By Tracy Renee Lee
Yesterday, as I attended church, my cousin spoke on the loss of her parents. Her father, with whom she was very close, passed first, closely followed by her mother. Losing both parents within a short period of time added to the complexities of grief. Her parents have been dead now for five years.
Over the years, I have observed my cousin as she has experienced overwhelming stress and anxiety. Through extreme adversity, my cousin remains strong and well composed. Yesterday was a rare glimpse into her innermost sufferings.
Her father-in-law passed earlier this month. She is now tasked with assisting her husband as he passes through the murky waters of grief recovery. Her mother-in-law, residing in a nursing home, is not a shoe-in for recovery from recent surgery. My cousin, as she has so often over the past five years, must gird up her strength and prepare for what may very well be a complex grief experience for her husband. In light of their recent trials, should he lose both parents, recovery for him may prove somewhat elusive.
During her time of loss, my cousin’s adult daughter was run over by a semi truck. Although her daughter survived, her mind, life, and capabilities were severely compromised. My cousin now has custody of her two minor grandchildren, as well as their combative mother of diminished capacity. Additionally, my cousin provides trusted and loving care for her 102-year-old grandmother, who is also becoming slightly combative as we witness signs of dementia creep into her personality.
My cousin loves her adult siblings and tolerates their shortcomings. Her adult brother, a drug addict, who is in and out of prison on a regular basis, seeks support and shelter from his devoted sister whenever he is not incarcerated. Her adult sister, a poor manager of life’s circumstances, barely escaped incarceration herself. My cousin manages to maintain a place of residence for her sister, her sister’s adult children, their babies, and their babies’ daddies.
Earlier this year, the company that my cousin and her husband have worked for since they began working as young adults, announced that it was relocating across the country. My cousin and her husband, now five years away from retirement, find themselves unemployed from the only employer they have ever known. They find themselves without medical insurance as well. My cousin, who has been a diabetic since we were children, has recently lost her diabetic pump and has had to alter her medication due to the outrageous expense. The negative effects on her health have been severe and are detectable to the untrained eye.
As my cousin spoke yesterday about grief and loss, tears stung my eyes. My own anticipation for the loss of my parents knocks closely at my heart. I see their ailments gripping strongly at their health, and I know my time with them is short. My cousin said that the most difficult moment for her was when the funeral home took her parent’s out of their home on the gurney. She said she wanted to get up and run away as fast and as far as she could. Then she said something profound. “Grief is a wild beast, you can’t outrun it. You must turn and fight it head on, or it will overtake and destroy you. You must tame your fears and gain control over your pain.” She caught her breath and paused for a moment. I saw her chin quiver and she began again, “Once you think you’ve won, you realize,” she was forced to pause again. She was on the edge of an emotional showing. She took a deep breath, attempted to square her shoulders, and began speaking, “Once you think you’ve won, you realize, just like everything wild, it is a daily battle to keep it tame.” As she completed her statement, I saw one big alligator tear stream down her cheek and splash on the table in front of her. I reached for my hankie.
As I returned to my home yesterday, I thought about the wisdom my cousin had shared with the women in our church group. Her experiences have tempered her soul and forged a woman of conviction and strength. Were it not so, her family would have perished years ago. I do not know what the future holds for my cousin and her husband, but one thing is certain. No matter what it is, she will come through it. She has battled the wild beast, she recognizes it, she keeps it at bay, and she does not run. I hope her husband will be able to do the same.
I hope that if you are experiencing grief, that you, like my cousin, will realize that grief is a wild beast. Running allows grief to grow wildly out of control. If you are running from grief, please turn around and ask for help. There are people who will help you tame your fears and conquer your pain. Like everything else in life, though, grief requires maintenance. It is not insurmountable, but sometimes, a little help is worth more than gold.