We live to tell stories. It’s through stories that we connect with each other and with those who have walked along us, or have gone before us. Through stories we find a place in the world that is our own. The stories that make up our lives and that we leave behind for our children can be illuminating and inspiring, and they can also fill a lot of gaps.
Recently we worked on a very special – and poignant – book that stirred up our hearts. A few years ago a young boy lost his father in an accident. Some years later his mom decided to create and print a book of memories for their son that would contain the stories she had collected from friends and family, people who had known her husband through the different stages of his life. That is how she found FromABirdie.
Meet Susan, the boy’s mother. She knows grief inside and out, and has, since the accident, moved on to help others in the processing of their own grief.
Compiling such a book can be a powerful tool in moving through mourning. It requires strength, the desire to keep going, and to keep giving. In the process, it may gather an immense positive energy from the community, as the stories are spilled into a simple artifact: a book of memories for a child about his father. Susan wrote to me in one of her emails: “Our son will be thrilled to have these stories about his dad.”
When you miss him most, look in the mirror and see if you can’t spot a little of that magic light glowing around you
In the introduction to the book Susan wrote:
After your dad died, I knew I wanted to find a way for you to get to know your father more over time, as you grew up and grew older.
So, I asked lots of people to write stories about Brent MacNab, the awesome guy that is your dad!
What better way to get to know your dad than through the eyes of his family, friends and work colleagues? We all loved him and spent time getting to know him. We all knew your dad was an incredible man. He was kind and compassionate. He was a surfer, professor, bagpiper, adventurer, researcher, chef, athlete, artist, composer, creator, comedian, family man and man of God.
These “life snapshots” and memories have been compiled so you can get to know your dad even better than you already do. Over the years to come, you will realize that you are very much like your dad, sometimes like your mom, and also very much your own unique person. What a perfect combination!
We all love you, Jacob. This book is for you.”
Here are excerpts from some of the stories from friends and family shared in the book we made for Jacob.
(…) “Do you know who saw you FIRST when you were born? Yep. YOUR DAD.
He was a strong, athletic guy and literally caught you when you came out into the world. The first thing he said to you was “You are beautiful”. You were his miracle. He loved you so much and always will. Dad will always be by your side, cheering you on with a “Go Bonesy!” in whatever you do and wherever you go. (…)
Whatever YOU do and whomever YOU become, know that your dad is with you and so proud of you.” (…)
~From a letter from Mom and Dad
(…) As the years pass, I know you will wish you could have known your father longer and better. Many good people are already in your life and love you as I write this letter, and many, many more will come into your life in the time to come; but nothing can make up for the loss of a parent, I know. When you miss him most, look in the mirror and see if you can’t spot a little of that magic light glowing around you (and even pouring out from within you). I bet you’ll be able to. And when you do, trust that you’re seeing some of your father there. (…)
~From a letter from Rev. Kerry M.
Then he pulled out the receipt from the restaurant. He had saved it for all those years!
(…) “During the days before your Mom and Dad got married in Hawaii, we had many gatherings with family and friends. This is when I found out your Dad was “Mr. Romantic”. At one of these gatherings, he was telling the guests how he met your Mom and about their first date at an Italian restaurant. Then he pulled out the receipt from the restaurant. He had saved it for all those years! Who does that? Later, I think it was at the wedding rehearsal, he announced that he had written a song for your Mom and played it on the bagpipes. Who does that? Most of the guys, including me, were saying “thanks a lot Brent”, because their wives and girlfriends were asking why we never do anything romantic like that.
Another funny story about your Dad is when you skyped Memere and me from Australia by yourself when you were only 3 years old. The look on your Dad’s face was really funny when he walked into the room and discovered what you had done. After he got over the surprise, I think he was really proud of how smart you are, just like him.” (…)
~From a letter from Brian F.
(…) “One time, before you were born, he was looking through one of my cookbooks. It was the first cookbook I ever had that someone gave me called “Betty Crocker’s New Picture Cook Book”. Your mom, dad, Papa, and I were in the kitchen getting ready for dinner. (You must realize I had gotten the book over 40 years before, in the days of the dinosaurs, when I was just learning to cook). Anyway, your dad was cracking us up as he read from the book and made it even funnier the way he described the section, “Hints for the Homemaker”. It said, “Every morning before breakfast, the cook should comb her hair, apply her makeup and a dash of cologne, think pleasant thoughts while working, wear comfortable shoes and easy fitting clothes while working…”. Your dad would exaggerate each suggestion and go into great detail about each one. It was very funny and we all had a good time laughing about it and the way your dad described the suggestions. Maybe when you get your own house, I will give you my cookbook that your dad laughed about so much.” (…)
~From a letter from Denise F.
(…) “One Halloween Brent and Scott decided they would go to a party dressed as cave men. They covered themselves with some furry looking stuff, and smeared charcoal or some such substance on their faces and arms and legs. I was unaware of all of this until I walked around the dimly lit corner of the hallway and ran smack into both of them. I nearly had a heart attack… I had never run into two giant fur covered cave men in my house before. They had a good laugh at my expense… (…)
(…) He did a lot of funny things during the time we all knew him, and one of the most creative things he did was write a series of letters to companies using a fictitious name, “Larry Spranger”. He would write letters complaining about the quality of the products the company sold… all of it a creation of your dad’s imagination. For example, he wrote to a predominant candy company who made and packaged M&Ms. In the letter to this company, he expressed his concern for the future of our country because he had found a defective, misshapen piece of candy in one of the bags he bought. “If you can’t count on round M&Ms, what can we count on… what has become of our country?”. The responses to these letters were hilarious, and they were usually were accompanied by a generous supply of free samples. We were never short of M&Ms. (…)
Larry Spranger also wrote to the Governor of the State of California with a detailed plan to take care of the state’s drought problem. While California was in a terrible drought, the Midwest was experiencing record snow and ice… that would turn to catastrophic flood waters in the spring. The unemployment problem in the Midwest was terrible, and Larry Spranger incorporated a solution for this problem too. Here’s how. Larry suggested that the unemployed people in the Midwest could begin to build “ice missiles” that could be loaded with snow and ice, and then fired at the State of California. When the ice missiles landed in California, the snow and ice would melt, providing much needed water to end the drought. So, Larry’s clever plan would provide work for the unemployed, remove the snow and ice from the Midwest, and provide much needed water for California. The plan was sent complete with highly detailed drawings of the missile launcher, etc…” (…)
~From a letter from Tracy G.
“If you can’t count on round M&Ms, what can we count on… what has become of our country?”
(…) Why Can’t You Be Like Brent… ? My mother adored your Dad!! I think she liked him more than me (kind of half serious here!). Your Dad was very interested in the Asian culture and enjoyed conversation with my mother talking about the homeland (China). My mother always kept saying “… Brent is so smart… how come you can’t be as smart as him… ” “… Brent is always in such good shape… why are you still so fat and not get into shape to look like Brent… ” When your Dad graduated from PSU with honor cords (i.e. 4.0 GPA), my mom said, “… how come you don’t have any honor cords, like Brent… ” Might as well call your Dad, Brent Yee! Old school Chinese culture is pretty harsh and blunt, and my mother tells it like it is… gotta love her. (…)
~From a letter from Ray Y.
A note about Susan: Susan Hannifin-MacNab, MSW, PPSC is a social worker, educator, and author who holds a Masters in Social Work, a Bachelors in Education and credentials as a teacher and school social worker. After Susan’s surfer-professor-bagpiper husband was killed suddenly in 2012, she was left to pick up the pieces of her young family’s life. Early in her healing process, Susan stumbled upon Soaring Spirits International, an organization that provides hope, education and peer-based social support to the widowed community worldwide. She now works as their Programs and Educations Manager.
Susan also founded A2Z Healing Toolbox®, an organization that assists the bereaved in integrating authentic, practical, action-based tools into their lives while healing with intention. She facilitates conference workshops, professional development trainings, and keynote presentations nationally. Her five-time award-winning book, A to Z Healing Toolbox: A Practical Guide for Navigating Grief and Trauma with Intention, is used by mental health practitioners and bereaved communities worldwide.