The emotional toll of a death in the family is predicted. We all know and expect the grief, the sadness. And we all deal with the grief and sadness in our own way.
These are givens. What surprised me was the physical exhaustion, not occasioned alone by the fact that there were physical tasks to be accomplished outside the daily round. No, it seemed that the grief itself was a physical load to be carried, generating physical weariness. Awareness that this is what is happening is minimal, until, looking back, it is realized.
At some point comes the need to pick up the threads of a life that was fully lived before the deaths and acknowledge that it will, in time, be fully lived again even though there are these vast holes in the warp and weft of that life's fabric. Then it becomes needful to work with deliberation on - not MENDING the holes, but - figuring out how to work around them, until the holes by imperceptible stages, heal.
We will all undertake this in our own way. And the way we choose will probably arise from our own passions and interests and ways of life. Words, deeds - and memories.
I assemble family books. I don't say I write them, because there isn't much of my writing in them. I put them together and distribute them to the family. That is my passion and my interest. So from the recent family deaths, books have arisen and will arise further. I arrange memorials. I make accessible the ephemera of lives now lost, in order that the departed remain with us through their thoughts and images.
David's mother had an elegant music box, in the form of a white porcelain dove. The tune it plays is the theme from the movie "Love Story." He plays that music box every morning while he is getting ready for the day, and remembers his mother. I quilt, and remember that she got me started in quilting. I got to know my brother better than ever before when I kept him company when undergoing treatment at a cancer centre far from his home. I listen to the music of my son-in-law's brother, so happily available on the Internet.
I write about the family, or rather I assemble material about family members and make books which give the extended family access to the lives of their kin and forebears. And - I arrange ceremonies to mark the passing of those we lost. Next month the extended family will gather for the installation of plaques in memory of the three of my family we lost in the past year - my brother, whose obituary is on this web site as a Niebuhr descendant, my mother-in-law, and my son-in-law's brother. The plaques will be added to those of our family already memorialized there. We will light candles and share memories. And then we will feast. It wouldn't be a Mennonite event without the feast. Forget tea and dainties! We will EAT!
And every time we sit in the gazebo, with the birds and bees and the scent of flowers, we will look at the plaques and memories of our lost ones will be renewed, to the end of our own days.