Sunday, May 27, 2012

Life Events: the Experience of Loss through Death

We genealogists and family historians talk and write about all sorts of life events that occur in our families.  The event of death is often the most difficult.  Today my older daughter was once again brought into contact with that particular one.  She and her sister have dealt with such events beginning much earlier than I, as their mother, would have wished.  They've experienced the deaths of their grandmothers -- both within just a couple years of each other -- when they were very young, just on the cusp of understanding what death is and means.  As well, they have experienced the passing of two great-grandmothers and their uncle, as well as other people they have met in their time here on Earth.

My father died when I had just turned seven years old, and in those days (1954), it was thought that children did not understand at all.  That was to shortchange children, because they understand a lot more than we give them credit for.  And they're more resilient than we often give them credit for.  Certainly I was underestimated in 1954, as I was isolated and cut off from the family experience, and given no guidance whatsoever as I attempted to negotiate the frightening landscape of grief and loss all by myself.  That colored my emotional response for a long, long time, left me hostile and emotionally insecure, and made the adjustment much more long and drawn-out a process than it ever needed to be. 

When their grandmother -- my mother-in-law -- died in June of 1978, I determined that my daughters, five and six years old at the time, were not going to be left out of the loop as I was.  Likewise, when their other grandmother -- my mother -- died in 1980, I guided them through the process.  They did not need to be isolated and "protected" from the fact of death and its consequences for the living.  They needed to be kept very much in the loop, to have it explained to them as gently and honestly as possible, and to have their hands held by the caring adults in their family during that difficult time, to reassure them that life did go on, and that they would not be left entirely alone in the experience.  Considering how they have managed as young adults and now middle-aged adults, I am convinced that I did the right thing.

My older daughter heard today that one of her high school best friends died.  This is the second such event for her.  Her other high school best friend was killed in a highway accident thirteen years ago (1999).  I would have preferred she be spared that, and I would have preferred both my daughters be spared the events of their grandmothers -- and since then, other family members -- dying.  But we are not granted such requests.  We are charged with reacting compassionately and responsibly to these events.  It is demanded of us that we go through the steps of the grieving process, and it is hoped we take comfort where we can, and emerge from the experienced strengthened in faith and courage.

I think my daughters have been prepared well, and I'm proud today of my older one for the way she has handled the news, of my younger one for the caring she showed, and of my son-in-law for being my older daughter's strength, both times.

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