This weekend was Father’s Day. As I sat on our reclining love seat with my husband last night, I quickly breezed through the posts of the day on my newsfeed. There were numerous poems about dads, snapshots with dads, and exclamations of love for dads. There were also posts about missing one’s dad; one’s deceased dad.
As I read the “In Loving Memory” posts about deceased dads, I came across one that affected my personal life. To my surprise, this particular post enlightened my understanding of grief.
Last year, my family suffered the loss of an amazing cousin. Although he was an older gentleman and showing a few signs of physical weakness, his death came as somewhat of a surprise. He had not been terribly weak or ill, so his death was not on our family’s immediate radar for possible losses. To my, and many others dismay, his adult children opted very quickly to bury him without services. Even though he was their dad and they had each had a moment to say goodbye, their father had affected many lives and many people were saddened by his swift death. He died at a hospital out of town, so many who loved him were unable to say goodbye as they would have wished. As friends and family were calling me to inquire about services, my cousin was already buried and gone from those who deeply loved him. As I delivered the news of his swift burial, many would exclaim dismay over losing their final moments with him. The only excuse I had to offer was that his children had felt that as they had had their final farewell, nothing further was necessary.
As a trained professional, I understood it was their way of regaining control of a confusing and out of control situation. It was also their mechanism for saving scarce resources. I also assumed that there would come a day where they would realize such actions potentially carry severe penalties.
As a family member, losing my opportunity to say farewell to a loved one was deeply distressing. My personal needs and emotional reactions conflicted with my professional code of conduct. I, as those who called me, wanted to strike out at my cousins for denying me the emotional clearing of seeing my loved one and being able to say goodbye before he was buried beneath the surface of the earth, and out of my reach. It was difficult to hold my resentment in check. I was called upon by the circle of extended survivors (of whom I was included) to help them understand and recover from this loss.
As the days progressed, I found that I was able to deal with the loss as a non-loss. It was a surreal experience because although I knew my cousin had died, I was not included in the experience of his loss, and thus, it became a non-loss. My experience continues as though my cousin remains alive, just not present. After the initial shock of his passing dissipated, the aftereffect of grief never materialized for me.
As I was reading the messages the weekend on social media from survivors of fathers who had past, I happened upon a message from one of my cousins. Her expressions were heart wrenching; she genuinely grieves for her father. To my surprise, reading her message did not yank heartache into my soul. I thought about this for a moment and realized it is because I do not mourn her father’s death. To me, it does not seem that he is dead. It is rather more that he is just not at church on Sunday, or at the market when I shop. I felt guilty over not feeling sad, so I went back to her message to offer support. What I found surprised me. No one had commented on her post; not one cousin, not one friend. I realized then that the consequences of discrediting services and other’s feelings were potentially severe. My cousins are in the process of grieving their father’s death, yet they have no support structure from extended family. No one - neither family nor friend – has experienced the reality that their father is dead. The absence of services created a void for others initially, but without witnessing or experiencing the loss, all moved on. Now my cousins must face the reality of grief all on their own. My cousin’s message eluded to this fact.
This weekend, without studying about grief, I learned something I did not know before.
It is true the traditions of death – funerals, burials, and memorials - are for the living, they are the events that set up the realization that death has occurred, and they move us from denial into acceptance. What I had not before realized is that services at the time of death function like a Petri dish in a science lab. They provide a space and the organized growth of your friends and family into a survivors safety structure. They proliferate a safety net similar to one beneath a high wire act to catch you when you have days of weakness and fall into despair. Without death rituals and traditions, the reality of death is not realized by those who are not intimately affected by the absence of the deceased. This lack of realization by extended family and friends leaves immediate survivors vulnerable and alone during grief recovery.
Death is a serious event in a loved one’s life. It changes the reality into which we were born, not waiting for our approval, nor lending time to acclimate to its consequences prior to actuality. I pray that my cousins will find their road to recovery without plummeting toward a safety net that has failed to materialize.
My name is Tracy Renee Lee. I am the owner and Managing Funeral Director at Queen City Funeral Home in Queen City Texas. I am an author, syndicated columnist, and co-founder of Heaven Sent, Corp. I write books and weekly bereavement articles related to understanding and coping with grief. I am the American Funeral Director of the Year Runner-Up and recipient of the BBB’s Integrity Award. I deliver powerful messages and motivate audiences toward positive recovery. It is my life's work to comfort the bereaved and help them live on.
For additional encouragement, read other articles or watch video “Grief Briefs,” please go to my website at www.MourningCoffee.com.