family


A family member and friend of mine died just before Christmas, and I’m still reeling from the loss. Ev was one of my favorite people in the world. He was kind, generous, thoughtful, and strong. He was smart, funny, and interested, always fun to talk to. He was a great model for me of a good way to be a man and have a family, and to live with integrity. When I think about how good and uncomplicated our relationship was, I can’t help imagine that he was like that with everyone. I imagine that everyone who came into contact with him benefited like I did. Losing him seems straightforwardly a loss for us all.

Something else I keep thinking is that I am lucky to have known Ev well enough to feel this much grief. It didn’t have to be that way. He lived in very-northern California, far enough away that I might easily have seen him only at occasional Thanksgiving dinners. He also lived near a part of the I-5 that I drove by several times a year, most years. He and his family made it abundantly clear that I was wanted there, any time I was passing through. I always had a place to stay, a meal, and good conversation waiting. So I saw him several times a year and was able to connect with him that often. Lucky for me.

There is a way that you are born and marry into family, but in another very real way, you make your family. Who do you spend time with? Who do you keep up with? Who do you care about and for? That is your family.

I am so glad that Ev and I made each other family.

Ev, in flannel, goofing around with family, at home, after a ferocious snowball fight and enthusiastic snowman-building, 2010.

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Here are some photos from my move with Reanna to California:

Joe, Nathen, and Layer 1 in U-Haul

Layer 2 in U-Haul

Layer 3 in U-Haul

Layer 5 in U-Haul

Reanna on U-Haul at Rest Stop

Just Another Trailer

Lauri & Ev's Apple Cider

Reanna Makes Lunch

Reanna (Tiny), Sign (Huge)

Caswell State Recreation Area

Nathen, Stanislaus River

Nathen, Bedhead, $6 Sunglasses

U-Haul Trailer Tire, Blown Out (Rim Behind Tire is Cracked)

Reanna, Tumbleweed Pom-Poms

Welcome Display by Mom

Reanna Meets Oliver

Reanna Plays With Oliver

My grandmother died in April, and I miss her. I didn’t get to see her often, but I miss her being out there. She was one of a kind. She would have been 91 years old today.

I am still surprised that she died, even at 90. Its hard to imagine anything happening to her that she had not decided on. She may have had the strongest will I have ever encountered.

An example: One evening, in her mid-80s, I asked her how to successfully quit smoking.  Several people I cared about were addicted to cigarettes and having trouble quitting.  She said, “Oh, quitting smoking is easy.  You just decide never to smoke another cigarette again, and then you never do.” She told me how, in her mid-70s, after smoking heavily since she was thirteen years old, and after only one day of reflection, quit cold-turkey with a carton of cigarettes still in her pantry, never to smoke again.

Who does that? I got the sense that it actually was easy for her. The difficulty of self-discipline was like a speck of dust in the way of her ambition. She was born to a subsistence farmer in 1920, in a town in Tennessee which still has no more than a few hundred people. She died the most respected woman in her wealthy retirement city in Florida, and don’t think that’s hyperbole. She mastered that game, and many others. She was a state-ranked tennis player, competitive golfer, and all-round athlete. She had been a successful fashion model and produced fashion shows late into her life.

Not everything went her way, of course. She had her share of disappointment and, I think, a good deal more than her share of tragedy. By the time I knew her, though, she was in control. She had what she wanted, said what she wanted, and got what she wanted. I really appreciated how frank she was with her opinions, and how she expected the same from me. “The problem with your hairstyle,” she said once, “is that you don’t have a hairstyle. It’s just all tousled, like a little girl.” I thought that was hilarious and asked her to show me the “right” way to part my hair. It turned out that she knew the right way to handle every detail of everyone’s life, which the anthropologist in me had a ball with.

I appreciated how well she loved the fine things in life, fancy food, elegant clothes and jewelry, dancing to a good swing band, just-so etiquette, her town, her friends, watching the sun set. I feel sad that I will never watch the sun set over the Caribbean with her again. “We’re lucky here,” she would say. “This is the most beautiful place in the world. Sometime when the sun sets you can see a green flash. Watch for it!” I appreciated how she would crow over me when I danced with her, or “how handsome” I looked, dressed up, hair parted just right.

Sadly, I have lost the only photo that exists of myself as an adult with her. I also do not have a copy of the one photo of myself as a child with her. This is all I have, but it is appropriate. I think she would like to be remembered this way:

My Grandmother, 1950s

I love how hot it is in Joshua Tree. I love the feeling of the heat on my skin when I go outside. I love how palpable the sunlight is. In Oregon, sunlight is mostly just something to see by. In Joshua Tree, it penetrates you. You breathe it in. It fills up a vital part of your psyche. I love how quiet it is at night, and dark. I love how it is just slightly cool and perfect for looking at the stars and the Milky Way, which are clear and brilliant.

Today, I loved lazing around in the living room with almost my entire family, talking about food and posture and babies, and listening to the Brandenburg Concertos. And after that, I loved lying in the hammock, drinking a mango lassi, listening to the warm, dry wind move through the elm leaves above me, watching the sky turn colors as the sun set.

JT Sun, Back Porch

Living Room 1

Living Room 2

Ely, Christina, Oliver Lee

Damian, Oliver Lee

Hammock, Mango Lassi, Gilmore

I don’t have good language for this experience, but as soon as I held my new nephew I could tell that the existence of this tiny person changes everything, that my knowing him is one of the major before-and-after events of my life.

With Oliver Lee, June 22, 2011

It is my dad’s birthday today and I was lucky enough to spend it with him in Joshua Tree. One of the nice things about growing up is that I get to appreciate my parents more and more. Today I have been thinking about some things that I appreciate about my dad.

I appreciate having always had such a solid masculine presence in my life. My dad figured out a way to work from home. This was partly, I think, because he could never tolerate having a boss, but it was also so he could be near me, my brothers, and my mom while he made our living. Unlike so many other kids, I got to see what my dad did for work. I could hang out with him while he worked. I watched him be creative, flexible, intelligent, persistent, and diligent. I watched him charm his clients. I saw him take his work seriously. And he was available. It has been rare in my life to not be able to talk with my dad whenever I needed support.

On top of that, he is very affectionate, fun, funny, and he is a great dancer. I love him very much. Happy birthday, Dad!

With My Dad, 1974

 

With My Dad, June 13, 2011

I just read in Brock & Barnard’s Procedures in Marriage and Family Therapy about Wolin and colleagues’ research into rituals in alcoholic families. Apparently, the negative effects of an alcoholic parent were predicted better by the amount that family rituals were disrupted by the alcoholism than by the presence of alcoholism itself. For example, if the family continued to eat dinner together every night, continued with their bedtime rituals, etc, children remained about as well off as those in non-alcoholic households. But if the family rituals were destroyed, the children were much worse off, including much more likely to become alcoholic or marry an alcoholic themselves.

I haven’t read any of the original research, so I don’t know for sure if it is that these rituals actually provide resiliency or if the presence or lack of rituals served as a proxy measure for how bad the alcoholism was. It could also be a combination of the two. It does look like the family therapy literature considers that rituals promote resiliency in general, providing structure and comforting predictability for kids, and resulting in better outcomes. (I doubt they are bad for the adults, either.)  Something to think about, parents!

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