What is an Angel Catcher?
Amy and I have created this book based on our own experience in surviving the most profound loss we could ever imagine – the murder of my son, Dan, a talented young Reuters photographer, who was stoned to death by an angry mob in Somalia on July 12, 1993. Dan was 22 when he was killed. Amy had just turned 18.
In the days, weeks, and months after Dan’s death, I felt pain I cannot now begin to describe. I learned lessons I never wanted to learn and discovered parts of me I was not aware existed. Sometimes I raged. Often I wept. At times I did not even wish to live.
Early on, I bought books on grieving, hoping that by reading about the process, I might hurry myself through the pain. But I found it almost impossible to read, must less comprehend, books with so many words on a page, and soon I abandoned the attempt. Since Dan’s death, I have read many volumes about the process of mourning, and I have learned there are certain stages we must go through if we are to fully recover from the loss of a loved one.
An initial feeling of disbelief and shock is almost universal. Certainly I was numb for several weeks after the devastating phone call informing me of my son’s death. I couldn’t really feel anything and viewed the world as though through a hazy mist. At first I was insulated from my feelings by the urgency of all I had to do: There was a memorial service to plan, friends to contact, and many decisions to be made. Soon, however, the numbness and shock began to alternate with a denial of what had happened. I didn’t want to believe the truth. My mind played tricks on me, and I saw Dan everywhere: darting off trains and buses, mingling with crowds, disappearing around corners. When the phone rang, I absurdly hoped that it was my son calling. Eventually I wanted to escape, to sleep, to dream him alive again.
After that, I got angry. I cursed my fate and raged against life itself. There were times when I literally tore at the curtains and walls of my home, traumatized by the truth I could no longer deny. It was then that I frightened myself with the tears that came in waves, like breakers on a desolate shore.
Out of my rage was born a deep sense of guilt. Was I in some way responsible for what had happened? Was there something I could have done? Over time I made myself sick with worry, wondering how Dan’s death could have been avoided. My release came through pouring my energy into projects for young people, which helped transform my guilt and anger into something with which I could live.
Eventually, I slowly began to accept Dan’s death. But strangely enough, this was the hardest time of all. The idea of forgetting Dan, even for an hour at a time, felt like a betrayal of my son. Worse still, I found that my vivid memories of our life together were beginning to blur; his characteristic gestures and outrageous wit were not as clear as they had been; the stories I loved to tell were fading from my memory.
I couldn’t remember incidents we had shared, moments I had always thought were indelibly etched in my mind.
Amy was going through her own time of despair. She and Dan had been unusually close, and she felt as though a part of her had been amputated when he died. Two years after Dan’s death, she called me from college. “I can’t remember everything about him!” she sobbed. “I’m forgetting so much. I’m scared I won’t remember anything one day!”
Desperately searching for something to soothe her, I happened to catch sight of a dreamcatcher hanging over my bed. Created by Native American craftsmen to “capture” bad dreams, the little bentwood hoop, decorated with feathers and beads, triggered something in my mind.
“I know,” I said “We’ll make an angel catcher.”
“What’s that?” she said.
“It’s a book to capture an angle,” I said logically. “You can fill it with pictures, stories, letters, whatever will remind you of Dan. You’ll have something to keep forever. One day you can show it to your children when they ask you about their uncle.”
There was a moment of silence, and then Amy began to speak, excitedly describing all the things she wanted to include in her book.
Two months later, she came home for a visit and pulled a black bound book from her suitcase. “It’s my angel catcher,” she said proudly. Together we turned the pages of her journal. I laughed, then cried at my daughter’s rendering of her brother’s memory. With words, pictures, drawings, and quotations, Amy had captured the essence of Dan’s spirit. Every page brought back a world of memories, reminding me of who Dan was – and who he still is in the minds of those who love him.
Amy and I showed the angle catcher to friends who had suffered the loss of someone dear to them and discovered that many people wanted to use the ideas to create their own book. At first we photo-copied the pages, but soon we couldn’t keep up with the demand!
Our Angel Catcher is designed to help you capture the essence of a person who is no longer with you – to preserve forever the memories of the time you shared together. Its empty pages become yours to fill with words, pictures, drawings, and poems – even recipes, quotations, and songs.
But the Angel Catcher is more than that. By creating your own special journal, you can fully experience your feelings about the person you have lost, and in so doing, move through the sadness of loss to calm acceptance, and ultimately a new, greater sense of joy and fulfillment.
We wish you a gentle journey.
How to Use an Angel Catcher
At first, after my brother died, I wanted to hang on to everything that he had ever owned or touched. One day, I found a dusty old backpack in Dan’s room. Rummaging through it, I discovered an ancient toothbrush buried under a pile of photographs and papers. I wanted to treasure it forever. I eventually forced myself to throw away the toothbrush and his battered comb because I realized that the person who made them special to me is with me always – through my memories. For a long time, I pulled out those memories, one at a time, and used them to crawl back into the past. It gave me comfort to recall details of our lives together and helped me feel less lonely. But one horrible day, I realized my memories were fading. It was then that my mother suggested that I make an angel catcher for Dan.
Creating a journal of remembrance is a very personal and private thing. There are no rules for how to use it. The pages don’t need to be filled in any particular order, nor do you have to fill in every entry. Go through it at your own pace, bringing to it your own unique experiences.
The words on each page are designed to trigger your thoughts and feelings. Sometimes they may be negative, for even if we love someone, we don’t always like everything about them! Put it all down. No matter how much energy it takes, force yourself to go deep inside and dig for the buried memories. You can always tear up the pages, cover them with pictures, or paste a sheet of paper over them if you don’t want anyone to see what you have written. Sometimes you may feel like screaming and throwing the book against the wall – that’s okay, too. Expressing yourself freely – no holds barred – will be the key to recovering the memories of your loved one while restoring your sense of peace.
This is your angel catcher. Use it as your companion on the long journey through the deep sadness of loss into the great joy which comes with recovery. And as you fill the pages of the book, think about your own life. Do you have any regrets? Are you being true to yourself? Are you leading the life of your choice? Reflect on those people you love, who will one day perhaps create a journal for you. Are you letting them know how you fel? Most importantly, are you creating the kind of memories you wish to leave behind? If not, now’s the time to begin.
Amy Eldon Turteltaub
I can’t keep from laughing when I remember
I’m hurting a lot today. I know I need to do something to get through this pain. I could go for a walk, have a massage, call up a friend, eat something delicious, listen to wonderful music, cook a meal for a friend, create something magical, take a child to a film, talk about you, watch a film we shared, call up your friends, look at old pictures, go to our favorite place, cry a little, cry a lot, pray, feel my courage, and know you are near.
When something exciting happens, you are the first person I want to tell.
I Love You
Here’s what I am going to do to show my love for you
I thought anniversaries were meant to be happy. This one is very sad. I am afraid of the pain I may feel on the anniversary of your death.