blessings.
It's Not A Wive's Tale
Jan. 14, 2017, Jeanne Harris Weaver ©
photo of Emma with Jeanne and Donn taken on Sep. 11, 2010
When my children were young, and when they were sad, I often sang to them a song popular in the 70’s and written for children:
It’s alright to cry; crying takes the sad out of you.
It’s alright to cry; it might make you feel better.
Raindrops from your eyes; washing all the mad out of you.
Raindrops from your eyes; it’s gonna make you feel better…
Tears are important. Grief brings tears. Tears we can’t escape. Tears we need to shed. Uncontrollable tears may stream down our face. Perhaps, we were raised to think tears are a sign of weakness. We don’t want to show our vulnerability. We may not want to bring attention to our pain. We don’t want pity from others.
It is actually true. Tears are a healthy response to pain, grief, and sorrow. Those salty tears we shed are differently from the tears our body makes to lubricate our eyes or wash out irritants. They contain a chemical which allows our body to excrete toxins. They allow our body to produce a good feeling hormone. Tears are not a sign of weakness or vulnerability. They are a sign of strength; a sign of healing.
After losing Todd, I cried uncontrollable tears for more than a year. I cried while I painted. I cried when I thought of a wonderful memory. I cried when I saw Todd’s friends or other family members. I allowed myself to cry. I carried a cotton handkerchief with me to blot my eyes. It remained and still remains in my purse. In a way, that handkerchief became my little secret security blanket. I held it in my hand while I gave the Memorial Day Keynote address in Cocoa, FL, in 2012. If I was in a public setting and did not want to lose my composure, just holding that handkerchief seemed to keep me safe until I was in a more private setting.
I would not allow myself to cry in bed. I would not allow this tragedy to be about me. It was not about me. It was all about Todd, a young man so filled with promise and an aspiring future. In the words of William and Mary President, W. Taylor Reveley, in his essay included in my book—
he was the best of the best
I would get out of bed and find something productive to do in memory of Todd. One of the first things I did was to produce two large i-photo books. They were created early in the morning when I would wake with tears. As I worked on the books each day, the tears would turn to small smiles and fond memories. It helped to put Todd’s life in order. It helped me to put my own life in order.
I did not realize, or understand the process I was following in healing my grief. I didn’t care what step of grief I was in. I just had a gut feeling that I had to do it my way.
Tears are an innate gift given to us, as humans. Let the tears flood. As they wash away the toxins, sadness, and anger, they will welcome love. With love, comes hope and joy.
(My child, let your tears fall for the dead,
and as one in great pain begin the lament…
Let your weeping be bitter and your wailing fervent..
then be comforted for your grief. —Sirach 38:16-17)
Reflecting on the Loss
May 20,2017, Jeanne Harris Weaver
and painting by Jeanne Harris Weaver ©
I was alone in the house that early morning when the Army Officer and Chaplain came to my door to give me the grave news that my son, Todd had been killed in action in Kandahar, Afghanistan. We sat in the living room. They attempted to talk to me and to ask questions. I could not comprehend what they were saying. I turned to look out the window to the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. I could feel the rage building inside me. Suddenly a luminous light passed before my eyes as though a white iridescent screen was being closed. My body and mind calmed. I turned back to them and asked, Has Todd’s wife, Emma been notified? The following day we traveled to Dover. Two chairs were placed on the tarmac for Emma and myself. I looked at the military men walking down the airplane stairs and thought to myself, Todd will not walk down those stairs. I could see the colors of the flag draped over the coffin through the open side entrance of the plane. As I held Emma’s hand, I watched as the honor guard carried Todd’s casket out onto the conveyor platform. Suddenly, I became aware of a brilliant, warm comforting light surround me and enter my heart. I took a deep breath to mask the gasp I felt so as to not disturb the silence. At that moment I knew Todd was okay. I knew Todd was in Eternal Light. I knew I would survive the worst of tragedies, the loss of a child.
Later, W. Taylor Reveley, President of The College of William and Mary would pronounce in his address at the Celebration of Life Memorial Service, The death of a person about whom we care deeply is always hard to bear, but when death comes suddenly to someone who is still young and who is a person of enormous past accomplishment and enormous future promise, death is a particularly wrenching blow.
The pain and grief were unbearable. Yet, I knew that if I kept my heart and mind open to listen to God’s whispers, a path would open for me to nurture Todd’s memory just as I had nurtured his life. My path materialized by using my God-given talent as a two dimensional artist. I painted twenty-one oil paintings in one year’s time. Through the process of painting and later in writing the book, I felt the loving arms of God’s Grace envelop me and steer me through this personal journey. I embraced it. I needed to reach the depths of despair so that with God’s love I could dig my way out and by doing so find perfect joy.
I believe each of us is born with an innate quality which will see us through the most heart-wrenching and difficult times of our lives. We must only allow ourselves the time to dig deep into our souls and keep our heart and mind open to listen to the not always quiet murmurs sent to us by God.
The book, Losing Todd: A Mother’s Journey has a multifaceted theme. Patriotism and pro-active grief show forth in the book clearly. For those who look closer, there is a third underlying theme of the overwhelming and nurturing love by God for all, and His gift of Consolation and Grace.
Jeanne Harris Weaver is a two dimensional fine artist who works with brush and oil paints on canvas using color, form, light and composition in order to create an expression of ideas or an atmosphere of emotion in her work.
Image: Painting # 7 in the Series, Losing Todd: A Mother's Journey, Dover, 9/10/2010.
Aug. 12, 2016, Jeanne Harris Weaver and painting by Jeanne Harris Weaver ©
My mother’s family came to the states in the 1920’s. She was a young girl; and the oldest of her siblings to travel with their parents by sea to make America their home. They became citizens quickly and assimilated into American life. At some time my grandmother would have received a letter posted by ship. By the time she received it, it would have been weeks, if not months old. It would tell her of the death of her mother, her father or another family member. How very hard to learn this news so far after her loved one’s death.
My grandmother passed away while her son, Pete, was serving in combat overseas during WWII. While in the trenches, he received a telegram with the news. A short time later, my mother and his wife, Aunt Sherma, would learn through a telegram that he, 1LT Pete J. Wassdorf, had been killed in action in Italy. It was the quickest correspondence of that era.
Although alone in our home at the time, how fortunate I was, to have two representatives of my son’s military service come to our door to deliver, in person, our fateful news. They came to our door that early morning with courage and compassion. They remained with us in the coming weeks to be sure all of our needs and concerns were met. How fortunate we were to receive a phone call from Todd’s superior officer only hours later to console us and to give us needed information. I am forever grateful to these people for their support to us; and for their compassion and love. They helped to bring solace to the unbearable.
My mother lost her brother, her mother, and her younger sister, all within a few years of each other. I do not ever remember Mother wearing black; and she refused to have lilies in the house. For her, they were symbols of those dark days of mourning.
But, she enjoyed telling stories about her family and about her siblings. She told me about the fun times she had with her brother; how they would both polish their cars and clean the spark plugs until they shined; how her brother would tease her and they would laugh; how they had a healthy sibling competition.
She talked of her younger sister, Ankie, with such love and admiration. Ankie passed away at the age of 12 from leakage of the heart. She was soft, gentle, and kind. Mother said she was an angel on earth.
It is from Mother’s stories I came to know my Aunt Ankie and Uncle Pete. I never met their physical presence. I love them. They are a part of my family.
From her stories I surmised there was a physical and personality similarity between Uncle Pete and Todd. Her stories allowed me to see the temperament of Aunt Ankie in my eldest daughter. There is a genetic connection; and It is something I would not be aware of if my mother had not allowed her memories to bring these people into our family.
I am grateful to my mother for teaching me the importance of remembrance; for helping me to understand a man is not dead until he is forgotten. I am grateful each day for God's blessings.
Oil painting: My grandmother standing with Uncle Pete as a young boy. She is pregnant with her fourth child, Corey. Artist: Jeanne Harris Weaver