In Abel Keogh’s book, it was apparent that Abel was mentally and emotionally ready to start dating again before his family was ready for him to be. It reminded me of the case of my ex-girlfriend Julie’s grandfather, Earl, and his first wive Eliza and second Beth.
Eliza was Julie’s grandmother and, despite having met her off-and-on for a year or so, I never really got to know her. Her mind was almost entirely gone by the time that I entered the picture. Early onset Alzheimer. Alzheimer is a tragic enough disease whenever it strikes, but particularly so when it strikes somebody as early as their fifties, as it did with Eliza. I remember the first time I met her, Julie hadn’t actually warned me about her condition, and since her age made dimentia seem unlikely our first conversation included her talking nonsene and my trying to figure out why I couldn’t understand her.
It was extremely painful from the perspective of Julie and her brother Mack, to whom their grandmother was a daily babysitter as they grew up and both of their parents worked. It was also, of course, very difficult on Julie’s mother and her siblings, watching the woman that raised them mentally fall apart. Their relationship with their father Earl had never been spectactular. Earl wasn’t the easiest person to get along with. Eliza was often left to play peacemaker.
Eliza died a couple years into my relationship with Julie. It’s sometimes the case when someone goes after such a gradual degradation that the family is relieved as much as anything else. Sad to see the loved one go, of course, but happier about them being in a better place or not suffering anymore. That was the case with my grandmother, who died at 91 after having lost her senses a couple of years before. That wasn’t how Julie’s family felt about it. Probably in part because she wasn’t in much physical pain as nearly as they could tell. She was just frustrated, confused, and largely unaware. She also wasn’t 91, so there wasn’t the feeling of a full life well lived, She was cut down before her time. It was one of the saddest funerals I had ever gone to.
Controversy ensued six months later when Earl started dating again. Julie and her family were outraged. They hadn’t finished grieving yet so how could be possibly be? Accusations about him desecrating her memory ensued. Earl didn’t help matters by being Earl and trying to ram his new girlfriend down everyone’s throat without an ounce of delicacy. Things were further strained by the over-all strained relationships that existed to begin with. There was also the matter that Beth, the new girlfriend, looked vaguely similar to Eliza and had the same formal first name. Accusations ran the gamut from concern that he was trying to replace her (by finding someone so similar) to anger that he was trying to forget her (by getting together with someone new so quickly).
I privately stood back and didn’t say much. I listened as Julie ranted. I wasn’t going to stand up for him, but I thought that the family was bring rather unfair. Or maybe too narrow in how they were looking at it. They were looking at it from the perspective of grieving children and grandchildren. They felt that they had lost something very important to them and I think that some of their anger towards Earl was on the basis of what he was doing to them. Not liking Earl much myself and of course loving Julie and with her family being like a second to me, I had every incentive to agree with their perspective, but ultimately I couldn’t.
There were two main things.
First is that however hard it is to lose a parent or grandparent, I don’t think that it really compares to losing a spouse. Particularly when you’ve been with them for decades. They were more than someone you loved, but were the partner with whom you built an entire life. Before the kids were there and after they left the house, it was the two of them together. He was going home to her every day when the kids were visiting on holidays and periodic weekends. It’s impossible to compare grief, but I do have to think that the comparative loss of losing the partner is worse than losing the parent. Even when the latter is lost before their time.
The second issue was the protracted nature of her illness left him a lot of time to deal with what had happened. He’d had a lot of time to come to terms with it. Bit by bit, he watched the darkness swallow her mind. The kids saw it whenever they visited her, but he saw it whenever he went home. Or was home. Since he was retired, that was a lot. Given the peculiar nature of her illness, that she was mentally gone before physically so, he had probably already let go of her before she had died. And I honestly couldn’t even blame him for that. He didn’t get over her in the course of six months. He got over her in the course of five years.
When Earl and Beth married, the family attended but wore an article on their clothing in memory of Earl’s first wife. I would have been more understanding if it had been directed towards their deceased relative as a sort of “We love you and haven’t forgetten you” manner, but in reality it was directed at Earl as a sort of “Well, we love her and haven’t forgotten her.”
In the intervening years since Julie and I parted ways, that side of her family has more-or-less fallen apart. Julie has stopped even visiting them for Thanksgiving and Christmas, even going so far as starting her own tradition with her brother and some cousins. I don’t think that Earl’s remarriage is the reason for any of that. If that were the case the dissolution would have happened much sooner. Unfortunately, Eliza was the glue that held the family together and when she departed and when the departure harbored some controversy, things just naturally fell apart.