The Checkered Cloth: A Lesson About Loss

by Bernice Garfield-Szita

Our memories can serve to sensitize us throughout our lives to things we may not otherwise have empathy for. One memory from my childhood has come back to me many times as I have worked with children, parents and loss.

I could not have been more than five years old when this experience happened to me. It was summer and I, my parents and older sister, Audrey, went on a rare vacation to the Catskills in NY. We visited a farm that was turned into a hotel and as a city child everything was exciting and new to me! I loved all the green, the wild flowers, the fresh air and the farm animals. It was here that I fell in love with chickens, an affection I hold to this day!

On one of the days during this vacation, a group of families decided to go on a picnic to a local park. Food, drink, and a bright red and white checkered tablecloth were packed and off we went.

I don’t think I ever saw so much open space, bright blue skies and fluffy clouds before! I loved playing with other children! As a city child, my mom was very protective of me but in the “country”, I felt really free!

The other children and I began playing hide and seek as the adults set up the picnic table. We ran, hid behind trees, found each other, and shrieked with laughter when we were discovered. It felt like we were in a wonderful technicolor Disney film like Bambi, which I had recently seen.

As the game progressed, I got further and further away from our table. After hiding for what seemed a very long time, five year olds don’t have a great sense of time, I became uncomfortable when I could no longer hear the voices of the other children. I peeked out and didn’t recognize anything or anyone around me! I started walking quickly to an unknown destination and tears ran down my face. I was lost! Suddenly, it was as though the technicolor happy movie transformed into a black and white scary film. My little body shook with sobs as I walked aimlessly.

Luckily, a kind man at another picnic table noticed me and asked, “Are you lost little girl?”
“Yes”, I said, barely able to talk. “We have a red and white checkered table cloth, “I added softly.
He took my hand gently and we looked for my family and the checkered cloth. It was a popular design and I was surprised to see that many of the other tables had a cloth like that too!

Finally, we found my family and friends and there was great celebration because they were so worried about me. I hugged my mother and didn’t want to lose sight of her for the rest of the day! It all ended well but the memory of the terrified panic feeling I had when I was “lost” remained with me for the rest of my life!

Now, as a parent and grandparent, I can feel it from these roles, as well. I can only imagine the fear and pain of a child who loses a loved parent or parent, a beloved child through death, divorce, illness, war, or forced separation, not knowing when or if you will see each other again.

Throughout my personal and professional life I have emulated the kind man who helped me find safety and comfort. In this world of great turmoil, I hope we all can spare some time to help those who are experiencing the profound emotions of loss.

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