Thursday, April 26 , 2018, 1:06 pm | Fair 60º


Gail Rink: With Death, Family Dynamics Change and Life Goes On

Memories help fill the voids left behind by the absence of a loved one

My friend and his brother shared dinner with me last week. Over the years, we have shared many meals together. Dinner topics vary; this particular night, I enjoyed listening to them talk about their mother.

Gail Rink
Gail Rink

My friend is the youngest of six brothers; the brother who shared dinner with us is the closest in age to him, older by five years. The brother has a savant memory. His recall is colorful, accurate and sometimes scary. His stories include dates, weather conditions, settings and who-wore-what. He can even accessorize!

My friend was 10 years old when his mother died suddenly from a stroke. Their mother’s death caused an already dysfunctional family to become totally “nuts.” My friend and his brother were still minor age children. In a series of court hearings, they chose to remain in the family home under the guardianship of an older brother and an elderly uncle. The choice alienated their father, who moved to Washington state.

Being raised by their older brothers was a challenge for the boys. Abuse, distrust and frustration reigned. It required the two youngest, my friend and his brother, to bond; each defended the other, and each stayed close to the elderly uncle. As an adult, my friend’s brother recalls family events with uncanny clarity. His recollections give my friend an opportunity to know their mother more deeply.

“Remember church? Mother would make all six of us dress up in our church clothes. We all had to walk in single file into San Roque Parish. Mother would be at the end of the line. She was so proud of all of us. Remember she wore her favorite orange dress — you know it had a wide belt, buttons on the top and a flared skirt?”

“I remember she made us walk in that line.”

“And remember at Christmas, even when she had no money for gifts, she gave us Avon. Do you still have her collection of Avon bottles?”

“Yes, I set them out at Christmastime.”

“I do, too.”

Recollections such as these could be considered maudlin or perhaps unnecessary. However, if you saw the boyish look on my friend’s face and hear him giggle with each repetition of his brother’s story, you would know their joy and pleasure.

Childhood memories brighten the sadness of their mother’s absence. Remembering the good things in family life. Family stories. Comforting. Realistic. True.

— Gail Rink, MSW, is the former executive director of Hospice of Santa Barbara.

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