Grief is no easy monster to defeat & one of the biggest illusions it presents is how “family” holds together afterwards. Family unintentionally dissipates as the months & years go by. There are many good intentions and people are quick to declare, “we will not allow anything to separate us” and “we will get together more often”, but reality takes hold & people drift apart.
Death has a way of bringing people together & a way of separating them as well. The reasons why people drift apart are too numerous to mention, but the people who drift remain the same: Brothers, Sisters, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, Friends, & especially in-laws.
The illusion of family is presented by those we love & share many years of memories, triumphs, & disappointments with. These are people we grew up with & other times people we allowed into our lives through love & devotion.
Probably some of the hardest lessons learned through this process is that people who were once “family” are no longer as the years go by. Those who once said “I love you” will allow themselves to fad out of your life & resume theirs without thought of the ones they leave out. The daily phone calls that occurred for 15 years will fade to weekly, then monthly, yearly, & finally stop completely. The thought of what constitutes family will be reduced to blood. The family events, get-togethers, & shared holidays will cease. The random encounters in town become fewer as the years accumulate.
There is an awkwardness that begins to grow & soon in-laws feel betrayed by the widow/widower should they allow someone else into their life. Step children decide that a surviving step parent is no longer part of their family once another man/woman enters the widow/widower’s life. Distance becomes the norm instead of the unheard of and the unusual becomes usual.
- During the 1st year after death, the holidays are mournful by all, yet comforting because “family” still gather and hold traditions.
- By the 2nd year after death, holidays are a bit restrained. They seems to be full of pity and compassion for the widow/widower and the children. “Family” approach the holidays with caution.
- By the 3rd year, the “family” turn inward. There is still much pity and compassion, but it is for themselves – not the surviving widow/widower. Since the phone calls have ceased, guilt money begins to arrive in mailboxes instead of invitations to holiday gatherings. “Family” begins to cling to each other more closely so they will be able to discuss the unacceptable changes in the widow/widower’s life. They fear change because they refuse to risk losing the precious memories of the loved one passed. I am hoping above all hope that one day soon, “family” will realize that nothing can replace or remove those memories from their minds.
In the mind of the “family”, it remains appropriate for the them to move on with their lives (as they should), yet it remains inappropriate for the widow/widower to resume life. Afterall, they have been encouraged to do so by many friends and loved ones, therefore it has become acceptable. This self acceptance takes a great deal of effort and can lead to the selfish human nature of self-preservation. People forget however, that self-preservation does not include tearing others down in the process. One of the most important Human impulses in life is self-preservation.
This holiday season, please try not to damage a survivor of any traumatic event by your own inclinations of self-preservation. 😦