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February 23, 1996 - Image 26

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1996-02-23

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Close II;

BARBARA'S STORY page 33

Next she decided on law school. She might
become a judge.
But then Jennifer died, unexpectedly,
on Aug. 26, 1991, and everything stopped.

I

t has been cold for a king time now, a
winter that chills to the very heart.
Barbara Mellen sits in her living
room, not far from the large glass win-
dow. Outside, a quilt of snow, dark leaves
and bits of fallen bark covers the back
yard.
Zachary is taking his afternoon nap.
The house is quiet.
It is still difficult for Mrs. Mellen to
speak of her daughter's death, though she
does it for two reasons.
First, because it is a way to keep Jen-
nifer's name alive.
"Most things end with death," she says.
"Loving someone does not."

Part of what helped
Barbara Mellen turn
around is her
certainty that her
happiness is in her
own hands.

(1)

DETROI T J EWISH

w

She wrote a book about her daughter,
She Walks in Beauty, from which she gives
readings.
Each year, Mrs. Mellen judges a con-
test at Andover High that carries a cre-
ative writing scholarship in her daughter's
name. When she presents the award, Mrs.
Mellen knows, "I'm going to get up there
and say Jennifees name and they will
hear it." But what she tells them is never
maudlin, she says. On the contrary: it's
optimistic.
The second reason Mrs. Mellen speaks
so honestly about her daughter is because
she knows it can help others.
Not long after Jennifer's death, she be-
gan receiving calls from other parents who
had lost children. They needed advice;
they needed to talk. Barbara Mellen
knows'how to listen.
She explains: A painful bond unites
those who have lost their sons and daugh-
ters. "The worst thing that could happen
to anyone is to have to bury your child."
Barbara Mellen survived because she
made a conscious decision to do so. But it
was a long, terrible journey.
Initially, there was shock. Mrs. Mellen
recalls living a good six months in this
state. She functioned, adequately per-
forming necessary day-to-day activities.
She did not drown in despair.
Then things changed. She became de-
pressed. Each morning she would awake

.

w

34

"He is my joy," Mrs. Mellen says of her son, Zachary.

thinking, "Another day without Jennifer."
She became "obsessed" with writing She
Walks in Beauty, a collection of Jennifer's
letters to her mother, and her mother's
letters to her. There are essays by Jen-
nifer's friends, and poems.
"People often ask whether writing the
book was therapeutic," she says. "Now I
understand that it was therapeutic, but
while I was doing it, it was nothing but
pain. I was just beginning to feel things
again. Before that, I was numb."
Part of what helped Mrs. Mellen turn
around is her certainty that her life, future
and happiness lie in her own hands.
"Awful things happen to everyone," she
says. "I don't think what happened to me
was bad luck, or that it's God's fault.
"I believe this is my life and I do what
I have to do. I'm not waiting for someone
to come along and save me. There's no
magic."

She says there's "no trick to-being a sur-
vivor. It's a conscious decision. You have
to learn to say, have a life, independent
of my child, and what am I going to do
with it?'
"At first it's a discipline. Then it be-
comes natural."
She found strength at her congregation,
the Birmingham Temple, and through
family, although the person closest to her,
her husband, was mourning, too, and
"mourning takes so much strength," she
says. "It saps your energy."
There were times when friends were
there for her, times when they were not.
Mrs. Mellen remembers when some
avoided approaching her at all.
"I would be in the store, and people
would go out of their way not to see me,"
she says. "I think they were frightened;
they didn't know what to say.
"Finally, I reached a point where I

would just go up and tell them, 'It's all
right. I know you're uncomfortable."
Not that anything anyone said helped.
An embrace was a kind gesture, Mrs.
Mellen says. Words had no power to
heal.
At times Mrs. Mellen found peace in
visualization, a kind of self-hypnotic jour-
ney to relaxation. It is a technique she still
uses, imagining herself surrounded in a
certain color; "I can get lost in color," she
says.
Surprisingly, though, this student of
art therapy, a woman who "very strongly
believes in the healing power of art," did
not pick up her paintbrushes after Jen-
nifer died.
Today, her studio is cold, with paint-
ings set aside and canvases left bare.
Leaning against a wall is a portrait of Bar-
bara not long after Jennifer died. The face
is weary, pained, empty.

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