family


My grandfather, Robert Greyling Pike, died last night. He was 98 years old and one of the best people I’ve ever known. I’ve spent the day feeling sad and talking with my family.

I sat down tonight to write a tribute and remembered that I have written about him several times in this blog. I just went back and reread it all and there is not much to add, so I’ll link to those posts and paste in yesterday’s journal entry, written just after I’d said my last goodbye to him. He was in hospice with end-stage Parkinson’s and I was leaving for a two-week trip. I knew I’d never see him again.

*About the links below: if you just read two, read the asterisked two. The others are a bit more peripheral, especially “Violent Storm.” [And sorry about the missing photos in these posts. Photobucket is holding them ransom for $400.]

January 11, 2009: Grandpa Bob Walking Slow *

January 22, 2012: A Violent Storm on the Beaufort Scale

January 28, 2012: Happy Birthday, Grandpa Bob! *

September 7, 2013: Goodbye, Joyful

March 20, 2014: Goodbye, Rollie

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

I’m on a United Airlines flight to SFO, currently above the Antelope Valley, heading back to NBTSC for the 18th year. I said my final goodbye to Grandpa Bob this morning, after playing him the Moonlight Sonata for the last time. He didn’t respond, but I think he could hear me and understood. I told him I was sad that I wouldn’t see him again but felt completely fine about him dying whenever he’s ready. I told him that he’s been an inspiration for me to learn new things all my life, to do things my own way, to focus on how I can help others and be useful, to nurture family connections, and to have fun. I said I hoped he was comfortable and peaceful, and that I hoped he was having good dreams and got to see his brother and all the other people he missed. I told him I loved him and kissed him on the head. It seemed like maybe he wanted to say something as I was leaving, but that’s beyond him now.

I’m amazed that he’s still alive. He’s had no food or water for over a week now, and I’ve only seen him move to wave and say hi to Margo or to try and take his oxygen tube off, and not even that in several days. Such a strong man! And he bore the whole process of enfeeblement with such grace and good humor. I get grouchy when I get a cold. He never got grouchy even on his deathbed. It’s something to see and something to think about. The strength of his body makes me wonder if there was something we could have done differently, that if so maybe he could have lived for a few more years.

But he was ready to die and he made that very clear weeks ago. And I don’t feel sad for him at all–I feel sad for us. I feel sad about never seeing him again, his sweet glee when he sees Margo, his little jokes. I feel sad about all of his experiences and knowledge disappearing from the earth. I feel sad that Margo won’t remember him. I feel sad that his capacity for joy, from watching a good movie, or listening to me play piano, or eating one of Maya’s birthday cakes, is disappearing. And that loss makes the world a little less wise and loving, and joyful and interesting.

GBob w little Nathen

Grandpa Bob teaches me something, mid-1970s. Photo by Steve Lester.

I drove my youngest brother and his new wife from my parents’ home to the airport this morning, bound for medical school, out-of-country. It was a nice scene, sentimental in a heartfelt way. Hugs all around, my mom crying, and my brother, too. When I got home, my mom said he reminded her of Bilbo Baggins, all cozy and comfortable in his home, dragged away to confront a dragon. That feels right. Or destroy a Death Star.

On the way back, it hit me that we lacked a ritual for sending him off. I suppose what our culture has to offer is the going-away party. We didn’t do that. We had a few nights, informally talking about hopes and fears in our parents’ living room, which was good, but it would have been good for all of us to have more of a ritual. My own leaving home twenty-some years ago was even less acknowledged–my best friend and I packed all of our possessions into the back of my truck and moved hundreds of miles away early in the morning, before anyone was awake to say goodbye. They knew we were going, of course, but no sendoff. My brother may have preferred it low key, of course; we also dropped their marriage license off at the county building on the way out of town with no other ritual attached to that major event.

In these moments I wish that our culture was more prescriptive. You have a going away party when you go away. It doesn’t matter if you don’t want it, because it’s not just about you. It’s about the family and the community who are losing you. Cultural prescriptions have their downsides, of course, but in our freedom- and individual-oriented culture we lose sight of the benefits: emotionally satisfying communal markers of major life events, phase transitions facilitated and eased, powerful rituals of induction into new freedoms and responsibilities, the strengthening of “us” as a family and community and culture. Real family and cultures don’t just exist. They are subject to entropy. We continually remake them with each acknowledgement, with each bond strengthened.

To my dear brother, Ben: Welcome to your new adventure. I could tell how deeply you feel the sacrifice of leaving and I know we feel the sacrifice of losing you. What you are going to do for the next bunch of years will be a sacrifice, too. But it will also be an adventure, and we will all benefit from what you do out there. Take care of yourself and come home when you can.
Love,
Nathen

bnr-psp-2

 

 

On New Year’s Eve I found myself thinking what a crappy year 2014 had been. Too many people I loved had died and/or almost died. And a bunch of other stuff. To counteract this mood, I went through my calendar to write the story of 2014 as a series of fortunate and enjoyable events. Now that I’ve compiled this list, I’m feeling better and I think it was a great idea:

Listening to a bunch of really great audiobooks and podcasts–probably hundreds of hours worth
Learning to ride a dirt bike, getting pretty decent at it, and going on some spectacular rides
A bunch of massages—weekly, for a good part of the year
Good help from my chiropractor, Dr. Goff, resulting in significantly less back and neck pain over the course of the year.
About 50 group supervisions with Sheri Marquez
A good visit from my brother in law, Rob
Gourmet ramen in the middle of Wonder Valley at night
The highly unlikely moving of a 10×20’ shed
A bunch of great hikes to nearby microconfluences
Military/PTSD show at BOXO
Monthly consultations with John Viola
Dancing 50 or more songs with Reanna, some at Pappy & Harriet’s, mostly at home in the trailer
Dad’s shows at Ma Rouge
Saving a tiny baby tortoise with Reanna
Seeing the Pixies at Pappy & Harriet’s
Visit from Grace and Yared
Visits from Jeannie and Christian
Visits from Doug and Kathryn
Visit from Blake
Julian’s 1st birthday party, Wiley’s 1st birthday party, Christian’s 6th birthday party, Wally’s birthday party
A lot of cooking Mexican food using peppers I grew in the garden
Watched a lot of fantastic movies
Reanna’s dinners and lunches. We eat so good.
Lunch at Del Rey Deli w- Corrina & Alders
Teaching couples communication at Nourishing Tree
Ovenights at Ely & Christina’s before Pasadena trainings
Grey water systems workshop by Nicholas
Lovely evening outdoor meals at Damian & Maya’s
Swimming at the JT retreat center
Tram up San Jacinto and hike with Reanna
Swale digging party at Damian & Maya’s
Talks about new urbanism with Ely
Mexico vs Brazil World Cup game at Santana’s
Summer evenings in the hammock under the stars with Reanna
Teaching suicide prevention a bunch of times
NBTSC at Camp Latgawa
Teaching “the future of facts” workshop at camp
Good talks with Tilke
Scorpion hunting with Ollie
Bunch of trips to Joshua Tree farmers market
Watching Cosmos with family. Also Call the Midwife, the 7 Up series, Tudor Monastery Farm, and generally just hanging out, lounging around in my parents’ living room with family.
Jeff Lantz moves to Joshua Tree
Acquiring a real fixer-upper next door
Reanna’s obsession with floor plans
Marble run games with Ollie
Going on a date with Reanna to the dry lake in bloom
Starting to take piano lessons, learning stride
The latest Shins, Tame Impala, Modest Mouse & Johnny Marr albums. And Louis Armstrong.
Visits from Ely, Christina & Julian
Visit from John and his family

Family friend Robert Spoeker died last week.  I knew him to be an intelligent, witty, and very gentle man. I’ll always appreciate the friendship he showed my dad, and I imagine as the years go by I’ll primarily remember him by how he lived, but right now I’m thinking mostly about how he died. He decided it was time, stopped eating, and spent his last few days at home in his own bed, with my dad and a hospice nurse keeping watch. By all accounts he was peaceful and clear about what he wanted throughout. No doctors, no hospital, no emergency. I didn’t know we could still die like that, and I’m moved each time I remember.  I hope, when it is my time, that I can be as graceful.

Robert in 2011, far right

Here’s how my dad described it:

Robert made a very classy transition. His housekeeper called me Wednesday, saying he was refusing food and wouldn’t/couldn’t get out of bed. She was freaked and wanted to call 911. Robert and I had had the conversation about this, and I told her to sit tight. When I got over, I could see that he had started the transition. I questioned him about his wishes once again (actually several times), and he said he was fine as he was. He wouldn’t take any food and little water, and was very definite about his wishes.
 
Over the course of the next several days several family members came over to say goodbye. My youngest son’s fiancee is an ER nurse, and when she saw him, she took his vital signs (with his permission) and he was normal. She said that even if we sent him to ER, they would just give him some tests and discharge him. 
 
Over the next day, I read Sar Bachan poetry to him. I had never read it before, I just found the book on his shelf. It’s beauty really struck me. That, and the Master’s photo, seemed to brighten up his lucid moments quite a bit. Finally, he asked me to stop reading, as if he was too busy inside to be bothered even with Sar Bachan, or any other external communication. After that, he seemed to be aware of me, but was non-communicative. 
 
On Saturday, we called a friend who was a hospice nurse. I didn’t know what to do when the time came. She was a neighbor/friend, and was very sympathetic. She came up to his house on her day off unnoficially, and looked at him, and said that he had only a day or 2 left. We went over to the closed hospice office in a windstorm and signed him up (he had years ago given me power of attourney to make healthcare decisions when he was not able). That was very good luck because they didn’t interfere with him at all, but took care of the aftermath beautifully. They even sent over a bag of morphine for him on Saturday night, which, of course, I didn’t give to him  because he was managing his process perfectly well, with no complaints (I did think about taking some myself- but didn’t). I went to sleep Saturday night on the couch at 12:30. He was breathing a bit heavily and sighing when he breathed out. I woke up very alert at 6:30 SundayAM, went in, and he was gone. He looked very much at peace.
 
I am humbled to have been with him and witnessed it all.
 
stev0

 

This is a long post, so first the short version. In the last year: I started working full time and am adjusting to that. I’m glad to be working towards my MFT licensure, but uncomfortable about how it pushes my relationships and other projects onto the back burner. My marriage gets better and better, despite this. The company I work for goes out of business so I get part of the summer off, and I get the exact same job (family therapist for US Marines & their families) with a new company.

And for the year ahead: I plan to continue this work, taking good care of myself, dance with Reanna every night, as promised to my friend, Tilke, in her “How to be a Real Artist” workshop, get in best shape in 5 years, and learn how to treat myself and Reanna really really well while working full time.

October: I started my year out at Farm & Wilderness, VT, staffing and teaching a really fun psychology project at Not Back to School Camp. As is traditional, I got really sick, but this time it was from a waitress in Rutland, not someone at NBTSC. I recuperated while visiting Ethan & Susannah, also in Vermont. Back in Joshua Tree, I started working out again (SERIOUS style), planted my first winter garden, fixed some electrical and plumbing problems in my trailer, and started setting up a private practice. In the process of hiring a supervisor, I found out that in California, unlike in Oregon, I cannot do my internship in a private practice. So I started looking for work in a local clinic.

Looking out over Woodward Reservoir from my cabin at Farm & Wilderness

Ethan, cataloging NBTSC lost & found in his library

The famous Quodlibetarian tub

Reanna

Reanna at Playa Del Rey

Ollie, a year ago

Ollie & Pap

Gabe, Damian & Maya on the Hwy 62 Art Tour

Trailer at sunset, looking south

November: I move into a new computer, archive my years of audio journal entries, and learn Sketchup while applying for and getting a job at Morongo Basin Mental Health: providing free, confidential therapy for US Marines, veterans, and their families. In what would become a series of small-town coincidences, a high school friend I hadn’t seen in decades worked there, saw my name on the interview list and sat in on my interview, interjecting stuff like, “Oh, yeah, good answer!” Nice way to interview. The manager of the military program assured me that the our contract was solid for at least two years. That’s about how long I need to get my hours for licensure, so the job sounded good–no chance of having to ditch my clients like I had to in grad school! I spent the rest of the month getting in as much time with Reanna and my family before starting full time work.

Rainbow over the Bartlet Mts

Maya & Ollie in hammock

Ollie helps Nana Honey cook

Me & Reanna

December:  My 93 year old Grandpa Bob gets really sick, and I get really sick taking care of him. I was pretty sure he was going to die. He had pneumonia and had to go on antibiotics for the first time in his life. It took me weeks to fully recover. He eventually recovered, too, but I’m not sure he’ll ever fully recover. He’s been on antibiotics off and on ever since and is progressively less mobile. It’s got me thinking a lot about dying–how I can support the people I love when they start having a hard time taking care of themselves, and how I want to die when my time comes.

I start at MBMH, reading 40 hours a week of protocols. I have Christmas with family in Joshua Tree. My brother Damian starts a weekly evening with family, listening to an integral Christianity lecture and meditation that turns out to be a presentation of integral theory to Christians, rather than Christianity to integral thinkers, but valuable nonetheless.

Reanna & Christina, Xmas

Reanna & Maya, Xmas

Ely, Christina, Pap, Ben, Rebeca, Xmas

Gabe, Ely, Ollie, Christina, Xmas

Reanna, ukulele, heater

Ollie, bundled up

January: I get my first paid vacation ever–one week off, fully paid by MBMH. Weird, pretty nice. I write my first attempt at a comprehensive political statement. Reanna and I start a three-month experiment with a strict “paleo” diet, which mostly means we cut out sugar and grains from our diet. The theory is that human adaptation to grains and refined anything is shallow at best. I also start cooking Mexican food (the paleo-friendly recipes) from Rick Bayless’ Authentic Mexican. I love it. And Reanna loves eating it. I start learning to play Reanna’s ukulele. I play and sing “Amazing Grace” most nights for a month. Fun!

I’m working full time, which I’ve never done. It’s not my favorite schedule. I had to let go of most of my projects. I started building a solar batch water heater in the fall, for example, that is still not finished. The schedule has simplified my life quite a bit. Work all day, spend the evening with Reanna. I gained more respect for my friends who’ve been working full time for decades and still manage to write some music or read books. I’m ramping into a caseload, though, and am seeing seven clients a week by the end of the month.

My endurance training is going great by this point. Mid month I got my heart rate up to 179 bpm without hurting myself. Very exciting.

Smiley and Gallant visit

Reanna in our clean, cold kitchen

Dinner’s almost ready. (Photo by Reanna.)

Grandpa Bob turns 94

Me in therapist costume, with Ollie. (Photo by Reanna.)

February: Full time work continues. I get trained in the Trauma Resiliency Model, which I find very cool and useful. I re-up the trademark on Abandon Ship. I feel sad that I can’t write music with my brothers right now, but have plenty of optimistic plans to do so… Reanna starts designing our future house, another exciting project that I have to watch from the sidelines. I love watching her get super deep into a topic like this, though. She is now the resident expert in passive-solar-optimized-very-small-house design. We start car shopping, too. We need to be independently mobile in Joshua Tree.

Trench. Hose feeding trailer finally to be buried.

Reanna & treehouse near the Mexican border

Ollie, Damian

March: I’m up to 16 clients at MBMH and I’m fighting for mastery of the intense paperwork load. The clinical work is going great. My supervisor is good, I am fully engaged by my clients, and I get to see a good variety of folks–kids, adults, families, couples. The paperwork is fairly unpleasant, though. Mental health providers that get government funding spend a huge amount of time and energy creating and maintaining a paper trail for their work. These clinics get paid based on the work they claim to have done and then various agencies can audit their files and take that money back if a box wasn’t checked or a T wasn’t crossed. I spend my first very late day at work in March, trying to catch up on paperwork. Reanna is not happy.

Highlights: A great lecture by Bruce Perry, planting my first spring/summer garden, endurance training going great (I work out during my lunches at MBMH), meeting the Transition Joshua Tree folks. And Reanna. Reanna is wonderful.

Lowlights: My truck fails smog and I begin what becomes an expensive debacle trying to get it to pass.  I start having sync problems with my Mac that I am still dealing with as I write. I start working on our taxes on weekends. Reanna is Canadian and that makes our taxes super complicated and somehow even though we hired a professional we ended up owing big fines.

Abandon Ship cover art, for the TM folks. Art by Tilke.

Damian & Ollie in old billy goat pen, future garden

Me, just having sunk the garden beds. (Photo by Reanna)

Reanna planting pepper starts

Ollie

Ollie & Reanna take the trash out

Ollie & Reanna rest in the hammock

April: I find out that Morongo Basin Mental Health has decided to go out of business after more than 40 years, at the end of June. That’s quite a shock and less for me than for the many decade-plus employees I work with. At home, our three months of paleo is up and I feel fine, as I have on just about every diet I’ve tried, but it clearly had not solved any of the problems we’d been tracking for the experiment. And I am sick in bed for a week for a third time this year. Reanna’s parents arrive for a month long visit. I don’t get to see them as much as I’d like, but we get in some fun events (like the Morongo Basin Conservation Association’s “Desertwise Landscape Tour” and Transition Joshua Tree’s Water Catchment Workshop), good talks, good swimming.  I get trained in sand-tray therapy by my supervisor, Richard Gray, which I find quite useful.

Reanna preps cholla buds for dinner

Family dinner at Damian & Maya’s (Damian with Bugzooka)

Doug & Kathryn up San Jacinto

May: We get a great little car, a gift from Reanna’s parents. It gets 38 mpg unless we use the AC.  At work, emotions are high and rumors are flying around. I try to avoid it as much as possible. My coworkers are mostly looking for work with great intensity. I decide that I will chill instead, concentrate on my clients, and do what I can to get my job back with whatever company picks up the military contract in the summer.  Meanwhile,  something is eating my garden. My weekends and after work time is often spent critter-proofing.

The highlight of the month by far is meeting my new nephew, Julian.

Julian in sling

Ollie in work gloves

First scorpion of a scorpion-rich year

June: I’m at 21 clients at the beginning of my last month at MBMH. The management has had me continue taking new clients but I’m starting to get nervous about it. It’s starting to look like my clients will have a significant lapse in services, and it pisses me off. I write people in charge at the county and local journalists but no-one can say how long it will take to get the military program back up and running. I know I’m fine. I can look forward to a full season working at NBTSC if things go badly. It sucks, though, that my clients are just getting dumped. It’s screwed up. I just have to set them up as best I can for the lapse and do the tons of paperwork to close their charts. Meanwhile, my co-worker, Jackie, introduces me to Candy Crush, which starts sucking up the cracks in my schedule.

Highlights: Jonathan & Ayako’s wedding in Idaho. Motorcycle safety class with Reanna. And being married to Reanna, of course.

Living room pano: Ely, Christina, Julian, Ben, Rebeca visit

Ben & Julian

North end pano from on top of Reanna’s sewing RV

Ayako & Jonathan, getting married

July: I’m unemployed again, but within two weeks I get interviewed by Pacific Clinics, the company who got the military contract that I’d been working for at MBMH. It looks like I’ll get the job based on the reputation I’d made for myself in that position. That feels good! It means I’ll miss most of NBTSC this year, too, for the first time in 14 years.

Reanna leaves for OR to do prep work for NBTSC and I delete Candy Crush from my phone so I can get some things done: install AC in our trailer, create an outside pantry, build a greywater cistern, make a front step for the trailer, get my motorcycle license, and a few other things. Satisfying. Then I fly up to OR to work the Camp Latgawa session of NBTSC.

Reanna hangs our laundry while I goof off with the camera

Cistern in progress

Julian & me

August: Finish at NBTSC (wonderful, as usual), and spend a few short days in Eugene at an NBTSC leadership summit, then back to Joshua Tree for my last week of unemployment. I completed some last-minute landscaping and plumbing projects, built a dry toilet and installed a weather station, then started training at Pacific Clinics in Arcadia.

At the end of August, Reanna got back from her travels, and we started shutting down all lights and electronics at 8pm and just hanging out until going to bed. This was lovely. We usually laid in the hammock outside, talking and looking at stars. The desert summer evenings are really, really nice. Especially with Reanna.

My advisee group, NBTSC Camp Latgawa

Ely & Julian before dinner

Reanna & Ollie, downtown Joshua Tree

September: I start making contact with clients and by the end of the month I’m back up to 7 clients. This is exciting, and it’s nice to be working with some of my old co-workers from MBMH, and the new crew at Pacific Clinics is an entertaining bunch. Working full time again limits what I can do in terms of projects, but I manage to put a new roof on the old goat pen/the new outside pantry, go visit Quail Springs permaculture farm, and start building a new composter with my 2-year-old nephew, Ollie.

At the end of the month, I have my first birthday at home in many years. Usually I’m at camp. It’s nice. My family threw me a little party and I’m glad to be here, even though I miss my people at Farm & Wilderness.

Yes, Ollie wants to help build the composter!

Rain Event, 29 Palms

With Reanna & ocotillo, on my 42nd birthday.

Reanna, my wife and best friend. That I got to see her wake up so groggy and mild this morning in our cute little trailer home, and that she liked my curry stir fry for dinner last night.

Joshua Tree and its sunny, warm late Novembers.

That so much of my family live so close to me, so when Maya takes a walk with Ollie, they will probably come by and see the solar water heater I’m building and borrow some eggs.

That Ollie is starting to say my name, which comes out completely different every time, but you can tell he’s saying “Nathen” because he sticks his tongue way out to make a “th” sound.

That I have so many amazing friends and family to miss on a day like this. I’m thinking about the Alders, Pikes & Plowmans, and all my Not Back to School Camp staffers and campers.

That I have the capacity to be so moved, by all this, by my morning media (Radiolab “Fact of the Matter,” Ashly Miller’s Radicool EP), and to anticipate the company of Lesters and Rizzos this afternoon in Pasadena.

Thank you.

On September 15th I had the pleasure of attending the wedding of my second cousin Megan to her partner of nine years and fiance of two years, Mali. I am an egalitarian man and consider the legalization of same-sex marriage a no-brainer, but I was taken completely by surprise by how profound it was for me to see, for the first time, two women get married.

The wedding was wonderful and poignant in the same ways that all really great weddings are wonderful and poignant: The site and decor were both beautiful and quirky in a way that reflected the beauty and quirkiness of Megan, Mali, and their relationship. They are such a solid couple, so clearly in love after all this time, so happy and sure about their commitment to each other. I loved seeing everyone from both families there, getting along so well, excited and supportive, catching up with each other, and forming the bonds of one, big family. And we were all so sad that Megan’s father, Ev, did not live to be there, to cry tenderly at the ceremony, to give a hilarious and heartfelt toast at the reception, and just to be his generous, wise self with us.

The wedding was also moving to me in a way that I’d never experienced before, in a way that I’ve been trying to put into words ever since.

First it hit me how different this looked and felt from the hetero weddings I’ve attended. It illuminated how, like most humans, I am effortlessly and undeniably aware of gender and gender expression in the people around me, and how I fixate and perseverate when what I see does not match what I am used to seeing. It had become completely ordinary for me to see and support same-sex couples, but I had still seen very few images of same-sex weddings.

And at the same time, it looked and felt so obviously right. Of course these two people are standing in front of their adoring families, committing their lives to one another. I’ve thought for a long time that if a couple–any couple, regardless of sexual orientation–can have a happy, stable commitment, especially with the support of their families and community, the world is a better place for it. Witnessing this wedding felt like a shift of that thought into much deeper, experiential knowledge. And why had it taken me 41 years? Simply because I had not been exposed to this moment. I feel certain that I would have been accepting, maybe even excited, as a child, by the symmetry of reality: Some men marry women, some marry men. Some women marry men, and some marry women. It’s about who you love, and who you love is different for different people. We just need access to the schema, the models, the moments.

Second, it hit me how it was Megan and Mali’s bravery that was giving me and the other 120 guests access to this moment. There is real danger as well as the certainty of judgement from a lot of people in being out like they are, and having a wedding is being all the way out. But what a gift: I got to grow into a stronger ally. I imagine we all did.

Third, I had a huge feeling of relief and excitement. Having recently been married myself, I was keenly aware of the cultural baggage that marriage and weddings carry, the history and reality of gender oppression represented by fathers giving their daughters away to husbands, the history and reality of prescriptive gender roles that have felt like prison to so many women. Would participating in these ceremonies and institutions influence my wife and I to behave against our egalitarian principles? How could we possibly know?

Suddenly, here was a wedding and a marriage that was clearly not about gender oppression. Here was proof that it can be done. Here was the possibility of the philosophical redemption of heterosexual marriage from its ugly history.

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