One of the gifts of small children is a reminder that we each house a full array of emotions in the crowded space of our brain, and that’s okay. Honor your emotions. Children give free rein to them all – elation, grief, frustration, fear, anger, determination, silliness, hysteria, serenity. They might get bogged down by emotional overloads (a three-year-old’s ferocity in the throes of perceived injustice is legion), but their ability to recover is wondrous. Many of us lose that ability as we grow. Maybe that’s because we try so hard to shut the door on negative emotions, a strategy that commonly backfires.
I recently returned from a beautiful, heart wrenching, hopeful weekend. Two years after the tragic accidental death of Brigit Feeney, a friend’s 33-year-old daughter, her family gathered to dedicate a memorial garden. The serene, circular plot in Manchester, New Hampshire’s Livingston Park celebrates the good work of Brigit’s life. The garden honors her memory and provides a public space of beauty, solace, and healing to the entire community.
Brigit worked as a victim and witness advocate, an underappreciated job that provides support for victims of violent crime at their most fragile. She was an exquisitely compassionate advocate, and a fierce ally to those in need. Brigit’s life calling was to provide hope and healing, and the foundation created in her name will work towards that goal.
I marvel at this family’s response to devastating grief – to look outside of themselves, to provide comfort to others as a way of softening the pain. Laughter and tears came both in full measure in the garden that day. Adults can do this thing too, this fluid movement between emotions, this embracing of love and hope, even in the midst of anguish. Suffering in life is inevitable, but denying it, smothering it, shaming it, is counterproductive. If we open our hearts to the pain it can wash through us and leave us cleansed.
I cannot help turning to my grandchildren - those dazzling, emerging beings – when I need instruction. The world of emotions is their playground, their schoolground. Little Martin, our fifth grandchild, was born in April, and already he displays tantalizing facial mobility, as though he’s experimenting with the emotional spectrum – a smile, a smirk, a frown, a brow knitted in sadness or consternation – all in his sleep. Good job, Martin. Keep practicing.
To all of you, young and old, I wish you good fortune, but I also wish you the essential skill of navigating the bad when it arrives. Let the raggedy feelings come, let them move on, then bring your goodness back into the light.
The Brigit A. Feeney Foundation for Hope and Healing will continue Brigit’s legacy by supporting the advocate community she cared so much about. The garden is open to the public.
For more information about Brigit and the Foundation named for her, visit: https://www.brigitsfoundation.org/
Robin Clifford Wood is an award-winning author, poet, and writing teacher. She lives in central Maine with her husband, loves to be outdoors, and enjoys ever-expanding horizons through her children, grandchildren, and granddogs.