The next artist I’d like to introduce is Heather (O’Leary) Pacheco, who happens to also be my niece. Dare I say favorite? No, I don’t have a favorite, they are all totally cool & equally amazing! I have some pretty awesome nephews as well, more about their artistry in a future post.
I want to share a little about Heather before I get to the part about grief and gratitude. A little bit of fun before the sad reality of why she is writing about loss. She always has a smile on her face so that’s how I’d like you to get to know her. She has a fun, creative side to her as well and makes whimsical art as gifts, which is shown below.
Heather is a fun loving, hard working & amazing mom of three beautiful kids, she happens to have a pretty cool police officer hubby as well, wouldn’t want to leave him out, he’s as much fun as she is! She is a teacher at Neighborhood Cooperative Nursery School in Winchester, MA & she brings her teaching skills home with her. Her children are happy and healthy and a lot of fun to be with. Whenever I’m with Heather’s kids, I like to try to teach them something or tell them about something that’s happening in the world. Their response is always the same, “yeah, our mom already told us about that”. So, Go Heather! Keep teaching those kiddos and keep writing and creating, the world needs you!
To say that Heather grew up on my hip is an understatement. I was 11 when my sister Alice had her. I was literally there for her birth, and we’ve been connected ever since. She and her siblings were my source of entertainment when they were little. Later, she came to college parties with me (probably not the best idea, but we had fun). We have made about a million road trips to North Carolina together. Today, we often show up to parties with the same outfit, the same lip gloss or nail polish color. I like to think we are somehow connected even when we are not physically together.
That’s how families work. Cousins, siblings, nieces, nephews, uncles, aunts: all caring for one another, helping each other grow, living, loving & laughing all along the way.
It’s not only Heather’s mom’s side that has helped to shape her. Heather’s dad’s side of the family is big, fun and loving. Their last name is O’Leary - they are not just fun, they are really fun.
She has just as many cousins on that side of the family, but one, in particular that she was deeply connected to, Betsy.
Betsy’s parents, Michael and Cindy O’Leary, have been a huge part of her life. Their children have lived, loved and laughed together for many, many years. Their eldest daughter Besty, not only resembled Heather, but had a similar age gap to Heather and me. Just enough of a difference to show Betsy the ropes when she was young, but then welcome her to adulthood.
Betsy was about to give birth to her first child when she was killed in a tragic accident. An accident that is unthinkable, and took not only Besty, but her unborn child, Brooke. This story is horrific and affected so many people, most of all, Betsy’s parents, siblings, husband and family. But this particular story, or post, is about Heather, and her writing about Betsy and Brooke.
This story is about the worst kind of grief, the unimaginable kind, but there are so many kinds of grief and so many ways of grieving. I hope that Heather’s words give you some comfort if you have experienced loss or makes you feel peace where it is needed.
GRIEF and GRATITUDE
by Heather O’Leary Pacheco
In college I read On Grief and Grieving by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. She is one of the most respected authorities on the subject of death and dying. Being well versed on the 5 stages of grief, I thought I was prepared after the sudden death of my cousin Betsy and her daughter Brooke. I would be able to tuck my messy emotions into neat packages and to learn to live with my loss. The reality of grief is much different than Kubler-Ross would like us to believe. There are no neat packages, there is no one size fits all to grief - you will grieve in some capacity for the rest of your life. I don’t miss Betsy and Brooke less with time. I miss them more as the magnitude of their absence continues to set in.
Grief is messy. It shows up when you least expect it and even when you don’t want it to. In the past months grief has looked like many different things. It’s looked like silent tears on the couch at night while everyone else is asleep. It’s looked like full blown ugly crying in the car all alone. It’s looked like trying to be okay for people because you know your sadness makes them uncomfortable and it’s just easier to pretend. It’s looked like snapping at your children and then immediately breaking down and apologizing to them. It’s looked wistful as you journey with pregnant friends and celebrate their happiness.
It can be isolating as time goes on, to journey with a grief that impacts you more so than most other people. You desperately want to function, to “be okay”, and to honor the person you are grieving by living a full life, but it’s not always that simple. It’s like a pendulum swinging - some days I can do and be those things, and some days, or some moments, I can’t. I have been privileged to mourn with those who mourn. To hold space for others suffering and to allow others to hold space for me. What a blessing that has been. The power of human connection is undeniable. While it hasn’t taken away the pain, it has eased the suffering.
In my grief I have chosen to look for gratitude. Grief without gratitude or hope would be debilitating for me. Some days grief with gratitude and hope are still debilitating. But gratitude, I come back to gratitude and ground myself there. One thing I can be thankful for in any one moment. And often I can’t stop at one. It’s powerful. Betsy was always such a positive person, looking for the best in everyone and reminding others to do the same. She was the person who would remind me of all of the good things in my life just because she treasured them as much as I do. Gratitude is not a magic pill- it can’t take away the pain, but for me it balances the pain. It gives me something to fight for when I feel like I’ve got no fight left. It makes me feel closer to Betsy and Brooke, to grow with gratitude.
I know some days you don’t want to be grateful. You just want what you lost back. But truly, gratitude is transformative. It aids in healing. It is not a magical cure for loss or sadness, but it helps. So try it. Start with just one thing. Silence the inner critic that tells you that you don’t deserve things to be grateful for and focus on just one thing. That “just one thing” might be exactly what you need to take “just one more” step.
To Betsy and Brooke- I miss you. Even amidst joy, I grieve the loss of you. With every fiber of my being I wish things were different. Mostly though, I just love you. This is not the end of our story. . .
I hope that Heather’s profound writing about grief and gratitude can help at least one person dealing with loss. I love her lots and wish she never needed to write her story, but she did. I am grateful and I hope you will be as well.
Coincidentally, Betsy O’Leary Ableson was born on October 10th and would have turned 31 today.