I am frequently asked why I wrote Repairing Rainbows so many years after the plane crash. The truth is that I did not have the courage and strength to open the wounds that I had kept so carefully covered and protected all these years. While I knew that my story was an important one to share, each time I considered the idea of writing a book, I stopped myself, terrified to relive that horrible time when my whole world had fallen apart.
For almost four decades, I did not talk about the plane crash. Instead, I buried the tragedy and any associated feelings of grief as deep down as possible.
Seemingly, that was the way tragedies and death were dealt with in the 70s. It was almost immediately after the plane crash that I was told, directly and indirectly, that the subject was closed, never to be discussed… the subject of death was unmentionable.
I found that people would avoid or dodge me, acting as if I was contaminated or contagious. And those well-meaning people who wanted to show support and compassion would often say “You are so strong,” or “You look so well.” This put extreme pressure on me to keep up appearances and to hide my true feelings.
I moved forward by clinging to the theory that ‘if you fake joy, you can make joy.’ If you put a smile on your face and act happy, you will feel better.
I went back to school two months later — my first year in high school — and no one acknowledged the fact that my mother and two little sisters had just been killed. Instead, many of the teachers and students, obviously feeling extremely uncomfortable, just stared at me without saying a word.
Silence isn’t always golden.
I spent a lot of time imagining and dreaming about being happy again. Over the years, I thought that I had succeeded and won the ‘grief’ battle. And in many ways, I did. I created a wonderful life, and with the exception of my family and close friends, most people had no idea that the tragedy had even happened. People just assumed that I had a ‘normal’ childhood and adult life.
But I could not suppress my grief any longer. Eventually I did have to face it, acknowledge the pain and actively deal with it.
So, when I finally ‘uncorked’ my story, I found myself carrying on conversations about my late mother and sisters, with uncontrollable emotion and tears. But talking about them was exactly what I needed to do in order to finally process and work through my grief.
This confirms what the researchers now know and understand; that people who are grieving must be given opportunities to express their feelings, to talk about the death, and to share stories and memories about the person who died. Grieving family members need to feel that the death is not too terrible to mention, and that their loved one will not be forgotten. It is said that healthy grieving is about rebuilding life, while still remembering and cherishing the memories of the person who died.
When I began writing Repairing Rainbows, all of the grief and sadness came pouring out with gut-wrenching emotion. Repairing Rainbows is the story of my life and how I dealt with personal tragedy, and the choices I made along the way.
There is no recipe or template to follow that will determine the course of any tragedy, and the effect it has on one’s life. While at times life makes no sense, there is always a way, a path, a direction to take back into the world to truly live.
As a badly wounded teenager, I chose a life of hope and happiness, and I continue to choose that life every day. My parents and my sisters would expect no less.