When I was little I lived with my parents in Philadelphia. I have fairly clear memories of our apartment; the layout, the sound the glass pantry cabinets made when we opened or closed them, the way the rooms seemed enormous, though I'm sure were I to see it now the apartment would be ordinary in size. The living room had a couch, a tv (a new color tv!), my father's recliner, the high-fi, and bookcases. I would fall asleep on that couch quite regularly, usually when I came home from school and needed a nap. Sometimes I would pretend to be asleep so I could listen to the homey sounds of my mother returning from work, my parents chatting, the clink of their coffee cups. I remember it had some kind of brocade upholstery, I think in blues and greens though I'm not sure. I remember the texture under my cheek. I remember the way it held me.
When I was seven or eight my parents sold the couch. I'm sure they decided it was old enough and it was time for a new one. This is a perfectly reasonable decision if you're an adult furnishing a home, but to a seven year old, it can be devastating. And it was. I remember howling as the couch was carried out of our apartment. My mother took me into my bedroom and held me while I cried. In my memory I was inconsolable and she was baffled. Both of my parents were, having no idea why I was so upset. Frankly, I don't think I knew either. Looking back I can see that it was probably something about change, something about losing my cozy place but in many ways that doesn't matter. What matters is my world was altered and I was distressed.
My parents struggled to soothe me long after the couch was gone. I'm sure they held me. My mother finally hit upon the right combination when she gave me my teddy bear then asked if I wanted an egg-and-ketchup sandwich and to watch (oh, I cringe now) Donny and Marie. All of these signified comfort. I stopped crying, sniffed and nodded. I remember the taste of my egg-and-ketchup sandwich now, long after I've forgotten what Donny and Marie sang. I remember being comforted.
There are so many things that can offer us comfort. Foods, ritual, touch, a familiar show. I think what truly comforted me in that long ago moment was my mother, knowing me well enough to know what to offer. I have become something of an expert in how to comfort myself, over these last few years. One of the most comforting things I have found is story.
I tell myself stories over and over again. I tell stories of connection and love. I listen to stories from people who have had similar experiences. I remind myself that my life is about more than loss (be it a death or a couch) by telling stories of meaning, by sharing memories and hope. I hold these memories close to me, as close as I held my teddy bear.
We need these stories. What's more, we need to share them because we never know when someone else might find comfort in them. When we hear stories of love and loss, hope and renewal, we know we are not alone and that can be deeply comforting. I think of all the fairy tales about people who survived loss and I am comforted. I tell my stories and I see comfort in the faces of my listeners. In the end, the stories are all we have and so it helps if we allow them to comfort us.
What stories comfort you? Which do you share and which do you keep secret?
(c)2016 Laura S. Packer