A gift well chosen is a form of communication. It is a reflection of listening and the act of responding. Some people have learned to listen well and instinctively know how to give. I remember our friend Tom, who only met Oliver a couple of times, describing him as a “lover of chilly days.” It is such a simple phrase that captures so much of Oliver. The phrase is a gift.
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lightsJames 1:17
The other day, my wife, Mary Ann, was asked by a woman, Annie, where she gardens — what do you think about while you garden? Annie is an artist and said she finds working on her art meditative and thought perhaps Mary Ann found gardening to be the same. She does, and she told Annie that she often thinks of her family while gardening. What are they doing, what is going well and what are they struggling with in life. She told Annie about Oliver and how she thinks about him as well. What would he be doing if was alive, would he still like gardening with her, what would he look like — the normal questions of a parent who has a child die.
A short time later Annie returned with the gift pictured to the left. It is a bird she made from polymer clay. Although she had just learned about Oliver, the bird made her think of him. It is a wonderful gift in memory of a little boy who loved birds. We even cremated Miss Quackers, his beloved duck stuffed animal, with him. And my wife’s love of birds is hardly a secret, and so with one small gesture, Annie managed to represent Oliver and touch the grief of Mary Ann.
Reaching out to those in grief is all about communication. We don’t have to provide cliched lines or promises of a heavenly reunion to reach those in grief. Most likely, neither of these approaches will help. What is needed is the ability to listen to that person and the best way to listen is to invite them to talk. Annie did this by asking her what she thinks about when she mediates. It is an open-ended question encouraging someone to share. Just as importantly, Annie listened to that question and responded with a gesture that says she heard what Mary Ann said and knows that Mary Ann was not seeking answers but comfort. She was sharing what was important to her, and Annie replied by sharing something from her own hands that reflects what Mary Ann said and responds to her without answers. Instead, it is a gift. Those who reach out to others in grief can always offer such gifts. They may come as the gift of an embrace, the gift of silent consolation, or the gift of a polymer clay bird. But they are all gifts.
If you would like to see more of Annie Olson’s work (and you do!) you can visit her website here.