I wonder if you remember the old television show Columbo. It was one of my favorites. The part that I recall best was after he presumably had finished talking to a lady. He would walk out, but then turn around and say, “Just one more thing, ma’am.” Well, this is my “just one more thing” part to My Mom’s Always Hot! Actually, there’s more than “one more thing” that I need to talk about before closing.
You’ve been reading about Melonheads throughout this book. I said a little bit about this fantastic, devoted group of young people earlier, just mentioning briefly the gist of what one of the #1 Melonheads, Angela Hinkley, had to say at Jay’s funeral. While I was writing this book, I asked her to try to remember some specifics of her words on July 6, 1992, for me to include here. Here’s what she wrote to me recently:
Twenty-five years ago when “Mama” Young asked me to reflect on what it meant to be a Melonhead, I was honored and also a little worried. Would I be able to accurately and justly express what an amazing and wonderful part of my life this was? Could I ever completely explain the phenomenon that was Velvet Melon?
On July 6, 1992, I recall standing in front of one of the largest crowds I’d ever seen. This was Jay’s crowd, Velvet Melon’s crowd. I remember thinking, “Jay would know what to say to all these people.” He always knew what to say, sing, or play. He would entertain them, make them all smile. I distinctly recall looking over my shoulder into the casket where my friend lay, and at that moment I felt the most amazing peace come over me. Jay was there, once again handling his crowd. My words then seemed to flow honestly, naturally, and completely.
I was able to express that being a Melonhead was more than being a band groupie. It was more than being friends who gathered to hear music. Being a Melonhead meant you were part of a family of believers. We believed in Velvet Melon . . . we believed in their incredible talent . . . and we believed that our friendship and community made a real difference.
We each lived our own lives, but as Melonheads we relished that special time to dance, laugh, sing, and share together. As our lives evolved and grew, Velvet Melon was there marking each milestone with music and friendship. Even when VM moved away (NYC and Nashville) to pursue their dream, new Melonheads emerged from every corner of the country.
Whether someone had been a Melonhead for ten minutes or ten years, there was always an immediate sense of understanding, love, and acceptance. Acceptance . . . we all accepted one another just as we were. There was no test to pass, no obstacle course to complete. The only requirement was joining in and enjoying the music!
There were senior Melonheads, junior Melonheads, and even Baby Corey Melonhead! Sweet Gary Powell was a quadriplegic Melonhead. Tim Weekley was a minister Melonhead. Melonheads were teachers, lawyers, physicians, photographers, and just about any other walk of life imaginable. We were all so different . . . and yet so much the same.
I don’t recall how I met any one fellow Melonhead. We just gathered together and let the music of Velvet Melon weave the beautiful tapestry of friendship.
You noticed that Angela mentioned senior Melonheads. That’s what Frank and I were, and we were at every gig that we could work in. I did lots of “chair dancing,” that is just moving to the music in my chair, enjoying every minute, drinking coffee to keep me awake. Occasionally, one of the young Melonheads would grab me and take me to the floor to dance. It was always fun to be taking part with all those youngsters, but I was more comfortable when Frank and I decided to dance to a slow song, one that allowed cuddling.
I remember only one specific dance with a Melonhead. Soon after Jay died, when we were still trying to go to the gigs, a new guy playing bass. Andy, one of two Melonheads who have been like sons to us (the other one being Jim Mills), took my hand so that I could dance with him to “New York Minute.” I remember crying on his shoulder the whole time, and I’ll bet he was shedding tears, too.
Even after twenty-five years, I sometimes yearn for a Sunday-evening gig at Coconut Bay in Pensacola. That’s where we felt the most at home, the place where a waitress would meet me at the door and say, “I’m making a fresh pot of coffee,” knowing that I’d welcome that first cup. We were Melonheads! We were always welcomed with open arms, while Jay was alive and also after he died. These young people—who are now in their forties, fifties, and even sixties— will always have a special place in our hearts.
The next “one more thing” that I want to discuss concerns my handling of grief. I’ll tell you ahead of time that I’ve already mentioned much of my working through grief; however, I have planned all along to gather my thoughts together here in one place—“Afterthoughts.” I hope that this chapter will help other bereaved parents as they’re working their way through grief if they happen upon my book.
I’m a reader. I’ve always been a reader, seldom leaving home even for a little while without a book; I read before I go to sleep; I read while we’re traveling. So it was not unusual for me to go almost immediately to books for help with my grieving. I wanted to read what other parents did when their children died. When I called my friend Martha Dickson, who worked in our church library, to ask for help, she assured me that she’d find books for me. And that’s just what she did. She had them stacked on a counter in the library at First Baptist Church, and I took them home, immediately beginning to devour them. Some of them I read more than once.
I’m listing a few books that I read early on and even later so that if you are a bereaved parent, you might read them; or if you know someone who needs help with grief, you can suggest them. They were so meaningful to me:
- Andrew, You Died Too Soon, by Corinne Chilstrom
- Lament for a Son, by Nicholas Wolterstorff
- Cries from the Heart, by Margaret B. Spiess
- Streams in the Desert, by Lettie B. Cowman
I read many more books, but through the years, I’ve lost either the books or the titles.
Even now, I collect books about grief. One that I discovered recently is A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss, by Gerald L. Sittser. So many people who write about grief suggest this book for anyone grieving. I have read parts of it and don’t hesitate to mention it to those who need it even though I haven’t read it from cover to cover. Another recent discovery, a book that a friend whose son was murdered and who was given this book as a sympathy gift, is Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing after Loss, by Pat Schwiebert and Chuck DeKlyen, illustrated by Taylor Bills. It looks like a children’s book, but it’s excellent for anyone who has suffered loss. I’ve read it several times; in fact, I just took about fifteen minutes to reread it this afternoon. I wish I had discovered it when I was in the throes of grief. This book really speaks to my heart now, and it certainly would have spoken to my heart in 1992.
As you already know, I have used writing to get me through my grief. I began by writing letters to friends to tell them about Jay’s death . . . friends here in the United States and also in Europe. Since all mail was “snail” in 1992, hearing back from my friends took a while; however, when their letters came, all of us were so happy to hear from them. More tears, but that was fine.
For the first ten years or so after Jay died, I didn’t do a lot of writing about him. I was too busy teaching school and then traveling in my job with a textbook company after I retired from teaching. After we moved to New Mexico, though, I found various outlets for writing about my boy, the main one being Facebook. Many of you who are reading this book have followed me as I write on Jay’s birthday, February 10, and on his death day, July 2. You are so faithful to read my posts, most of which are in Chapter 4 of this book, and to write your memories about Jay in the comment section of my posts. You’ll never know how much your “likes,” “loves,” and comments mean to Frank and me. I stay in tears on both of those days, but they’re good tears. Thank you for remembering.
At the end of August 1992, I read in our weekly church bulletin that a “Grief Group” would begin on Sunday nights in October. The leader would be Vick Vickery, a gentleman in our church who knew about grief: his son, one of my former students, had committed suicide many years ago. Vick led a group of about fifteen of us through the grief process, letting us talk about the ones whom we had lost. We listened attentively to each other, many times crying uncontrollably, with no one telling us that it would be all right, that we needed to get over the death, that we shouldn’t cry. We all understood. Frank went with me although he didn’t feel that he needed the group. We all handle grief in different ways.
When our class was over in December, Vick announced that we’d have another “Grief Group,” beginning in January. We all wanted to know who would lead it because he had already announced that he wouldn’t be our leader. He said with a little smile, “Sandy’s going to teach it.” What? Me lead a group about grief? How could I do that? I was still grieving. But I did it, and leading that group was one of the best activities to help me work through my grief. A person always gets more out of something if he or she is in charge. I had to study! I had to be prepared. I am forever indebted to our church for offering this course, to Vick for leading us, and to him for designating me the next leader.
We moved to Cerrillos, New Mexico, in 2003, and in the fall, I read an article by Ann Landers that would forever change our lives. In 2007 I wrote a piece about the activity that I found out about, posted it on my blog (http://www.foreveryoung279.com), and mentioned it to a writing friend in Colorado. I’ll never know exactly how she found about The Compassionate Friends’ publication We Need Not Walk Alone—For Bereaved Families and the People Who Care About Them, Following the Death of a Child. But soon after I called her attention to my piece, she wrote to see if it could be published in the magazine. I was elated and honored: I was a published author . . . for the second time. My piece appeared in the Autumn 2008 edition:
A ‘last picture’’ of Jay taken by his sister, Wendy.
~By Sandy Young
When our son, Jay, died on July 2, 1992, our lives changed forever. The Lord and our “compassionate friends” brought us through our immediate grief, so when people began to mention the international group called The Compassionate Friends, we didn’t feel we had a need to go to their meetings, though we knew that such groups brought relief to parents whose children had died. At that time, I had no idea that TCF would eventually touch my life in a very meaningful way.
A few years later, after we had moved to Cerrillos, New Mexico, I happened upon an article that would begin a love affair with TCF, even though we would never be official members. The article told of an event sponsored by The Compassionate Friends, an event that would become a joyous part of our holidays. Since I’ve never heard anyone else mention this activity, I’m not sure just how many people who should know about it—parents who have experienced their worst nightmare, the death of a child—are aware of something that could give them great pleasure during the holidays, which have the possibility of causing much sadness because they miss their children so much more at these special moments.
On the evening of the second Sunday in December, at 7:00 local time, bereaved parents around the globe light a candle to remember their children so that “their light may always shine.” People gather in stadiums (Albuquerque), in event centers (Hobbs), or at the homes of those involved in The Compassionate Friends (Los Alamos). These celebrations for departed children are large gatherings where parents and grandparents bring pictures of their loved ones and light a candle in their memory. Music and readings are usually a part of the program, which lasts for an hour. What a wonderful way to remember our children in an understanding atmosphere! Just imagine the wave of candlelight around the world!
Our “celebration” is a bit different because it’s held in our home with friends and family gathered to introduce Jay to those who never knew him and in remembrance for those of us who knew him well. This year on December 9, we will invite neighbors in for our fourth celebration of Jay. Here’s what will happen:
Our home will be decorated for Christmas, and as our friends arrive— some having come in other years, some coming for the first time—they’ll feel the festive holiday atmosphere. Since Jay was an uproariously funny, life-loving rock musician, be assured that we’ll be having a good time. Our daughter, Wendy, my husband, Frank, and I will tell funny stories about Jay, some of which most parents wouldn’t find amusing. We might tell about the time that he had almost 500 fans of Velvet Melon (his band) in and out of our house one night while Frank and I were in Europe taking care of other people’s kids. He had proof of the numbers because he charged a dollar a head, as he called it. For years afterward, young people around the town told us of how our house rocked that night. Our insurance agent paced in front of his house all night, just knowing that the next minute would bring a call telling him of someone having drowned in our pool. No call came. Or Wendy might tell about the time she and Jay hiked down to the floor of the Grand Canyon. Only she can make us feel the agony that she felt as she hiked up slowly behind Jay, who had run most of the way out of the canyon carrying the only water that they had between them. He was in big trouble by the time his big sister made it back up to civilization! I usually try to read a poem or a section from a book of his friends’ remembrances of him; however, the old mom has a little difficulty even after so long, so Wendy finishes for me.
Wendy is a photographer, and her favorite subject was Jay; therefore, we always have photos and/or videos. We can count on whatever she comes up with to be entertaining, funny, and sometimes poignant. At our celebration, we make sure there’s lots of laughter because that’s what Jay would want. Telling stories about Jay and poring over pictures and videos of him have been our way of getting through our grief. Stories and pictures have also been the vehicle for introducing our friends here in New Mexico to our boy. No one out here knew him except Wendy, Frank, Wendy’s daughter Corey (who remembers him, too, only through stories and pictures), and me. And we certainly don’t want to deprive our friends of knowing a young man (he was 24 when he died) whom they surely would have loved!
The celebration lasts no more than an hour, usually less, so as soon as we finish, we head for the table. Guests never come to our house without being fed, and the second Sunday in December is no exception. We don’t have an elaborate dinner, just sandwiches and Christmas cookies.
The Young Family will be indebted forever to The Compassionate Friends for introducing us to this wonderful way of keeping Jay’s light shining and of ushering in the Christmas season, truly the most joyous season of the year.v
Sandy, a retired English teacher and sales rep/consultant for a publishing company, lives with her husband, Frank, in Cerrillos, New Mexico, very near her daughter and her family.
For ten years, this celebration has been instrumental in getting us through our grief. It has also helped other parents who have lost children or grandchildren: Connie and Stuart Rosenberg (daughter Shana), Mary McFadin (daughter Sherry), and Gay Block (grandson Owen). None of us knew each other’s children and grandchildren before the Candle Lighting, but we do now.
You may be wondering how long grief lasts. It’s different for everyone. I know of a lady who didn’t leave her home until at least a year after her daughter died, grieving the whole time. And there are others who bounce back quickly. I had to go back to work a little over a month after Jay died, and, as you probably remember from my earlier writing, I did all right most of the time; however, attending Velvet Melon gigs without Jay on the stage was almost impossible. After three or four of the evenings with those young people who loved Jay so much, I had to quit going. Being there was just too much for me. For several years after Jay died, I couldn’t watch those beautiful videos that Jack Canavan masterminded. I can watch them now, but I usually shed some tears.
A few days after Jay died, I went to the door to find my sweet hairdresser, Cindy Waldrop, standing there. She didn’t come in; she just handed me a little publication from her church and left. I almost didn’t read it because I didn’t usually read the leaflets from her denomination. But since Cindy gave it to me, I read it.
I’m forever grateful to her and happy that I read it. I wish I still had the booklet so that I could tell you the name of the article in which I found a line that affected me so deeply in working my way through my grief. Here’s the gist of the line: On the day that you awaken and don’t think of your deceased loved one before you have another thought, you’re on your way to healing. I never forgot the line, and it popped into my mind in full force one day in early December. Sometime during second period that day, I realized that I hadn’t thought of Jay yet that morning. Did that mean that my grief was gone? Absolutely not. It just meant, to me, that I would survive.
And I have survived. I’ll remind you of what I said to friends at the funeral home on July 5, 1992, when they said that they didn’t know how I would get through this , meaning Jay’s death. My reply then, and I believe it today, was, “I’m calling it a lesson in prepositions. I’ll never get over it; but I will get through it with the help of God, friends, and family.”
All three have helped me through these twenty-five years, the main one being God. He made sure that I found every book that I needed; He led me in my writing; He let me find the Worldwide Candle Lighting; He always had his strong arms around me. And He still does.