88: Stickers

88: Stickers

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery


He spake well who said that graves are the footprints of angels.

~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

On a very cold March night, my sister Joey was in a car accident. She was driving and no one else was in the car with her. When she rounded a curve going too fast, she lost control, hit a tree, and died instantly. She was 18 and I was 26.

Needless to say, the months that followed were very difficult for my mother and me. My mom and her second husband, Joey’s father, had been divorced for a few years, so they grieved separately. My mother and I grieved together. Our family was so supportive—my mom’s sister Penny and her children, my husband, my father and his wife, and many other relatives far and near. We had friends, new and old, who were there for us, too. Without them I can’t say we would have come as far as we did in such a short period of time. Every time we turned around, someone was there encouraging us, especially my mom, to keep going.

Soon however, the visitors tapered off, the mail contained more bills and junk than sympathy cards, and we had to go back to work. It was then that we were forced to confront our faith. What else could we do? True, we had each other along with all of the wonderful people who had sustained us through the past few weeks. But if Joey was gone forever, what reason did we have to keep going? All of our future plans involved her. Every day we faced the thought, “Is this how God intends us to live the rest of our lives?” We just couldn’t wrap our minds around the fact that she was gone.

A few months later, when her birthday was getting close, we organized a small party with my aunt and cousin. Before we lost Joey we would have thought it silly for someone to have a party for someone who was gone, but not anymore. How could we possibly let the day go by without acknowledging it? We had a cake and even put a candle on it. The four of us sang a tearful “Happy Birthday” and I attempted to say a prayer afterwards, something I desperately wanted to do. It was hard, but I managed to say what I wanted to: “Dear God, please help us have faith that Joey is with you. If we are sure of this we can go on knowing we will see her again one day.”

More time passed and the days became warm. My mom felt the urge to clean, reorganize and change. Joey’s clothes, shoes and other teenage belongings had sat untouched for many months, and we both knew it would do us good to go through them. We put aside her clothes and shoes to donate. My mom brought one of Joey’s favorite stuffed animals to a little boy in my kindergarten class who desperately needed to feel loved. When she handed him the teddy bear, his face lit up and so did hers.

Then we came to a box filled with stuff Joey had packed from her father’s house. It had been sitting in the closet for almost a year waiting for her to go through it, and now the job was ours. It would have been easy to just set it on the curb to be picked up with the garbage; we knew it was mostly junk. But we didn’t want to risk not retrieving that one picture of her we might not have, that note she wrote to her best friend during class, or any number of other things the box might hold.

Not surprisingly, there were more stuffed animals. She loved animals of all kinds and would have had as many live ones as cuddly stuffed ones if our mom had let her. There were spiral notebooks with names of her friends and who they all loved written in curly lettering. A small jewelry box held several pairs of earrings. There were sketches of the horse she had owned and trained for several years and her name, “Dolly,” written next to some of them. And there were stickers—lots of them. Sticker books weren’t as popular when she was young as when I was growing up, but she and her friends collected them nonetheless. We found letters with stickers on them, stickers with drawings around them, and notebooks decorated with stickers.

It was then that I saw something shiny. I looked closer and saw that it too was a sticker. Not just one, but two exactly alike. They were big, probably two inches wide by three inches tall and were still on their original slippery paper. The shiny part I had seen was the background, which was silver. My first thought was that they were probably stickers Joey chose at the doctor’s or dentist’s office. When I realized they had words on them, I picked one up to examine it closer. “I’m an angel,” the words said, written on a ribbon that flowed across a white dress. Wearing the dress was a young girl adorned with wings and a halo and holding a harp. “These two stickers are for us,” I said to my mom, handing the other one to her. I felt this with all of my heart.

Even now after all these years, I can look at my sticker and feel the same way I felt that day. I have it in a frame, silver to match its background. Even though I pass by it several times a day, I don’t always notice it. I don’t need to; I have known since the minute I found it that I would see Joey again one day. For now I need to keep going.

~Jane Barron

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