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. 🙁
Thanks for the friendly reminder to cherish those who hold dear to our hearts and make the effort to spend quality time with them while we still can. I called my folks today and will be seeing them over the weekend for brunch and a gossip- it’s long overdue! 🙂
Thank you for the advice. I hope I am able to recognize if and when I am acting out of a ‘self-preserving’ mindset. I fear my inward inclination will blind my perspective! Perhaps you could detail what that looks like…if you feel so inclined.
I’ve never thought to truly describe it. I will when we get back home from our travels.
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Thank you for sharing your insights with us. You are quite accurate, of course, and it seems hard to understand how grandchildren can be so easily “forgotten” once the surviving spouse has moved on with his/her life.
We had a somewhat different situation in my husband’s family after his parents passed away. There were three surviving siblings, who had known for many decades that my husband was adopted. This was something that his parents had never shared with him, and we were all shocked to find the adoption papers in my father-in-law’s safe deposit box. My husband was 49 years old at the time, which was in April of 1993. My daughter and I went to visit the brother, who still lived in the town of the adoption, and had a most pleasant visit with them, but no real answers, just that my mother-in-law had threatened the entire family, if they told my husband, that they would never see him again. She was a person who would have carried out her plan to keep them all away from him, too, so they all kept this “secret” for all those years. We had always received Christmas cards from those family members, but those all stopped coming after that news was revealed. At this point, we have no idea whether any of the two aunts and one uncle are still alive, and there are cousins who are also out of our lives.
For whatever it’s worth, you are most worthy of a new relationship, and I hope your children can keep from feeling betrayed by the lack of attention from their dad’s parents and siblings. Hang in there, gal—better times are coming!!
Oh no! I hate to hear that Glenda. Isn’t it odd how death changes people and how we see them? As for the boys, 2 of their 4 sisters do try somewhat to stay in touch, but that’s it for that whole side. I get tired of making excuses for everyone. I’ve made excuses for too many people for too long. Shoot, I was making excuses for people before he passed away!
I no longer give excuses when the boys ask me about their other sisters or their grand parents, uncles, aunts, etc. I just tell them we will pray about it and God’s will be done.
You are very wise! Fortunately, our children were old enough when all this happened that they have managed pretty well not hearing from the other folks. My mother-in-law did a wonderful job of alienating the rest of the family while she was living, and that is what the rest of us are reaping now. For the last ten years of her life, she had one remaining sister, and they did not speak to each other for the last five of those years, after she made a comment that caused her sister to hang up on her. Both of them wasted all those years just waiting for the other one to apologize first. We have learned a lot from watching what that kind of thing can do to a family, and I believe our family will be MUCH stronger than that!!! I sure hope so, anyway!