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!