As a mom, I could never imagine the pain and lifelong suffering of losing a child, regardless of the child’s age. The death is out of normal sequence and an experience many of you are sadly familiar with. Others find it impossible to imagine, as the fear of those thoughts are paralyzing.
Twenty-three years ago my husband passed away suddenly. In the fog of the first week of him passing, I had my first heart-to-heart conversation with my mother-in-law, as she feared losing her connection to our 2-year old daughter – her granddaughter who is her eternal link to her youngest son who passed away out of sequence. The notion of potentially losing the connection that my mother-in-law most desperately needed was both overwhelming and daunting. Of course, in my early days of grief, I could hear people talking to me but the words were just words – probably because I was unaware of the road in front of me and because I didn’t want to hear the words that my husband was really gone. Although, during our heart-to-heart conversation I do remember vividly her saying to me “please do not take our precious baby away from me.” Even in the fog, I heard her loud and clear, and responded looking her straight in the eyes, “Gretchen will always be in your life. I PROMISE!”
I couldn’t imagine a better family than Rod’s to remain connected to all these years – 5 siblings and their spouses, 13 nieces and nephews and 9 great nieces and nephews. As with all families, life and the associated demands grow in complexity and shift over the years. In general we move to new cities, our family priorities change while we are parenting our at-home children, our careers mature, and our parents begin to age. In my case, throughout these changes I can say I was fortunate to remain connected. We as a family, in memory of Rod, remained a family; we did not pass judgment and rallied around family milestones, holidays and our famous 4th of July celebrations in Great Bend, KS.
When I remarried, Rod’s mom sent my living husband a wonderful letter welcoming him to her family. In fact, I was the only member of the family that had two wedding pictures on the “wedding wall of fame.” And of course, when nieces and nephews asked the awkward questions about why Rachel could have two husbands, Rod’s parents didn’t shy away from answering. Throughout the years, we all walked the grief journey together by adding a representative “symbol” of Rod in each picture taken at family gatherings, having him be with us to celebrate the joy of the occasion.
Having supported others through their personal loss for the last 20 years, I have often been asked how one remains connected with their deceased loved one’s family. The answer is simple – love, work, commitment and desire. The level of effort, however, is clearly not simple as staying connected is a considerable group effort. For me, I love seeing my brother-in-laws age as their physical change provides me a glimpse of how Rod would have matured. I also love the reaction of Rod’s family when Gretchen walks in the room, since she looks so much like Rod and provides his family with the warm memories of their son/brother that passed away too soon.
On this past Mother’s Day, twenty-three years later I received a phone call that Rod’s mother suddenly passed away. As my sister-in-law shared the sad news, my widow-warped mind went straight to Rod and I thought how special for a mother and son to be re-united on Mother’s Day. They had missed the last 23 years together. And while it was a sad day indeed for the entire family, I did praise Gretchen and me for carrying the torch all the way to the finish line – her memorial “margarita party.”
Rachel Kodanaz is an author, speaker and consultant who provides support to workplaces when there has been a death of an employee or when an employee has experienced a personal loss. She is the author of Grief in the Workplace: A Comprehensive Guide for Being Prepared and Living with Loss, One Day at a Time. Both are available on www.rachelkodanaz.com or www.amazon.com.