Friday, April 23, 2010

Why I Sculpt Child Angels


Christopher Brown was really little. In a class of third graders he was teeniest among all of us. He was also the most spirited. I adored him, so we fought constantly. I was a masochist for those bickerings and used to stare at the small gap between his front teeth as his mouth moved around them proving me wrong in little bursts of animation.


This is not a story about childhood love. It is not a story about friendship. Despite the presence of these things, this is pure ache and a lesson that broke my heart to learn. I will not go into sharing the details of what made Christopher a spectacular being wrapped up in the package of an 8 year old boy. I trust you find me credible and will believe this. I also ask that despite the longevity, in Chris' honor you read this.


On the first day of summer in 1990, Christopher was playing baseball with his brother, sister, and babysitter in his back yard and the ball went over the fence into a neighboring construction site. He climbed his swing set onto his father's shed, then jumped from the shed roof over the fence to get the ball. I cannot picture this in my head (either because the logistics are not clear or because my mind is protecting itself from this visual) but when Christopher jumped the fence his hand hit a latch on a crane which released two cement highway dividers. He fell and they fell on top of him. A very cherished 8 year old lost his life that day.


There was no closure. My mother felt that attending the services would be too traumatic and kept me from saying goodbye in person. I understand, but still. I agonized for years about this, even into young adulthood. So many blanks I could not fill in. I did not know where he was interned, when his birthday was. The specific day he died. Every milestone I had, I wished for him. On first days of school I would find his seat in class and then mentally spite the child who sat there. On last days of school I would be sick at the excitement around me. I'd imagine Chris's thoughts as the final bell rang and he dreamt of ponds and trails and popcorn at the drive-in, not knowing he would die by next nightfall. For years I just carried him with me. The night before my high school graduation I dreamed of him approaching through the crowd, as grown as I, and hugging me. In tears I type this.


In my second year of college I became desperate, not for closure, but for closeness to Chris and wanted so badly to connect with his family. With such a common last name they felt impossible to find. All I could do was speak of him often and hope someone connected. One day this exact thing happened, and by fate a woman scrawled an address on scrap paper and sent me away with it. I finally had a portal to his family and despite years of longing for contact, I had no idea how I could begin to express my heart to them. 


Honestly I do not recall the specific details of the sentiment that I poured into 7 handwritten pages, but my message was strong and clear. I missed Christopher, I loved him still, and I REMEMBERED. Always I remembered him. The letter I received back I held with trembling hands, but never could I have been prepared for what Christopher's mother would share with me.


She spoke of the myriad of emotions that my letter brought forth, and I expected that would be the case. She broke me down entirely when she went on to write that receiving my letter was a true miracle that had breathed new life into their son.  She shared that tragically, the loss of Christopher was so painful for others that he became rarely spoken of.


To hear that Christopher not only lost his life but also his legacy was the greatest shame imaginable. My small but bursting childhood friend had become lost to the world. Was truly buried. I cried for days. She later wrote that the greatest gift I had given them was sharing his memory with other people and allowing him to live on in this way.. Mary and I stay in touch and I am smiling this moment over the profound friendship I found in Christopher's mother.


I visit his grave when I am happy and seek to share that with him. I go there when I am hurt so I can have solitude but not be alone. My husband and I picnic with our young daughters there and they like the bells that softly chime in the fir overhanging his grave site. He is truly my forever friend, and my gift to him is ensuring that despite his life being stifled, his legacy never will be. Now you know Christopher. He was small, mighty, and magnificent. I would be beyond humbled should anyone repost his story as daily I fear that in his 8 short-lived and bittersweet years of childhood, not enough people had the chance to know his name.


This was a gift I could not stop giving to Chris and his family, and with it I achieved the opposite of closure. It burst open a door for me and truly inspired fire in my heart, because it was then that I saw a very clear window into the lives of bereaved parents. One of the things that stood out profoundly to me was need. The need for their children to be acknowledged, celebrated, spoken about. The need to know others remember. The need for a LEGACY.

Sculpting the ever-present bond between parents and children who touch the stars too soon is truly my heart's work and daily I startle at the extreme honor of being so blessed to be able to do this. My goal was to create something for parents to display for others which would then evoke conversation. I really wanted to be able to create some tangible way for parents to show others that it is okay to talk about their children and for my sculptures to be a “starting place”.  In my heart of hearts I pray that people see these pieces and realize that despite the overwhelming pain in losing a child, there is healing for parents to simply know people remember.



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55 comments:

Heidi Jane Blankets said...

Poor little boy :(

Rikki said...

I was crying so hard reading this story.
I cant even imagine the pain that his mother was going through. I love that my friends and family talk about my boys freely and i can imagine never hearing their names spoken aloud. You are an amazing person, thankyou for being you.

v/r :) SMFuller said...

This story of 'why' touched me as much as your raw work. I lost a cousin, in '82, and have never spoken of her to her mother, my aunt. Now I know I need to. . . . &btw my son is also a Christopher. Thank you for the touching work you do.

Big Momma said...

What a wonderful tribute to your fallen friend!! He smiles on you from heaven everyday. Your tribute will surely stir emotional growth in all who read it. You're a blessing!

Gina R. said...

Wow-that story is deep and very touching. You truly are amazing!

Ana said...

Dana, this is truly heart wrenching and beautiful! It deepens the beauty of your work :)

Jeanne said...

You have a gift of words and creativity. I was crying before I knew what actually happened to him. But, also because I know I have unresolved emotions to deal with; every time I read a story like this it breaks my heart. I follow you work on etsy.com and have cried there too....but it is always an emotional release so I welcome it. Thank you for sharing yourself and your talents. You truly touch people and help them, me included! God bless you, Dana.

Graphic Design by Tara said...

This story was beautiful and now I am completely sobbing. Thank you for sharing something so personal.

Tara

Dana said...

I just wanted you to know, I lost my son Shane at the age of 14 in an auto accident. I first visited you on etsy and love your clay art as I connect with it. I know as a mom, I do anything and everything to keep my Shane here with me. Not many outside of my family have ever came to me with stories or rememberances, so I am so touched that you have remembered this precious little boy. It is almost like you have remembered my son:) Someday I will purchase one of your pieces of art and I will cherish it as it will remind me of not only my Son and Me, but of Chistopher, his mom and you:) God Bless you:)
www.mychildliveson.blogspot.com

Embellishment Queen said...

Wow...this was as intense as it is wonderful. Keep creating and remembering.
XO!,
Sonny

Sheyenne Wilson said...

absolutely beautiful. we lost our daughter earlier this year, and i can only imagine the pain his mother felt when no one mentioned him any longer. your gift of keeping his memory alive is both inspiring and humbling. thank you for remembering and recognizing those little lives that are no longer with us.

Little Lovables said...

This is beautiful and so tragic, thank you for sharing. I will definitely repost this story, it needs to be heard so that people will know not to forget our loved ones.

Jo041207 said...

truely is a sad but comforting story , you sound like a wonderful person,
I lost my son in 2007 by anachalphy a rare neural tube defect,
hardest day of my life, this year i have also had two miscarriages and have found it to hard to visit taylor i feel like im leaving him everytime, and it breaks my heart even more,
your peices make me feel like they tell my story that taylor could be close,
Im so so thankful to find you and hope to get to know you x

Mazzy Blue Studios said...

<3

linda said...

I have been admiring and loving your angels for quite a while now, and just a bit ago i noticed the bit at the top of your etsy page...saying to come here and read the 'why' of them.
Bless you.
This story is so real and so sad and so so joyful.
Bless you.
Put a stone on his grave for me. Would you?

Sophie said...

I have admired your work for a long time but never read the why of it. Reading this story was both heartbreaking and heartwarming. I have an angel child so I know the pain and the heartache, and I also know the joy felt when people speak her name. What you have given Chris's mother is amazing, what you do to honour his spirit is inspiring and heartfelt. I will always remember this story, thankyou.

Jennifer said...

Thank you, truly. Your pieces are beautiful reminders of why we're here and how much love God fills our lives with. I'll always remember my brother lost at 19, a day care boy, Justin, killed, and a middle school classmate Greg that died before their times. Thank you for having such a generous heart. God bless.

Sheron White said...

I am in awe...just don't have the words to tell you how this touched me. I'm so glad you were able to connect with Chris' mother.

---m-º¿º-n---- said...

Dear Dana, it is so nice to see you back and doing ever more meaningful and loving sculptures. people think that if they speak the name of your lost loved one that it will bring you pain. they do not realize that it is even more painful for people to act as if the person who is gone, never existed at all. Andrew's sculpture sits by his picture on my fireplace. you captured his exuberance and "self" in a handful of clay, in a way that only you could have. i am so glad you are back. and i am glad to find your blog. Blessings, Suzanne.

Maggie said...

I love everything you do. Your art brings so much comfort to so many. XO

tweal said...

You have me bawling over here! But in a good way. That is such a lovely story and so inspiring. I am happy for you that you found your purpose, and that you are able to help other people so much with your beautiful art. Thank you for sharing this.

Lauren said...

Dana, I am so touched by yours and Christophers story. I felt your pain and also the deep love you have for him to this day. You have such a beautiful spirit and I am glad that you were able to reconnect with Chris' mom and have gotten some sort of closure. You are so right about one of the most painful things being that people forget your losses and dont mention dead people by name. That has been my single biggest hurt. Your sculptures truly capture the pain I feel and I cant wait to own one so that they will be a conversation piece in my home...one that I have never forgotten and wish people would mention more often. Your work brings HONOR to who Christopher was as a person and to his memory!

Dana said...

God Bless you for the work you do. So many people need that connection to stay open and you provide a portal to which they can cross into and remember, relive and relish the moments too soon gone but, never forgotten.

Tina said...

You are truly amazing! What a beautiful story. Christopher had touched the lives of so many people through you and that is a beautiful thing. I have a gift certificate I won from rikki and I can't wait to put it towards one of your pieces on honor of my girls, Sophia & Ellie. Thank you fir sharing this and thank you for you.

Keri Kitchen said...

I just lost my daughter... and knowing that she is remembered is one of the most important and healing things for me. Even though I cry, I want people to speak to me about her. I want to talk about how perfect she was. I feel like it's a mission to ensure that her legacy is never forgotten.
Thank you for sharing Christopher's story.

TiredMommy said...

I just love what you do. I often feel that people won't remember autumn. Some won't talk about her because they don't want to upset me. That is upsetting to me. I want to talk about her. I want others to talk about her. I want her story to be heard. She was an angel that walked this earth for over 7 years... she fought for over 6 years trying to beat her cancer. She deserves to be remembered and spoken of often. I won an angel recently on facebook and i really feel like I got the message from her. She is ok... thank you for what you do. You are an amazing woman and artist.

http://www.facebook.com/pages/This-is-life-A-documentary-of-life-with-ill-children/124892314260253

Molly O'Bryon-Welpott said...

I love what you do, I am a volunteer photographer for www.nowilaymedowntosleep.org so many parents feel that others do not talk about the children and it makes it hard, these beautigul pieces that you create open doors:) its beautiful!
God Bless you:)

kristen said...

Your post brought me to my knees. I am so very touched by this...and all because I clicked on your little owls. What a wonderful thing you have done in his memory. He truly is your forever friend. Thank you for sharing your gift and Chris' story with the world. I am honored to be a tiny part in it now.

Lareina said...

Wow... I never knew what it was that brought you to make the beautiful sculptures of our angel babies but knew it must be something so profound as this... Thank you for doing it and for sharing his story. I know he is up there with my Kaelen looking down on us both and watching over us. Thank you.

Slagle Family said...

Christopher is never far from my heart and mind! <3

Delynn said...

D... it never ceases to amaze me how you honor your childhood friend... my he ever shine down on you.

Jessica said...

<3 Christopher <3 My love and thank you goes out to him for the beautiful healing sculptures i have from you Dana, such a special angel! i don't want to win this giveaway, i just want to say my heart goes out to your angel friend Chris and to you for making the many healing sculptures for all of us grieving! xx

Holly said...

I will always hold Christopher in my heart ♥

Emily Farrow said...

Thank you for sharing this, Dana. By creating sculptures in honor of Chris, you honor all the angels and help the parents that are hurting so bad <3

kalyn bailey said...

♥ Christopher ♥

determined2fly said...

I come here periodically and re-read this post. Not just tonight, but other nights. <3 Thank you for sharing it with me and reminding me of all of the angels like Christopher and the legacy of little ones.

Kimberly Agnew said...

What a beautiful way to honor and remember a friend. <3 Christopher.

Sarah Ashley said...

Christopher always holds a place in my heart. I like to think he's playing with my angels, too!

4ravens said...

Christopher is luck to have a friend like you who honours his memory xxxx

Alisha Jones said...

Hugs to you and his family ♥ Christopher ♥

Alyssa Oliveira said...

I'm so sorry for your precious loss. I'm sure he is so proud of you. I will now think of him every time I look at my sculptures you've made.<3

Kristina Bodey said...

:( Such a terrible loss. I appreciate all the love you put into your sculptures. <3

hanna's mommy said...

Love and hugs to all

Shelby said...

Wow.... What an amazing little boy x I love that you helped his mommy and in turn soothed both your hearts xx I can truly see Christopher in everything you do x

Andrea Craig said...

Thank you Dana for sharing this with us! What a sweet precious thing you do in his memory!

Deanna said...

I've read Christopher's story a few times, each ending in tears. How blessed his family is to have you. Every TMO piece I see makes me think of him. <3

Britt said...

Thank you for sharing. This touched my heart. How awesome that you have such a perfect inspiration behind your work. I'm sure Christopher is smiling down.

9350814a-0b70-11e2-bc83-000bcdcb471e said...

I love this...And from the creativity of his omagr & friendship!! i want to order a boy * a girl one with Mom...so send me a new invoice Please

Terralynn Mommy of Angel Kristopher said...

What a beautiful boy. My heart goes out to the family living through this tradgedy

~GINGER~ said...

What an amazing heart you have to continue to carry your childhood friend with you, and so deeply. I could only wish someone would remember my children. Thank you for all you do.

Katie said...

I have been admiring your sculptures for so long and waiting until our little family is complete so I can order one in celebration of all of our children. I had not stumbled upon the "why" of your work until tonight and am having such a hard time fighting the tears... I wanted you to know that I am sharing Christopher's story on my blog - as it is a beautiful testament to the importance of love and legacy. www.OneAngelsJourney.blogspot.com

latina_617 said...

Beautiful words that bought tears to my eyes. I love your sculptures & I can't wait to have my own in our home displaying my husband & I with our four angel babies & two children.

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing this and for your beautiful art. Our 2year old son Damon just passed away suddenly 3 weeks ago and we have been trying to find the right sculpture of a family for his urn, but I think we may use one of yours and have a plain cube for it to sit atop. They evoke the love that will always be there. I already ordered the angel baby sleeping on daddy's chest for my husband. As that was Damons favorite place to be. Thank you again for helping all of us know that our children will never be forgotten. 💖

Unknown said...

My greatest friend (and that's another story) had a stillborn daughter. After a year of friendhip she had never shared this with anyone out of her family and her own mother doesn't acknowledge this child, Kate. These sculpts are so overwhelming that it makes me think about my own sister in law and how we don't acknowledge her miscarriage. It's just not spoken of. These figures speak volumes and they are starting places for people to acknowledge the existence, no matter how brief, of these children, and people. This has opened my eyes to being teachable so that I may be more empathetic to those who have family and loved ones that people "forget" with words. My friend says her biggest fear with Kate's death is that she'll be forgotten and not acknowledged as a person who touched lives. Thank you, Dana....

Unknown said...

Fifteen months ago our daughter, our only child died. With her died our hopes and dreams for her, our happiness, our taste for life. As the months fade more and more friends edge away from us, expect things to go back to normal, forget. They have children, they move on, they expect us to move on. And we do. We keep living. But we live with this loss, this grief, and this struggle to remember. While I sit here writing this, with tears streaming down my face, I want you to know that thousands of grieving mothers around the world find comfort in what you do. We share pictures of it, we talk about it, and we pour through your etsy page when we cannot afford to purchase it. It is both gratifying and heartbreaking to know that this is an expression of love and loss. Thank you for these treasures. They mean the world to us. -Grieving young mother

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