We are a diverse nation with many different traditions, but by-and-large Americans tend to be influenced by this country’s Calvinist stoic roots when it comes to grief and saying goodbye to a loved one. Of course each person handles grief in a different way, but the stiff-upper lip attitude is something that I cannot identify with. Perhaps it is because of my personal make up of loving too deeply and caring too much that I cannot understand the desire of anyone to sweep the ashes under the rug as it were.
In the last nine months I have lost three family members of my parents’ generation, the most recent of which was this weekend and came rather unexpectedly. Each passing out of this life, my life, has been a blow to me—another of the grownups gone. This one was particularly special to me, my father’s little brother.
I have written extensively of my father and his older brother and quoted from my father’s memoir. Their little brother, younger by four and six years, was enough their junior to have not been a party to much of their hijinx or hunting or to have been at Pearl Harbor, although he did manage to get in to WWII toward the end and later Korea. My father wrote that his younger brother was left to find companions in the small animals on the farms they lived on and it was his opinion that this fact made him the tender hearted of my grandparents’ sons.
My mother, who loves to repeat stories until we can recite them with her, tells of my first encounter with Uncle Rex when I was not yet a toddler. She had brought me from Wichita, Kansas to Vancouver, Washington to meet both her and my father’s families. In her account of my first laying eyes on Uncle Rex I reached out for him, hung on his neck and would not let go. I do not remember this trip; just that I always, always loved him.
Whether it was because of his solitary musings as a child or because of his different war experience than that of his older brothers, the fact that my uncle had a heart of gold and was the gentlest of men is a fact acknowledged generally. As a child I longed to belong to him instead of my own father. My father was not mean or cruel, but was as emotionally distant as he claims in his memoir owing to his experience on December 7th. In addition, he was geographically distant a great deal of the time due to the nature of his work for the Boeing Company. I worshipped my father, but it was from afar. I envied Uncle Rex’s sons (who were sweet and would have made excellent brothers) having a loving daddy who came home every night.
Uncle Rex’s wife passed away last August. Her passing was not marked by funeral or memorial per her wishes. It seems that his wishes were the same. My question to you, reader, is for whom is a funeral or memorial service? I believe that those rituals are for the living and ought to bring some sort of closure, comfort, or release to the bereaved and acknowledge the passing of a life from this world. How do you honor the loss of a loved one? Are there traditions in your family (or a lack thereof) to remember members now gone? Do you think that we, as Americans, are less demonstrative in our grief and is that a good thing or bad?