In 1965, I was a 19-year-old freshman in college. The director of my drama class assigned an exercise called a “Zeigeist.” We were to re-enact an event that changed our lives. I walked up to the stage, lay down on a couch with a stuffed animal my father had given me and cried out “My daddy is dead!” I started crying and could not stop for days.
My father was a Navy pilot and died when his plane went down in 1959. I was 12 at the time. Those seven years were a time of denial and confusion for me even though I had been present at the full military funeral at Arlington Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
There was no grief counseling or support groups in those days. All attention and sympathy were poured on my mother – the widow. My younger brother and I were left to figure things out for ourselves. I think that people in those days believed children were better off not discussing life’s hardships. However, I remember how drastically it changed my life and how I had to learn to cope with my loss on a day-to-day basis – especially the feeling that no one understood or cared about my heartache.
I saw Heidi Snow being interviewed on television soon after the Alaska Airlines Flight 261 disaster and realized that in my entire life, I had never met or talked to anyone that had survived the loss of a loved one that had died in a plane crash (other than family members).
Although I came to terms with what my life may have been – “if only ….” – a long time ago, the question is still there occasionally. I also tend to wonder whether the whole experience would have been less confusing and frustrating if there had been mentors, grief counselors or other people who would just listen.
I think ACCESS is a wonderful organization. I am enthusiastically available to reach out to anyone needing to express their feelings or share the pain they feel. I would also like to encourage adults to communicate with the youngsters involved – the pain is different but is definitely there as well as the need to express it.
Diane von Rivenburgh lost her father in a Navy aircraft disaster, February 23, 1959