A Lowcountry Classic: Darkness to Dawn
Plato wisely pointed out, everything has its equal and opposite reaction. Sunshine follows rain, and joy eventually follows pain. Depths of sadness and heights of happiness are an intricate part of all families, and life's experiences teach bonding... or breaking.
Luther and Rosemary Smith met at the University of Kentucky; both became pharmacists, and they married shortly thereafter. They were raising three wonderful sons in Beattyville, Kentucky, anticipating their growth into fine young men. The family vacationed on Hilton Head frequently, beginning in the '70s. Desiring a permanent connection with the island, the Smiths purchased a Sea Pines lot in June of 1992, planning a wonderful future with their boys.
The brothers were great buddies and attended many functions together. In July of 1992, Drew, 18 and Jeremiah, 15, hopped in their car and drove several hours away for an evening concert. Because of the long drive back, Rosemary booked the boys in a hotel telling them to get a good night's sleep and return in the morning. Anxious to head home, the boys were on the road very early.
Rosemary arrived at their family-owned pharmacy and Luther happened to stop by on his way to the new one they were opening. Suddenly, a local policeman rushed in the door with shocking news that impacted the Smith family forever. "Drew is dead! Killed instantly in a bad accident," he carelessly blurted out to Rosemary. The Smiths were too shocked to ask about their other son. Rosemary recalled, "Somewhere in my mind I thought Jeremiah must be okay." When 20 minutes later it was discovered the passenger was their second son, who had no identification on him, they could not believe the unthinkable..."Not both the boys....."
"The loss of a child is probably the toughest, and perhaps even more devastating than the loss of a spouse." related Dr. Paul Doerring, a psychologist who has counseled many families through the loss of a child for more than 40 years. "The grief is unique to each individual, and there are no shortcuts. Almost all seek ways to memorialize their lost loved ones. These positive activities seem to help find a touch of peace and solace of sorts through initiating thoughtful remembrances."
The two pharmacists threw themselves, as planned, into building their Sea Pines home. "It gave us a focus," Rosemary offered. They struggled for breath and light. "There was no sleep," Rosemary recalled tearfully. "I was in the boys' rooms constantly, sitting on their beds, calling out to them, talking to them, writing them notes. My first night's sleep came only when I finally stopped questioning God and gave it up to Him."
As bits of daylight crept into their lives, the Smith's road to recovery led them to contact bereaved families. Rosemary developed a package of helpful information designed specifically for the particular loss through illness, suicide or accident. Whenever she received a call saying someone had lost a child, she sent out the individualized material. She began interviewing parents and recording their stories of survival and handling grief. Her dedication to help others and memorialize her boys eventually led to the publication of a book with the very significant title, Children of the Dome.
The dome pictured on the book cover (depicting recovery of families after the loss of a child) graces the Cumberland Inn, adjacent to the now University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Kentucky. It was the thoughtful suggestion of college president and his wife, Dr. and Mrs. James Taylor, who lost their only son. And so the dome, designed by artist Wayne Taylor who was commissioned to paint it, honors not only the Smith's sons, but other children in the bereavement group formed by the Smiths. The book was the first of many positive steps Luther and Rosemary were able to eventually take. "As we met more and more amazing parents, we knew we wanted to create a helpful documentary on losing a child," said Rosemary. Discouragement colored many days when insensitive editors failed or contracts demanded too much control. The Smiths persisted. The Chinese foreign exchange student who became their adopted son, a University of Kentucky, Phi Beta Kappa graduate, Fong Richard Zhu, offered his assistance in editing the documentary. Written by Rosemary and ultimately produced by the Smiths themselves, the award-winning 113 minute film, Space Between Breaths, covering grief and healing, won the 2007 Best Documentary Award at the Sweet Auburn International Film Festival held in Atlanta. The name stemmed from a quote by Maria Housden, a mother who decided to continue living after the loss of her 3-year old daughter: "In that space between breaths, I made the decision to live."
An uplifting encouragement, with score by two-time Grammy nominee, Cindy Bullens, the film focuses on families who have lost children, the enfolding of their emotions, and the ultimate transformation of their grief into positive, motivational forces in their lives. Sponsored locally by Lottie Woodward, and Dwight and Judy Trew, the screening recently filled Coligny Theater, offering hope to all parents experiencing the same devastation. The symbol, the dandelion losing its petals, symbolizes the children floating away from their parents, yet remaining near. "I feel there is a message for everyone about what is really important in life, what truly matters," declared Rosemary, who has sent packages to over 5,000 families.
"My husband not only fought his own grief, he offered his compassion and broad shoulders to me and our remaining son, Jordan."
"Everyone handles grief differently," said Luther, who told his wife he would not be the man he is today without the loss of their sons. Part of easing his grief manifested itself in his writing: "The robin builds a nest in a tree outside our door. I saw the intensity in her eyes we all, as parents, have in ours. At their birth, our purpose in life is transferred to their upbringing. That instinct and love totally consumes our lives."
This is the story of unending courage and the painful rise from ashes to sunlight. The Lebanese born poet, philosopher, Kahlil Gibran, explained grief beautifully. Rosemary and Luther cemented the broken pieces of their lives, experiencing truth in his saying, "Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding."