Unlocking Someone Else’s Prison – A Tale of Two Bears

I heard the couple outside before I saw them through the glass of the showroom door.  Hesitating, not really wanting to come in.  Ours is the door that no one wants to open because opening it means you have lost a loved one and need to arrange a memorial.

Smiling, I beckoned them to signal it was ok to come in.  Reluctantly, each looking to the other for strength and reassurance, they opened the door. They were an older couple. Their unease was palpable.  “How can I help you?” I asked.  A fleeting glance passed between them and immediately the lady’s eyes welled with tears, unable to speak.

Her husband stepped forward.  “We need to arrange a memorial…” he said, hesitating and struggling to voice the words “…for our babies. Twins.”  His eyes glazed over, and we began to speak about the incredible pain they both felt from the death of their twin babies.  Unrelenting, excruciating, and destructive pain they had carried with them every day for 45 years.

For both, the cruel cards that life had dealt them had been just too much to bear so they had buried their babies but not been able to face creating a memorial.  What do you say on the inscription?  Wouldn’t a memorial just serve to mark the spot that formed the culmination of their broken hearts?  Did they want to be reminded that their precious babies laid there cold instead of safely in the warmth of their parents’ arms?  I understood this.

Something had changed.  Faced with ill health and their own mortality it suddenly became important that a memorial marked the babies’ grave.  Once their parents passed away who would know the babies had ever existed or were loved so much by their parents and siblings?  The thought of them being unknown and unremembered was just too much for their parents – unthinkable – and it tormented them.  The lady began to sob uncontrollably.  My heart went out to her and if, in that moment, there was anything I could have said or done to alleviate some of her anguish I would have done it. The lump that had formed in my throat felt even bigger and I felt my own eyes beginning to fill with tears. “Keep it together Sharon – they don’t need your upset as well.” I silently chided myself.

Quite coincidently I had an in-depth insight into how they were feeling inside.  Just a few weeks earlier I had read a post on Linked-In by Gary Anderson, a first-time author, about his newly published book. The book was called “Daddy and the Two Bears” and it was Gary’s harrowing and gritty account of his journey from the moment Michelle, his wife, had told him she was pregnant to the weeks after both of his baby girls, first Alana and then a few days after, Dana – “The Two Bears” died.  I don’t know what compelled me to buy the book, but something did and within a day of reading his post I was reading his book.

It was a hard but compelling read and thankfully Gary had written it in short chapters.  Even though I knew there was no happy ending to Gary’s story I felt like I lived through every moment with him as he poured out his pain, thoughts and feelings on every page and I found myself saying silent prayers willing the twins to live, for there to be some awesome miracle and a happy, not devastating end. But it was not the case.

It was 14 long torturous years before Gary wrote his book – which is perhaps in some way cathartic to him. Within the pages he details his constantly spiralling mental health, caused by being brought up in a dysfunctional family and his battles with his own sanity.  The bubbling anger within him that he has faced head on and his love and absolute admiration for his wife, Michelle.

Michelle, the reader quickly learns, is an extraordinary person. Unwavering and determined to give her babies the best possible chance of survival, she endures massive physical and emotional trauma without ever complaining.  She has a very supportive family which is in stark contrast to Gary’s next of kin who are conspicuous by their absence – something which adds to Gary’s torment. His very close friends, however, prove to be Gary’s silver lining as they support him time and again. It is for those friendships and Michelle’s love that he gives thanks throughout the book.

Memorial chosen, I help the couple in front of me with a suitable, beautiful and fitting inscription and ornamentation.  As I do this the thought running through my head is Gary’s words as he writes about carrying his daughters’ coffin in the church, holding his precious baby in the hearse and finally as he places her into her final resting place for it is perhaps these words which have moved me the most in his entire story.

The vision running through my head of a dad, clinging onto a little white coffin never wanting to let it go helps me to somehow find the right words for the heartbroken couple sitting in front of me. As they leave, I close the showroom.  It’s not closing time, but I need a little time to find some composure, breathe and shed a few tears of my own for all the families who have ever lost a child or children.  I cannot begin to imagine the pain but, thanks to Gary’s courage in writing “Daddy and the Two Bears” I can have some comprehension and for that I am grateful.

A few days after our meeting the lady rang me to say “thank you” for the sensitive way in which I dealt with them.  I shared with her the insight I had from reading Gary’s account, mentioning what he had written about carrying the coffin. Her voice broke as she asked me for the name of the book and author, saying she would order a copy that day, which I know she did and has since read.

What had made me stop and read Gary’s post on Linked-in was a graphic that accompanied it.  It read: “Your story could be the key that unlocks someone else’s prison.” I think Gary has handed us that key.

You can buy a copy of Gary Anderson’s book, “Daddy and the Two Bears” on Amazon here.

© Sharon Malone 2021 Author of “A Monumental Muse”.

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