Sydney Chaney Thomas lost her husband in July 2016 when he died of a heart attack. His death was sudden and unexpected, as he was just 55 years old and thought to be in good heath. Sydney now lives in Northern California where she is raising her two daughters, ages 16 and 17. Sydney is an instructor in Marketing at UC Berkeley's International Diploma Certification Program, and author of a cookbook titled Real Food for Real People. She co-founded The Trident Project, a non-profit that does global water testing to fight ocean acidification. She also co-founded Ocean SF, an adventure-wear clothing company that designs and makes quality sailing apparel. Her popular lifestyle blog SydneyChaneyThomas.com reflects her varied interests, her love for the environment and her entrepreneurial spirit ~ as well as her personal experience with grief.
Having lost my own father at nine years old, I am uniquely qualified to guide my own daughters through the aftermath of the sudden death of their father in July. I remember my own childhood’s depressing holidays and father daughter dances, tea parties and even Dads week-end at OSU as excruciatingly painful at worst, and awkward at best. Being a strategic person, I am always thinking ahead to triggers and events where I can protect my children and soften the blows of what can’t be avoided, and to completely avoid what can be silently sidestepped. While I also understand that adversity is a critical component of human development and growth, there really is a breaking point, and teenage girls are simultaneously terrifically tough and terribly fragile.
At my husband’s funeral when I spoke, I asked that when people see us, at school or around our small town, that all they have to say is, “I don’t know what to say…” and I informed them that we don’t know what to say either, but it is better to say something, than nothing at all. In some ways, I think those words have given people permission to approach us. I am hugged in grocery stores, on the street, at school and anywhere and everywhere I go. I often hear, “I’m just so sorry, Sydney,” as I am wrapped in the arms of one of my friends or many acquaintances. All of this is very supportive and helpful. So, I would recommend that someone send this message loud and clear to friends and family after a death. I can’t imagine how sad and isolated I would feel if people avoided me and felt uncomfortable talking to me, or my children.
At home in Moraga, I have a Meyer lemon tree that is abundantly fruitful and as gifts I cut the limbs and leave the entire branch with it’s fragrant leaves, and the lemons attached on the doorsteps of my Truckee neighbors when they are in season. It’s such a nice surprise for them to come home to a branch full of fresh ripe lemons while the snow is falling.
On this last trip it was so cold, I had to deliver them in person, so the fruit wouldn’t freeze on the doorstep. I was having a difficult day, being flooded with memories of other holidays skiing and cooking Thanksgiving dinner at the cabin, so when my neighbors opened the door, and their entire family hugged me I started to cry. They were so sweet and comforting to me. I can’t imagine not having this. But, I also believe that I have allowed people to love me. Perhaps it is my age, or just having learned to allow the good things in life to come to me without too much drama, but I have been loved and supported through this experience in ways that I could not have foreseen. It has taught me so much about love, life and the magic of letting love in, and how important it is to keep our hearts open and to see the gifts that present themselves in even the most tragic of moments.
There is beauty to be found in both the light and the shadows of this world. It is the contrasts that make life so beautiful to me, in the same way the senses are awakened to the juxtaposition of a branch of sweet Meyer lemons found on a snowy doorstep.
© 2017 by Sydney Chaney Thomas.
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