Not everyone has kind and loving relationships with his/her parents. I sure didn't so when mine died four days apart in January, 2013, I entered a time of confusion, anger, frustration and injustice. Their passing left me with unanswered questions, and permanently eliminated the possibility of reconciliation or even acknowledgement of poor treatment during childhood and adolescence.
The first year after their deaths found me searching for books and people who could help me make sense of the emotional turmoil I was experiencing. People skilled in the area of grief were at a loss to help. I didn't fit into the categories described in books on grief so with continuing anger and frustration, I tore each book, page-by-page throwing the paper in a trash can.
One day, four months after they died, I noticed the stack of over 100 sympathy cards I received. For several weeks, I couldn't look at the cards because I thought they were all about my parents. However, that day I realized the cards were not about my parents. They were for me! All of the love and compassionate thoughts expressed by the words printed on the card and words people wrote were waiting and available for me to receive.
The cards became my gateway to healing as I began to interact and respond to each one.
1. I cut out phrases on the cards that did not match my life, such as 'beloved mother', 'beloved father', 'happy memories'. Most people did not realize the nature of the relationship I shared with my parents. I received with deepest gratitude the loving thoughts they wrote, but some phrases that did not apply to my life with them I had to remove and set aside.
2. Writing letters to people who sent cards even though more than six months had gone by was the beginning of clarity and response. Although I didn't mail the letters, writing gratitude loosened my inner confusion and helped me connect with those whose thoughtfulness I wanted to acknowledge.
3. Looking at the cards over and over became a 'funeral home visitation'. Their passing and services during the week prevented my friends from coming. Each time I looked at the cards I received love and compassion from those who took time to send a note of condolence.
4. As the first anniversary of their passing approached, my art teacher suggested I tear the cards into pieces and make paper. Seven sheets of paper emerged from an afternoon project of paper-making. I took the leftover pieces of paper, and spread them on cookie sheets to dry.
5. Interacting with the leftover pieces brought new levels of dealing with my past. I took words on the pieces and made 'found poems'. Found poems are made from words selected from printed material such as newspapers, signs, or in my case, cards. For example, one of my found poems follows:
Someone will keep your troubled heart,
Holding it close, with peace coming during a difficult time.
Words are inadequate to express concern and sympathy,
When deepest comfort is needed for the heart.
Jesus reminds us, 'I give you peace. Let not your heart be troubled.'
6. I pieced a small quilt using some of the leftover pieces which held words of love, signatures and parts of pictures.
7. Scattering the tiniest pieces of card paper over snow in my backyard helped me release resurfacing anger.
Interacting with the cards occurred over several months. God brought life, opportunities for growth, understanding, acceptance, forgiveness and gratitude replacing anger, confusion and frustration which had been part of my life since childhood.
Celebrating how God worked through a stack of sympathy cards sent by persons who loved and cared for me and my family, cleansed my heart, brought refreshment to my soul, and gave me long-sought peace.
God indeed can use simple objects to bring integration. We read in the New Testament how Jesus explained the kingdom of God using common objects such as seeds, yeast, a mustard seed, weeds and a pearl. I can add another parable to the list - The kingdom of God is like a stack of sympathy cards - when torn apart and used for art and writing projects, woven with God's presence, they can restore a soul and release a heart from years of suffering.