My mother’s father-in-law passed away last week.
Before your knees jerk and you feel an impulse to express your condolences, know that this man was not especially kind–nor was the family in which he lived particularly welcoming. This was a man who refused medical help for the cancer that eventually ate his body, yet for some inexplicable reason lived 5 long years after his diagnosis. This was a man who openly argued with my sister (who holds degrees in chemistry and molecular biology) about his hairbrained ideas to heal himself of cancer, purify the well water on their property, or some other such scheme. This was a man who enabled his wife into prescription drug dependency, belittled my mother, and took sides against my mother and step-father in most every family dispute. This was a family who was perversely hostile to my mother and her daughters. Belligerent does not begin to describe. In many ways, his death was a good thing.
I say all this to explain that my decision to go to his funeral on Saturday was not so much motivated by grief, pity, or even sympathy for his decedents. Rather, I was motivated to stand with my mother amidst a family that has not treated her well–to stand with her and grieve with her. Over what, exactly, I did not know.
I’m not sure if anyone from that family is reading this. I’m not even sure that I care. It’s been a few years now since I was unofficially banned from all their family gatherings, when I could not stand it anymore and I told them all exactly what I thought of them one Thanksgiving, when I told them how much their actions had hurt my mother and alienated me and my sister. In many ways, that was the best and worst family holiday I’ve ever experienced–for the first time, I had courage to stand against a family that was the cause of so much pain and consternation, but as I freed myself from their destruction I simultaneously confined my mother to continue living in that family without my presence.
When I was crying at his funeral, I cried for the state of their family: for the knowledge that, without this man, this family would soon spiral into more self-destruction and grief. But I also cried at the thought of losing my own mother and father, of losing my sister and grandparents. I cried as much (indeed, more) for my own grief as I did for theirs.
A part of me felt like a fraud. Here I was, sitting in a funeral home and later in a church, dabbing my eyes with a moist tissue, appearing to everyone to be grieving the loss of the man enclosed in the casket before me. But in reality, I was crying for other people. So many other people.
I’m not quite finished processing everything that I felt this weekend. Much of it was happy–laughing with my mother and feeling relief. But much of it will continue to rest in me. I have no intention to “get over” this weekend, but instead make it a part of me.
And a part of me is not satisfied with the idea that I should not grieve the loss of this man’s life… though he was not especially kind, he was still a child of God just like all of us. It’s not an easy or simple thing by any means. But for now, I’ll be “ok” with not being satisfied. For the moment, that is enough.