Thursday, April 4, 2002
By Kirsten Chapman For The Dispatch
A Mansfield woman, through memories and ritual, has found a way to turn grief into a constructive force. Robin A. Edgar once made a pact with her mother: "that she would fight to live with cancer and that I would fight to let her die the way she wanted to -- with dignity and in her own bed.''

Sandra Babich waged her battle for 11 years. When she passed away July 5, 1993, she was at home with her daughter. Later, while creating a syllabus for "Writing Your Life Story'' for the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, N.C., Edgar included written memories about her mother.
"I found great solace in recording our time together,'' she writes in the preface to her just-published In My Mother's Kitchen: An Introduction to the Healing Power of Reminiscence. "Through these memoirs, I developed rituals that helped more than anything else to ease the pain,'' Edgar said.

One such rite, for example, concerns baking bread. Edgar said she found "the bottom of an old aluminum ice-cube tray'' in an oven drawer. "My mother (had) used this oddball utensil to bake her famous mandel bread, a semisweet Russian pastry,'' she explained. "It was just the right size to bake my favorite treat in her toaster oven so she didn't have to turn on the big oven.''

Through time, it had become a "sacred vessel,'' though dented and stained from years of service. "Every year on my mother's birthday,'' Edgar said, "I pull it out and bake mandel bread in my toaster oven.'' When Edgar's eldest daughter married, she presented her with a collection of old aluminum ice-cube trays, along with the recipe, "so she could carry on the tradition of love and good eating.''

Edgar's book grew out of her workshops, offered around the country, on the healing power of reminiscence. Hospice of North Central Ohio -- with funding from the Richland County Foundation, Very Special Arts of Ohio and businesses and churches -- will offer Edgar's six- week workshop series to residents of Ashland, Richland and Huron counties. A teen session is in progress. An evening class for working adults will begin Tuesday. Another session, for senior citizens, is planned for August. A series of teen and adult workshops are slated for September.

"Everybody has a story to tell,'' Edgar said. "They have an inner need to record family history . . . and to pass it on to other generations.''
Her workshops and book are not only for those grieving over the loss of someone close. Participants may include those experiencing other changes -- a divorce, a move, an empty nest. Wanting to help people heal comes naturally to Edgar. "Both my mother and father were always doing for others,'' she said. "That's how my parents brought me up to be.''

A friendship ring bears testimony. Given to her mother by a young woman whom she befriended, Edgar now wears it as a daily reminder. "My mother said once that her mother lived on through her. I feel that my parents are living on through me and through my work.''

All content herein is © 2002 Kirsten Chapman and may not be republished without permission.