My brother-in-law, Greg Shields, died last week. This weekend the family held a service and a celebration of life memorial in his honor. I wasn’t close enough to Greg to do a fitting tribute, let alone feel the deep grief Kirsten or the rest of the family are experiencing. I knew he died too young (not quite 30), suffered quite a bit (Spina bifida and severe diabetes, among other things), and that he had a great smile and infectious laugh.
I did what I could to lend a hand and support this weekend, but there wasn’t a tremendous amount I really could do beyond that. I’ve lost several people in my life over the years—all grandparents, aunts, uncles, both parents, and my brother—so I know what grief feels like. I could relate, sympathize But I also know that each time it’s different. You’re at a different point in your life, the relationship is unique, and the way they depart is never the same. Even if you’ve lost someone, and you know how painful that hurt was to you, how much it ached or burned or devastated, you don’t know precisely what another griever is experiencing, or how they need to cope with it. All you can do is be there really.
But even a weekend with that kind of gravity, there were some moments of levity. My wife, Kris, like me, uses humor to deal with serious stuff. She gave a lovely and poignant reading in honor of her brother, and peppered it with some touching but really funny moments.
And then I had my own personal little episodes. Kristen has a young nephew, Brandon, who was running around the hall near me and suddenly started doing the pee-pee dance. I asked if he needed help, and he nodded fast. I escorted him into the restroom and then stopped dead in my tracks. I have three girls, and zero boys. Which means I know diddly squat about how to help a boy use the restroom. Did I hold him up to the urinal and hope for the best? Did I position him on the toilet? If so, how did I account for the anatomical differences and trajectory that involved? I mean, sure, I have the requisite equipment—I know how I go about it. But I don’t remember anything about being under two feet tall.
I said, “OK. Tell me what you usually do here. What do I need to do?” Brandon looked at me like I was about the dumbest person on the planet, and was probably second-guessing asking me for help right about then. But he talked me through it and we made it out without any horrible splash patterns.
That pretty much summed up just how useful I was this weekend.