In addition to being a funeral practitioner, I am a portrait artist. In my capacity as an artist, I was working in a large retail store and noticed a young couple checking out at the registers. The husband was attentive to his wife as she paid for their selected items, and assisted her with amazing tenderness and love. She was a stunning beauty and he was strong and handsome. As they walked closer to where I sat, I could see there was something else. I could not remove my gaze from them and to my surprise; they walked right up and sat down at my table. The beautiful woman sat directly across from me. I looked deep into her eyes and was overcome with compassion. It was a very confusing experience. She was perfect in every way, yet there was a vulnerability that tenderly drew you to her. Her gaze was almost yearning and her mind seemed far away. Then her husband spoke. My eyes remained focused on his lovely wife, and then I knew. She sat there, so straight and brave, and without a sound or gasp, a tear streamed down her perfectly formed cheek. As her tear reached her jaw line, I realized that I was looking into the depth of a broken soul. The faraway look that had been so confusing to me was now clear as day. This stunningly beautiful woman had suffered the overwhelming loss of her first-born and only child, just two weeks earlier. Her sweet son had been a vibrant, playful, and beautiful toddler. Their neighbor accidentally ran over him as he retrieved a ball while playing catch with his daddy in the front yard. In an effort to save his son, this strong father sustained dangerous injuries himself and was within 18 inches of reaching his son when the vehicle crushed him beneath its weight. This young mother sat there, not moving, still, and quiet. Her husband recounted the tragic details of their son’s death and asked if I could paint his portrait from a cell phone snap that he had taken just days before their loss. I painted their son’s portrait. It was beautiful.
This was the first couple I had ever worked with that had suffered the loss of their child, and perhaps that is why it remains with me. I learned a lot from these parents. The daddy was strong, tall, and outgoing; the mother was beautiful, feminine, and withdrawn. Through the years, the daddy has remained strong and outgoing. In fact, as time has passed, I have often worried about his never wavering strength. Conversely, I have witnessed the mother rise and fall as the days have passed. She has displayed her sadness and demonstrated her journey to recovery openly.
For several years now, I have kept in contact with this family. They have since enjoyed the birth of a new child. A girl, as lovely as her mother. Their impact on my funeral practice remains ever strong. They taught me so much about the tragedy of losing a child. They also taught me that two people mourning the same death grieve differently. Each parent had enjoyed unique experiences with their son and each parent grieved in a way that they were able to recover from his tragic death and live as a family again. Their road was so hard, and I am sure it remains so. They are strong and vibrant, yet I observe in quiet moments that they drift back in time and remember how precious and wonderful their son was to them. I learned that society is not necessarily fair, especially to dads when they lose their children. However, most importantly, I learned that if a mom and a dad love and tenderly support each other, each taking care of the other in moments of despair, they will eventually arrive at a place where they can bear the pain. Moreover, although life has forever changed, they can exist together with peace and harmony anew.
My name is Tracy Renee Lee. I am a funeral director and writer. It is my life's work to comfort the bereaved and help them live on.