There are few bright spots about Facebook, but one of them is that we were able to reconnect with classmates from Middle School and High School. One of those people was Annette, who was a cheerleader who everyone liked. Even though we were not in the same circles, we reconnected and I would enjoy her posts of her life with her husband and her adorable daughter, Tatum. Then six years ago, in the beginning of 2015, sudden and distressing news trickled in. At first, it was a mention that her daughter had stomach pains and then a life flight to a hospital. As a mom, I felt so much empathy and worry for Tatum and Annette. I asked a mutual friend to let me know if there was any news. I was not a praying person, but I prayed and sent all sorts of calls to the universe that Tatum would recover.
I was out to dinner, when I got the awful text. Tatum did not make it. I was absolutely heartbroken for Annette and her entire family. The worst possible thing that can happen to a human being is to lose a child at any age. I remember going to buy a sympathy card in a store in Downtown San Rafael the next day and I burst into tears at the card rack. The unfairness and tragedy sunk deeply in my bones. I was buying a card for a friend who lost a child who should be here.
I joined many people from my high school to give our support at a memorial service and wake for Tatum in Menlo Park. It was beautiful as it was sad. The priest had the impossible job to find words. I felt like so many of us that it was now our job and honor to sit with Annette and her husband Darren in this impossible journey of grief. I was proud of our high school alumni community that showed up for her and for the last six years everyone has pitched in to be there.
I remember coming up to her at the memorial to give condolences, but also say that she has us and will need us from now on. There is no end date for grieving especially if it is your child. This is going to be a journey.
Every year on the anniversary of Tatum's passing, we light a candle in her memory. Every time we see a rainbow or lady bug, we take pictures of them and tag Annette. We believe that Tatum communicates with us through these signs so we can keep her spirit alive and support her parents. You can read their story and support the work of #Tatumstrong at their website.
This video documents the candle lighting ceremony I created in Tatum's honor. I included my own #Tatumstrong rock which is another way Annette and her friends keep Tatum's spirit alive. There are Tatumrocks created and placed in neighborhoods at least in the Northwest, but other places.
What helped us positively for our friend is to understand the state of grief. Annette posted a lot of articles about grief to help us. I had lost my adoptive mother in 2002 and lost both birth parents in 2014. My take away is that you just sit and listen. You trust the griever to grieve in the manner that they chose. You honor the way they grieve and not try to impose how you would. Sit with their pain. Sit with their loss. The kindest thing you can do for a person is to be okay with the discomfort of the rawness of someone's loss and be a companion through the loss that never has "closure". What you do is give them some measure of control in a situation beyond their control. They know how to grieve for their child or their loved one more than anyone. Give grieving people the ability to feel the widest spectrum of feelings about their loss.
D.K. Castellucci is an artist living in Marin County who works in acrylic, oil paint, oil and soft pastels, charcoal, gouache, watercolors, graphite and