As a child, I grew up on my family’s old home place, located in the middle of the Arklatex. Many of my cousins lived there as well. After school and on weekends, we would gather at my great-grandmother’s house and play all day together. For the most part, this was almost a Utopian existence. Today, over fifty years later, I treasure my time with my cousins. The familial bonds of love and friendship have withstood the test of time.
Of course, as many things are in life, all was not perfect. It seems every family has that one spoiler, and mine was no different. As fondly as I recall my childhood, I cannot reflect upon it without recollections of the terror my spoiler cousin inflicted upon the rest of us. Sadly, all that he needed in life was a steady hand of guidance. To this day, when I see or think of my cousin, my heart cries for him. His parents did what they thought was best for him, but in reality, their leniency and indulgence, created a nightmare out of his life.
Last week I was sitting in church behind my spoiler cousin’s sister. Wow, what a difference between siblings. My cousins were raised together, yet she is strong, sincere and law abiding, while he is none of these things. I asked my cousin about her grandmother’s upcoming 100th birthday party, and the conversation drifted in a direction that made me ponder for a moment the trials she has endured through the actions of her brother.
Three years ago, my cousin’s father died. She was devastated and grieved deeply over his loss. Last year, her mother died. She mentioned that she had not grieved equally from this loss. She was confused over the differences, and as we spoke further, she began to understand the factors contributing to this circumstance.
My cousin had incorrectly assumed that the differences in grief intensity were an indication of love. Nothing could be further from the truth. My dear cousin did not love one parent over the other; she had loved them equally. Her experiences with her father however were different from those experienced with her mother. She shared the same interests and hobbies with her father and therefore spent a great deal of time with him. These experiences rather than love account for the differences in her grief intensity.
Before her father’s death, her brother’s behavior was buffered under his control. Upon her father’s death, her mother was unable to control her brother adequately and thus became the object of his abusive behavior. Now in his fifties, her brother remains the aggressive and brutal person his parents allowed him to be when he was just a child. Unfortunately, his aging and ill mother, and his 99-year-old grandmother found themselves without a substantial buffer between his crazy lifestyle, their safety and their bank accounts. My dear cousin, in order to protect her mother and grandmother, became that buffer.
My cousin expressed guilt at feeling relief upon her mother’s death. Upon the death of her husband, my cousin's mother suffered debilitating loneliness, poor health and extreme consequences at the hands of her abusive son. Through our conversation, my dear cousin understood that the relief she felt at her mother’s death was deeply rooted out of love and compassion for her. When one deeply loves another, one cannot endure their sufferings without anguishing and lamenting over them. When a loved one’s suffering has ended, whether through a miraculous cure or death, compassionate and loving witnesses to their pain will experience great relief. This is natural and exactly as it should be.
At the close of our conversation, my dear cousin understood that her grief experience for her mother has not been less than that of her father’s. Upon his death, the responsibilities she has assumed have overwhelmed her life. Her grief experience for her mother has not yet begun.
My cousin is a champion, and I love and admire her deeply. I do not believe, however that she will experience relief from her brother’s terror until he seriously seeks rehab, or her darling grandmother leaves this earth. Of course, one hopes it is the former, yet one fears it will be the latter.
On the day of her grandmother’s death, my cousin will again experience relief that her grandmother no longer suffers from my spoiler cousin’s abuse, as she did with her mother. She will also suffer guilt for those feelings. Unlike the death of her mother however, she will be free to experience grief. Her buffer responsibilities will be completed and the great heartache of losing two great women in her life, her mother and her grandmother will rush in. Her grief will be overwhelmingly, complicated and long-suffering, but she has a strong countenance and will endure it.
I learn so much from my darling cousin. I learn strength in adversity, I learn unselfish devotion and I learn that no matter how much you loathe the actions of another, you can still love and help them overcome their weaknesses. I see her do these things everyday for the family she loves.
My name is Tracy Renee Lee. I am a funeral director, author and freelance writer. I write books, weekly articles and brief tips on understanding and coping with grief. It is my life's work to comfort the bereaved and help them live on.