Mind Matters: Post funeral reflections

I sit in the Philadelphia airport terminal waiting through stormy weather to return to Boston. This was not a planned trip but an unexpected journey taken to attend the funeral of a cousin who died suddenly. Last  Christmas her sister died after many years of being ill. All those years, Kris had been her caretaker. After Margie died, Kris, although grieving, also felt some relief in that she could begin to do some things for herself. Her grandchildren were the lights of her life and she got to spend even more time with them. Yet her travel plans and dreams never came to fruition. We didn't get to play together and go on any adventures as we had planned to perhaps recapture our youth (or at least that part of it that wasn't too crazy!).

What we didn't get to do is a loss but there is another loss as well. Kris — and Margie, too — were the hub of the wheel of an extended family with many spokes after our grandparents and all the aunts and uncles died. They became the communicators and connectors for the family and because they grew up in a household where our Polish grandparents lived, they carried on the Christmas and Easter traditions with great panache.

When a key person in a family dies, the system changes, the dynamics change. With our grandparents and all our parents dead, the next generational line — the cousins — has begun to dwindle. Yes, I have a lot of cousins, but we are all aging. Our children have children, and unless we live nearby, it is hard to keep the lines of connection going or to even know who’s who. Is there still a center that connects those of the diaspora?

What I did observe, at the funeral and after, was how life goes on: Kris's grandchildren were playing with the children of Kris's cousins' children (this is what happens in a large family where the timing of children and the age of the parents can vastly differ).

This is the extended family being recreated among the relatives who live near each other. What is sad for me is that because of my own geographical distance, I can only be an observer. However, I can also be an observer of the remarkable resilience and graciousness among my cousins and their families. Coming together for the funeral, my extended family is a weave of stories. Many of these stories are full of sadness and difficulties. Children have died; there have been traumatic injuries from car crashes; there have been chronic illnesses of both children and adults, and there has been death.

Through it all, my cousins seem to neither deny nor complain. I have seen one cousin take care of a spouse who suffered severe traumatic brain injury from a car crash in the early years of their marriage. He did not bail out but stayed with her. His comment? "It's what we do."

And so it is. When adversity comes, these men and women endure the challenges, meeting the deep, heartfelt pain of grief with grace.

 

About Kayta Gajdos

Dr. Kathleen Curzie Gajdos ("Kayta") is a licensed psychologist (Pennsylvania and Delaware) who has worked with individuals, couples, and families with a spectrum of problems. She has experience and training in the fields of alcohol and drug addictions, hypnosis, family therapy, Jungian theory, Gestalt therapy, EMDR, and bereavement. Dr. Gajdos developed a private practice in the Pittsburgh area, and was affiliated with the Family Therapy Institute of Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, having written numerous articles for the Family Therapy Newsletter there. She has published in the American Psychological Association Bulletin, the Family Psychologist, and in the Swedenborgian publications, Chrysalis and The Messenger. Dr. Gajdos has taught at the college level, most recently for West Chester University and Wilmington College, and has served as field faculty for Vermont College of Norwich University the Union Institute's Center for Distance Learning, Cincinnati, Ohio. She has also served as consulting psychologist to the Irene Stacy Community MH/MR Center in Western Pennsylvania where she supervised psychologists in training. Currently active in disaster relief, Dr. Gajdos serves with the American Red Cross and participated in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts as a member of teams from the Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.Now living in Chadds Ford, in the Brandywine Valley of eastern Pennsylvania, Dr. Gajdos combines her private practice working with individuals, couples and families, with leading workshops on such topics as grief and healing, the impact of multigenerational grief and trauma shame, the shadow and self, Women Who Run with the Wolves, motherless daughters, and mediation and relaxation. Each year at Temenos Retreat Center in West Chester, PA she leads a griefs of birthing ritual for those who have suffered losses of procreation (abortions, miscarriages, infertility, etc.); she also holds yearly A Day of Re-Collection at Temenos.Dr. Gajdos holds Master's degrees in both philosophy and clinical psychology and received her Ph.D. in counseling at the University of Pittsburgh. Among her professional affiliations, she includes having been a founding member and board member of the C.G. Jung Educational Center of Pittsburgh, as well as being listed in Who's Who of American Women. Currently, she is a member of the American Psychological Association, The Pennsylvania Psychological Association, the Delaware Psychological Association, the American Family Therapy Academy, The Association for Death Education and Counseling, and the Delaware County Mental Health and Mental Retardation Board. Woven into her professional career are Dr. Gajdos' pursuits of dancing, singing, and writing poetry.

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