Mom called us her little hummingbird warriors. When I was five-years-old, I wanted my older sister to read to me, but she wanted to watch TV. I got mad and cracked her over the nose with the book spine. She retaliated and slapped me. We sat there in front of the TV with tears running down our faces, whimpering, and patting each other’s leg in comfort. For nearly forty years, we had resolved our thorny problems with arguments.
After Daddy’s suicide my sister called and wanted to talk out her feelings. She wanted me to listen—that’s all. Each time I tried to share something of my feelings, she cut me off. I got angry and told her “if you want to talk, the street should run both ways.” She got quiet and said in a hurt voice, “I think so, too,” and hung up.
Our grief triggered each other’s despair, ruthlessly. One weekend my sister spent the night with Mom; my husband and I went down there, too, just for a day visit. I took some tools for Mom out to the garage—where I had found Daddy’s body only a few months before. My breath caught while I was out there, but I shoved down my pain. Maybe my sister had listened to too much of Mom’s talk about Daddy before I got there, or maybe she had spent too much time looking at the walls. Everywhere in Mom’s house were painful reminders of Daddy—pictures, tools, memories. Her broken heart, I’m sure, ached. Seeing the pain on each other’s face, we misjudged it, thinking the other was angry. Anger and grief looked a lot alike in my family.
So we did what came natural. We argued—loud, outside in front of the neighbors, in front of God. Even when we tried to make up, we just got into another argument. My chest heaved; her face flamed. Our pinpricked eyes gouged at each other. I’m not sure how we restrained ourselves from hitting. Strip away our adult veneer, and there we were again—Mom’s two little hummingbird warriors.
Twenty-four hours later, we apologized and meant it. We grew up.
Family members can and do trigger the grief process. Expect conflicts; it’s natural. Grief is a process for the whole family.