A child dying before a parent is something that no mom or dad should ever face. Whether that child is six months, six years, or fifty-six years, the agonizing heartbreak is the same.
My nephew Greg died recently. He was born when I was fifteen. I left home at nineteen, and Greg also moved out of state as a young man. So my only recollection of him was as of a little boy.
Seeing my brother Gene’s son lying in a casket, no longer a little boy but a man of middle age, brought forth feelings of deep regret for not having kept in touch with him across the many years and miles.
But deep-seated feelings of contentment and peace outweighed my regret. Because from his mother’s side of the family, Greg’s brother, many cousins, aunts and uncles and friends came and stayed for the two viewings and the funeral service in Pennsylvania. Greg’s two grown daughters drove from Ohio to attend as well. The girls, now with young families of their own, cried when they saw the outpouring of love for their dad.
His daughters hadn’t even known about their aunts, uncles, and cousins from their paternal grandfather’s side of the family. When I held open my arms and said, “I’m your Aunt Norma,” together they fell into my embrace. My sisters and others shared that they had similar encounters over the two days.
Yes, I know there are schmaltzy Hallmark movies about “instant families,” but this was the real deal! It was a perfectly lovely experience shared by many in the midst of a tragedy.
The day I returned home I took the dog for a walk at a local park. I happened upon this view of three trees in a triangle shape about twenty feet from each other. As you can see, one tree branched into two trunks, another into three, and the third into many. I knew it was a perfect metaphor for the funeral experience.
The trees are separate, yes, but joining them together are their roots which have reached out across the expanse almost like hands extending out to reach another’s hands. At first glance, they may appear gnarly. But look closely and admire the beauty of their endurance.
Our individual families may consist of a few members or many. But joining our individual families together are our roots…our family ties. Our family roots run so deep. Sometimes they are deep underground. Other times they reach the surface for all to see. Our roots are strong. They are resilient, withstanding neglect, and years, and miles. Our family roots help us carry one another through sorrowful times.
There is a print that hangs over my son’s bed that says this:
Our family is a circle of strength and love.
With every birth and every union, the circle grows.
Every joy shared adds more love.
Every crisis faced together makes the circle stronger.