I lost a friend last week. He used to be my brother-in-law. Before he was my brother-in-law, though, he was my friend; conversely, after he ceased being my brother-in-law, he remained my friend.
This friend - because he was family and is still related to my children – has a place in my genealogy program under my first marriage. I have a few selected short stories under his name to amuse my children and later, their children. Like the times he and his brothers terrorized the next-door neighbors – or on a dare walked the ledge, outside in front of the living room window in his bvd’s when he was 8 years old… Yes, 3 boys, no father living with them and a working mother = really funny stories. But now that he is gone, I’m having a problem categorizing his death.
I have always tried to be truthful when relating stories and careful to cite the sources - who told me these stories or contributed content. It’s always been important to me that my style be straightforward – with no soft soap or apologies… ‘Just the facts, ma’am.’
I’m struggling with this one, because, his death was not natural. I’m told he took his own life. I’ve never had to enter an event like this before and it has me puzzled. I feel that I want to protect him from writing those words in my program – to somehow shield him and others from recognizing his despair. It’s been a week now, since the day he died and I sat with his brother and tried lamely to comfort him.
I’ve thought a lot about his memory this week and how I will put a period next to the life I have documented in my genealogy program – and here’s what I have decided:
I will make a bullet point list of his life as I see it at this moment – the good and the bad – about stories that make me want to laugh until I cry and other stories that make me just plain want to cry… then I’ll leave it.
I will walk away for a year and make no reference to it, nor add to it. I will divorce myself from that list for a year and when that year is up, I will be better equipped to deal with the real man who passed away – and not the saint (as some people portray their deceased) and not the man who I am so terribly mad at right now. In a years’ time, my feelings will have softened and I should be through most of the grieving process. Then, I will take out my list and with a clearer view, portray my children’s uncle and my friend with more clarity. This is what I will do.
It’s dawning on me that there are probably a lot of “whispered about” situations that are just as hard as this – things that as genealogists we must think about and figure out. I’d like to hear from any of you who have faced these situations. How did you handle it with regard to entering information in your tree? Did you enter details? Did you mention the “S” word? Or did you just plainly document a death date, omitting the details? Is this something that is easier to document from a distantly removed ancestor, rather than a contemporary or another relative that you have actually known? It would be great if you could comment below – so we can all make educated decisions about difficult family issues and genealogy. Thanks.