The realities of grief hit at the most unexpected moments.  Many years ago when my
stepfather died, I watched my mother go through the different stages of grief.  I yearned so to
help her through it as she seemed so fragile, but I knew it was something she would have to
deal with on her own terms.

Over time I believed she was doing quite well until the day I found her sitting in the floor
holding a beach ball and crying her heart out.  Her grief overwhelmed her, but I couldn't
understand the connection with the beach ball.

My mother and stepfather were both photographers and this beach ball was just a prop used
to entice children to smile and to liven up a photo shoot.  Suddenly it had brought my mother
to her knees in tears and I couldn't understand. It's just a beach ball.

When her tears subsided enough so that she could talk, she explained to me, "It has Tom's
breath inside!"

She wanted to clean out the props in the studio and started to toss it aside when she
suddenly remembered the day he blew it up, one breath at a time.  Now, it seemed to her
that the beach ball was the last thing she possessed to prove his life truly ever existed.

I held her awhile, but I never fully understood her pain.  Not until after she died and I began
going through the grief process for myself. I had grieved over the loss of my stepfather, as he
was a wonderful man and a great friend, but we never shared the closeness that Mother and
I shared. The grief I went through after his death didn't come close to my grief over losing my

No, I didn't have a beach ball to contend with, and I managed to handle my feelings fairly well
as I went through all of her things and took care of her final affairs.

My shock came when I heard my son's voice as he cried out on our answering maching, "Call
me back Mom, and please change that message!"

I had completely forgotten that Mother had recorded the announcement message on our
machine, and when my son phoned me and got the recording of her voice, he broke into

It seems like I stared at that stupid machine for hours before I had the courage to hit the "play
announcement" button.  My first reaction when her voice said, "I'm sorry I can't come to the
phone right now," was "DUH!"

Then the tears came.  I couldn't make myself erase her voice.  And that's when I fully
understood about the beach ball.  No, I never could erase her voice, but I did eventually quit
playing it over and over again.  At least when we had the power outage and the digital
message deleted itself, then my deleting it became moot.

Grief comes in all shapes and sizes. Hers was in a beach ball.  Mine was on the answering
The Realities of Grief:
The Beach Ball & The Answering Machine
©  Ferna Lary Mills
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