More than 80 years ago the eleven-year-old son of my maternal grandmother died in a sledding accident. A year or so later his brother died from a burst appendix. In my mind, Herman and Herschel were my mother’s brothers who died before I was born.
My mom was a child when her brothers died. On the farm in the 1940’s adults made no space for a child’s grief, nor for their own. I imagine that the whole family was expected to stoically get on with their work. It must have been overwhelming.
In the past I viewed the tragic stories of the deaths of two brothers mainly from the perspective of my mom, who was their younger sister, but I wonder these days how Grandma Green grieved the deaths of her boys. I never heard her speak of them. Yet, as an adolescent, I grew aware that their deaths cast a shadow in our household, especially in the winter months.
We know more about trauma survivors and how their physical and mental health is affected by unresolved grief. The deaths of the uncles I never met shaped the whole family. My mother, as eldest daughter, though only ten-years-old, assumed the role of caregiver during her mother’s prolonged illnesses, cooking and doing laundry for her father, and three siblings. I’m not sure when it was that my mom vowed her own children would not know the weight of adult responsibilities before our time. She was determined that we would never worry about whether we had clean clothes to wear or if there would be food enough for everyone.
Death shapes us. Especially the death of a family member. And if death reaches across generations, how much more does love? Death is an absence. Love is all fullness.
I’m grateful for family members who’ve grieved the deaths of sons, daughters, siblings or spouses. Their faith in God triumphed and mine will too. I take heart from those who’ve grieved before us and imagine they are cheering us on, confident that in the end love will prevail!
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My stepson took his life 6 years ago yesterday leaving behind his wife and two wonderful children. I would have never guessed he would commit such an act and I have so many questions. I love and miss him dearly and not a day goes by without thinking of him. I have dreams of he and I talking, I only hope we can again some day by the grace of god.
Oh Jim, suicide is such a horrible painful way to lose someone. I’m so sorry you have to carry such a heavy sorrow and watch his wife and children carry it as best they can. It was my biggest fear that Evan would die by suicide. Many of the men who served with him in the army did. In fact his army buddies said that one reason so many of them came to Evan’s funeral was because all the other funerals had been drug overdoses, suicide, or what they called “suicide by cop”. But yes, even for them I trust in an all merciful and loving God, surrendering them to His Mercy which is so far beyond ours.