Talking about death is awkward. Even for those of us who have spent much of our professional lives dealing with death, it still has its conversational challenges. We were opening a bank account and the person assisting us asked what brought us to the area. Of course, she’s just making polite conversation but there isn’t an easy, polite answer for why we moved to the area. What am I going to say? My brother died. He took his own life. Yes, he has children. I have no idea how things are going for them.
My brother was in the midst of a very messy divorce when he died. His marriage had been in trouble for years and we all knew it. We knew, not because he talked about it (because he didn’t), but because we saw the dynamics. I didn’t get dragged in by his wife like my parents and sister, but enough passing comments were made to me by her when I was around for family events to know he was considered the sole problem for everything in their life.
The family was never in any denial about my brother’s personal demons. But, as I was always reminding him, he also wasn’t solely to blame for their marriage’s demise. It takes two to build a marriage, two to maintain a marriage, two to grow a marriage, and two to destroy a marriage. Each must bear their share of the burden when a marriage dies.
Children, however, should never be put in the middle of their parents’ messy lives. Unfortunately, children are always part of the collateral fallout when a marriage ends. That’s why it is imperative to make sure kids get professional support to help them navigate their parents’ divorce. Sadly, most parents don’t get help themselves and often only get help for the kids after aberrant behavior surfaces or something drastic happens.
My nieces weren’t receiving any professional support during the separation of their parents and now, even after their father’s death – complicated by the fact it was suicide -are still not receiving any professional support. I only emphasize the need for professional support because I am concerned for them.
Grief manifests itself in different ways for each person. Grief is a process, a series of varying stages that each of us must journey in our own way and in our own timing. Grief is not the same for everyone and we must refrain from judging others on how they grieve. Of course, there are unhealthy ways to grieve (self-medicating through alcohol and drugs) and there is even pathological grief, but most of us make our way through grief as best we can.
I have no doubt my brother’s wife is grieving in her own way. There was the loss of her marriage, now complicated by the loss of the father of her children. My nieces heard it all before he died. What are they hearing now that he’s dead? How is their memory of their father being colored by what they now hear from their mother? How are they navigating the complicated emotional aspects of their own life when they don’t have any neutral source of support? How do we, their father’s family, breach the chasm to have our own relationship with his children?
The underbelly of grief is the truth; the truth about ourselves and the truth about our relationships. The truth that we all must face reality without our loved one and the buffer (and glue) they represented with the other people in their lives. When they’re gone, so is the relationship. I do want a relationship with his children, my nieces. I don’t, however, have a viable relationship with their mother at this time.
Another aspect of grief to keep in prayer.