Friday, June 22, 2007

"A Grief Observed"

My mother-in-law passed away suddenly Wednesday night. To say that our family was devastated by the news would be an understatement. After the initial shock my wife has been amazingly strong, in part to lessen the trauma for our boys. In private, however, she lets it out and I've had to assume this new role in our marriage, grief counselor. Telling the kids was arguably the most difficult part of the process, because they were close to Grandma and, having never experienced it quite so close to home, will have a more difficult time understanding death. Still, I was surprised at their resilience after the initial moments of crying and loss.

(I actually shed more tears over the prospect of telling the kids than anything else. As an adult I can take the news and compartmentalize it, addressing it within the parameters of my own belief system and past experiences with grief and the loss of a loved one. But trying to measure emotionally how they might handle the news was just too much for the barrier I had erected against tears. I was particularly saddened for my older son who had spent a great deal of time with Grandma, including week-long visits to her home in Connecticut. Having had a similar relationship with my maternal grandfather, I knew this would be difficult for my son. In that sense, I guess, my tears were as much a product of my own loss of a grandparent twenty years ago.)

Thankfully we have a strong support network of friends and family who have stepped up with offers of food, help, you name it. For that we are very lucky - and very grateful. My wife in particular, always the "people person" and much more outgoing than me, has an army of friends who stand ready to assist. I think for her the most difficult time will come later, during the months in which she will have to address the myriad legal questions, as well as figuring out what to do about Grandma's house and possessions. Luckily there's no rush to deal with any of that, no internal family battles over wills and property.

At times like this I tend to return to some of the more sage voices on the subject of death and grief. C.S. Lewis's examination of his own grief following the death of his wife, A Grief Observed (the book that inspired the play and film Shadowlands), stands as the "thinking person's" self-study on loss, albeit in a Christian context. At a more visceral level is Act 3 from Thornton Wilder's Our Town, a play which occupies a critical position in the canon of American literature. Not relying explicitly on Christian symbolism in his treatment of death, Wilder instead seems more universalist in perspective.

What does this all mean in terms of our own family's loss? It's too early to tell. But if we're like most people, eventually the wound will heal over and we'll recall the happy memories of Grandma and recognize how lucky we were to have her with us. For now, however, my usual tendency towards verbosity escapes me.

1 comment:

One Wink at a Time said...

My deepest sympathy to you and your family, Brian.
I am very familiar with the pain you recount of having to break the news to the kids. Last year I had to tell my kids that their grandmother, my ex-mother-in-law had passed away. It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.