You know why you never truly get over the loss of a loved one? Besides the huge void their departure leaves in your life and heart?
Because everywhere you go, there are triggers.
It’s working on almost two years since Dad died, but there are still things that can, without a moment’s notice, trigger a memory–either good or bad. On Friday morning my mom, husband, daughters and I traveled to Saginaw an hour and a half away to attend the funeral of Todd, one of our beloved church members (Saginaw is where he was originally from). I didn’t expect to have much difficulty. I’ve been to a few funerals since Dad passed away with little incidents. Today something else happened.
When I got up to the front where Todd lay in his casket, looking beyond peaceful and sharply dressed, I made the mistake of inhaling. The scent of the embalming chemicals got to me. Within an instant I was no longer looking down at Todd. I was seeing my Dad in his coffin. My knees buckled.
Later that evening, a familiar song came on the radio. It was one I hadn’t heard since I was a child. It immediately brought back great memories of my parents, sister and I riding in our Grand Am as we headed to Chi-Chi’s, one of our favorite restaurants. Every Friday night we’d eat out. That was our guaranteed family time. Then, Dad and I would typically drop my mom and sister off back at home and go hang out with his side of the family at my Gramma’s house. I LOVED those times. There was always so much hustle and bustle at Gramma Smith’s house–lots of happy (oftentimes drunk) people, Spades games, food cooking, music, aunts, uncles, cousins, family friends, you name it. It had already been a rough day, but that song, as upbeat as it was, brought back a fresh flood of emotions and I fell apart.
Sunday at church one of my Dad’s older sisters had a similar experience. Our organist and choir began singing a familiar song for devotion, which also happened to be one of my recently deceased uncle’s favorites, a song that had been played at his funeral last year when he died (my Uncle J.W. I wrote about him). It was the first time she heard the song since the funeral, and she immediately had an epic meltdown that consisted of tears, sobs and screams. I knew the feeling. I stayed with her until she was okay, and cheered her up by reminding her of how awesome our lives had been because of how large and fantastic our family was. When it was over, we were both laughing.
I had an interesting exchange with my husband that put me in deep thought. He is not close with his extended family at all. He has never experienced a family reunion. He is not close with his aunts, uncles, cousins or grandmothers. It had to be overwhelming coming into a family as large as mine–Dad was the youngest of twelve, Mom was one of eleven (only ten survived into adulthood. One of my aunts, Claudia, died in childhood). I’d say he has handled it well. But we both mused about whether it was easier to have never had the exposure to my family–like him–because of the emotional wreckage that occurs whenever one of my loved one dies. He can count on one hand the number of funerals he attended before he met me, and now we’re attending almost one funeral for a family member each year. Dad’s death undoubtedly took an emotional toll on my husband as well.
I really had to stop and ask myself would I have ever preferred or chosen NOT to have had a relationship with my great aunts and uncles, aunts and uncles, grandmothers, cousins, etc..? Certainly, it would alleviate the heartache that I feel whenever I lose one of them, but after awhile I realized the negative impact in my life had I NOT known those people would have been greater. It took me realizing that I have way too many good memories of my loved ones to be willing to sacrifice even a moment of time with them just to protect my feelings. I probably wouldn’t love to cook if I hadn’t spent time with my grandmothers. My cousins were my first true friends. All of my aunts and uncles have either spent time with me as a child baby-sitting me or in some way imparted some knowledge, wisdom or love in me somehow. Nah, I could never say that I’d have been better off not knowing them.
But it is difficult.
Enjoy your family while you have them.
Top row, left to right: My Aunt Bessie, who has a birthday coming up; Aunt Betty Sue, died in 2012; Uncle J.W., died in 2016; Uncle Bobby, died in 1999
Middle row, left to right: Uncle Hollis; Aunt Linda, died in 2014; Aunt Ann; Aunt Imogene
Bottom row, left to right: Aunt Mary, Aunt Peggy, Aunt Kay, my Dad. Died August 11, 2015, 11:40 p.m., and my heart is still broken.
(Please ignore the incorrect caption of “La Famille” at the top. I recognize that a famille is porcelain but I could not remove it).
Despite their flaws, and all of them have them, one thing that is universal among my aunts and uncles is their acceptance of Jesus Christ. This brings me comfort, because I know that the Bible says that when one is absent from the body they are present with the Lord. When my aunt melted down at church the other day, I told her a technique that helps me. I told her that I have a picture in my mind of my Dad when he was at his most handsome and most healthy. It is the picture of him holding my son when he was firstborn. His hair looks perfect, his skin is smooth and shiny, and he is big. I told her to get a picture in her mind of Uncle J.W. when he was at his healthiest, and to remember that where he now resides, THAT is how he is. I picture my deceased loves ones shiny, joyful, and in absolute physical perfection. That helps me deal with the sting of their death. If you truly think about it, WE are the ones who are suffering. It’s those of us who are still HERE that have to deal with sickness, the evils of this corrupt world, instability, conflict, etc. We have to make sure we do what we have to–accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior–so that we can experience the perfect peace that our loved ones who died in Christ now enjoy.