Don Gale: Coping with the loss of a child

In this Friday, April 3, 2020, photo, a white rose is pinned to an empty chair during J. Robert Coleman's funeral in Lexington, S.C. Thompson Funeral Homes added the flowers to represent the loved ones who couldn't attend in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Sarah Blake Morgan)

My youngest daughter died three weeks ago. She was 60. First my wife, then my brother, and now my daughter.

It’s another penalty of old age — the most painful penalty. You can make stress-relieving jokes about aches and pains, but there is no such remedy for the loss of those with whom you shared most of your life.

Current restrictions made it impossible to provide Christine’s many friends an opportunity to come share memories, but during brief graveside services I offered a few words, including:

“Christine lived a challenging life. For reasons we will never understand, she had a difficult time accepting herself as she was, a beautiful, loving, thoughtful human being. Even so, she conquered many of the challenges life threw her way.

“She became a caring mother to her step children. She bragged about them during one of our phone conversations only last week.

“She raised a wonderful daughter. During her daughter’s high school years, Chris welcomed her daughter’s friends into her home, never judging them or complaining about their youthful exuberance. They called her ‘Miss Chris.’ It was a term of respect and endearment.

“She loved to decorate her house for various holidays, and in her basement were boxes of decorative items for every holiday of the year, each one carefully labeled.

“I will miss her.

“I will miss our daily conversations on the telephone, the final one less than a week ago when she talked about getting better and looking forward to spring. Most of our talks were about trivial things — feeding the birds on her patio, watching a squirrel run across her fence, favorite salads, phone calls to her mother’s friends, trips to the grocery store.

“I will miss her jocular calls reminding me to watch ‘Batchelorette’ or some other TV program she knew I find odious.

“I will miss her calls asking advice about when and how to trim the single rose bush in her tiny garden, when to plant tomatoes and zucchini, why her tomato plants had many blossoms but little fruit.

“I will miss her ramen salad.

“I will miss the many times she reminded me of her mother — in looks, words, and deeds.

“Yes, she lived a challenging life. But through it all, she made life a little better for everyone who knew her.

“I will miss her. We will all miss her.”

Tragically, Christine suffered from addiction disease (alcohol), inherited from a grandfather who died long before she was born. As I learned much later, she struggled with her “problem” from the time she was in college. Years later, I guided her through half a dozen rehabilitation programs. Some helped; others did not. At least once, I saved her life. But no matter what I did, I could not counterbalance the periodic “events” that triggered relapse.

We found in her multitudinous records a journal in which she wrote with her meticulous lettering over a period of 25 years — off and on. It broke my heart to read about the successes and tragedies in her life, many of which I had not heard about before.

We gave her everything. Except what she needed. I wish my daughter had felt the same freedom to talk to me or her mother as she felt about sharing joys and fears with her journal. I wish I had listened. I wish I had paid more attention.

One of the final entries in her journal included: “Thanks so much to the teacher that got me started with this book (journal). It always seems to help. Goodnight for now?”

Goodnight, Chris.

Don Gale.

Like his daughter, longtime Utah journalist Don Gale is thankful for opportunities over six decades to share in writing his most intimate thoughts.