Overlooked Traumas

Dearest Rachel –

So last night at Grief Share, the subject under discussion was that of trauma. And while it could be argued that any loss can be considered traumatic from a certain point of view, tonight’s session dealt somewhat specifically with the likes of the more sudden variety – murders, suicides, multiple deaths (such as natural disasters) and so forth. I’m sure that the suddenness of your death might qualify, but among the interviewees on the video, one stood out. They mentioned having lost several family members in quick succession, and how that in and of itself shook them to the core.

It occurred to me that you went through a fairly serious run of trauma in your last few years, and I didn’t take sufficient notice of the toll it might have been taking on you. First you lost your dad fairly suddenly in March of 2017, just a week before what would have been your parents’ golden anniversary (we had already made plans to go down to Macomb to visit them and host an open house as part of the celebration; at least this way, his memorial service was conveniently timed). I recall you drafting some remarks you were planning to give at the service about your memories of him while I drove us down there. I forgot to record those remarks, too… the funeral home had a closed circuit setup, and I assumed they were recording things.

Then, two years later, your mom passed away after a long battle with dementia. As far as I could tell, her passing seemed like more of a relief to you – you had confided in me that you occasionally wished that your dad had been the one to survive of your parents, as you were closer to him (and her mental state was hard to deal with – it was heart-wrenching the night after the service, sitting around the house with her, and your having to explain to her several times over that no, Bill wasn’t here any more, and wouldn’t be coming home that night, or any other night… which she would promptly forget about within a handful of minutes, and ask again about his whereabouts). I can only imagine what kind of guilt you may have been dealing with for having such an attitude toward her.

And once again, you stood in front of a group of family, friends and colleagues of hers to tell stories about her with clear eyes and a steady voice, for the second time in a matter of two years. For all that I say about how you made such an effort to stay as much of a child as possible for as much of your life as possible, when the time came for you to be the grown-up, you could step up and be the adult the situation called for. Would that I could be that strong when the time comes for me to say my goodbyes to either of my parents.

Now in fairness, neither loss was a great surprise. Both your parents were 89 years old at the time of their passing. If we had heard of its existence at the time, we probably wouldn’t have even considered the idea of grief counseling for you, because it was going to happen soon enough in any event – what’s there to angst over, when the Reaper comes for all at some point? Truth is, they lasted for so much longer than they expected (as their anniversary approached, I don’t recall which of them commented it, but I do recall an observation to the effect of “If anyone would have told us we would be celebrating fifty years together, I would have laughed…” Actually, that sounds like something your dad would have said, so I guess it’s appropriate that it was his passing that negated that assertion). They squeezed about as much life out of their years as they could, and while you acknowledged that you would miss them, you were more than accepting of the fact that their time had come.

Still, I know how much you agonized over their souls. For the last four or five years or their lives, you would travel downstate at least once a month for a week at a time to make sure they were doing all right – and, when you could, to talk with them about their spiritual state. To hear Twofeathers tell it, they were starting to think you were in some kind of cult, for all your concern about their eternal destiny. How dare you try to proselytize them.

Okay, I might be a little harsh about their reaction, but I recall you telling me about how you couldn’t seem to get anywhere with them when you asked them about spiritual matters. You would think that, if they did understand and believe, they’d be more than happy to reassure you that yes, they did know where they’d end up when the end came, rather than getting all defensive about your even asking the question.

When they were gone, you fretted about where they were – and I tried to assure you that you did the best you could have – but there wasn’t much to be said in the way of reassurance beyond that. All of which has to be traumatic in its own right.

Still, you soldiered on from there, without the aid of counseling or support. I suppose the freedom brought on by the estate (and, I’d like to think, the opportunity to have me around full-time) has to have made things at least a little easier on you. We were able to travel (well, until the lockdowns, anyway), and do other things we’d never had time to before, and even contribute that much more to causes and organizations we supported.

But I wonder what scars were left in your psyche that went overlooked. You stayed cheerful and chipper to the last, never giving much impression about your losses. And maybe that was the whole story; I always saw you as the ‘what you see is what you get’ sort of person. But I’m not quite sure, now that I’ve been going through your study notes and so forth; there may have been hidden depths I never noticed, concealed pain set aside for the sake of family. I just don’t know.

At least, I can take solace in the fact that it’s all behind you now. If you did happen to have success in your witness, say hello to your folks, and give them an extra hug from both Daniel and me.

Published by randy@letters-to-rachel.memorial

I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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