When Words Become Gifts

On Thanksgiving Day, 1994, two of my three young adult sons, Erik and David, were killed in a freak car accident. Years after the accident, my husband and I were at David’s college alma mater for a holiday event. I was in the dessert line when a woman came up to me and said, “I saw your name tag—are you David Aasen’s mom?” After doing a double take (it had been some time since I had been asked what used to be a rather common question), I replied with much appreciation, “Yes, I am!” With those three, almost magical, words this person gave me five gifts.

Her first gift was saying David’s name. Instead of just thinking to herself, Hmmm, I bet that’s David Aasen’s mom but I better not say anything, she said something. Her second gift was sharing a story with me about how her daughter, a classmate of David’s, still treasures the friendship she and David shared. Acknowledging that I’m still a mom was her all-important third gift. While my sons’ deaths have resulted in my becoming a bereaved mother, death cannot take away the fact that I am, and always will be, Erik and David’s mom.

The fourth gift was permission to share a bit of my grief journey with her. Since their deaths, I explained, there haven’t been any truly easy, carefree, feeling-on-top-of-the-world days, but taking each day as it comes has been the most “doable” way for me to go on. Her questions and manner did not make me feel obligated to cover up my grief and was the fifth gift. I felt valued for my honesty and my integrity remained intact.

The warmth of those five gifts has lingered on in my heart and has comforted me. As I reflect on the experience, I marvel at how just a few simple words had such an impact. I have come to the conclusion that most bereaved parents want nothing more than the opportunity to talk comfortably with others about their children. Just being able to share stories about our sons and daughters in a safe place, along with the permission to mourn in our own way and for as long as we need to, even for a lifetime, is what matters most to us.

The real treasure comes when others introduce our children’s names and stories into an everyday conversation. Knowing our sons and daughters are remembered and live on in the hearts and lives of others is a measure of the meaningful legacy that our sons and daughters have left to us and to the world.


Reprinted with permission from We Need Not Walk Alone, the national magazine of The Compassionate Friends.


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Comments (12)

  • My son Robbie,28 died of an asthma attack on December 16, 2014.. My life came crashing down ! His father ( husband) died of bladder cancer on February 2, 2006.. My family was disappearing from my life !
    My family and friends dont talk about them . I would love this gift. I talked about them all the time. Keeping their memories alive.

  • Thank you for sharing the story of your gifts of remembrance. Having someone remember something special about our loved one is truly a wonderful gift. As a bereaved Grandmother I love hearing and sharing stories of my grandson, Cole. I am sorry that it makes some people feel uncomfortable, because for us it truly a treasure to be able to share our loved one with others.

  • Nita,
    Thank you for sharing your words and thoughts with us; my only son died in November of 2002 from stage iv cancer so I know some of your pain. I would never begin to act as though I knew the loss of 2 children but I am sure you could and may have written a book. Your words were so spot on and the amount of time since they passed makes to me little difference; surely you learn ways to cope and perhaps even perfect them with much time but I can be brought to my knees on any given day and at any time. My thoughts are with you as you remember the lives of your sons and I wish you warm memories and peace; I arrived at the most peaceful point that I will ever be at 10 years and it is now 17 years but in a heartbeat I can be back at the hospital holding his hand as our Lord came and took his soul. I am sure you can identify with that as well though their deaths were very different and as I tell people when asked, how did you do it for 3 years as he fought to live? My answer is and I would think yours is much the same, I was not given a choice and 17 years later, I remember his life first and his death second. Please know that I care and wish you a gentle season and again, peace and warm memories.

  • Thank you for sharing this moment. It warmed my heart. I love it when my son’s friends share their memories with me and others. It reminds me of the legacy he left behind . His spirit lives on….

  • My 25 year old daughter was in a car accident on Thanksgiving November 28th, 2002. She was alone and went off the road and hit a tree. She was airlifted to a Boston Hospital Trauma unit and was declared brain dead on December 5th. She never regained consciousness. It will be 17 years tomorrow. It takes years before you can have conversations about them without breaking down. But it is always appreciated when their name is spoken and memories are shared. After all, it’s all we have left of them. This is the first year since then that the dates have fallen on the same days.

  • I too am a bereaved mom and am so sorry for the loss of those two boys I lost my daughter to a drunk driver but losing two children is double the loss. I don’t have a chapter near me but I keep in touch with a friend of mine Kim Whindrop who has been with me for many many years and also lost her only son. We parents who have lost a child or two can get so much support from the compassionate friends as I did many years ago and we will always remember our children no matter how many years ago mine was just 29 yrs ago and when I am asked how many children I have I always say 4 just one is in heaven but she is still with me in my heart and soul.

  • Hi Nita, I was sent this article by a friend. I am so glad that she shared it with me. I read both of your articles and identify with them immensely. Thank you so much for your gift to put those topics into words.

  • Thank you for sharing this moment as a mother of living adult children I love hearing any memory about them. Unfortunately I didn’t know what to say to a mother that had lost her child. Afraid that mentioning their child’s name might bring pain I’m afraid to say the name let alone share any memory. Your article has given me a better understanding and makes so much sense.

    • Thank you so much for writing us and telling us that it helped you. That is very common for people to think; I thought the same before I lost a daughter and then a son. But now I know how precious it is to hear a memory spoken about them and to hear their name is really music to my ears. And if someone cries when you say it, please know that you did not hurt them by saying the name or sharing a memory. You didn’t “remind” them of their loss; they remember 24/7 that their child is gone. You are giving them a gift by remembering. Again, thanks for writing, Sue.

  • Yesterday I called my cousin just to tell her I was aware it was her son’s birthday and that I remember he not only died but he lived for
    fifty two years. I wanted her to know he has not been forgotten. Why did I do this.? Because a year and a half ago my beautiful son passed away from cardiomyopathy…no one mentions him. It’s like everyone thinks I should be over it by now…like I lost a goldfish. It was my child and i wish someone would acknowledge that he lived

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