Friday, February 3, 2017

In Tribute to Frances Overstreet Kelsey

        
An entrance to the ranch in the present day.



            Perhaps it's because one of my children now resides with my ancestors, but I think a great deal about my ancestors. This has heightened recently as the book I am currently writing concerns my father. A great deal of background and research work is going into this project, and as a result I have learned some things about my ancestors I had not known.

               The sum total of what I knew about my paternal great grandmother was told to me by my mother. Before I was born, and we moved three thousand miles East to a job my father took, she had contact with my father's dad and his siblings, and they spoke of their mother fondly fairly often.  I knew that, from my mother's perspective, my great-grandmother was the wife of a California rancher. I knew that my great grandmother had ten children and worked very hard on their 9600 acre ranch in the 1880s.

                In later years I learned that she was the daughter of a San Francisco family, who were authors and college professors. They wrote books on popular psychology of that day, on family and on child rearing. Still, although I had met one of my father's uncles, and one of his aunt's when they traveled East where I grew up, I didn't know more.

               In the past few months I have been working my way through diaries, letters, copies of letters from family, all with the idea of providing the most accurate perspectives in a book which centers on my father and where his courage and mettle originated. Slowly, the personalities of the uncles and aunts who so clearly impacted my father's personality emerged.  They were intelligent people, each of whom had creativity in one form or another. They were accomplished horsemen and women. All ten of them completed university in an era where most women did not.

             So much of what I had believed was simply me, turns out to be echoed in my great grandparents and in their children. So many of my own skills, likes and dislikes have their origins in a secluded arid California ranch. So much of who my father was, and what he taught me has its origins in that place.

              This week, my daughter located a picture of my great grandmother as a young wife posted on a website on the internet.  I don't think she looks like me, or like my daughter, but there was something about her face that was stirringly familiar.  The woman who somehow did laundry and made delicious food for ten young children, her husband, herself, ranch hands, had an intelligent and yet a loving look. Somehow this woman maintained the new house her husband had built, kept it immaculate, and helped him repair literally miles of fencing when her sons and daughters were too small to help. She still found time to maintain relationships with her relatives, particularly an aunt who raised her. She read a great deal and wrote in a diary. She loved books and particularly oriental art.  She successfully raised all ten successful and intelligent children. What she and her husband taught them, echoes all these years later in the values and perspectives I have taught to my own children, and that they are teaching to my grandson. Of course, it should  not be a surprise that these likes and dislikes are reflected in my cousins as well.  The woman who worked side by side with her husband in a life filled with anything else but privilege, should be my hero.

             I am betting that I am not the only one who sits on Earth having benefited by the choices and the work done by our ancestors. I am not speaking of material goods here. I am speaking of a love of learning, of reading, of intellectual curiosity, a work ethic, and of valuing solitude, particularly in a world now dominated by, and perhaps damaged by, technology.  When you can, try to preserve and read whatever is known about your own ancestors. Try to honor them by preserving some of their habits in your own life and in that of your children. We are all gently standing on their shoulders.




               

Friday, January 27, 2017

Have Some Faith





One of the custom made items I noticed for sale in the shop today.


Some years ago now, one of my sons and I took a trip to a distant town which had a number of art shops along its main avenue. I remember that trip as if it were yesterday. My son had been homeschooled and was transitioning through community college before going on to university. He spent a lot of time on that trip talking to artists, welders, blacksmiths, and business people. I didn't know it at the time but he was carefully considering his occupational options before choosing a major in university. I wondered if he might come back and work for one of the many people with whom he had spoken that day. Later that year, my son transferred to a university in order to study sculpture and extended media. At the time, we were concerned for his occupational outlook, but we were also consoled by the fact that the art school itself was quite competitive and because those accepted into the top rated program for sculpture and extended media were even fewer. Someone has to make a living in the arts, I told myself. "Have some faith" were the words which somehow played in my head.

        Years passed quickly and many things happened within our family. We built a new farm, and moved our family to a very rural area. Both of my parents passed. Our youngest son tragically and unexpected passed shortly after my father. Two of our children graduated with honors from a highly rated art school and entered the work world in the middle of a recession. Two of our children battled serious chronic diseases. I often wondered how we would weather all the challenges that seemed to have befallen us. Still, I heard "Have some faith".

     I have been busy lately promoting my third book and first novel. I have also been pinch hitting in caring for my infant grandson while his mother works. The time does not seem to have passed as quickly as it must have. Of course, my most important works on this Earth are not occupational ones, but the five children my husband and I raised and helped to acclimate to the world.



     Today, I returned to that same town I mentioned at the article's beginning. My son has not returned to work for one of the shops there. Today he and his beautiful wife, also an artist, opened their own shop on that same lovely avenue. Every detail within the shop was perfect and it quieted all my private maternal concerns for their starting a speculative venture in an uncertain economy. As I looked down the street, it seemed almost unchanged from our first visit, now thirteen years ago.  I am so proud of all they have accomplished. Their friends came, some of their relatives were there, some of the people who knew them professionally also were present. I wondered if my father and my son who has passed found a way to be there today. The mayor, the newspaper, and an employer of theirs also came. After the festivities, I walked out to their parking lot and entered my car with a solitary tear in my eye. Where this son is concerned, my job is done. My son and his wife are doing things that I never taught him and that I have no idea how to do. I do so hope and pray this business is successful, I thought. Once again, I heard, "Have some faith."


Their business;

   www.raindropsinvirginia.com


 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Grey Metal Casket

           
This is it.



             One of the strangest things about having a child die suddenly is that all at once, there are many questions asked of you. Will you be wanting burial or cremation ? Where are the remains to be buried ? Where is the funeral to be held ? Do you want an open casket or a closed one ?  How much do you want to spend ?  Will you be needing embalming services ?  No one really cares that your child collapsed and died three hours ago, and no one knows why.

                 In the past I have thought of myself as someone whose mind works fairly quickly. As a critical care nurse I have functioned well and thought clearly in any number of pretty horrible emergencies both in and out of hospitals, but nothing can compare to the sudden absence of your child's spirit from his body, before your eyes. Nothing can compare to being told that since there was no "foul play" suspected that any autopsy would have to be at your own expense ***, and nothing can compare to being asked a number of fairly complex final questions when you have absolutely never considered such things where your child is concerned. We actually didn't know of a single funeral home in our area.

               Part of the reason I had difficulty answering such questions is that the questions and the answers were complex. Our farm actually has a family cemetery, and despite the frozen ground, we wondered if it could be used for Daniel's remains now. Secondly, how could someone have an open casket funeral after an autopsy ? Thirdly, why was embalming required by law ?   Somehow we navigated this very difficult time and item by item came up with answers to these mind bending questions. We chose to have the funeral in the county seat of the place in which Daniel and our other children had homeschooled. We thought that more of his friends could attend this way, rather than holding the funeral in Charlottesville, which had been my first leaning. We learned that despite the autopsy, that great care had been taken to allow an open casket funeral afterward. I did not want this, but my husband did, and who was I to argue ? He too had lost his youngest son that day. Also at that time, we chose cremation, just as my parents, grandparents, and aunts had.  And so, we needed to buy a casket, not for him to be buried in, because his remains wouldn't be, but simply for the hours of the viewing and the funeral itself.  Afterward, we could have given it back to the funeral home where it would be refurbished and presumably used again.  We selected a rather heavy metal casket painted a matte gray with shiny silver toned handles.  Inside it was lined with a particularly soft pillow and white soft lining which reminded me of the fabric of the gown and clothing Daniel wore for his christening. The funeral itself was quite beautiful and well attended. It truly was a celebration of Daniel's life with many people ranging in age from babyhood to in their eighties in attendance. Even a cat named Macintosh, that Daniel truly loved, that belonged to a friend, attended the gathering in a carrier.

                   All of the decisions we made we solid reasonable ones, perhaps except for one. Rather than giving the coffin back to the funeral home afterward, we decided, in advance, to keep it. There was a great deal of metal in it and we'd paid what we considered a great deal for it. Daniel was a big believer in recycling and repurposing almost everything, and perhaps this was a hats off to him.  Perhaps our eldest son, who was completing his degree in sculpture at university could use the metal and fashion an incredible sculpture of some kind. He certainly had with other heavy large metal items. The funeral home wanted it off their property as quickly as possible after the funeral.  The day after, we secured it to one of our trucks using multiple bungee cords and covered it with a tarpaulin. As we drove the distance to the farm, periodically the tarp would blow upwards in the wind, and drivers behind us would see that we were toting a coffin. Daniel would have thought this hysterical. I remember being an odd combination of distraught and amused as they passed our truck, looking strangely at us. Why shouldn't I want the casket? I thought. We didn't yet have Daniel's ashes back. I still wasn't sure that the happenings of that week weren't a terrible nightmare.  When we got home, we placed the coffin in one of our outbuildings on its back. I was surprised to see that the pillow and lining were still intact and clean and had not been removed.
              It didn't matter how much we said that Daniel's casket didn't really have anything to do with him and how repurposing it as a sculpture would have pleased him. Our eldest son, who had originally planned to use the metal in a project was struck by lightning while closing up another wooden building with a metal roof here in August of 2011. Although he survived, he had a number of ongoing medical problems which limited his use of the welders and equipment necessary to completely take down the casket to its component parts.
            And so, an empty gray casket sits alone and waits in an empty building here on our farm, and has now for eight years.  It remains as beautiful and as clean as the day in which I first saw it. It has taken eight years for me to be able to tell you this. Perhaps 2017 is also the year in which the casket is set free to become something else other than a symbol of a very sad day indeed.

















***The University of Virginia Medical Center eventually chose to make Daniel's case a teaching one, as no clear structural cause of his passing could ever be demonstrated. Since his cause of death was theoretical, we were never billed for multiple autopsies by different pathology teams. The cause of death was surmised to be a functional cause of death, a supposed heart rhythm disturbance in a heart that appeared healthy otherwise. We learned later that this flaw of heart rhythm does run in our family, and it had to be treated by ablation in other family members.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

As the Obama Presidency Draws to a Close

            
The last eight years have been a good deal harder or us than they have been on him.





       Those of you who have been with us, on this blog from the very beginning, know that the timing of the Obama presidency, at the  very least, has been very difficult for us.

                 First of all, when Barack Obama was running for president, I bought and read his books. I didn't agree with his views and his perspectives and what seemed like socialist leanings to me and so I knew that I would not vote for him. I encouraged the kids and the rest of the family to read these books, which I incidentally bought quite cheaply from half.com.   Daniel, even at 12, was first to read the books and most of the other kids, despite being at the university did too.  The kids also thought that he did not espouse American values, and they could not vote for him. One of my son's had his life threatened by another student at his urban university when he said he might not vote for Obama. Apparently, young people in particular were very pro-Obama.  I was working teaching college at the time, and when my students asked me who I was voting for, I wouldn't tell them. I thought, just as my own professor's had, that I should not exert undue influence of my students. I told them that they should do their own research and make their own decisions. I have regretted that.

                 Of course, in early November, 2008, just after my father's passing, Barack Obama was elected to the presidency.  At the end of November, Daniel died suddenly.   Daniel knew that Barack Obama had been elected, but Daniel was never here on Earth for even one day of his presidency.   As Obama discussed "shovel ready jobs", "leading from behind", trading in your paid off reliable car for a new one with six years of payments, and other nonsense, we felt as if we had fallen into a bizarre episode of Sliders. Someone was doing something strange in the White House while our family processed the totally insensible and unfathomable death of a 12 and a half year old.

                  We were equally confused when Mr. Obama was reelected in 2012.  We didn't know a single person who had voted for him a second time, and yet, there he was again. Four more years.  Four more years of golf trips, broad criticisms of America, having the Muslim Brotherhood to dinner at the White House, and executive order upon executive order, most of which can't really be Constitutional. Obamacare came in and no one really stood against him.  Anyone who did was accused of being a racist.  How would expressing dismay regarding his actions make anyone a racist ?  Mr. Obama is also the child of a mother with Irish ancestry.  Most of us believe that there is only one race, human, and that when the economy goes well for one group of us, it tends to go well for another.  We all must eat. We all must live somewhere, and we all love our children and seek to do what is best for them.

                   Obamacare cost our own family a great deal more money on a monthly basis than health insurance did before. My husband has had no raises since the beginning of his presidency. With cash flow more difficult, there have been no vacations since then. No, not in eight years. (Although we have taken some business trips.) In fact, our expenses have increased while our income has decreased. We are in far worse shape today than we were when he was elected. 

                   And so finally, the Obama presidency draws to a close. It's been a difficult eight years, in part because bizarre edicts and strange actions have occurred on the part of this administration. The world in general is quite different and much less safe.   This November, Daniel will have been gone for eight years, which is already two thirds of the time he was on the Earth in total !  The day of his passing still seems like yesterday.

                  I don't know why God called Daniel home so suddenly as he did.  On dark days, sometimes I have thought that perhaps God is rapturing deserving children, and that Long QT Syndrome (LQT) or Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome (SADS) or Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood (SUDC) which are the potential alternatives we were given following multiple autopsies,exist so that God can call his best students of Earth home as the enter difficult times.  I still don't have any good answers.  I still live on Earth, do my best, in this broken timeline.

                  Here's hoping, no praying, for a better presidency this time around, and I live in the hope that Mr. Obama is remanded to the golf course for the remainder of his natural life.  So, if God can do whatever he wants, do you think he will send Daniel back to us now ?  I wish he would.








Saturday, December 24, 2016

You Love Me More: Our Christmas Letter



       Daniel,

    It is now eight years counted in Earth years since you parted so quickly, at the beginning of that Christmas season.  Since you missed the Christmas in 2008, then you are actually about to miss the ninth Christmas since your departure.

                      There are a number of things you know I do since your departure, in part as remembrances of you, and in those early years, as a probably attempt to stay sane.  Each year, I have either written a Christmas letter to you that is found in your Christmas stocking, or I post it here on your blog, or both.  I place your ornaments on the tree each year.

                    As you know, this year has been richly challenging.  Your brother's wedding was beautiful and memorable, and yet, I did not see you there. I hope that while I concentrated on suppressing happy tears that day, that you and my Dad were able to sneak in and get good seating.  The wedding cake was superb and unusual and I hope you both got a taste.

                   The world continues to be difficult, fitfull and uncertain at times.  Sometimes, even I will admit to having learned to appreciate that you will not know some of the trials that are all too common here.  This year when one of your brothers were hit on the interstate and his car rolled over, I was two things. I was grateful for the life of your brother and for his safety, and a small part of me was grateful that this would never happen to you. You will be spared many of the sorrows of life, and I have learned to be somewhat grateful for this, even though I have no real choice.

                 The animals are still fine, and when they are not, they are home with you.  I still remember your big shining eyes. I remember your rare but generous tears. I remember your generosity to people and how well you conversed with human beings of all ages. How can it be that this year you will be twenty-one ?  I love you and my Dad more than words can say.  Each one of these years beings me just a bit closer to the breath that will see me reunited with you both.   I love you, Daniel.   Yes, I know,  you love me more.





Monday, November 28, 2016

Eight Vast Years

            




       I found this picture of you taken when you were about eight at Christmas, at the first farm. I believe your sister says you were being dressed to be an elf.   I can't believe that it's eight years today since you had to depart. I love you just as much as I ever did, and the memories of what you liked and disliked when you were here are still fresh. You will always be my son whether you had continued life here on Earth, or in Heaven. Your siblings and your dad mention you often and we often giggle at things you said which have turned out to be quite true. Love to my Dad and everyone with you. I love you wider than the oceans, and deeper than the seas, and I always will.





Saturday, November 26, 2016

Stop Crying: This is the Good Stuff

              




  Today, just two days before Daniel would have been gone eight years, one of my sons was married in a beautiful church ceremony with friends and family in attendance.  He has married a lovely young woman that Daniel clearly would have adored. Perhaps our entire family will benefit from a wedding anniversary that occurs just two days from Daniel's sudden departure from Earth.
             
              There were lots of tears at the lovely well attended wedding.  In fact, some of the bride's nieces and nephews asked me why so many of the adults were crying.  I told them that first, we were crying because seeing two people very much in love who finally are able to marry one another is both rare and sweet and makes us cry. Also, such beautiful music, which was especially chosen by the bride and groom makes many of us cry, all by itself.  Also, if we are the parents of the bride or the groom, we cannot help but remember them as small children and wonder how they made the jump from toddler to kindergartener to teen, college student, graduate, and then husband or wife. We wonder how the years could have passed so quickly when they might seem not to have for us.  Lastly, we cry because we are just a grain selfish. When our children marry the love of their lives, there simply will be a bit less time for us, and we cry because we may, just a bit selfishly,know that life will change and that we will miss them.  The kids seemed to accept this, or perhaps they simply were sorry they asked.

              In any case, I send understanding and good wishes to anyone who has had to sit through beautiful music and has been the mother of the bride or the groom.




Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Our Fragile Times

                 
Daniel,  May, 1996-November 28, 2008


 









       This week, two ladies who worked with my daughter died on the same day.  Later in the week, the lady who took over work for one of our family members while he vacationed, passed in a car accident.  The end of this existence will come for each and every one of us, and yet, we work, play, and sometimes plan as if it will not.

    We are just five days away from the day when, eight years ago, my son Daniel, who was only 12, collapsed and died here at home. He had a clean autopsy, and so the prevailing pathologist's theory is that he experienced a sudden heart rhythm disturbance, as increasing numbers of children who play sports are doing, and that despite immediate CPR, his rhythm disturbance was non-recoverable. He's had a physical with a professor of pediatrics just a week or so before his death, and now ironically, both my son and that physician are dead.This time of year used to be my favorite, and yet, even eight years past Daniel's passing, I am fragile around Thanksgiving. It seems to me that almost everyone in our family eventually passes within October or November.

                    I am however, not quite as destroyed as you might expect because I know a few things which ease the journey.  Our trip to Earth is a temporary one for us all. Each one of us is issued a mortal flesh suit and then raised with the idea that our stay is somewhat open ended. After all, when we're in school we may be told that by the time we are middle aged, there will be a cure for all the cancers, and failing organs will be laboratory grown and transplanted. You'll live to 120 the school physician told me at 16 when I had a tennis physical.   Of course, none of this is true. Our bodies are on loan, a bit like a tuxedo rental from the Men's Warehouse. We work and play and over time, we age. The aging that is evident on the exterior indicates that similar or even more severe aging is occurring internally.  Entropy is real. We age in steps and eventually must evacuate our flesh suits even though we wish, at that point,  simply to shelter in place. It is universal. It will happen to us all.

                   I have actually accepted my own mortality pretty well over the years. The only reason I fear it now is that I have more skin in the game than I used to.  I still have four children remaining on Earth, and a grandchild. I dislike the idea of feeling as if I will ultimately be abandoning them all in a world that is not quite as friendly as most mothers wish it were.

                 Still, we come to Earth. We live, we love, we work, and this too is very important.  Eventually, we leave the rental suit and go home to a more permanent arrangement.

                  Make sure that tomorrow when you see family and friends that you drink the water and realize how cool and quenching it can be. Be kind, even to those who don't really deserve it, because this could be their last Thanksgiving.  Drink the sparkling cider and don't be tempted to drink anything that muddies your memory of this rare day. Realize that the little kids who will spill gravy on the oriental rug are going to remember tomorrow always. See that they remember you for forgiveness.  Remember always to place people above even valuable things.  Make sure that although you have a strong work ethic, that you are also known for the important ability to set work aside, even just for a day.   Eat and enjoy, but not so much that you make the rental suit sick, because you will have to inhabit it the day after, as well.

                   Enjoy this day as if it is your last, not because it will be, but because someday there will be a day that is.

                      Happy Thanksgiving

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

This Time of Year

            






      No matter how many times we revisit this time of year, as it approaches, I still have trepidation as if it's a train pulling into a dreaded station.  This year, it will be eight years since Daniel enjoyed Thanksgiving with friends and family and then, the day after, in preparation for Christmas shopping, collapsed and died in our home's main floor bathroom.  Even though we heard the crash of his falling, and unlocked the door with a key and started immediate CPR, there was no coming back. The helicopter team from the University of Virginia ran an exceptional code, but he was gone before they had really arrived.
               We live now in the altered, no fractured timeline doing the best we can to propel our children forward in a world frankly Daniel might not quite have recognized from eight years ago.
                 The song below, by Steven Curtis Chapman, is a comfort and I hope it will be to you as well.




https://www.facebook.com/stevencurtischapman/videos/10154374217952949/?video_source=pages_finch_trailer




Monday, October 3, 2016

An Alpaca on an Oriental Rug

Daniel with Cammie, in early August, 2004


                         Sometimes, I look back sadly on the twelve and a half short years Daniel had on Earth. Sometimes I feel as if I should have taken him to Europe, or to Canada or even Iceland.  The fact is, I believed all those things could wait or that he could do them as an adult. I believed he would be on Earth for an entire lifetime and that there was no reason to race through his life.  Other times I look back on his life and realize that in many ways he enjoyed an unusual and special life here, even though he may not have completed the things I might have wanted for him.

                         Daniel loved animals, and in late July of 2004, one of our alpacas, Queen Isabelle, gave birth to a third cria (baby alpaca)   Isabelle's milk did not come in as it should have, and the vet came to give the cria a blood transfusion from another animal in order to provide the immunity that the initial colostrum ordinarily would have provided. We also needed, for a time,  to tube feed the cria, and then nurse her through colic, all while running her outside periodically to maintain the bond she was to have with her mother.  At night the cria slept in some clean orchard grass in our empty deep jacuzzi in the master bedroom.  During the day, she spent time with her mother outside in the grass. The cria, named Warrior Princess Camellia, or Cammie to mere mortals like ourselves, came inside to the bathroom to receive orogastric tube feedings. At times, the little dear did walk over genuine oriental rugs ! Fortunately, even young crias urinate and defecate only in a dung pile out of doors.  Daniel was especially nurturing to little Cammie, who was all of twenty pounds during this period of time.

              Time passed quickly and Cammie grew.  As time passed she not only had the bond with her mother for which we had all hoped, but a bond with Daniel and the rest of her humans, as well.  Daniel may not have seen Europe or had pastries in Paris. He may not have have seen bubbling hot springs in Iceland, or have made it to Stonehenge in England, but he did live a remarkable life.  He spent a lot of time studying things with which he had a deep interest. He read a great deal and few had such a detailed understanding of a computer and the internet. In fact, he was looking at colleges at 12 1/2 and was academically ready to go. He enjoyed close relationships with animals and was an important caregiver to them, especially when they had difficulties. He enjoyed rescue dogs, and chickens and ducks. He did far more of the things he really cared about doing than many of us have the chance to do.

             We had no idea what was to come. Probably the reason that Cammie's mother did not produce milk following her delivery, is that she was later found to have an advancing brain tumor. The vet believed it to be astrocytoma.  Cammie's mother Isabelle died in the Summer of 2004. I remember Daniel hosing Isabelle down to keep her cool following a seizure in one of those last hours.
              Then, in November, 2008 Daniel died suddenly, and with a clean autopsy. It is theorized that he passed of a sudden heart rhythm disturbance, the type often seen in children playing sports. It is theorized to have been something called Long QT Syndrome.
              Cammie is ten years old now. She lost her mother, and then she lost Daniel.  Within in past few months, her father, Ditto, passed at a very advanced age.  We still care for her as diligently as we ever did, exactly as Daniel would want it.  Cammie may have known losses, but she has also known stability in that she has remained at the farm in which she was born, all of her life. She has herdmates she has known all of that time. She has a brother who has always been here also.

                In late Fall this year, Daniel will have been gone for eight years. Sometimes it feels like it was only three years ago, and then other times it feels as if it were ten years ago. So many of Daniel's animals have lived to advanced old ages and then passed. The world has changed a good deal in the eight years since his departure.
                 And still, both Cammie and Daniel have the memory of playing together within weeks of her birth, on oak floors indoors, and on oriental rugs. Most of all I remember their joy while playing, as we worked so hard to keep Cammie alive in those early weeks.

                   And so, if there is a moral to this story and to life in general, it's that none of us know what is to come or can predict it. Of course we all need to work, because work is a part of life, but we also need to make time to do things we genuinely care about doing.  I can't account for my grandmother living to near one hundred when she had battled health issues from about forty on. I can't account for how a healthy child could die despite CPR one November day.  What I can do, is make sure that everyone I love knows it, and that the most important things I care about doing are done. Make sure that the animals you love know that too, as their lives pass so much more quickly than our own.  Don't be afraid to put your alpaca on an oriental rug if need be.






My husband with Cammie.