Every family has drama. I know I’ve certainly contributed my share with my two divorces and three marriages. Even the Bible doesn’t spare us the intrigue of family drama. In Genesis alone we have deception, incest, rape, adultery, and jealousy. Real lives with real life issues.
My parents came up for a few days so we could celebrate my Dad’s birthday and an early Father’s Day. We’re gradually making our way through the first year of my brother’s death and try to gather together on birthdays and significant days as we move through our grief. We’ll be scattering some of his ashes this summer with the rest of my extended family and wanted to finalize the last of the details for that trip. I’ve always lived away from my family so I’ve really been enjoying living closer and being able to participate in more family gatherings.
Death is difficult. Oftentimes there is an opportunity to get things in order and say good-bye as chronic illness or cancer is wrecking its final havoc. Family and friends left behind will still be sad and grieve, but hopefully they’ve had an opportunity to have a certain amount of closure through the dying process. Of course, not everyone has an ideal situation and often a family member’s death spotlights the problems that were already there.
Untimely and unexpected deaths have an additional messiness to them. That is the situation with my brother. His suicide completely ambushed us. We knew there were some parts of his life that were in chaos, but none of us foresaw suicide. And his death has highlighted a strained family relationship that was always there, but is now fully exposed because he isn’t here to be the buffer.
Here’s the thing. This isn’t unique to my family. I have witnessed this time and again over the course of my ministry. Every family has something and whatever IT is, it will surface during a crisis.
My brother’s divorce was not quite finalized at the time of his death. Most divorces are ugly, but his was particularly ugly. Community property had been divided, the divorce paperwork filed, and visitation with his three teen daughters, whom he was very close to, wasn’t going well. And then he died.
My husband and I bought the house from my parents that my brother was living in. My brother didn’t have much, but we invited his daughters to select anything they wanted from what was in his house before we moved in. The only thing we got rid of were his guns. Since he used a gun to kill himself, and the coroner had cautioned about having guns around because it’s very common for another family to also commit suicide, we disposed of the guns immediately. My sister later found another gun that she took to her house because she didn’t want it in the house when Vic’s daughters came to get what they wanted.
Years ago my brother bought a classic car from my Dad. The car had custom license plates, which my Dad had asked for in the event the car was sold. The car sold and arrangements were made for the license plates to be returned to my parents.
In our lighter moments we refer to my sister’s house as Switzerland. It’s considered neutral territory; not the house where my brother died or the house he vacated in the separation. It was to be the place where the license plates and remaining gun, were exchanged. When my sister arrived at my house for dinner, she had only one license plate.
These things happened when my brother was alive, but we overlooked them because in the eternal scheme of things, our relationships with Vic and his family was our focus. He was the reason we would put up with demands and conditions placed on us. Because of him, we could have contact and connection with his family. Now that he’s not here, that is frayed and fragile.
My sister-in-law never had any intention of returning both license plates and she purposely deceived her daughters’ grandparents, including the girls in the deception. The other aspect of the sad reality is the one-sided filter his daughters are receiving about their father from their mother. The reality is their parents’ marriage was in shambles for years. Now he is not here to provide another perspective to balance the bias.
My brother was many things, but he was not “a very sick man.” The drama that is now unfolding doesn’t include the greater story of his incredible and rich life. These are the stories from those who raised him, who grew up with him, who were always a part of his life, and who he knew would never forsake him.
In a few weeks, twenty-four family members will spend a week together doing what my brother loved to do most in his favorite place: fish at Paulina Lake in Oregon. We’ll fish, tell stories, and scatter his ashes. His nephews have inherited his talent as epic storytellers, so he will be well-honored.
It’s too bad his daughters won’t be there.