From Chicken Soup for the Girlfriend's Soul

The Angels on the Cruise

My husband, Mike, and I lost our soon-to-be eleven-year-old son in a gun accident on December 7, 1993, shortly before his birthday. The journey down the road of grief is very exhausting, and there are many days you don’t think you can keep going. We had to keep going; we still had our thirteen-year-old daughter, Jayme, depending on us— besides, Sean would not have wanted us to give up. Many times remembering his jokes and laughter and feeling his love got us through some very rough moments.

Even through the pain, we have had many blessings come to us on our journey through grief. One of these blessings occurred during the Thanksgiving of 1994. Thanksgiving had always been a special time for our family. We liked being together, just the four of us. We would take turns cooking our favorite dishes, have a relaxing dinner, decorate the Christmas tree, light the tree when the Plaza lights were turned on, then sit around and eat appetizers while we enjoyed the tree. So that Thanksgiving the three of us needed to have a “different” Thanksgiving holiday. Mike had always wanted to go on a cruise and we thought that might get us through our “first” Thanksgiving. When someone you love dies, you remember things in your life as two parts: before they died and after they died. It’s like you’re starting a whole new life whether you like it or not.

People think you can get away from your grief by taking a trip, but for those of us going through this journey of grief, you know the pain always goes along. So you have to do the best you can. I did a lot of praying about going on this cruise, hoping it would take a little bit of the edge off the pain.

We got lucky on the cruise: The weather was great and on the second day, on a tender boat going to Key West, we met three really nice people from Orchard Lake, Michigan. It’s funny how, when you don’t bring a friend along for your daughter, you’re always looking around to see if anybody has a daughter, preferably the same age, to hang out with. As luck would have it, Denise Falzon found us first. We all seemed comfortable with each other and agreed to meet later that evening back on ship.

Chris and Denise’s daughter, Nikki, was six months older than Jayme, and they had everything in common— from being on student council to being in musicals— except losing a brother. The girls had fun together. The big day arrived and we were out at sea all day. We spent the day on deck with Chris, Denise and Nikki laying out, relaxing and talking. Denise had asked if I had any other kids and I told her no, just Jayme. I guess I didn’t expect to see them again or I would have told them. We met for a show later in the evening and I remember looking at the Falzons with envy, thinking If they only knew of the pain we are carrying and wondering what it would feel like to just be “normal” again.

We enjoyed the time we spent with the Falzons, and at the end of the cruise we exchanged addresses and said we would write to each other.

A couple of days after Christmas, I received their Christmas card in the mail. As I began to read the card, I started to shake. Denise thanked us for helping them get through another holiday. Their nineteen-year-old son, Brian, had died October 1, 1993, collapsing at his college campus from sudden arrhythmia. So now, Nikki and Jayme were just alike; they both had had a brother who had died suddenly.

With over two thousand people on board that ship, we had met another family who also had lost a son and around the same time—almost as if our sons had matched us up.

I knew the Falzons were spending Christmas out of town, but I hurriedly wrote them a letter about Sean and sent a picture to them. I wanted the letter to be waiting for them when they got back from their trip. They were shocked and called as soon as they read our letter. We just talked and talked—and we’re still talking six years later. Denise and I are a mini-support team for each other around the anniversaries of our sons’ deaths.

This year Sean would have been graduating from high school, so we are planning a trip to visit Chris and Denise during graduation weekend.

I think being thankful for our blessings no matter how small and reaching out to help someone else, especially when we are feeling down, has been a tremendous help to Denise and me and our families. Opening our hearts to the love around us helps us to still feel the love of our sons. Love has no boundaries.

Shari Dowdall

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