Breaking news interrupts the newscast — as it often does — and my Saturday afternoon ironing. I mentally gear for yet another announcement of presidential foibles or, far worse, another mass shooting.
The scene shifts to a young woman sitting, talking and often looking up to the person standing behind her. Her expression is weary; her eyes are glistening with sadness. She occasionally brushes tears away.
At the point live television beams in, she is telling the reporters at what turns out to be a press conference that her family immediately came to be with her; even her pastor came, she says, looking up.
Tia Coleman and her nephew were the only survivors of 11 family members who were on the Duck Boat that was caught in terrific swells on Table Rock Lake near Branson, Mo. Eight other persons also perished. Twelve other persons, including the captain, survived.
Her voice is soft but firm. I can see that she wants to be clear, honest and helpful in her responses. The more she talks in her gentle way, the more her voice thickens with some sort of liquid grief caught in her throat.
This wife and mom who lost her husband and three children along with several in-laws two days earlier had reached into some part of herself and found the presence of heart and mind to tell her story.
Tia Coleman sustained that presence as if she were called to do important work. She mentions that the captain told them where the life jackets were but said they wouldn’t need them.
She described in detail her feelings as she struggled in the water, wanting to get to the life vests and get them to her children so they would float to the top.
She hit her head which seemed to pitch her out of the cabin. She then struggled to swim toward the top of the water, praying for her children and finally letting go.
Instead of sinking, she started floating to the top and tried to keep her head above the water. Going under, coming up, going under, coming up and trying to call for help. Help came in the form of life jackets being tossed from a rescue boat.
Finally, aboard the boat, she looks and sees no one from her family.
By now, reporters were expressing their sorrow for her before asking a question. One asked about the family she lost. Tia Coleman lovingly named each one and described each with a simple beautiful tribute to their special nature.
Truly, this now widow, and childless mother gave us a stunning moment of the potential of the human heart and soul in a difficult world.
When asked, she answered, “I don’t know what I will do” and went on to express her faith that her God, her friends and her remaining family will be with her and help her.
Then she paused and added, “My house has always been filled with little feet and laughter.”
‘Am I still a mother?’
The question is posed as a small notation on a drawing of grief.
“This Has Happened, Words and Images After the Crash,” is a book of drawings and poetry that records the pain and confusion in the months following the tragic death of 28-year-old Alex Chappell, an only child, who died when a drunk driver veered into oncoming traffic and crashed into Alex’s car.
His friend and fellow passenger, David Brehmer, endured months of treatment, surgeries and rehabilitation. He wrote and wrote of his experience through poetry. Poetry allows for the deepest expression of moments that cannot be burdened with prose.
“Movement now is struggle.
The process the goal. When one is able
one must move forward. When one falls
one must adapt.”
Alex’s mother, Jeannine Chappell, is an artist and the reason I know this book. She creates detailed portraits of owls, my favorite bird. The owls draw me to her art showing, where I see the book.
She is the one who tells us her grief through her drawings. Unlike her detailed rendering of owls, the drawings are squiggly outlines, abstract, diffuse, illogical, compelling and sad.
She draws eyes in clouds of colors, she draws the flower of life in her womb, she draws her anger, her pain. Her grief is vast and formless.
“Exile to the land of grief,” she draws.
The Streett family
Our community knows sorrow and loss of its own. A driver speeding in a heavy downpour lost control of his vehicle causing it to hydroplane into the oncoming traffic and crash into the vehicle that held the Streett family. They were on their way to the Grand Canyon one year ago this July.
Robert Streett was killed instantly, and the oldest son Robby died soon after. Josslyn Streett, wife and mom, and their youngest son Sawyer were seriously injured and have spent the past year being treated, rehabilitated and grieving their terrible loss.
Although, I only met Robert in a few meetings, I immediately liked him for his kind and perceptive manner and dedication to his family and community. I joined with many in offering my condolences.
Much like Tia Coleman, Josslyn shared with us through a special Facebook page her loss, Sawyer, her grief; her hopes, even Robert and Robby’s memorial on the ferry. She, too, is surrounded by loving support from many, including us who don’t know her but appreciate her strength, her love and her gift of connecting with us.
We all know loss and the truth that we are destined for lifelong experiences of loss. Loss and grief never gets easier; it is as if we are compelled to honor our lost loved one, family or friend for the time we have remaining.
We move on but never quite get over the longing to see and touch again the beloved life partner, the cherished child, the beloved pet and all the others who left before us.
The telling of tragic stories of life are gifts to us. They are profound and beautiful expressions of human resilience in the face of inconceivable loss.
They are the poetry of life.
Bertha Cooper spent her career years as a health care organization and program administrator and consultant and is a featured columnist in Sequim Gazette. Cooper has lived in Sequim with her husband for nearly 20 years.