A Moving Perspective on Loss and Acceptance

At AseraCare Hospice’s “Butterfly to Remember” event, people from the Sioux Falls community gathered to eat, enjoy live music, listen to speakers talk about loss and acceptance, and honor loved ones lost by releasing a butterfly in honor of them. This year, Tracy Vik gave a testimonial on loss, the different stages in life that it can occur, and finding peace afterwards. As a member of a large family, principal of an elementary school, and volunteer in countless community events, Tracy has experienced many different scenarios of loss, healing, acceptance, and lessons learned. Here are some of the stories she shared:

When I was asked to share some thoughts this evening, I immediately started thinking of some of the very special family members that I have lost in past: grandparents, uncle, cousins, a nephew and a niece, my mother in law. I took several minutes and remembered so many special memories…my grandpa Cecil who always had a little black comb and a roll of butterscotch lifesavers in his front shirt pocket. He told the funniest and sometimes inappropriate stories that would make us kids giggle and make my mom pretend to scold him, but I knew better…she loved her father-in-law’s silly tales as much as I did.

I thought of my Opa Wilts- a WWII Veteran whose plane was shot out of the sky and landed in the Adriatic Sea. All nine crew members survived, floating on a 5-man dingy until they were saved by the French. It took it over 70 years for my Opa to finally tell that story, but when he did, you can bet that we all listened! My Opa married his high school sweetheart and had six children before cancer took his beautiful bride at the young age of 40. A few year’s later, he found love again when he married his good friend’s widow and help to raise her five children as his own. Unfortunately, he also lost her to cancer just fourteen years later. His family was as huge as his heart! He viewed each child as his own (steps and in-laws included). He was an incredible grandfather to over 100 children whom he called on every birthday and was great grandfather to more than 40. I have some amazing memories of that man, especially the funny German phrases he would teach us! My cousin once said, “If the world was what OPA was, it would be an incredible place to live.” What a testament to a wonderful man.

Next, I thought of my nephew Andrew who was an excellent athlete, a good student, a popular teen. His demons were unknown to the rest of us, but they were just too much for him to bear. Or my niece Francis Lynn, who was named after me, she died before she ever took her first breath. She would be 22 years old now. I wonder what her life would be like. Would she be as tall as her brother? Would she be as ornery?

Then my thoughts shifted to my work in the school system. I have been in education for over 25 years and have had many experiences with loss in the school setting. I recently was cleaning out my desk for summer (which was very overdue) when I came across a note from one of my teachers from Edison Middle School. It said, “Thank you for your support and for all that you did for me last week. I am sure there is no amount of schooling that can prepare you to tell one of your teacher’s that her father has suddenly died.” I will never forget that day and unfortunately, I have had to do it again since that time. I also did not have any preparation in how to tell a group of students that one of their classmates or their teacher has died, but it’s part of the equation. 
Everyone deals with pain and loss a little differently and that is a wonderful thing. The strong can console the weak, the reserved can comfort the emotional, the young can bring wisdom to the aged. 
Over the past three years, I have had four young children lose a parent. While providing support for the child as well as the parent, I have gained much insight from these young, but wise souls.

Recently when one of my young students lost her mother in an auto accident, after a week or so, I was welcoming her back to school and got a little emotional. She looked into my teary eyes and said, “My grandma said it only hurts if you really loved them. Do you love my mom?”

After a school grade concert, I saw a young boy who had lost his mother the year before, staring up at the ceiling, oblivious to the hustle and bustle around him. When he was finished, I asked how he was doing and he replied, “I am good. I was just making sure my mom saw me sing. I think she did!” and he trotted off to find his classmates.

This past summer an incoming kindergarten student lost her father after a sudden illness attacked his weakened immune system due to a few battles with cancer. Her mother was devastated, as one can imagine. Significant time was spent on phone calls with the mother discussing her daughter and how school might be difficult for her, that she might have breakdowns throughout the day, and such. I was prepared. My counselor was prepared. Her classroom teacher was prepared. The first day of kinder camp, she announced to the group that her daddy had died, but it was ok because he wasn’t sick any more. He was in Heaven. She was so upbeat and positive. What a refreshing reminder she was to the adults in the room that in Heaven, we are all healthy and pain free.

Several years ago, my oldest daughter, Kaitlin and I started a blanket making project called Project Warm-Up. In the beginning, our goal was to give a new fleece tie blanket to kids who were homeless in the Sioux Falls School District. The project grew significantly over the years and soon we were able to not only give blankets to students who were homeless, but also to children who facing serious illness or who had suffered the loss of a significant loved one, like a mother or father. I have received a message from a mother whose daughter passed away the night before her third birthday. The mother shared that the blanket brought great comfort to her daughter when she was ill and continues to bring great comfort to the mother who sleeps with that blanket every night. When one of my young students lost his mother, I took him to our blanket closet and asked him to pick out a blanket for himself and for each of his little sisters. I told him that whenever they were feeling sad or missing their mama, they could wrap themselves up in their blanket and know that she was with them, giving them a hug.

My hope for each of you is that you will find comfort in knowing that your loved one is in a wonderful place. I hope that you feel his or her presence during important times in your life.

Tonight, we will release a butterfly in honor of our loved ones who have passed. I am sure it will be an emotional gesture for many of us. Please remember the wisdom shared by my seven-year-old student, “It only hurts if you really, really loved them.”

Thank you all for your time and the honor of sharing my thoughts with you.