— An Eskimo saying
After losing Dad more than 21 years ago, and Mom almost seven, folks who had walked that path long before me offered a comfort everyone needs to hear.
“Time will heal your loss,” I was told by a few on each occasion. “Your pain will never go away entirely, but it will lessen to the point that when you think of them you’ll smile at their memories; you’ll no longer cry at their loss.”
Some also offered, “You’ll never forget them. They’ll walk with you forever and you’ll think of them every day, not just tomorrow or the day after or next week ... but every day, for the rest of your life.”
Frankly, as much as I loved Mom and Dad, I truly doubted that once I had accepted their loss, the heartache had subsided and my life had returned to a normalcy that they truly would return to my thoughts each and every day. Life was just too fast-paced and filled with the unexpected to allow time for such daily remembrances, so I thought.
I was wrong.
Those who had consoled me with such insight were truly wise. Personal experience was their best teacher.
As they told me, not a day goes by. And that’s what I would tell the Bradley County families of those nine loved ones who died at the merciless hands of the tornadoes almost a year ago, April 27, 2011.
Even as much as our newspaper has reported on those storms over the past 12 months, and told countless stories of impacted residents from last April and this year’s March 2 twister, you never quite put a face on the raw emotion of the disaster until you sit down with family members who paid the ultimate price — the tragic loss of loved ones.
I had that opportunity a couple of weeks ago in my office when Wayne Johnson and Rhonda Davenport told me of their plans for a candlelight ceremony this Friday night memorializing the nine lives lost during last year’s 12 frightening hours of tragedy. Among the losses is one of their own — Evelyn Johnson who was Wayne’s wife of eight years and Rhonda’s beloved Mom.
As much as Wayne and Rhonda — and the rest of their tight-knit family — miss Evelyn, they understand the entire Cleveland and Bradley County community fell victim to those tornadic marauders. Many were affected. All felt the hurt. Wayne and Rhonda were among the masses.
That’s why instead of hosting a private family ceremony on the night of the one-year observation, they are inviting the full community, and especially the families of lost loved ones. It’s a touching invitation, one whose endearing outreach carries a message of inspiration to all whose pain was real on that terrifying day and night, and those who still struggle with personal acceptance.
A year is a long time. Yet in the big picture it is little more than a breath. Loss of this consequence is unimaginable. Its healing process is gradual. Its remorse tugs at the heart and tears at the soul. But like others told me years ago, it lessens. It never goes away, but it evolves. It becomes manageable. And it leads to the sweetest memories whose beauty is as vibrant as the original pain is deep.
For those planning to attend the candlelight memorial, it will be brief yet it will lend a healing touch through soft closure. Families, friends and loved ones will gather in a ring. A trumpeter’s soft melody of “Amazing Grace” will warm the air. The tiny flames of hand-held candles will cradle the hearts and comfort the sting of saddened eyes.
When the names of nine deceased gently roll from the lips of a caller, it will serve as a goodbye, signaling a quiet finality. Yet it will herald a conviction to remember, a commitment to move on and a promise to embrace life as a precious gift — one not to be taken for granted, never one to be ignored.
Surely, it will be an emotional ceremony for those still carrying a depth of grief that most cannot fathom. But it will provide closure. Its message will help to heal the hurt.
Most importantly, families will gain strength from this shared moment, and a community will rise with eyes to the heavens. Their re-energized spirit will focus on that which lies ahead, and no longer upon the ruins of a past left far behind.
Friday’s ceremony will begin at 8:30 p.m. on the track behind Waterville Elementary School. The public is invited. Those attending the Recovery 2012 event at Conn Center are welcome to attend as well if their timing will allow.
Wayne Johnson, Rhonda Davenport and the entire Evelyn Johnson family are to be commended for their unselfish decision to honor the memory of their loved one while opening warm hearts to all who still grieve from losses of their own.
It’s a tribute to Evelyn.
It’s in memory of eight friends she never knew.
Yet its scope is communitywide.
And its place is our time to heal.
In memory of Rhonda Smith Casteel, Eva Catlett, Tommy Evans, Chase Glasgow, Tami Glasgow, Evelyn Johnson, Robert King, Lisa Pack and Kandice Satterfield.