Grief is a difficult and terrible emotion born from a tragic moment. Add another tragedy that reaches back and reminds someone of sorrow they have not yet healed from and this is called compounded grief. Compounded grief is also known as complicated grief and can delay the cycle of healing.
In February, 2006 I lost my grandfather, and my father lost his father. The last time that I saw him was on December 30, 2005 as I wanted to visit my grandparents before flying back to San Diego on New Years Eve. My grandmother was out playing cards so I wasn’t able to see her, but Granddad and I sat and talked and joked for a few hours before I left for the night. I shook his hand goodbye. It was the last time I saw him.
In October, 2006 I lost my uncle, and my father lost a little brother. Chris passed away because of a brain tumor that was never completely removed and kept coming back. He fought the good fight but succumbed to it and was taken long before his time. The last time I saw him was at my grandfather’s memorial service and he looked healthy and on the way back to recovery. I think I am lucky to have not been around to see him fade the way he did.
In February, 2007 I lost my grandmother, and my father lost his mother. I was only able to visit her once after my grandfather and uncle passed away and it was clear to me that the end wasn’t far away. I can imagine that when you lose your husband and your youngest son only eight months apart that the grief is unbearable.
Grandma was the third death on my Dad’s side of the family that we had experienced in a year and none of us had really had a chance to recover from the first. There was so much compounded grief that my Dad was losing his faith and nobody was able to figure out how to handle all of those deaths with any kind of comfort. Their passings are still hard to deal with since their memories are so frequently brought up as if it had just happened.
A couple of weeks ago I drove to Inova Alexandria Hospital to see my aunt, my Dad’s oldest sister where she told me that she probably had cancer. She had just found out herself and at the time it was believed to be ovarian cancer, and now it’s been confirmed to be peritoneal cancer (cancer of the lining of the stomach). She is so weak that the prognosis is not good and I find myself bracing for yet another death on my Dad’s side of the family.
The one difference that sets this situation apart from the others is that this time I’m here to be part of the familial grieving process. In California I was so far removed from what was happening that I had to cope with things on my own, so being here may be helpful or it may be hurtful. I really have no idea what to expect and my head is spinning from the possibilities.