Life Lessons: Little Girl Lost
The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.— Mark Twain
A time to remember
Each year at this time my heart and mind are flooded with so many memories most of them glorious. And even as I remember Mary Jane my sister who was five years older than I was when she died at age nine, my heart is still filled with joy.
You see, even though I still miss her, the goodness, the gentleness, the love that she shared in her few short years are what I remember. And I was only four at the time but I do remember her, vividly.
Being the best version of oneself
My sister, Mary Jane, was remarkable and inspiring far beyond her years. Her walk on the planet caused those who came in contact with her to be filled with joy and lifted up just because she was nearby.
She could often be found outside walking in the many flower beds around the property where our home was located. She especially loved roses. When she died, my Mother planted a rose bush in the area outside of our breakfast nook. When it bloomed we could be enchanted by its loveliness and be reminded of our precious Mary Jane.
Sharing this pink rose with you is a way to present one side of a most remarkable little human being whose ethereal beauty inside and out inspired and challenged others to be the best version of themselves.
Appropriately the pink rose symbolizes perfect happiness, grace, and gentleness---all of these perfect descriptors of Mary Jane, the little girl lost who succumbed to brain cancer but found the key to living before her death and passed it along to all who knew her:
There is something mystical about how this music helps to keep me grounded/
Visit to the country....
Our annual visit to our cousins and aunts and uncles in the country was filled with excitement every year. The annual pilgrimage to reunite with family began two days before Christmas.
The family piled all of their Christmas packages into the trunk of their 1948 Ford, piled three sisters, ages 4, 9, and 11, into the backseat, and headed out to the very rural Virginia home place of the momma of the Traughber family.
The drive would take about two and one half hours so the girls kept busy reading their favorite books out loud, coloring in coloring books, counting cars, and talking, talking, talking about important things. Things like: ‘I wonder if Santa Claus will find us at Aunt Dottie’s house’; or, ‘I wonder if I am getting ….’ and the voices trailed off as they giggled and laughed out loud about the silliest things.
Family joy and sorrow would long be remembered after this holiday.
Three sisters: left to right...Patti, Mary Jane, Teresa
Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.— Mother Theresa
Let the fun begin....
It was late afternoon by the time the travelers pulled off the main highway onto the long, winding road which lead to the home place. The horn sounded to announce our arrival.
Everyone rushed out to greet us. Hugging, kissing, and laughing filled the air. The three girls anticipated with great excitement this reunion every year.This home was special to them. It had been the home of their Grandmother, Grandfather, their Mother, and their aunts and uncle, too.
It was a rambling three story house with bedrooms tucked here and there in unexpected corners as if to surprise those who visited.There was a very spacious living room with comfy chairs and couches. It was cozy and inviting but it was the second most favorite spot in the house. The kitchen was number one!
Most everyone crowded into the kitchen to find a warm, freshly baked, oh-so-fragrant oatmeal cookie jam-packed with plump luscious raisins. . The aromas meandered throughout the home place inviting, beckoning even, to all to come and investigate.
The children who had journeyed to this place were now in liege with their cousins so six of them were running, squealing, playing, and overflowing with the fun of it all.
The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the
utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer
experience.— Eleanor Roosevelt
Christmas Eve Supper
The evening meal was simple but filling. Bowls of chicken soup, soup that had simmered all day on the back burner, were ladled into gray ceramic bowls at the dinner table. This was real chicken soup filled with planks of chicken, carrots, potatoes, and celery swimming in the broth only simmering all day could create. Each bowl was served with freshly made rolls. Those rolls. Divine. Usually there were far fewer rolls for the meal than had been planned as each time a child had scurried through the kitchen another, freshly baked, steaming hot roll disappeared.
After the meal, leftover foods were stored. Dishes were cleared and washed. The elder sisters remained in the kitchen to prepare apple, pumpkin, and mincemeat pie and more rolls for the meal on the following afternoon. Christmas Day.
Daddy with Mary Jane in his arms...
When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love ...
When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love ...
He nailed it. It is indeed a privilege to be alive---to wrap our arms around this day and find the newness that awaits each of us!!!
Trimming the tree...
All of the children gathered in the living room where a freshly cut Scotch pine occupied a space befitting such a regal tree. It seemed so tall it could touch the sky and probably was very tall as the ceilings were very high in that house. Children would adorn the family tree with tinsel, popcorn, and a multitude of glass ornaments that had been in their family for many years.
Every child eagerly awaited the first step in the decorating ceremony.
Stringing popcorn was the one part of the ceremony that was the most fun of all. Blunt end needles had been purchased so that no little fingers were precipitously stuck rather than a piece of corn. And when a piece broke, it was not wasted. The one nearest that piece gladly retrieved it and chomped away. The youngest child, who was only four, was not left out. She got the ‘important’ job of bringing more corn in from the kitchen to the dining room table where the ‘stringers’ were working. She also was able to retrieve fallen pieces of corn to munch on while she watched her sisters and cousins busily making these strands of ‘snow’ to decorate the tree.
Once all of the stringing was complete, a ladder was situated just so and the tallest cousin carefully ascended it and began to wind the strands around and through each branch. As soon as he was down low enough where others could reach the branches, the ladder was removed, and everyone took a turn placing some part of that garland on the branches.
‘Ooohs’ and ‘aaahhhs’ resounded. Children ran to the kitchen to invite the Grownups to come see this work of art!!! Wiping hands on aprons, the sisters would come; the uncles would come from another room where they had been smoking cigars, reading, and occasionally chatting.
Where is Mary Jane?
One little girl slipped away from the rest of the children. It took a little while for the others to notice with all of the excitement that surrounded the decorating of the tree. When they did find she was not hiding somewhere in the room, they were not really too concerned. She would often wander off to see what the Grownups were doing.
She was not with them either and then everyone began to look in earnest for the missing nine year old girl. After an exhaustive search, her Mother thought to look in a bedroom. And there she was, laying face down on a bed, sobbing.
When her Mother asked her what was wrong, she said: “I went to the bathroom, and I dropped the toilet paper in the toilet!” and she burst into a new, heart wrenching round of sobs.
"That's okay, Mary Jane," our Mother told her. I will take care of it. Everyone has an accident sometimes."
Nothing more was said of it. The little one who had been missing rejoined the others.
It was time to bring out the ornaments that would be placed on the trees. First though the Grown ups wound the strands of colored lights around the branches. The lights the children anticipated the most had candle- shaped lights that were filled with liquid. And when they were plugged in tiny bubbles would appear inside of them. Soon the bubbles began to dance around in the glass tubes and the kids clapped at the sight of them.
The home where Mary Jane spent her nine years
Each year, at the end of the holidays, the ornaments were wrapped carefully in tissue paper and tucked in boxes until the next December. Time now to free them from the boxes. Each child took a turn hanging shiny fragile balls on the branches. The older children could reach the high branches so by the time all of the boxes were emptied, no branches had been missed.
Each child was given a nylon stocking to hang on the mantle. They would be removed the next morning before the fireplace was used.
The family gathered for one last look at the tree before the children were shooed upstairs to get ready for bed. It had been a full day but excitement still filled the air.
Santa Claus would be coming soon.
How You Can
make a list
go ahead....write down all of the positives you can think of in 5 minutes
phone someone you love/or, someone who really needs a call
take a few minutes and call someone just to say you are thinking of them
write a letter
Jot a few lines to someone in a card you have made or on simple stationary and drop in the mail...it is more personal than email
go visit someone
visit someone you know will be thrilled by a visit from you
go for a brisk walk---take time to smell the roses
find your happy place and take a few minutes to fine tune your inner self.
Opening our gifts...
The stockings that had been hung the night before were now swollen with goodies. Each one of us was handed one.
Inside each stocking could be found: an orange, an apple, hard candy, a handful of nuts in shells, a pair of socks, a tiny coloring book, a small box of crayons, jacks, a peppermint stick or some other special treat.
Other gifts were now passed out and many ‘just what I wanteds’ could be heard. Many of the gifts were handmade clothing: a scarf, a sweater, an afghan, or a dress, a cap, or shirt for the fellas.
Eventually the family dispersed to do whatever they wanted or needed to do. The Grown Ups were busy preparing the Christmas dinner for the afternoon. The children decided to venture outside to chase around and run and scream.
The holiday came to a close...
The next morning, almost before the rooster crowded, the three little sisters crawled into the back seat of their car and headed home. On the way home, laughing and chatting filled the automobile as it traveled the familiar highways back to our home.The girls especially were filled to overflowing with the fun of the last few days.
Have you learned to embrace each day and celebrate the gift that each day offers?
One of the little children crawled through the barbed wire fence to get a better look at the cow she saw. The other children were running around, chasing and shouting, generally having so much they did not notice the little girl had wandered off. That little girl was me..four years old...wandering off to explore.
Meandering farther and farther inside of the fence calling, ‘Hey, Cow. Come here, Cow, so I can pet you.’ Closer and closer I moved. The Cow noticed me now. That Cow decided it did not want to share the pasture with me, not even one tiny section of it.
It scraped at the ground and shook its head furiously and moved with a gallop toward me. By this time, the others noticed where I was and in trouble.
‘Run, run,’ they shouted to me as they rushed to the fence and tumbled through the barbed wire to rescue me. I did run as fast as my stubbly little legs would carry me crashing into the arms of my sister. She literally threw me between the strands of barbed wire to safety. Just as quickly, she made her way through right behind me just in time.
The cow was now panting furiously just on the other side of the fence.
We were scolded harshly and reminded we had been warned to stay out of the pasture. As you might have guessed, the cow was not a cow.... It was a bull. A bull who was not feeling the whole Christmas spirit thing. He did not wish to share his pasture with anyone!!
The adults fussed at me for a bit as I had not listened!!! Lesson learned: stay out of that pasture. .
After chasing each other around the property a few thousand more times, checking the hen houses for fresh eggs, and becoming totally frozen from trying to make snowballs out of the light dusting of snow that had fallen overnight, it was time to go inside to thaw out hands and feet.
The afternoon passed quickly. The children had been enlisted to set the dining room table which had been covered with the stark white, crocheted table cloth their Great Grandmother had made many years ago.
More than enough food was brought to the table. What must have been on the table was a bounty: Roast beef, Virginia ham, baked chicken, candied yams, green beans, lima beans, mountains of mashed potatoes, country gravy, biscuits, and those melt-in-your mouth rolls.
No one really remembers what was served because it was not about the food this meal. It was having this time, once again, to be together to re-energize spirits, catch up on family happenings, share time and space with no schedule, no other place to be. It happened this way once a year. That was food for the soul.
No one knew at this time that a little girl would be lost to them forever in a few short months.
There is some kind of a sweet innocence in being human- in not having to be just happy or just sad- in the nature of being able to be both broken and whole, at the same time.— ~C. JoyBell C.
My Daddy ...fourteen years later...he found his joy again...
Several weeks after returning home from celebrating the holday,Mary Jane celebrated her ninth birthday. The children in her class had been invited to her birthday party. Children were outside playing. Her Mother was serving finger sandwiches to them when she noticed the 'guest of honor' was no where around. She asked the children if they knew where she was and no one seemed to know. She called and called and looked and looked. Still no Mary Jane.
Something told her mother to look for her in the front bedroom that she shared with her sister. And, even though she thought she may be in her room, she was somewhat surprised when that was where she found her. There she was...In bed. She quickly moved over to the little dark-haired child.
'Honey, why are you in bed in the middle of your party?'
That precious little girl, with the beautiful,brown, doe eyes, looked up at her and said, "O, Momma, I have such a headache. Can I just lay her for a little while?"
Momma went back to the party. Mary Jane did not.
Zoar Battist Church was filled to overflowing with these beautiful flowers...
Friends came to remember her....
Our town was tiny and everyone knew our family so the church was filled so that many stood in the aisles and the back of the church.. Among the many loving friends and family who came to celebrate her life were all of her classmates.
Years later I saw the guest book that had been signed by those who came to honor her. On several pages of the book were line after line of the names of those classmates written in their childish script.
I hope they left that day feeling as I did---without sorrow or fear. I would miss her but I was not overcome with sadness This introduction to the death of someone I loved so much was handled in a way that kept the enormity of it from me.
Celebrating a short life lived so well.
That was the last birthday the little girl would celebrate. Just a few short weeks later, my Momma took her to the doctor with another headache. .
When Momma took her to the doctor, he had her transported to the Medical College of Virginia, in Richmond, seventy five miles away. A brain tumor was found. Surgery was performed but she did not survive. Mary Jane came home to the small town to be buried.
Precious little Mary Jane was buried in a stark white satin dress that my Momma had sewn for her. As she made that dress, each stitch increased the sadness she felt but it was a task she must complete.
She looked like an angel as her tiny body lay there in the coffin, her chestnut brown hair gently arranged beside her cheeks. My Daddy held me in his arms so I could see her face one more time.
I was not sad, not afraid. My sister looked like she was sleeping. Daddy told me she would not be coming home, "She has gone to be with the other angels. Wave good bye to her," he whispered to me.
Mother, Daddy, and Me....
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.— Kahil Gibran
It was important to feel the pain...
Kahil Gibran said it so well in the quote shown on this page. We weep for the joy that came from loving those who are now departed from us. It is not sadness after all ....it is missing the richness of life that came from their walk with us on the planet. In times of sadness and death of someone I have loved deeply, I had to feel the pain, to acknowledge their passing was a loss to me, but then when calm settled over me, I realized it was the joy their life brought to mine that caused me to weep.
My Momma was deeply saddened as any mother would be when little Mary Jane died. . She felt she should have known. She thought she should have realized when the little girl dropped the toilet paper at Christmas time; when she had a headache at her birthday party...she should have known that something was seriously wrong with her child.
A little bit of my Momma died that day too. I can so understand her pain now that I have a daughter who has terminal cancer.
Momma did not remain in that place though. She had to grieve...that was how she emptied her pain into the universe. She became a new best version of herself and continued to give of herself lovingly and completely to each of us in her life.
A few weeks after Mary Jane's death, Dr. Felton, our family doctor telephoned my Momma. He told her that it would not have mattered if Mary Jane had received medical care sooner. The brain tumor she had was very aggressive and the effects of it were unstoppable . He just wanted Momma to know that.
Dawning of a new day...another chance to grab onto life and GO....
Every single minute of every day is a gift.
Christmas in the country the year Mary Jane died would be one that brought the family closer together.
Each Christmas after that we hugged a little longer and spoke a little kinder.
We all learned that life is tentative. We little ones had seen our pets die so we did have some idea about death. The death of a person was new to us though.
It was at this time that we how life worked began to settle over us. Our little girl lost was an entry way into that new level of understanding.
Could it be that life is a gift and is fragile? Could our young minds begin to wrap our heads around that?? It is surprising what young ones do grasp.
I do not know that it was the beginning of a belief that follows me still:
Do not miss T O D A Y. Love each other with your best love every day.
It is a theme you will find in most of my writing.
Sadness did creep in for a time and settled over the family like an unwanted, unexpected blinding snowstorm. As it came, it passed. The effects lingered but the joy that my sweet sister, Mary Jane, had brought to our family far overshadowed the sadness.
I am thankful to this day that I was introduced to death in a way that did not leave me overwhelmed with sadness and fear.
Sources and Photos
Some of the photos are not great because of the passage of time and what can happen to such photos sometimes.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.