Woman's Day February 23,1987

One mother's grief helps
others to cope

   I first met Helen Cramer three years ago when she wrote to me about a book she had written, ‘Tomorrow's Dawn’, A Mother's Walk Through Grief, about Cathy, her youngest child and "her baby" who had been killed in a car accident when she was only 17.
   Helen found that writing poems, and any other thoughts she had, helped her to handle her pain.
   Though Cathy lived for eight weeks after the accident, she never regained consciousness. "She opened her eyes," Helen said, "but she never said 'Mum'.
   "They were days of hope, despair and hope again. I thought she was going to survive. 1 should have known better. After all 1 am a nurse."
   Helen and 1 have kept in touch and recently she wrote to me again, this time about her second book, Day by Day.
   What prompted her to write it?
   "I have never stopped writing," said Helen. 'I still write each day. It still helps me cope. But my second book is for others besides myself. It's for people who suffer in many different ways when they lose a child."
   Much of the book, and certainly many of the poems, were written when she was at a low ebb. And just as with her first book, Helen used to show her poems to her friends. Once again, they told her she should put them into a book. And once again, Helen did.
   Day by Day is dedicated to "all my companions in grief, for whatever our creed we have one thing in common, the hurt associated with losing a loved one."
   Helen has never stopped grieving. “I have found all the years since Cathy’s death difficult," she said. "But the second year is probably the hardest.
   "In the first year, 1 was in such shock, 1 felt as if 1 were walking in a daze. My family and friends were very supportive.
   "But as time stretches, after the first 12 months, people ask, 'when did your daughter die?' and when you say two years ago, they say, 'oh that long'. They expect you to forget."
   The truth is, it is impossible to forget. At the time of Cathy's death five years ago, Helen's two eldest daughters were married. Her son, seven years older than Cathy, had also left home.

   "I still had the responsibility of being a mother - the others had gone their own way - but 1 had to buy Cathy's school uniforms, we still had to work out what she was going to do with her life.
   "It gave me a need, that maternal need. Cathy was my responsibility. 1 had to drive her here and there. It all changed overnight."
As one would expect, the loss of Cathy changed Helen's life.
"Completely. 1 was doing a university course at the time hoping to pass psychology," she said. "I gave that away. I'd just gone back to dog judging. I gave up dog breeding (she bred collies), 1 just stopped. Writing seemed to be the only thing that gave me happiness."
Helen takes her writing as the mood affects her ... she writes what she feels

    "It was a day of incredible pain ... every bone in my body ached and my muscles cramped in response to my anguish.
  "In spite of the new wallpaper it is still Cathy's room," Helen said. Cathy's fluffy animals, dolls, books and paraphernalia still adorn the dressing table. 'I suppose they'll go but there's no hurry."
   Helen's grief has helped her counsel others. Through the Organisation, 'Compassionate Friends', which helps people cope with grief, and her writings, she has, she said, "been thrown into a world of grief". She has met parents suffering multiple tragedies - kidnap, murder, drugs and suicide.

  'Seeing all her posters made me feel as if
    Cathy was perhaps just on holiday '

  One of her poems written the year after Cathy's death might strike a chord with many of you:

It is as yesterday
The years that pass,
And I hear your footsteps
On the stairway floor,
And from my room

Turn expectantly,
To see you pass
Just as before.
Our eyes would meet,
Matter not the words,
In time we'd kiss
And you would say my name,
"Hi Mum, Im home again'

  For a long time, Helen couldn't bear to change anything in Cathy's room. In Day by Day, Helen reveals she has repapered the room and taken down Cathy's posters - in a way, removed some of the memories.
   "It was very hurtful." she said."Cathy's room is visible from the upstairs vestibule, and getting up in the morning, I could see all he posters of ponies and horses she loved. The sun hits there and it made me feel as if Cathy was perhaps just on holidays.
   "But we were repainting the inside of the house and it was time to repaper the bedroom and take down the posters.

  "Yet they somehow cope, sheltered in their love of God. A friend has lost three children in three years ... two in two months.When I questioned her grief, because 1 can imagine none worse than my own, she just replied 'Grief can't be multiplied'.
   "When Helen's sister's only son, George, 13, was killed in a cliff fall seven months after Cathy's death, it seemed the final testing. Yet Helen's faith never waivered.
   "God alone knows the reason and it is in the knowledge of His love, His wisdom that we find comfort," she said.
   Helen is adamant. There is no way she would have coped without her faith.
   Like her first book, Helen has published Day by Day herself, because she wants it done "her way".

It is priced at $16 and available by writing to
PO Box 93 Oyster Bay
NSW, 2225.
or E-mail


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