I’ve been confronted with a lot of death, grief, and loss lately. It has made me think about the losses in my own life.
My mother died when I was 12. But, I was greatly distanced from her, both geographically and emotionally. I hadn’t seen or heard from her in several months. We hadn’t parted on positive and healthy terms. She did what she thought was right and what I had stated vehemently that I wanted and signed guardianship of me over to my uncle. When we got the call, months later, that she had killed herself, I remember that my aunt and her sister (who was my step-grandmother) were both more vocally and visibly upset than I was. It was kind of surreal for me. It was a Sunday night and the movie on t.v. was the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I don’t think I truly cried over her loss until a couple of years later when a classmate of mine and I got into a nasty verbal exchange. I told him to go to hell and he informed me that he’d already been there and my mother was just fine. It stung especially so because he was a friend when I first found out she was dead and he was one of the few I told. I guess I owe him a debt of gratitude for that hurtful statement, since it was the first time I started to grieve her death. It didn’t register with me until almost two years ago that I didn’t know what had happened to her remains and that I had never participated or observed a memorial service for her of any kind.
When my grandpa died, I think I was 19, recently single and parenting a two year old little boy. There was a wake held for him, which was basically a few family members and some extended family – family friends – who basically used it as an excuse to gather around, drink beer, smoke cigarettes, and brawl. No actual memorial service that I remember.
My grandmother passed away in 2009. By that time, she’d been so far gone in her dementia and had been living in an adult foster home for over a decade. Sadly, I was so caught up in coping (barely) with my life circumstances, health issues (physical & mental), and a hundred thousand other petty excuses, that I hardly ever visited her. I got the call the morning she passed and my daughter and I went to see her one last time. It wasn’t until then that I actually got in touch with some of her family members from the other side of the country, who had also known my mom. They had a family burial plot for her and all the arrangements were made and she was taken to them. They had the service for her. Nothing happened here with our branch of the family, as far as I can remember, other than some phone calls and emails. What did come of that was me connecting with a key family member who had memories of my mom and us chatting over facebook about my mother’s life and death. That’s when I started learning more about my mom’s death.
The greatest loss for me was a year after my grandmother’s passing when my daughter chose to have an abortion. For a lot of reasons I was against it, but she is my daughter and I love and support her unconditionally. So, I went with her for the “procedure.” What I didn’t realize or understand going into it, was that she wasn’t going to be the only one affected deeply by her choice. After it was done, I was completely devastated and felt like part of me had been forcibly removed. I was completely grief-stricken. Sadly, there is little to no recognition that abortion creates grief and loss in the hearts and minds of family members, if they know – some believe it has affects and implications on even those who don’t know it happened.
The overwhelming feeling of grief and loss from the last event catapulted me into action and has been the driving force behind my emotional, psychological, and spiritual journeys over the past couple of years. Mostly though, it has been a journey through experiencing the sadness, grief, and sense of loss – not just over these family members, but relating to lost friendships, hopes, and dissipated dreams for myself and my grown children. At the same time, I’ve been fighting to create a different path to travel with my youngest child so that she gets the chance to experience what her siblings and I never really got to: attachment to family.
This past week I have been immersed in and witnessing the family dynamics between the children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, the wife, sister and extended family of the good man who passed away. I’ve done my best to support, encourage, and contribute to the family in this time of loss. I spent a lot of time observing, speaking with, reading, and transcribing the writing of various family members while assisting in setting up the memorial. It has made me even more certain that I have to make it a priority, no matter the cost to me emotionally, to get connected and stay connected with members of my own family. Or at least to make the effort. It’s necessary if I want my youngest to grow up healthier and more functional than those before her. It’s necessary because people and relationships, regardless of what they’ve done, said, or neglected to do or say are what’s important.
People, all people, are so important, that the God of the universe stepped outside of himself, became fully human and all that entails, and sacrificed himself in order to restore broken relationships. If I believe that, and I do, then my actions need to come into alignment with that. So, despite the fear and pain, I will continue to reach out and make myself available to the people in my family, because we are all loved.