The warm water in the therapy pool soothed my stiff knee, and I allowed the warmth to do its work on the sore parts as the windows to the outside showed a sky turning blue again after gray sputtering rain. This was my third session, and the cheerful woman who had helped me find my bearings at the first class had just arrived. Shirley was a regular, and I had just joined this small group for at least a month’s therapeutic exercise. Like some other members of our writing group, I do not always see myself as a joiner but as someone whose introversion allows me to watch from the sidelines before choosing to participate. But there are no sidelines when I am standing in a small therapy pool with only two or three people. And I couldn’t run far to separate myself if I chose to.
As we exercised to instructions from the therapist, listening to ’60s beach music, we shared easy conversation: updates about a husband who is ill, benefits of playing Sorry! and checkers with children, using handwarmers to soothe arthritic hands, how many children we have. After fifteen years, I still hesitate before sharing this answer: I will always have three children, but one of them died. How to say that gently and honestly so that others do not automatically feel like running for the nearest exit is sometimes a challenge. I don’t want to wave the information like a caution flag at a race, but I shouldn’t have been concerned about my answer on this day.
Shirley, also the mother of three children, told me that her daughter had been killed in a car crash almost 14 years ago. Her daughter was tall and blonde. Like my daughter. Her name was Kay Elizabeth. My name and my daughter’s. Her daughter died instantly of a brain injury. My daughter was killed instantly in a car crash 15 years ago. The cause of death: massive head injury.
What are the chances of finding another story with such a set of similarities? In the middle of a pool inside a hospital on a February afternoon? We shared hugs and some tears in the warm water pool. No one else ran for an exit.
As we move in the warm pool, we continue our stories, adding details, honoring our children by sharing the stories, not only of the similar circumstances of their deaths but of their lives and of ours. As Shirley said, the hole in our hearts is always there, but we can honor our children with our lives and by living authentically with those holes. And that’s what we have found in our small group of mothers who write together about our children. We are still surprised by connections and coincidence among us. We still hurt, but we are comforted to learn how our lives have almost touched in some way. Sometimes just at the point in our journeys when we feel most alone, the intersections provide stories that offer us traveling mercies.