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Our Family is Broken

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This has been another difficult week, as all of them have been since James died. His autopsy report came back. In summary, his death was caused by an electrical wiring problem he’s had for some time—he had a pacemaker—along with the gradual death of multiple areas of his heart due to smoking. While I don’t think anyone was surprised, the autopsy has been yet another detailed piece of loss to read and process.

One of the basic laws of physics is that with every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and James’ death has been no exception. Like dropping a pebble in a pond, the ripple effects of his absence have been felt by all who loved him, especially his family. Tragically, more than James died the day after Christmas. His family died as well. How sad and ironic for a man who valued God, country and family more than anything in this world.

Families are comprised of people who grieve in different ways and who don’t always see things in the same light. Even under the best of circumstances our reasoning and recollections are often very different from someone else who witnessed or heard the same event. Add extreme stress and grief to the mix, and you have a recipe for the death of a family. As both our minister and the counselor I’ve been seeing have said, “James was the glue that held the family together, and the glue is gone.” So who are we without James, and what will our relationships be with one another as we move forward? For now, it is torn and fractured. I’m reminded of a statistic that says approximately 25% of husbands leave their wives after they’re diagnosed with breast cancer. I’m sure there are statistics about families that don’t stay together after death, divorce and other kinds of tragedies.

As a result of every challenge we face in life, each family member is called on to find their new normal. In the case of a breast cancer diagnosis, I suspect some husbands say to themselves, “I didn’t sign up for this,” or in the case of a death in the family, a person’s grief can be so profound that it’s easier to take their pain and anguish and make it about something else. Perhaps in doing so, it gives them a way to express their anger in a more tangible form, since it’s hard to be angry with someone for dying, plus that anger has to go somewhere.

Under times of duress, I’ve repeatedly seen James put his feelings aside, not because it was what he wanted to do, but because it was the right thing to do. If James didn’t like something you said, he tried hard to understand your position. If you were the one having the hard time understanding, more than likely he would say, “You might allow for the possibility…” thus giving you a way of role reversing or looking at any given situation from a different perspective. I find it heartbreaking, almost to the point of denying his very existence, that one of the fundamental codes by which he lived his life has not been learned by those of us left behind. I would have hoped his example would have propelled us all to become better people, to find ways of reconciling our differences, but so far, there are no signs of that happening. What’s worse, James died, knowing there were huge cracks in a foundation he’d spent a lifetime building.

Aside from the anguish of losing James, the dissolution of his family unit has me wondering if any of these relationships were ever real to begin with? They were real to me. Grieving the loss of my husband has been the most agonizing and lonely thing I’ve ever done, but add to that the dissolution of James’ family, and I am dealing with more than one death. Some days I pray God takes me sooner, rather than later, for I can’t imagine being cutoff from every sense of family I thought I had. I think we would all agree that having James love us was a huge gift. I also think James would say what good was it to have had him in our lives if we’ve failed to make note of the backbone and focus of his life? Family.