This is running around in my brain because of a post that I recently saw reference Handsome Husband, and I hadn’t given thought to the possibility, until I saw it.
Handsome Husband’s death, like any death, has brought up emotions and questions that weren’t necessarily front and center during his life. Marie Rilke, the philosopher, long ago suggested that life doesn’t always give us answers, so become comfortable in the questions. (I’m hugely paraphrasing her there). I’m able to do that in life, for the most part, and actually find a great comfort in not having to have the answers to so much of life. It makes me think, and opens me up to possibilities.
My mind, my soul, my heart, and my body have been immersed in nothing but grief, (that’s news to all of you, I’m certain), so I have an appreciation that the post gives me an opportunity for my mind to be otherwise engaged. Is there a biological imperative to grief? Not that we grieve because we are human, but what more along the lines of is there a difference in a person’s grief because they are biologically related? Is there something that happens in the body itself that might prove that out? I’m posing that in a genuinely being interested in feedback way. Let’s step beyond the immediate gut response to “of course there isn’t” to, is that a possibility? Social scientists, bereavement folk, feel free to jump in and offer an opinion here. I’m a voracious reader of memoirs, of books about the human condition, I’ve done non-stop observation and discussion with people in grief over the past decades, plus I have my own personal experience, so that has to suffice for me. Which is why I invite any and all of you to comment on this. This is the stuff that I find fascinating about humans.
Observationally, for an overall picture, we have to add into the mix (of being Humans), the grief that can hit a nation in the gut when someone famous and loved, whom we don’t know at all personally, dies. Think Diana, Princess of Wales. (I just saw the movie “Queen” the other day). JFK, of course, comes to mind-there are a few who touched people’s lives dramatically and were truly grieved. Now, was that in a removed enough way that people didn’t actually mourn for a lengthy time, or did it impact their daily lives, as grief does? It clearly didn’t require a personal relationship, yet people mourned deeply, each time. Where does that grief fit?
Handsome Husband and I had a blended family. He brought one daughter to the marriage, who is the eldest, and I brought one daughter and two sons. All of them were very young when he and I married-his daughter no more than 2nd or 3rd grade (I’m horrible at remembering these things-he was the memory of we two), my youngest was just out of diapers (sorry, Fireman Nick). My ex chose not to be a part of their lives, with no interest in seeing them or paying child support, so Handsome Husband, when he signed on, did so with an open and knowing and welcoming heart. He parented my 3 and they became his and it was the rare person who knew they weren’t biologically his, because he never called them his “steps”. He remained an involved dad with his daughter-truly involved in that he traveled a long distance 3xs weekly to be in her life for home and school, with telephone calls and all the love he had in his heart. One day he had one kid, the next day he had four. Shortly after we married, when we contemplated adding yet another child to the mix, he told me that he’d always wanted to have a large family; though clearly he hadn’t given thought to just the hows of it happening. And he’d given thought to adopting my 3, only not doing so because my ex wouldn’t allow it (it was an ownership thing). And life happens that way, doesn’t it? There are ten thousand ways to get what you want, including a family, which brings us back to…grief.
So, to keep this all to the point: all 4 kids grew up knowing him as their dad, and the only thing that separated them was, and is, DNA. But is there a biological DNA imperative involved when it comes to grieving? I’m thinking of adopted kids who are raised by parents un-related by DNA, of kids who might have horrible parents but find that one person who makes a difference in their lives, even briefly (a teacher or a mentor). Further, let’s add gender into it, which took me a bit by surprise, honestly, because it just wasn’t on my radar. Prior to his death, Handsome Husband took aside our oldest son, Snads, and passed the torch, so to speak, of being “the man of the family”. (Another blog there, regarding my instinctual strong woman vs you can’t fight nature and it all comes from his heart response). Do each of the people in these various situations grieve differently because they are DNA related, or does it have more to do with love, and shared history? ( Like most of life, if we’re getting down to the nitty-gritty of it).
Even as I’m writing this, I’m realizing the depth of the topic. I suppose the true question is: is grief measurable? And, if so, how is it measured? Does a person’s grief run more deeply because they share DNA? Because they were chosen (think adoption). Because they shared a life, as in being married, or partnered? Because they loved and were loved? What if you love someone but they don’t love you? Is that a different grief? Does length of relationship make a difference? Does the type of relationship matter? (Wife, child, friend, ex, etc). How about daily exposure to a person? If you were with someone every day vs only occasionally, what is your grief? Perhaps, at times, the question that would be more accurately posed, what people are truly meaning, is: did I love him/her enough, did he/she, love me enough? Often, in a grieving time, people jockey for position, seeking out their part in that loved one’s life, needing reassurance. We each bring something to the end of life, whether your own’s or a loved one’s. Which is why this is an incredibly fascinating philosophical discussion in my mind. It can seem very convoluted, but honestly, I love questions such as these. There is healing to be found in this discussion. As a bereavement counselor, sure, I’ve got a pretty good handle on the answers, both professionally from training and because these are the questions that arise in grief support groups, which is why I’m posing them here. As my husband’s widow, I’m grieving-no news there. Each of his four kids is grieving deeply, each according to the relationship they had with him. Not in a DNA way, but in an “I miss doing things with him/talking to him/having him in my life and I miss my dad” way. His friends are deeply grieving him-I hear that from them in regular phone calls from them as they check in on me, not only out of their love for me, but because they know that Handsome Husband would like for them to do so.
My bottom line is the same bottom line I carried when Handsome Husband was ill and there were so many relationships and emotions swirling around him, as each person sought their final time with him, their final words with him, their final time of showing him love and receiving his love. The name of the relationship didn’t matter then and it doesn’t matter now. I was intent on having the people there who needed to be there. It wasn’t so much about the name of the relationship as it was the relationship itself, which is what enabled me too consciously step back from my alone time with him throughout his process, allowing things to happen that I knew needed to happen. Not because I’m a very cool person, but because I knew what he wanted and what he needed, because he and I had just spent the last 4 years in a car together, ruminating over this very scenario and because, yes, I knew my husband. Handsome Husband was all about the love. For me, for his 4 kids, his sister, his nieces, for his “brother from another mother”, from his close friends, his AA buddies, his sponsees, those who weren’t able to be there physically but were there in spirit. The love ebbed and flowed, according to what each person needed from him and what he needed from them. Not all of ran clearly or smoothly, simply reflecting life at its’ deepest levels. I wanted him to have, I wanted the entire experience for him, to be about nothin’ but love.