Sunday Telegraph, November 13, 1983

Coming to terms with the
loss of a child

By the Editor-in-Chief, ITA BUTTROSE

    I don't know how I'd cope if something happened to one of my children.
  It's not something 1 like to think about all that much. What mother does?
  Helen Cramer has had to think about it. She had no choice about the matter, as it's just over two years since her daughter Cathy died. She was the youngest of Helen's four children.
  Helen Cramer is a pretty woman. Her brown eyes are sad but somehow strangely serene.
  On the day we met she was wearing a long chain around her neck. On it hung Cathy's first communion medal. Helen found it accidently in one of Cathy's shoes and feels God sent it to her, knowing how concerned she was that Cathy did not receive Communion before she died.
   We talked for an hour or so about Cathy her dearly loved daughter, who died when she was just 17 years old in a car accident in which she was a back seat passenger.
  Cathy lived for eight weeks after the accident but never regained consciousness. ---She opened her eyes but never said Mum," her mother said quietly.

'God's Love and
and power

drew us all together'

    'They were days of hope, despair and hope again
  "A time of sharing, not only with family and friends but also strangers.
     "A time when God's love, his power, seemed to know no barrier of distance, race or belief.
     "It was as though we were all drawn together to pray, to think and to share," she said.
    "I thought she was going to survive. I should have known better, after all I'm a nurse.
    "We finally lost her," Helen said, "the youngest of our children by seven years and our only child still at home."
  Helen Cramer's eyes saddened. 1 thought she was going to cry. Instead she surprised me, she smiled and went on.
     "I thought I was going to die the day she died," she said, and stopped talking for a moment remembering... "I was 39 when I had Cathy, she was a much prayed for child.
     "She kept us on our feet. She wasn't a Saint but she was a special child. 1 miss her singing. She had a voice like Olivia Newton John, I wish I'd taped her ...
     "She wanted to be an actress, a journalist and sometimes she thought she would like to be a model.

Helen Cramer (left) "I've written my book to share with others in grief."
Right: Cathy Cramer was a special, much prayed for child.

   Thoughts of Cathy tumbled from Helen's lips.Then she sat back in her chair and said: "My faith has helped me, although in those first early awful days, months, 1 used to weep wondering if there was a God.
"I do believe in a life hereafter and each day I know I'm working my way to seeing Cathy again," she said
. "Some people I meet at the cemetery don't share my belief, like one woman I chat to. She has been mourning her husband for four years and finds it very hard to cope."
  Helen goes to church every day and visits Cathy's grave very other day - "to hose Cathy's plaque and do some gardening."
    Apart from her religion, Helen finds solace by writing poems.
   "It was a spontaneous reaction," she said. "Usually the poems were written when I was at my lowest ebb, when my heart was in shock .and still breaking.
 "I found writing my thoughts a soothing outlet for my grief. Many memories I found almost impossible to deal with until put to paper.
  "For example," she said, "Cathy's shoes sat on the kitchen floor where she had stood the day we said goodbye for many weeks until I wrote the poem. Then I was able to pack them away."
  Helen used to show her poems to her friends who would call in to keep her company, often at the time Cathy used to come home from school.
  They suggested to Helen that she should put them into a book.
   The result is 'Tomorrow's Dawn' - a mother's walk through the first year of grief.
  Helen published the book herself, 1000 copies in all, because she wanted it done her way in spite of the expense.
   It is a unique little book, hard cover with a dust jacket featuring a beautiful picture of Oyster Bay in New South Wales, where Helen lives with her doctor husband of 33 years."It has helped me to write the book," Helen said. "and I hope my book helps people and brings them comfort.
  "So many people feel guilty about grief," she said. "I hope my book shows them they shouldn't, that grief is natural and normal."
  Although helen's pain has eased a little, she is still grieving.
  "The second year is harder I think," she said.
   "Cathy's room is still pretty much the way it was the day she died, except for a change of wallpaper, a pretty pink one that Cathy would have liked.


  "Her bed is still there," Helen said, "and her stuffed dogs and dolls. I don't know if I'll ever be able to remove Cathy's brush and comb from her bathroom. I often use them and put them back in their place.
   "I wear her clothes sometimes and I've just started to use her make-up.
   "It's as though Cathy is still there. I still kiss the pillow she lay on - like I used to kiss her every night - and say a prayer for her.

I hope my book
will bring
people comfort'

  "Some people say to me: 'Aren't you lucky she's in heaven and out of this world.'
   "Of course I'm not lucky at all. People mean well " Helen said, "but they just
don't know what to say. Death embarrasses them."
That's why Helen Cramer wants to write the second year book.
"In the first year you're buffered against shock, people expect you to be grieving. In the second year you really realise that the person you've lost is never coming home," she said.
"A friend said to me last week: 'Ah, you're feeling better now'
"It stabbed a bit. How can you be better in the second year when you've had a child for 17 years."
How indeed?
Cathy's death has made Helen aware of people in need and she has filled her life with activity. She helps derelicts and teaches children scripture at the local school, runs a mail order business, is making a decoupage set of Stations of the Cross for a Melbourne Monastery, and breeds and judges dogs.
"I'm on the go all the time," she said as she got up to leave. "Please don't make my story morbid," Helen said.
I hope I haven't because Helen Cramer is anything but. morbid. And I'm sure Cathy would be very proud of her.

Helen's book Tomorrow's Dawn is priced at $16 and available from her at
PO Box 93 Oyster Bay, NSW 2225 Australia.

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