It happened on a Maundy Thursday. While we sat in the pew at church, someone’s cell phone rang with the news that our brother-in-law’s mother had suddenly passed away.
My husband stepped out of the service to call his sister and find out details. Her mother-in-law had collapsed in the kitchen of their farm home near Minot. Frantic phone calls had been made to relatives in an effort to find out how to keep her alive until the ambulance arrived. Then, later, more phone calls were made with the terrible news that she had passed away. A dear wife, mother and grandmother, suddenly gone.
Now, two months later, the “suddenness” of her passing is a phrase I keep hearing from her son. He shared with me that his father is in the throes of grief and haunted by the harshness of “not having been able to say goodbye.” Losing his partner in life and work, his world on the farm is forever changed. With her passing, the whole family has lost a piece of their identity. Nothing will ever be the same.
On Memorial Day, we cut fragrant white, lavender and dark purple lilac blooms from the shrubs on our property and headed out to visit graves in two different cemeteries. In these two very different locations, we witnessed family members experiencing grief on very different levels. My own, softened from the passage of time, is for the loss of my parents 14 months apart, all before I was 38. My husband’s family’s grief sits right below the surface, as they still feel raw from the loss of their Dad just six years ago.
And then there was my brother-in-law, whose mother died so recently, looking confused and emotional over the shocking loss of someone so dear. He said, “We just got through Mother’s Day and now this...”
I am often surprised when I visit with friends whose parents are still living – and thriving. I wonder how it would feel to have the sure foundation of that older generation still ahead of you. So much of our sense of self and grounding is wrapped up with those folks, like a ball of multi-colored rubber bands. But when they all pass away, the ball unravels and you’re the only colored band left.
I talk often about how precious it is to share our stories with our loved ones. In searching through a few my dear mother left behind, I have found some treasures, some diamonds in the dust. Her stories come to life for me and help me resurrect her life as a young girl. And by writing her stories, I will again be close to her and a part of my identity will be revealed and affirmed.
Who did you think of this Memorial Day with a sense of longing? Are there things you can do to preserve that person’s legacy and reveal and affirm your identity?