January 25th, 2005

(no subject)

Mourning rituals in this country have always seemed strange to me. This latest funeral was no exception to that trend.

I have always found it strange that people seem to treat funerals like either an excuse for a family reunion or as though it is some intrinsic part in believing the dead have moved on, or something like that. I stand in the room wondering why I am the only one who seems to find it odd to see people holding the hand of a corpse and talking to it as though it were still likely to reply. I feel odd with a body on display and everyone alternating between talking to it or behaving as though it does not exist at all. The contradiction is sort of baffling to me.

There are other rituals like wakes and the ceremonies of a variety of other cultures that for whatever reason, seem to make much more sense to me than what we do with and near our dead.

I also find it sad that ministers so rarely try to make such ceremonies very unique. The Christian ceremonies in this country, in my experience, are usually going to contain about 5 standard passages from the bible. Having read it, I know that there are more beautiful and applicable things to turn to at such times. But somehow many people seem to be comforted by the predictability and repetition while sort of pretending that it is an individual ceremony.

People kept asking me if I wanted to take one more look at the body, get pictures, etc. I just kept looking about as though I suddenly had been placed in an alternate universe in which none of the living people made any sense at all. I can even sort of wrap my brain around them wanting this to help themselves say goodbye, but they seem genuinely disturbed when I do not function via their constructs. They seem to think I am inscrutible.

Why must we view and handle our dead in this country? I do not mean why do some people do so. I can sort of at least guess at that. I mean why is it expected of all of us as the desired path in any nominally christian setting here?

It isn't that it makes me squeemish, really. I don't care in that sense, but I keep thinking "Why would I want to? What possible advantage could be imparted that I cannot better acheive through remembering fond memories and wishing their spirit well in any beyond that may or may not exist?"

Their personhood, to me, was not contained primarily in the flesh of their form. I cannot really fathom that being a necessary goodbye for me when the person I cared about is already long gone from that body. It's like losing a boyfriend and saying goodbye to the love letters he left behind. It's not that I think they shouldn't, just that they seem to find me extrordinarily strange for not having any particular interest in the body of any kind or need to get as many looks in as possible, etc.

I must admit that the people who hold the hand of the body and talk to it like it were still animate do sort of wig me out in a "dear god, that is weird" sort of way, but I file it under "to each his own" and try not to think a lot about it. I personally could sooner see addressing the corners of the room to speak to the dead in the beyond than through that particular method.

I find it much more interesting to talk to the people who are there with no further ties to the dead, no family relationships, no life time friendships, but those who still felt a need to come. This funeral was unusually rich in that regard.

I have been to a lot of funerals at this point, and I do not think I have ever before experienced the people who turned up for my grandfather's at any of those. He had very little in the way of family. He and his siblings had all been left at an orphanage during the depression, and were separated and scattered all over the US over time. He didn't have the huge parcel of cousins and aunts and uncles and neices and nephews that make up the crowds at most funerals. It made it all the more remarkable the people who did come.

There were some of Dorothy's extended family who had not forgotten that he had been everything she needed and done everything he could for her.

And then there were others. They'd worked with my grandfather or whatever and hadn't known him well enough to stay in touch but missed him when he was gone and cared enough to show up and meet the family and tell their stories of why and how they had cared about the man. People who had worked ship yards with him, where he was their welder 30 years earlier who felt drawn to this man or his memory for the rest of their lifetime once he'd moved on, because they found the power of his love so profound. People who had bought property from him and been so impressed with him that they'd wondered of him and hoped the best for him for years afterward and felt the need to say goodbye. How many people that you sold a business to would be so impressed with you as a person that they wondered about you for 40 years, or became your life long friend, and cried for you when you died?

Many of these people hadn't seen this man in over 30 years but felt so close to him and his stories of his family that they had shared when they shared jobs together, that they felt like they needed to attend even when they could barely walk themselves, to share how much it had been apparent that he loved his family and how they wished they had taken the opportunity 30 years earlier to meet them all and develop stronger friendships. That they remembered this man regularly over 30 years of aging and losing their own loved ones for the strength of his love for his family, was so much more valuable, to me, than any body could be.

And so many of the rest just seemed to be missing those stories from strangers. Missing the love this man inspired in these random strangers whose live my grandfather had touched without even knowing that he had, just by being who he was. He was a man that most of us will never meet the likes of in our lifetime. That was apparent from the people who mourned his passing.

I cared about listening to people who wanted more than anything to show up, 30, 40, or more years after losing track of this man, to make sure that his children knew how profound his love for them had been, and how apparent to everyone who knew him in any way, no matter how small. They wanted to tell someone that in 40+ years of life they'd never forgotten that this man fell in love with a beautiful, 13 year old girl, the daughter of the farmer he worked for, and that from that day forward, he'd seen no one else in the world that he could imagine spending his life with. They wanted us to know that they had all seen this, every day in this man's face and his stories. They wanted us to understand that he was their hero in all those years. They wanted to meet his children. They envied this man, not because he had a dime to his name most of the time or societal stature, but because he accomplished more than they ever could just because he loved one woman so much that it shaped who he was every moment of his life, and thus changed the people who knew him every step of the way.

There were hard times, fights, struggles, their share of mistakes, but he never lost sight of the beautiful girl who took his breath away. He did whatever it took to provide for her and take care of her, even through debilitating rheumatoid arthritis that caused the complete deterioration of the bones in her hands, hip fractures, vertebrae collapsing in her neck and a million other problems. Strangers looked in horror at the twisted remains of her hands. But never in all those years did I once see horror in my grandfather's face. In over 60 years of marriage, he spent 40-50 of them caring for the woman he loved and her extremely broken body. Through all those years of being her hands, lifting her in and out of bath tubs, doing everything for her that it took to allow her to remain independent, there was always love and complete devotion in his face when he looked at her. For him she was always the beautiful 13 year old that captured his heart.

How many people can you say such things about? How many marriage would be made stronger by so much pain and responsibility and illness? How many men would cause you to feel a pressing need to attend their funeral just to tell his children how much in 40 years you remember his love for them and how much respect you feel for his memory as a man who changed your life just by who he was?

Those things are priceless to me beyond anything a cold and lifeless hand could possibly contain. Those memories were the value in being there, to me. If there is consciousness beyond death, I know that somehow, he and Dorothy are together now, and no longer in pain. And that is all the closure I will ever need.

(no subject)

Other things about our trip:

It was really cool to get to spend some time with Joel's sister sans other family circumstances. I hadn't really been sure before talking to her housemate about gifts for Christmas that she really liked the lot of us in any particular fashion. We explained to some of her friends that she introduced us to, that it was hard to tell when back there how much was stress at being around her parents, how much was just her being not a frail flower of femininity, and how much might have been not especially caring for us when we back there for Christmas and spending time around her the last time. Her friends assured us that it was just that she was like that and that she talks about us a lot and really does like us. We had to clarify that we didn't mean the state she's usually in that is sort of "cynical dyke" in flavor or something like that. When we said she was positively bubbly and happy by comparison they all looked at each other like "Buh?" at the idea that she seemed even that much less happy when we'd spent time around her in her parent's house. Hell, I am not sure that even Via realized she was that different between the two states. But it was clear that she was radiating discomfort the whole time she was in her parent's house at least at a low level, and that wasn't true at all this time. They were boggled at this.

We all hung out and talked all night long with his sis and her poly household friends. We ended up crashing at their house since they were sans dogs and toddlers who would all be awake and intrusive if we went back to Via's place. Thanks again, guys!

Lots of good talking and it was clear to me that I would love to spend some less time crunched time around all of them.

One of the things that became clear from sharing stories was that Via didn't really have the details of a lot of things that had gone on in Joel's life, and what she did have details on was altered in odd ways by the Lyn filter on the world through which she'd gotten many of the details. I was talking to Joel about it a little after we got back and he was saying that because she'd been dependent on the parents still when he just couldn't cope with the mess anymore, distancing himself from them and trying to ignore them meant that by virtue of proximity he'd mostly not kept up with Via, either.

I talked with him a little bit about the similarity in their patterns even though they chose different details, and even he commented that at the time that he disappeared, because the broken dynamic encouraged isolation and the age difference mattered somewhat more then, that he'd never really realized they had much in common.

I am glad we went back there without him in a way because I think it allowed more of the details of her wish to know more of his life and consider him a part of the more positive family she is trying to insulate herself with these days, to surface in ways that I would realize it and thus have the chance to point it out to Joel who is often too oblivious to notice those things.

In some ways, deep down, he still holds himself more responsible for his childhood than he probably should, and I think it was beyond his self esteem and understanding of his family to really believe that any of them wanted to really know him for who he is instead of who mom wanted him to be. I say that in part because over the years he has talked about Via in ways that made me believe he really respected the intelligence and fortitude it took to pursue the dead languages and history he didn't really feel like he could ever have kept up with. I know that he thought of her and with some fondness and a lot of respect, but I also know that at some point I suggested to him that he send his sister a copy of the email he sent his parents about us, and he seemed almost startled that she might want to hear from or about him.

In some ways he filed his sister in some of the same ways that he filed the love he couldn't let go of or ignore, but which he felt unable to alter in any real way, from high school. He decided with Stephanie that he didn't have any way to be what she needed, really, any way to take back all the mistakes or any idea how to get from what he felt to a real relationship of any mutual depth. So he shelved that part of himself and the relationship with her, but couldn’t help returning to it in his mind again and again.

In a lot of ways, we healed his rift inside himself about Stephanie by showing him that while she was neat people, the rift was not exclusively of his own creation, and that we were able to teach him the things that were road blocks before, and be for him things that Stephanie had only been hints of, pinpoints of light into what it would take for him to grow and change. It was muddier than that in his brain, and never that obvious to him, but his fixation with her healed itself when he saw how we had changed who he could be and how much capacity he had to succeed with us that even she had not held for him, really. In an odd way, seeing us all together, I think taught Joel to believe a little more in his potential and his progress, to see a bit more of who he had created of himself and the potential he held going forward in his life, instead of looking back.

In a similar, but different way, I think getting to spend a little time, even if not nearly enough, with his sister without him, may have made it possible to help heal a little more in the path of his emotional self value, and encourage more relationship building between them than either really knew how to initiate on their own because of all the context that went before. It made me realize how little they really knew of each other, and how much each of them did care about the other and wish they had more idea how to be more for and to each other. It made me realize they both had more of a resource for healing some of the isolation they shared than either of them probably would have believed a year ago.

And it made me realize that so much of the pain that I couldn't be sure the exact source of in Joel's life, had to have come from their situation growing up because they shared too much in the way of patterns. Before spending that time with his sister, for example, I attributed more of his pattern of never wanting to allow himself needs or wants that weren’t guaranteed, to circumstances that came after his mother's influence had waned. But it became clear to me that those more recent circumstances were him recreating his earlier struggles, reliving it to try to resolve it, even if he didn't realize that enough to succeed.

Too much of the attraction to stoicism and Spartan lifestyles and lack of loving spousal relationships of trust and all those things existed in both of them. As just a small example, both slept on the floor, essentially, ignoring their present world and comforts or wants. It wouldn’t surprise me if that indicates that she is also avoiding certain things Joel is struggling to face in himself about disassociation from physical realities to further squelch wants and needs that, if expressed, give someone power that has sometimes been, and might again (as the fear goes) be used against him to control him or hurt him.

Some of the pieces manifest in different ways. Joel hid in online worlds to detach from physical needs and wants and to avoid the pain and the insane levels of work it would take to fix those things without help. For Via, there are ancient cultures and languages. But the niceties of pretty and comfort and closeness are brand new things to her where they exist at all, much like they are in Joel. She focuses on cultures where her patterns would not seem so unusual, just the way he does with cultures inside his computers.

Both had their own different ways of fumbling toward the knowledge that they were afraid of who they could be if allowed to be part of relationships where the balance was not equal, where their pain and frustration and fear and rage would end up walking all over and destroying that which they loved in some irreversible way. They both understood that they learned an unbalanced amount about intimidation and anger and frustration, and needed to handle those parts of themselves with extreme care. Both of them have a certain fear of their tempers and cranky sides and hurting someone else with them. Both intellectualize when most people would let themselves feel things. Both focus on the crazy little irrelevant details that no one else is really paying attention to, to cling tenaciously to the facts and the rationality and the haggling over a shared reality, attempting to establish a world they could rely on and ensure that no one could possibly misinterpret their intentions.

That one is a pattern that this weekend made me realize they both share with their mother. Mom does not want to impose or make anyone feel like she meant them harm or disdain or disrespect to the point that she clarifies and specifies and rehashes detail well beyond where most people are trying to move on to the next subject. She feels judgment where there is none meant and hyper-focuses when others have moved on, and tries to clarify to eliminate any need to ever apologize for any misunderstanding, to hash out detail to the point that she can't be considered to be misconstruing or misremembering or otherwise incompetent or malicious. With Lyn it is mostly a combination of a constant lack of real self respect or confidence combined with a need to be respected and considered competent. And while there are times when it seems to manifest that way with Joel and his sister, it is also more generalized and less likely to end eventually in emotional breakdown from feeling challenged constantly somehow.

Their mom spends her life repeating over and over that she is sorry that she lacks social intelligence and didn't mean it like that, in millions of ways, how she holds herself, her body language, and her words. I have long suspected that while she doesn't like the idea, she is probably the source of the ADD she passed on to Joel and that this is among her many behaviors that point that way. Mom is correct in believing it is self esteem and depression, but self esteem and depression grow of many things and one is not feeling very successful with other people most of the time or at tasks that she thinks any idiot should be able to do without getting upset, which is very much an ADD thing. The emotional roller coaster about weird tiny inabilities that she fears undermine her capacity for being taken seriously or considered as intelligent as she is, because she feels like a klutz and a failure and all thumbs. So she fixates and people notice more because of the fixation on clarifying, than because she stumbled on some societal no-no in the first place. She feels always a little out of place, a little behind everyone else's social awareness and ability to gracefully navigate situations. And both of her kids have a lot of elements of the same. It has taken a lot of work to teach Joel how to laugh at his short comings and handle them without devaluing himself. It has taken a lot to teach him that it is okay to not be able to get a printer to do what he wants even though everyone else seems to be able to in his mind, and that he need not keep beating on himself. He can just ask one of us to be printer girl for him and joke about it. So much work that I strongly suspect neither of their parents had any concept of letting go and laughing and moving on to find a way to prevent the problem next time.

Another piece is the fixation on arcane details that lose many people in conversation, and derail natural conversation flow in sometimes awkward ways. The best description, maybe, is really that except for the anger and anger control issues, the three of Lyn and her two children all express the majority of the mostly girl manifestations of ADD that people suck at recognizing. These kids stay in their chairs and don't make noise at the top of their lungs at every opportunity, but they also get bored very easily, drift into daydreaming and deep, sometimes obsessive fascinations with esoteric things. They are the kids who get okay grades, but are always staring out windows, off into space, into a book, or a computer. These are the kids who seem to alternate between blank and uncomfortable and topically obsessed with something so far beyond most of the people they try to talk to about it that even intelligent teachers and peers get glassy eyed at them easily or have to ask their parents to please encourage them not to disrupt class for the intricacies of verb forms and quantum theory so often that the teacher can't get through the subject matter with the other kids, no matter how much more interesting the digressions might be. These are the kids who don't feel like they know how to look normal or nice, who don't feel like they catch the hints everyone else find obvious. These are the kids that were always too young or too old for any situation, too much cranky old stoic when others were laughing, and too much immature child when people expected more of them at the same time.

I personally find the qualities endearing and attracting in people because they remind me of myself and the things I had to overcome, so it's a good thing to me, but in a larger sense, it makes much of our lives harder in the long run. Joel wouldn't be my spouse if I didn't find his pedantry and goofy obliviousness to hints endearing. But I am an odd duck myself, so it makes a kind of sense. Because I am so prone to sexual healing situations and have so little in the way of usual social stigmas about sex, I found myself wanting to draw her close and make her feel more accepted in ways that would have probably made her brain leak out her ear in trying to handle it with all the social stigma pressure she grew up in and my relationship to her brother. But hey, there you have it. We all know that I am a strange.

Whatever else, though, it was neat to spend time with Via and meet her friends. And she was right when she decided we needed to meet each other. So hey, Via, if you’re listening, give yourself some credit for knowing us better than we had any idea that you did, and introducing some very cool people to us. I was impressed that you knew us that well, and I had a wonderful time with y’all. It was quite the stark contrast to some of my more absurd relatives in town for the funeral, and helped in some odd ways to not be dragged down by their weird ass family politics. Thanks for that.

And thanks Nicole, too, for making space for us even if we didn’t end up using it like we planned. Your daughters were great and I could tell that I had found a kindred spirit when I saw all the coloring on the walls. I wish we’d had a lot more time to spend with all of you. Clearly we need to come back out there, just for that. Maybe in the spring when we make a trip to spend a little time with Kit’s sister in Montana, we could make it an excuse to do both.

Probably more ranting about my insane relatives to come, but for now, I should do stuff on the to do list instead of that which is far more interesting to think about.