Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Grieving Again

Grief, like forgiveness, isn't a one time thing. I just got home late last night from a trip to Louisiana for the funeral of my dad's oldest brother. My uncle was 80 years old and died of a blood clot that happened after a minor falling incident that happened on a walk to his mail box last week.

Funerals are always a sad occasion. At my age of 56, they are also beginning to be the main way that I reconnect with family members from my parents' families. My dad was the 3rd oldest out of 13 kids born to his parents from 1927-1950. In addition to 13 kids, my grandparents unofficially adopted one of my younger cousins and raised him too.

Some of my dad's family, I am close to and some I am not so close to because of the age difference and distance that we have always lived from each other. There are lots and lots of cousins that I haven't seen much since we were all kids and now we all have children and grandchildren of our own. Nine of my dad's brothers and sisters are still living. My grandfather died in 1989 and my grandmother in 2001 just a month after my dad died.

Uncle Odis took on the title of "Old Man Caldwell" when my grandfather died. As one of my younger aunts commented yesterday, Uncle Odis has now passed that title on to one of his younger brothers.

I wasn't close to Uncle Odis. He did do me a really big favor that I will never forget. Two nights after I left home at the age of 19, my mom finally told my dad the truth that I wasn't coming home. She also told him where I was. Mom called me to tell me that Dad was on his way. She told me to call Uncle Odis because he was the only person that my dad ever listened to. I called him and he came. We sat out in the front yard of my friends' house in Uncle Odis' car so that my friends wouldn't have to deal with my dad. My dad and I talked; I agreed to go home for the weekend only to talk some more. After my dad and I left my friends' house, Uncle Odis went in and talked to my friends. I didn't know this part of the story until years later. Uncle Odis told my friends that if my dad ever came back to shoot him. Uncle Odis was a policeman for 28 years and retired as a Captain. Uncle Odis was probably the only family member that recognised how dangerous my dad could become when he was drunk. Mean drunks seem to run in the Caldwell family.

Despite the circumstances, I enjoyed seeing all of my aunts, uncles and cousins that were well enough to make it to the funeral. I even met some new relatives that I hadn't met before. Welcome to the Caldwell family.

We aren't an easy bunch of people to get to know. We are, most of us, as the Catholic priest described Uncle Odis, bossy. Another choice description would probably be opionated. We know what we think and want and aren't afraid to say so. We also love strongly. We are red-headed Irish even though most of us didn't actually get the red-hair. We feel things strongly. We have quick tempers. We are family, disfunctions and all.

Uncle Odis' funeral and the resulting family gathering brought up feelings of grief for me, not so much for Uncle Odis but for my dad. I was surprised to feel tears coming two different times. I remembered the death of my dad, the stress of being the oldest child who had to make all of the arrangements, the grief. Being in charge of everything when I had not had much close contact with my dad for years because of the alcoholism and incest was very difficult. It isn't surprising to me that I ended the day yesterday with a migraine.


Corinne Edwards said...

Dear Patricia -

I have found that every new loss brings all the old ones back into focus.

This transparent article is a good example of how that happens.

We never really seem to be free of grieving.

It also reminds us of how fragile and limited our journey on this planet is.

Patricia Singleton said...

Corinne, what you said about new losses bringing up old ones has been my experience too.

Who would ever expect a simple walk to the mailbox to be the cause of their death? We really never know how our last action will affect us or others. My uncle's fall was in the middle of a country highway and he still managed to cause an accident between two cars because one of the cars put on their brakes to stop from hitting him. We never know how far-reaching our acts can be on ourselves or on others.

Mother Earth said...

I am so sorry about the loss of your uncle Patricia, and the inevitable reminders too.

My many thoughts, take a bit of time for you.

Patricia Singleton said...

Mother Earth, thank you. I am taking it easy for a few days and not doing much.

Vitor - The Fractal Forest said...

Hi Patricia,

I think it's obvious that you felt this event was strongly associated to your dad. Your Uncle was entangled in the whole story after all.

Take care and never be afraid to grief.


Patricia Singleton said...

Vitor, yes, I did feel the connection to my dad, stronger than I expected. One of my cousins even looked so much like my dad in 2 group pictures that I had to do a double take to make sure it was my cousin and not my dad. That was the biggest surprise.

I am not afraid of grieving. I do sometimes get impatient with myself in dealing with the grief again.

Jenny said...

So sorry for your loss. I understand though how funerals are the only time everyone gets together. Apart from Christmas Eve, that's about the only time I will probably see my dad's side of the family from now on. They seem to have a problem with our family. But anyway. It's nice that you do have some fond memories of your uncle!

Patricia Singleton said...

Jenny, thank you for your words of solace.

Irene | Light Beckons said...

Hi Patricia,

I am far behind on my RSS list as I've been ill, so I only managed to read this post today. I am sorry to hear about your uncle's passing ... yet from a spiritual perspective, we know he's moved on to greater things.

You are so right when you said "Grief, like forgiveness, isn't a one time thing". Sometimes we just need to heal in parts, and each part comes with its own perspective. I have also learnt (the hard way) to be thankful for each part that comes ... after all, it's a progressive step towards completion.

Patricia Singleton said...

Irene, thank you. I hope that you are feeling better and fully recovered from your illness.

Slade | Shift Your Spirits said...


I'm sorry to hear about your family's loss.

I totally identified with your talking about funerals being occasions for reunion.

This has been my experience recently -- and I must say, I noted that this is certainly the silver lining in an otherwise gray and cloudy event. I was aware of how it sometimes takes a death for the living to reconnect.

Funerals are for those left behind. I hope my own memorial service will one day be full of conversation and laughter and a meeting of those who love each other.


Patricia Singleton said...

Slade, I agree with you. I think a good old fashioned Irish wake is the way to go. Since I have Irish in my ancestry, I am entitled. I would love to go out with a party to celebrate my life.