Category Archives: Death

Jackie

“Just call me a cartographer – because this post will be all over the map.” – X

Everyone is going to have their ‘last funeral’ story. Perhaps not the last of each person’s life, but the last one not impacted by covid. While my last precovid funeral wasn’t traditional, it happened in January before the country felt the virus’s hammer.

Jackie wanted a gathering of friends as a commemoration. It happened at her home in Springdale. I knew a few of the people at the gathering but most shared nothing in common with me. It was a fact that Jackie would have laughed about. One of the most complicated puzzles I had ever made with pictures was prominently displayed on the coffee table in the intimacy of their living room. The puzzle contained innumerable pictures detailing their lives. I made it with care and attention. It was an affirmation to know that it touched them enough to find a place at Jackie’s last gathering. The video and music I crafted played on loop on the large monitor nearby. Having learned the hard lesson of no backup plan, I had the video on dvd and flash drive and an executable folder of music and pictures if the other two methods failed.

Though I unexpectedly liked a couple of Post Malone’s songs before, I included a piano version of two of his songs. When I have my guard down, I sometimes hear the melodies and remember the absurdity of including it in Jackie’s memory video. I can’t imagine Jackie liking Post Malone; I know that this piano version would have struck her heartstrings with unerring certainty. In part, that expresses how I got to know her – often indirectly and through a constant barrage of banter and conversation. I also included three songs I wrote, one of which I know Jackie loved.

I said my goodbyes in the same way I got to know her: through pictures. The family asked me to do the montage of photos and choose the music. It’s a rare thing for people to trust me so intimately. I’ve known some people all my life who skipped past me for weddings (even one who I originally became ordained for) or overlooked the few things I can do well. In a way that is not immediately easy for me to write, Jackie and her husband seemed at ease with me, even despite our marked differences. I’m sure that some of my pranks were a bit too much for them – but that my intent always found favor with them.

I was volunteered into their circle by my mother-in-law, who worked with Jackie and her husband at the hospital, as did my wife and sister-in-law. What started as a simple project ultimately gave me access to their entire lives of private pictures and images. While I began by scanning hundreds of hospital pictures, I was soon compiling decades of family history.

I frequently see the thousands of pictures I carefully scanned and indexed in my photo archives, and my heart both swells and painfully beats. It was a project that I hoped would never find its end.

Even though this sort of thing is both a love and hobby of mine, it still strikes me to know that people close to me failed to take advantage of my willingness to ensure that everyone’s memories could be reproduced, protected, and shared; such endeavors leave no one without access. It’s true that on a long enough timeline, we all fade – along with everything we can touch, where we stand, and even the planet itself. Pictures have their most value while someone is alive who remembers the people in the picture.

I still see people in agony over lost videos and pictures. It’s work to keep track of our lives. It’s more work to organize it for everyone coming after us. They’ll want to see our memories. The truth is that most people, even ones who seem to appreciate the frailty of such memories, don’t take the care necessary to share them openly and widely. It’s the only way to ensure the survival of the pictures we find to be cherished.

Jackie and her husband were undoubtedly part of the backbone of the community. Both were well-known and respected. Apart from teasing back and forth about me doing something ridiculous with their treasure chest of pictures and albums, they never doubted my love for the project or that I might somehow misuse their photographs.

Because I maintained an archive of all the thousands of pictures Jackie shared with me, it was no stretch to know that I could manage a retrospective of her life when she died. That I hadn’t shared much of her life was immaterial. Anyone could see that I had an affection for her that defied our vast age difference. I continue to regret that I didn’t know her for longer. It is possible that we would not have aligned so well earlier in my life. Having thought about it in the last few months, I’m convinced it’s true.

Part of my regret of not knowing her longer is that many of her stories passed with her. I discovered quickly that both Jackie and her husband were living repositories of fascinating stories. I intended to ask her to share several hours with me with the hopes of getting her story written in a way that would bear her signature wit and charm. She became ill before that come could to fruition.

But I still have this hoard of pictures, often waiting for me to open them and peer inside. I know that I honored Jackie by taking a piece of my life and preserving hers. I made sure that everyone had copies and access; no one was left in the rain. We don’t own pictures, though we foolishly think otherwise. We are custodians, with transitory possession of these lives and this world.

The day of her death races away from me, sliding into the past, as all deaths do.

Life marches forward with callous step and indifferent regard.

As Jackie’s life fades from human memory, I watch the world and wonder about the depth of visual memory and story being lost. But it is not because of me. I’ve tipped the balance in my favor and find myself unable to stop asking people to drop their pretenses and share who and what they are with the world.

In continued memory of Jackie Lou and with a renewed dedication to the joy of pictures, X.

Humor’s Acolate

“As sorry as I was to hear of my brother’s passing, I’ll bet the news bothered him a LOT more.” – X

There’s a considerable risk in people misunderstanding you on a good day. Many of us tend to judge others with the worst possible filter. I’ve found that good people can understand and appreciate contradictory and sublime behavior. Those who don’t just aren’t my people. Old age and experience, if we’re lucky, gives us more latitude in recognizing this.

The greater danger is people hearing what you actually said, and you having no defensible context to mitigate it. So much of life is context, and much of that isn’t immediately explainable. “You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t” is a cliché for a reason.

The joke that started this post? I’m sure people can and will get angry if they choose to. They’ll claim I wrote it as an insult to Mike. It’s not. He would laugh his ass off reading that joke. About one hundred times over the years, I threw one of Woody Allen’s jokes at him: “I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Years later, I threw in another one: “My relationship with death remains the same,” he said. “I’m strongly against it.” When Mike and I were young, we both read “Death Knocks,” a story (turned play) by Woody Allen. It was a sometimes topic of hilarity, even though Mike did not like Woody Allen as he grew older. Mike and I both made many bargains with imaginary devils and deities when we were young.

Only those who can imagine hiding in the space between the bed and the wall in the dark and waiting for a parent to come for them in a drunken rage might be able to understand the connection between bargaining and gallows humor. I have a list of stories about these incidents, and some of them surprise me by being funny. If you’ve read my blog, you can see that I’ve largely refrained from identifying some of my family by name. Despite this, I still infrequently find myself at the receiving end of hateful criticism.

When we lived at City View Trailer Park in Springdale, Mike swallowed an incredible amount of tobacco juice. Several of us had played and fought down at the retched pond that once stood at the end of City View. Mike spent much of his time between punches proudly with a mouthful of tobacco. He puked violently on the floor for what seemed like a full minute. That black juice stained the purple carpet deeply. No amount of cleaning could remove it. We’ll talk later about how someone thought purple carpet in a tinderbox trailer might look attractive. When the trailer burned, the stain obstinately remained. The carpet was dark, of course, but the underlying stain plainly stood out. Years later, when Mike and I spent the night at Mom and Dad’s house on Highway 49, Mike compared that stain to dealing with being helpless all those years, or nearly so. That was the same night we discovered that a nest of yellow jackets inhabited the other bedroom’s west-facing window. That’s a story for another day. As for the tobacco, despite attempts to make Mike stop, he dipped most of his adult life. I have at least three dozen pictures of him spitting into a bottle, cup, or a family member’s potted plant to prove it.

After Dad died, my cousin jimmy recommended that I watch a particular Billy Bob Thorton movie. Most people have never heard of “Daddy And Them.” You’ll be shocked if you take a look at how many stars joined this movie. Because it was set in Arkansas, it accurately grabs the absurdity of white trash living and wraps it in comedy. (A difficult feat.) After Jimmy twisted my arm and made me watch it, I did the same to Mike. In it was one of the jokes my brother and I shared as hilarious. Here’s the joke:

“Hey! Do you know what Dad would say if he were alive today?” One of us would reply, “No, what?” Dramatic pause. “Let me out!” With the last line, we scratch the air in front of us with both hands as if we were clawing our way out of the coffin. Last year, an Irish veteran stole the joke and shocked funeral attendees by having a pre-recorded tape of his voice shouting to be let out played during his service. Mike thought it was hilarious and an excellent way to separate the humorless from the good people in a crowd. “Can you imagine how tightly wound up Aunt Elsie’s panties would get if someone did that?” was part of his reply.

I have to say, though, that despite the immense teeth-gnashing my brother and I often shared, our deplorable and macabre sense of humor was unrivaled. Marines and serial killers alike cringed if they accidentally overheard our nonsense.

No matter what you’ve read and heard on sitcoms or dramas about the impossibility of confining an involuntary laugh at a funeral, my brother and I separately were a disaster; in combination, we probably deserved the death penalty. Some of the fault lies with my Dad. Even when he wasn’t drinking, he could say some of the most outrageous things devised by a human being. He once called the preacher a “co$$su$$er” in front of about 50 people just to get a leg up on him. In a twist of fate I’ve written about before, Dad and the preacher somehow became friends.

My brother Mike once unknowingly used an open mic at a funeral home in Brinkley to improvise a bit of comedy regarding our Grandma’s teeth. The funeral director sheepishly ran into the outer area to grab the mic from my brother and tell him that it was a ‘hot mic.’ It’s essential that you know that my Grandma was one of the two closest people I ever loved. Despite that, I laughed. I cannot think about that incident without losing a little bit of my soul to laughter. I’m convinced each chuckle puts me a foot further into purgatory.

There’s no greater or sublime pleasure having someone who is both smart and willing to go the extra mile for a laugh, joke, or smile – even if it burns down a few villages on the way there. I give Mike the win, though, because he could tell jokes that I wouldn’t. That’s saying a lot.

Not too many months ago, I sent my brother a collection of hand-written postcards, each with a joke from comedians we both loved. As with index cards in my back pocket, I’m also a fan of prestamped postcards for quick notes. Even while we were uneasily bickering, I wanted him to know that humor was still a big part of my life. (Even if I’m old, boring, wear a lot of black socks as leisurewear, and get too excited by an early buffet.)

Mike would see these words as a compliment.

Because of our relationship, I tend to expect someone to emerge with poison in their hearts to attempt to silence me for joking. Those who know me also know I’ve written multiple times about the fact that they have my permission to mock me to the end of the world when I’m gone, especially if it is funny or creative. Mike was not someone to pull back from a bastardly comment. The same quick and violent tongue he sometimes used to wound me also created some world-class humor. For everyone who knew Mike and watched him in action on solemn occasions, the Bobby Dean in him could not be confined or controlled. Trying to do so was just catnip for his enthusiasm to up the ante.

It’s not reasonable to accuse me of glossing over or attempting to sugarcoat Mike’s life. Equally so, I have to tip my hat when it is merited. Both of us emerged from childhood with a scorched-earth comedic streak. It probably saved us as many times as it caused us grief.

As it turns out, Mike was indeed there when death came for him. His birthday would have been November 1st, the day after Halloween. For some, it is All Souls Day. When I sat to finish Mike’s ancestry record, I noticed that his two children are the same age I was when our Dad died. Mike was 20,062 days old, the mentioning of which would irritate him due to my occasional reminder that I still keep a tab of how many days old I am.

My job is to remember the Mike who put a fish under the driver’s seat of my 1984 Oldsmobile in the middle of summer during a visit to Aunt Barbara’s. (Without telling me.) Or the Mike who read “Lord of The Rings” in almost one sitting back in the early 80s.

Please don’t fault me for taking refuge in contradictory stories about Mike. But if you do, I’ll accept that charge. Given the arc of my origins, I find this potential sin to be minuscule.

P.S. The word “acolate” is mine, one devised to denote eulogic remembrance, perhaps a day too late.

McNamara And Mike

This post is a portmanteau of lives. One was a dedicated writer, and one was a policeman; both failed to adequately recognize their afflictions.

My wife’s eyes sometimes glaze over when I hear tales of “writer’s block.” I don’t know what that is. I can’t help myself: I always say, “What’s that?” half-jokingly. It’s the same way with me regarding boredom. Reading, writing, genealogy, humor, photography, and just scrolling the window of the internet could entertain me for fifty consecutive years. I’d be ideally suited to be a vampire.

This time, we were watching “I’ll Be Gone In The Dark” on HBO. Michelle McNamara had her deadline pushed forward a month and struggled to realize her ambition of finishing her book. It was her lifelong dream. She died before DNA solved the case of The Golden State Killer. Michelle and I share many attributes regarding writing. I don’t put myself on her level, though, so there’s no need to remind me snarkily. But I don’t understand the inability to plow through. She resorted to drugs to keep her up and allow sleep when necessary. The thing she relied on to help her achieve her ambition also undid her life.

I can’t walk the street, work, or sit and listen to music without wanting to research a hundred different ideas. Things breeze into my mind at a velocity that I cherish. The satisfaction of an overactive mind isn’t diminished by the value or result of the ideas. I’m able to divorce content from needing a goal. This allows me to produce dozens of things that never see the light of day or end up in the ‘delete’ file simply due to happenstance.

Had Michelle raised her hand and admitted she was overwhelmed, Patton Oswald and their mutual daughter would still have her in their lives. Instead, her book and ambition fell to uncertain others to complete, and Michelle lost a presumable thirty or forty years with family.

While I wrote the first part of this a few weeks ago, it still is on my mind. Not just because it was a great show, or a peek into a writer’s life, but also because a piece of it parallels the life of my brother. He was ridiculously smart. He could have worked to be a writer. As I do with anyone I recognize as innately great at writing, I repeatedly tried to convince him to spend a portion of his life writing his stories. I do not doubt that he easily had several books of material in him. Much of his writing might have derived from his professional career as a policeman and detective. Even his Army career was as an MP.

Michelle McNamara’s life revolved around crime and its intricate tendrils. My brother Mike spent his career investigating and collaring criminals. While Michelle’s ambition always included being a writer, Mike could have done the same, and just as expertly.

The contradiction is that his job itself was one of his biggest impediments. It put a wedge between his personal life and his ability to live it. The schedule, the demands, and the danger of having a job that perilously exaggerated his tendency toward authoritarianism. People often ask whether the job makes the man or the man gravitates toward it. I’m not sure. As much difficulty as my brother had coming out of his youth, the job exacerbated his personality defects. It’s no secret that police are more likely to be abusive and susceptible to addiction. My brother chose alcohol to appease his conflict. Michell McNamara chose prescription medications. Anyone who gets angry at me for saying so doesn’t understand me. In Michelle’s case, her husband Patton capably framed her turmoil in a very public and touching television show.

My brother’s intentions to retire as a detective after a full career collided with his inability to stop drinking. He was forced to retire. Even still, he could have turned that blow into a blossoming retirement. Had he stopped drinking, he might have lived to be seventy instead of dying before his fifty-fifth birthday. Because he was smart enough to work in the north, his pension was protected by a formidable police union. He had the option to pursue any interest he desired.

I was envious of that and his ability to work a job that allowed it. It’s a fantasy for most of us to round fifty and shift to do whatever interests us.

In the last couple of years, I sent Mike books, starting with “The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee.” I knew it would ignite his interest and recognition of what writing about the South could do. It was my hope he’d begin to leave the alcohol to the side, even if it cost him herculean effort to do so. He’d be able to careen into another career writing feverishly. Whatever else Mike did or didn’t do, he also loved books and libraries. That’s something that can’t be said about many police.

Mike’s death not only closed the door on his gift of writing, but it also cost him a couple of decades with his family. They’ll each struggle with the legacy of his big personality and choices. As Mike declined, I couldn’t help but get irritated at him for the waste of his life. Instead of pivoting to change his course and take advantage of the privilege of a chosen life, he furiously wasted his and his family’s energies to dedicate himself to drink. As bad it was, we were all lucky a few of the circumstances didn’t cause greater harm to others.

Now, silence. What could have been a rejuvenated family and life is now a complicated and unenviable path to an uncertain future for all of them.

As in my mother’s case, I know that much of the harsh words I shared with my brother were a result of alcoholism. Knowing it helps more now that they are passed than it ever did while they lived. He recognized the danger, just as I always did, but relied on his devious inner voice to convince himself he could overcome it. The same personality that made him loud and larger than life also participated in his fall. Many of our family and ancestors did the same. None of our ancestors who knew they were alcoholics successfully pulled out of it. It’s a sobering thought. I’ve written about the infection of my family. While I cannot adequately describe it, the trajectory of those around me gives proof that my theory must have some validity.

Mike loved that I wrote stories. Some of them caused him grief, especially before he could come to terms with the magnitude of the shadow that our dad and others left behind us. He vested energy in secrecy while I opted to throw open the windows. I was often a terrible brother. The only safe harbor I had at my disposal was separation. Mike had trouble seeing that my life was not one punctuated by drama. He also hated that I told him more than once that were I in his shoes, I would do anything and everything to break my addiction. It wasn’t because I felt superior to him in that regard, but that I never fooled myself into believing that any of us have magical skills that preclude us from behaving stupidly. Behavior that is obviously hard-wired into our DNA is that much more insurmountable.

The shelf that could have held Mike’s books will be forever empty.

The lives he could have intersected with for the next twenty years will now bounce obliquely off someone else.

The silences and subsequent shouts of confused recrimination will echo in his vacant place.

A life lived short of its possibilities.

And The Story Both Ends & Begins

The first picture is my sister, my brother Mike, and me laying like a lump of coal. This picture was taken at Grandpa and Grandpa Cook’s house in Rich, when they lived near White Cemetery. The second was taken when we lived in Springdale for a short time.

*

My brother recently died as he neared 55. Our dad died before he turned 50.

The military was not Mike’s first, second, or third choice. But it’s the choice that got him out of Arkansas and into a career in law enforcement. Whatever else the military does, it spectacularly solves a multitude of problems when people join. It may present others, that’s true, but those are unseen and delayed when you decide to join. No matter how old we get, option fatigue is paralyzing.

Out of high school, my brother recently returned from a very brief stint at Arkansas State University. He convinced me that the military was the worst possible choice for me, even though I was being offered an incredibly cushy spot in the Army music program. As it always does, hindsight paints a panorama of choices and chances for me in the Army.

Mike then turned around unexpectedly and went directly into the Army and off to another life, leaving me with a wtf-face beyond description. He went to Germany while there were still two of them and then to Northern Illinois, where he remained.

My brother with me, before he left Springdale to join the Army. We standing in the driveway at the house on Cottonwood. Many years later, I bought a house right down the street from that spot.

Over a decade later, I seriously considered the option of the military again. I had my physical and background check, and also signed up for delayed entry. He got me out of that idea, too.

Because of our upbringing, I often wonder what would have been the course of our lives if he stayed in Springdale and I had left for the Army as a musician. Would his tendency toward drinking and anger blossom so fiercely. Would mine, had I untethered from family?

In those early years, he publicly held the family honor, even as it continued to vex him. Me? I changed my name and kept my distance. Being poor helped me in this regard. Being ignorant didn’t hurt, either. Mike gave me a lot of grief for my dislike for most of the family’s ideas of politics and how to behave. In my defense and as I increasingly learned, racism often disguised itself as politics. In part because he was the big brother and in part because he thought he was indeed the authority, he fought and lectured me to stop sharing family secrets. I often called him Mike O’Reilly, even though he wanted to break my fingers for it. As time passed, it became evident to anyone paying attention thought although I was the weird kid with the weirder name, I was dead on regarding our biography. Mike favored the Terry family while I loved the Cooks. Both had an equal measure of mishap and heartbreak. The Terry family just had a bigger rug they used to sweep everything under.

As late as last year, I was still uncovering skeletons from our family. People make movies and write books about such strangeness. Had I followed Mike’s insistence to let it go, I would have never picked up genealogy or pursued DNA trails.

Who we once were does not determine who we will be; however, its aim is so undeniably true that those who manage to escape their fate are miracles at work. A lot of smart people know their arcs. Few see themselves in the shadow of their choices. I’m often as guilty as anyone. I’ve never doubted that I inherited the infection of whatever ails my family. I’ve felt its breath to varying degrees for my entire adult life.

Mike was smarter than me. It’s unquestionable. There must be some magical sliding scale and accounting that would prioritize other things over intelligence. I would have cashed in a bucket of compassion and a dose of deafness for a lower IQ. When you are as under-prepared for adult life as we were, it is folly to follow our trajectories and assume success.

Somewhere in those years, that shared biography and its litany of grievances overtook my brother. While I arced into a middle-aged life, he let his guard down to how human he was and how inescapable the dungeon of the lesser can be to us.

While I was still talking to him at length, I asked him at least fifty times to take his time and energy and sit and write his stories. He loved to read and had lived a life stuffed with unusual characters. He told several book that he was excited about the book I was going to write. He didn’t take me up on my enthusiasm. So many stories passed with him.

No matter what anyone else said or will say, one of the things I consider a gift is to often recognize the universality of a good story. Mike had many of them. As I’ve often echoed about my youth, though Mike and I often were at odds, I’d be the first to line up to read a book of stories from his life, whether they were darkly shadowed or humorous.

I’m ready to rush ahead to the magical time when our memories shift and shuffle and lose their harsh edges. Nostalgia is one of those things that’s hard to define yet bangs a gong in all of us.

Though my dad died over twenty-seven years ago, I’m still pondering his choices, his secrets, and his pathology. I still find new revelations.


I suspect it will be the same with my brother.

We fought bitterly a few times in my life. As hard as it was for him to understand, I usually fought for quiet.

Some will exit onto the revisionist road, believing that one’s life and echoes end with death and that those who remain can change the stories of a person’s life. Others will individually have their own stories to tell and questions to ask. It is our way as human beings.

As for me, all judgement laid to rest, all I see is a reservoir of memories and stories. Whether they are told or not is not a valid question. They’ll be told, whether in whispers or shouts.

My dad, standing on a horse. Mike liked this picture.
My brother, with mom when she was Budweiser happy, in Aunt Ardith’s back yard.
Me, Mike, cousin Ricky, cousin Jimmy.
Mike, mom, dad, me. We were at Lutheran Church in Rich, near Brinkley – at mom and dad’s second wedding.
Me, with siblings, at Xmas at Aunt Ardith’s house.

Cursejoy

Reaching the age when you are looking through old photos and realizing that you are the only one in the picture still alive.

It truly comes for us all.

Because I’ve maintained my ancestry account for so long, I’ve had at least 20 instances where I realized that I needed to update someone’s life by posting their death. For several, I’ve not only been the first to do so, but the only one. In time, others often see a death marked with a ‘hint’ on their trees and borrow my initiative. I try to gather the enthusiasm as soon as possible to post all the pictures I have of the person who has died. I find it increasingly hard to imagine hoarding pictures from posterity; while I might possess a picture, I’m merely its custodian.

I can imagine what Paul Edgecombe from “The Green Mile” felt when he was cursed with long life. Part of the arrangement was that he had no choice but to witness the passing of everyone who shared his life. While I’m in my early 50s, I can feel the pain of someone who reaches 80.

Getting older presents us with more opportunities to hold the disparate ideas of bittersweet and melancholy simultaneously.

Because I love pictures and genealogy, the two hobbies often coalesce and focus my attention to the passing of people – as well as the infrequent but inescapable realization that the deaths accumulate behind me.

Cursejoy.

Burns of Denial

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When my wife died suddenly several years ago, I opted for an awkward visitation after her cremation. I know it was awkward; such things were not common, especially in the Venn diagram of the converging families affected by her death. Many of her family were Catholic; a few of those hid behind their Catholicism to attempt to blame their dislike of cremation. To be fair, I didn’t care. In my case, I was lucky. The death of a maternal uncle about a month before had crystallized any doubts what my wife wanted if she died. She loved the Catholic church through her grandmother’s eyes; she rejected in the world at large. Her displeasure with it took on its own life when she observed some of her family members use it as a disguise for the things that infected them.

Though it strays from the theme of this post, one of the first serious conversations I had with her involved her dad. Her youth was punctuated by heartache. Both parents were not appropriately tuned in to their kids. She was the youngest of a series of children born to a mix of fathers. Both misbehaved; the mom especially led a promiscuous lifestyle. I convinced my wife that she would almost certainly reach a point where she could sit in a room and laugh with her dad. That day came before her death. It wasn’t perfect, but it was miles from where they’d started.

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Deanne with her dad Ralph…

Even though it made some people uncomfortable, for the visitation I had a table with letters, photos, and both mementos and moments for people to see. Like it or not, none of us are prepared for the unreasonable demands of sudden death, especially when young.

Someone familiar with my story and the players involved told me a story I keep forgetting. Her accounting of memories and happenings is much stronger than mine – though she would not agree with me saying so.

When she attended my wife’s visitation, the wife of my biggest critic turned to her and mentioned the cigarette burns on her husband’s back, ones earned during his abusive childhood.

I wasn’t a part of the conversation. Although I was told the story before, it slipped out of my mind as things do.

It was such an odd time to bring it up.

It was an odd and unrequested topic, too.

Given the recent uptick in unsolicited criticism, it echoes in my mind as a benchmark for so much.

I felt like I should share this story.

Because the story comes from someone unimpeachable, it seems important that the wife would later attempt a hard right turn into becoming a revisionist regarding any abuse.

The abused themselves do this with an astonishing frequency.

No-Visitor Policies Do Harm

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*Legal note: this is written under the auspices of both employee safety and in the interest of public health and debate. This commentary is almost universally applicable, regardless of geography. The policies I’m complaining about have negatively impacted thousands of lives without furthering our collective public health interests. They piss me off because people don’t understand the implications until they affect them personally. (Which might well be the national motto for the United States.)

Not all healthcare facilities and hospitals adopted a blanket approach, precisely because such policies wrongly isolate patients and reduce the quality of life of everyone involved. To those who properly implemented precautions without simultaneously severing the vital family-patient link, I thank you. Were such a facility nearby, you can be sure that you would be my first option for all healthcare services. The idea that a family cannot interact in person with their family member when they are ill is one of the most abhorrent ideas I’ve dealt with as an adult.

I have serious concerns about the no-visitor policies healthcare facilities adopted when covid made its appearance. Most of these policies weren’t based on science; they certainly went too far. When I see ‘heart-warming’ videos of long-wedded couples communicating through windows, my heart doesn’t melt. It hardens – and against those who insist that isolation in lieu of reasonable precaution is in the public health interest. We allow millions of Americans to wander in public without taking basic precautions. We are not making good decisions as people, as citizens, or as businesses.

Though it says something less than positive about me, the above angers me. It’s not an irritation that can be overlooked. I see the impact that misguided and poorly-executed policies have on real people. Your mom, sister, grandmother, son, daughter, and friend. Now, me.

Perhaps my inside view of how healthcare works discolors my opinion. Healthcare is a mammoth business. We routinely forget that healthcare is at our service. Though it is a business with a mission, it is one that should focus on the human impact of policies. They all say they agree, though when I outline my argument that demonstrates the no-visitor policies to be draconian, their faces harden and they fall back to a “trust us” stance. Failing that, they aggressively insist. After all, they hold our family members hostage inside their facilities. What can we do? Before you think that ‘hostage’ is too harsh a word, I suggest you drop a family member off at an ER without knowing they have policies that endanger your family member and isolate you from them.

Is there any other business you can think of that operates this way? By invoking the label of public safety, they can hide any motive or lack of reasoning in a policy that harms your interests. The fact that not all hospitals adopted blanket no-visitor policies logically indicates that there is strong disagreement among experts. In my case, it was nonsensical.

I did not have a voice in these policies. No family member did. As you’ll see through my emails, my presence in a hospital as a visitor constituted LESS of a risk to hospital staff than even those very hospital workers. One of the dark secrets of our covid response is that we failed to test each and every healthcare worker. Even while we were in Phase I, we didn’t test. Although the state mandated that surgical candidates would have to be tested prior to entry into the hospital, efforts to test healthcare workers at the same level of sensible precautions were stymied. The motive for such decisions probably jumps into your mind in the same manner as it does for everyone else. The public interest would have best been served by universal testing for everyone in a healthcare facility, followed by stringent testing on a scheduled basis thereafter. This can be done without fear of dismantling the healthcare industry. It would, however, make us all safer.

It is true that it would expose the fact that healthcare workers are working while infected with covid. How many might be up for debate but it would be foolish to insist that the answer is ever ‘zero.’ We can’t fix a problem by ignoring huge variables. Even though I’ve said it already, my commentary is couched inside the box of the public health interest. Only the most feeble arguments would stretch to claim that my mentioning it somehow lessens the confidence of our healthcare industry. The industry is staffed by fallible people, as is any other field such as aviation, police, or engineers. People try to do their best. When policies are shown to cause harm, they need to be modified in the same way that ‘best practices’ evolve within healthcare.

Although I intervened in the cases of others when they were fighting hospitals needlessly keeping them at a distance from their loved ones, I knew eventually the policies I loathed would affect me personally. I had several conversations with my wife. During each, I repeated that I’d rather risk a lower chance of survival in exchange for the simple human right to have her visit and watch over me and my care. It is for the same reason I’ve instructed her that I don’t give consent to ever be airlifted anywhere. I trust my local healthcare facilities. I trust them more because proximity increases the chances that people who know me will be able to visit and observe my care. I do not want to ever be in a facility that denies her access to me unless it is a prison. Weirdly enough in the case of a prison, she’d still be able to visit.

Hospitals of course weight varying interests when establishing policy. Covid, though, has caused a lot of decisions to be made with inadequate information or in fear of liability. You, as a family member, are powerless to appeal, threaten, or sue hospitals for their policies.

One of my friends in particular was forced to endure days of being away from her dying husband. She finally was allowed to see him shortly before his death. I think Northwest Arkansas was on the verge of mounting an insurrection had she not been granted access. All those days they were separated were needless and harmed the public interest. Anyone looking at the issue from a wide perspective agrees that blanket no-visitor policies only serve to hurt human beings. They are written to protect hospitals – which already enjoy immunity and liability protection. If you read my emails below, I address the futility and stupidity of these policies that prohibit loved ones from seeing their family.

During those weeks, despite the fact that the policies did not affect me personally, I wrote opinion pieces and contacted as many interested people as I could to object to these horrific no-visitor policies. The silence from those who could have made sensible changes was astonishing. The same was true regarding efforts to test everyone working in healthcare.

My mother-in-law was rushed to the ER. She was suffering from what we presumed to be diabetic shock. We all met at the ER entrance at the hospital. No one was allowed to enter the ER with her, despite her deteriorating condition and her complex medical condition. A State Trooper, complete with gun, badge, and uniform sent a clear message to my sister-in-law that family members were the problem.

My mother-in-law is 80. She sat in a chair unattended for quite a while, getting worse. No one was there to insist they be cautious with fluid intake, insulin, or the other things that were vital to her proper and safe care. My mother-in-law’s inability to have someone there as her advocate and loved one contributed to a level of care that suffered as a result. Now that the moment has passed, the hospital can claim this to be untrue. As we’ve discovered once again with our recent riots and the events that precipitated them, events that are recorded or witnessed are more difficult to excuse away. Prior to covid, one of the best means to improve a patient’s care was to have both companionship and oversight for that patient. Those will diligent family members directly improve and suffer fewer health complications than those who don’t. No-visitor policies have stripped patients of the right to have oversight by those who care for them.

I wrote the hospital through its portal. My goal was to request permission to assist in better care for my family member, as well as provide companionship. I knew that the approaching holiday weekend would increase her isolation. Here’s what I wrote:

“My mother-in-law is in your facility.

I work at another hospital. I’m COVID-negative and get screened each day.

I’d like to know why I am not allowed entry into the hospital to visit my mother-in-law.

She was admitted through the ER without a COVID test. I also know that even though hospitals are testing all elective surgery candidates, they are not testing all employees within the facility.

IF you have a method to allow me to visit, please advise me as to the protocol.

Thanks, X Teri”

Someone wrote back:

 

“Thanks for reaching out to us and I’m sorry your mother-in-law is ill. If you will send your phone number, I can have one of our nursing leaders call you. I’m copying our Interim CNO in case she is able to respond by email but I think a phone call would be easier.
These are certainly tough times for everyone and we are sorry for the pain and inconvenience these temporary policy changes on visitation are causing. As you know, they are in place to minimize risks of patients or staff health being compromised, particularly since many people are asymptomatic before they test positive for covid.”

In short, the above is a “No, you may not visit” response.

The next day, I received a reply from someone else, presumably higher in authority:

“Teri, ____________ copied me on your request to evaluate the possibility of visitation at _______________ hospital. As I am sure you recognize, this is a difficult time, the surge of Covid patients has required administration at our hospital, as well as the region, to place restrictions on visitor access. These efforts are to mitigate any possible exposure to our patient population already managing their illnesses or post surgical recovery.

We have made available to our staff access to ipads or recommended the use of phones to support face time calls and discussions with the nursing and physicians if requested by the identified contact family member to provide additional means of support. Nursing staff are available 24/7 to connect with families.

I can empathize with the challenges this places on families but safety is our priority at this time as we continue to care for our community.

Please reach out to me personally if you have any additional questions or needs.

Thank you for your understanding.”

 

Here is my reply:

 

“Thank you for replying.
 
My first name is X, as unusual as that is. This isn’t a “gotcha” email. Please don’t interpret this email as an attack. I am writing it in one fell swoop to voice my objection and concern.
 
I have a family member in your facility. I know that her initial care was less than desirable due to no one being allowed to accompany her during her initial ER visit. No matter how the issue is characterized, she did not receive the care she could have, precisely because the adopted no-visitor policy prohibited her caregiver or another person from being present. This absence needlessly caused the healthcare workers to lack information that would have affected both the timeliness and effectiveness of her treatment. I don’t expect anyone to enthusiastically agree with my assessment. It is, however, a hard truth – and one supported by the facts.
 
I understand the issues surrounding covid.
 
One of the things that has long puzzled me is that while hospitals pre-test elective surgery patients, we still haven’t tested all healthcare workers.
 
Statistically speaking, we know that we have covid-positive healthcare worker cases. We had the opportunity prior to resuming surgery schedules to test each team member at our local hospitals. For a variety of reasons, we didn’t do so.
 
This continues to trouble me greatly as I see families grapple with the ‘no visitor’ policies. I knew it would eventually come around and affect me personally.
 
Knowing that “we don’t know” whether healthcare workers continue to expose patients is an issue that I can’t get around. While I, as a worker in a healthcare facility in Northwest Arkansas, get screened daily, have been tested for covid and follow routine precautions each day, can’t assist in the healthcare of my family member. This disconnect isn’t logical and doesn’t serve my family’s interests or those of public health.
 
While I still would not agree with the visitor policies most hospitals have adopted, I find it illogical that hospitals are not doing everything possible to help our community; such efforts would include testing each and every team member at your facilities. It certainly would allow for those of us in healthcare and who have been tested to be allowed to see our family members.
 
The fact that I’ve been tested when most of your staff has not should be sufficient justification to be allowed to wear PPE and see my family member. Once you see it written that way, it is hard to continue to see fit to disagree with my claim that I should be able to visit my family member.
 
I don’t expect my reasoned response to draw a change of heart for your hospital.
 
I’ve argued against these policies from the day they were implemented.
 
Each of us is exposed and exposes others on a daily basis. It’s true that we might hopefully reduce our involvement, the statistical truth is that we have passed the point of logical precautions.
 
While it might be easier to issue a blanket no-visitor policy, it is one not based on consistent logic or one taking into account the needs of human beings when they are ill.
 
I only wrote back in the futile chance logic would prevail and I’d be allowed to visit my mother-in-law.
 
Absent that, I did not want my silence to be interpreted as agreement with a policy that goes too far and without merit to the extreme of impacting our companionship and oversight of the care our family member might receive.

 

The first person wrote me back, instead of the person higher up. A holiday weekend was approaching. It’s likely the higher-up was off for the holiday.

“X – thank you for copying me on this. I am not a clinician but what you say does make sense to me & I can assure you it will be discussed. In fact, we all know that – in ordinary times – we encourage involvement of family members & other caretakers. ______________ checks email regularly and would encourage you to reach out to her or the house supervisor any time you want to discuss a concern or have a question. Again, I’m sorry for the issues that have led to these temporary very strict policies”

I waited and heard nothing directly about my appeal or request. So, I wrote both of the people I’d heard from:

“I know the holiday probably exacerbated _________’s lack of enthusiasm to attempt a reply to me. I forwarded the email to you because you were the first point of contact for my issue. Each day that passes with rules that force distance between family members is one that cannot be reclaimed.

In your reply, you said something critical to my issue: “…these temporary very strict policies…”

From a family point of view, the policy that prohibits me from seeing my mother-in-law isn’t temporary. It could very well be permanent. I know people who experienced that very issue. They didn’t get the chance to speak face-to-face with their loved ones. They’d entered healthcare facilities without oversight and companionship. And they died in those conditions.

While I objected to these policies when they did not personally affect me, I’m flummoxed to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced them how needlessly draconian they are. Because I have a view from the inside, I know that these policies are blanket policies and do not generally advance the objective of public safety that they purport to. In my case specifically, they only do harm.

I enter a larger healthcare facility each day, get screened, and have been tested for covid. Yet, when misfortune touched my family, I was somehow classified as the general public and denied access to my family member. I’ve been tested for covid, which is far and away more than the overwhelming majority of healthcare workers in your facility can say.

Additionally, your healthcare workers live and work in one of the hottest hot spots in the United States. They eat, shop, and move about among a high concentration of people who do not wear masks and do not observe proper social distancing. Your healthcare workers, the ones caring for my mother-in-law, come to work after such exposure each and every day. Even though I work in a similar but different environment, I am lumped in with the general public, despite being tested and despite following protocols when out in public.

It is lunacy to deny me access to my mother-in-law. Factually speaking, I present LESS exposure to your staff and other patients than your own healthcare workers.

It’s easy for me to get preachy in these emails. On the other hand, hospitals are places where people experience tragedy daily.

When people are ill, especially as old as my mother-in-law, there is no such thing as temporary.

The policies you are enforcing might well be permanent in my case. I don’t know how else to say it.

When logic does not intersect with law (and voluntary rules), the effect is that people needlessly are harmed.

If hospitals don’t intelligently and scientifically lift these burdensome and needless restrictions, the same policies may one day befall you and your loved ones.

Again, I didn’t expect a reversal of policy but I honestly hoped that sense, logic, and compassion would prevail.

I’m still waiting. I’m not the first. And it is a further tragedy that I will not be the last.

X”

I haven’t received a reply, of course. Two days have elapsed. I wrote them a final email, after hearing nothing in response.

“Given that I wrote Saturday and did not receive a reply, I am assuming that my emails weren’t bumped up for further consideration? I didn’t know if there was an appeal process or if an edict had been announced that allows for no variance. I know that some patients were allowed visitors in the interim.

I can understand if you would have said, “The matter is closed.” I wouldn’t be happy, but it at least it would have been a final statement.

Since this issue came up for me personally, several people have reached out and provided me with details about other families and how they were dealt with. I have a lot to consider going forward.

Under the assumption that no one will reach out to me again, I’ll close by saying that it was wrong for _____________________ to prevent me from being with my mother-in-law in the ER and thereafter in her room. It’s a policy without logical footing and one which inhibits the public health you’re charged to protect.

Thanks, X”

As with thousands of others, the hospital has artificially and needlessly robbed me of my ability to be with my family member.

Looking at my case specifically, it is a fact that I present less of a risk to patients and staff than the staff members working in the facility do. I can prove I’m not covid positive. I can enter using PPE that eliminates the risk. Meanwhile, staff members caring for patients at the facility that denies me entry are working, shopping, and living in one of the hottest hot spots per capita in the United States. They haven’t been tested. They walk among a community that does not protect itself by wearing masks or social distance at a rational and reasonable level.

They are a bigger risk than I am.

I’m been tested. They have not.

Anyone who doesn’t question these policies hasn’t had the misfortune of watching their family member needlessly suffer.

My mother-in-law moved a few months ago from a remote location to Springdale in part to be closer to medical care when needed. We’ve visited more in the last few months than we have in years. Ironically, hospitals have worsened that wound of isolation by refusing to allow me to see her.

One hundred thousand people die from infections they receive while in healthcare facilities. This was true before covid.

The workers caring for my mother-in-law haven’t been tested, even though it is an obvious step to ensure the public health and employee safety.

Somehow, I’m the problem?

These policies must go. They must be replaced by sensible public policy and hospital rules that take into account the interests of the whole patient.

Test all healthcare workers, both now and on a scheduled timeline.

Allow designated visitors, even if a covid test is required.

Ask patients and visitors to sign a liability form, to address the primary and obvious reason that hospitals continue to abuse their discretion regarding visitors.

Require masks in public.

Or..

Continue to do the same.

.

.

.

P.S. The hospital responded to my appeal request on Friday, days after my mother-in-law was discharged. It’s hard to make this stuff up.

 

 

 

 

Let There Be Light – An Epitaph For Truth-Telling

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When I posted this story, I didn’t expect the invisible mob to approach me. It’s easy to skip over my stories if you don’t want to see them. Anyone not wanting to read what I have to say can easily avoid it. For most people, I’m a forgotten planet on the edge of the universe. If you’ve found me and continue to find me just to gnash your teeth, you should take more effort to stop looking for me.

It was amusing to see people assume they knew who I was talking about. That underscores my insistence that people only see what they want to see. Their own preconceptions mislead them into assumptions. Their defensive responses based on these errors tell me a lot about how they are wired and what goes on in their heads versus the persona they present to us.

This story is not about my siblings. It’s not about my paternal uncle. If it were, I would say so, especially now that I was attacked for people’s wrong assumptions about it. To be clear, I’ve been guilty of the same type of jumping to conclusions. It’s driven me to cause a couple of people needless harm. I tried to make up for it. While they might have forgiven my stupidity, they probably remember that I was a jerk needlessly to them.

I’ve waited a while to share it.

We all have people in our lives who have dark secrets. Many people would choose a miserable life over truth and honesty. They fear that the concealed darkness they protect will somehow consume them. The opposite is true: secrets, especially family secrets, only gain their power by our complicity. Children grow up to recognize the disconnect between what they’ve experienced and the story that follows them in life. Most maintain the charade of silence because it is safer. Silence seldom draws much ire or criticism. If we all consciously chose to avoid making ourselves prisoners to our secrets, we’d be happier. As with anything personal, there will always be people who ‘know,’ ones you interact with who are running their own truthline in their heads as they talk to you.

Although I can’t be sure who led him to my history online, it doesn’t change anything. He’d obviously found my thousand stories about love, life, laughter, loss, and lies. As with my family tree online, my stories are not hidden, private, or anonymous. I share them so that anyone can read them. I can’t force belief. I can’t force consumption.

I don’t claim to be a singular authority but I do lash back at anyone who challenges me with the asinine assertion that I have no right to tell my own story. I’m not forcing anyone to consume it. I get grumpy when people who’ve remained silent for decades suddenly get a voice or a conscience; or worse, when they go down the road of revisionism to challenge what happened or to create their own stories with the goal of mitigating the ones I’ve always shared. Several episodes of my life have been worsened because people have lashed out with their own revisions after mine have been out in the wild for most of my adult life. It doesn’t mean they stories are always wrong, but it does mean that their blooming interest should be cautiously examined.

I could tell the conversation had an intended point, even if we weren’t getting there directly.

He couldn’t see that attempting to challenge me would only cement my authority and right to tell my story. His anger and frustration not only told me that my words had pierced his heart, but that he recognized some truth in them. (People don’t generally argue with clowns or people with no credibility. They should stop and think about that before they start challenging or shouting at me.)

People tend to only stand rigid in anger when something has blurred their internal belief system.

It’s pointless to argue with someone wearing clown shoes – so any defensive reaction is in recognition of an arrow cast with keen accuracy.

So, I told him. “You are supposed to let the fools talk. Arguing with them only makes you foolish. If what I say is obviously false, why are you angrily wanting to silence me? It’s all out there, on the internet. Well, not all, but a great deal of it. And those parts which aren’t out there can be inferred. I think I captured the savagery of some of my youth truthfully. And some of the beauty. My story hasn’t changed in 30 years. I think that fact alone gives me a voice of authority and finality.” I wanted him to know that my story wasn’t accusatory; rather, it was history personalized and irrefutable. I wasn’t telling it to draw blood. It was my story – and mine to tell. He had his story to tell if he wants to. He won’t though, because words won’t conceal his complicity. People don’t want to take the time to examine their lives or write about it. I understand it, whether it is laziness or fear of the consequences. We cannot tell our own stories without stepping onto the fringes of other lives. It cannot be done.

“What good does it do? You’re not helping anyone. It’s over,” he said.

“It’s not entirely over. I’m not dead yet – and neither is all of your family. DNA has a lot to say, to reveal many of the lies we’ve been told. I can find things as an adult that our ancestors screamed to silence. Children will grow up and do their own research and find the things we’ve concealed. It took 25 years to find out that my family robbed me of being with a sister I would have undoubtedly appreciated more than my other sister.” I waited.

“DNA isn’t the full story, X. And people kept secrets for a reason.” It seemed like that comment wasn’t full of holes to him.

“Well, why did your parents fight you tooth and nail for no one to do a DNA test? Precisely because they knew you’d find skeletons, bastard children, and stories that would lead to huge lies. I often wonder if people knew if my own Dad had illegitimate children and that I had a black half-sister. It seems likely. They robbed me of all those years with her – and gave my Dad a chance to hide from the consequences of what he’d done. Even now, no one wants to talk about the fact that my Grandfather Terry was ridiculously old to be marrying Grandmother Terry as young as she was. My Grandpa Cook had his own skeletons, but he loved me when he was older. I didn’t know all those stories. The love he had for me was real. Knowing the truth does not change who they were. It might change who we are, though.”

He started to object and I cut him off and continued.

“It helps me. Most of the guilty are dead. I’m not claiming moral superiority. I am better than my ancestors, though. Literally, every moment of your life is over in the sense you use the word, right? Yet, when you think about yourself, you think about the sum of your words and experiences. All history. You can choose another path and never look back. That’s not what we do, though. Telling only the beautiful moments is easy. We are the sum total of what we’ve said or done. We have to earn a reset when we’ve realized we were wrong and offered to make amends.” I knew he hadn’t thought of that.

“What about your motive? It’s obvious that you are writing about it just to hurt people.” He seemed to think that was a rebuttal.

I noted he didn’t challenge the truth of my writing – just its existence.

“My motive? What was the motive when ancestors covered up that my dad killed someone or went to prison? Or beat me with a rake? Or when another family member told me it was my fault that my dad hit me so hard I was coughing blood? History doesn’t hold a motive. And I noticed you failed to mention that there were good times amid all the blood-stained teeth. I don’t just write about the terror. It’s odd that you focus only on the things that you’d rather that people not talk about, that you’re heavy-handedly trying to censor me. I had some great moments when I was young. I’ve never said otherwise and grow tired of people saying I do.”

He was clearly dumbstruck. “Listen, I can’t defend why anyone did or said things. I wasn’t there. But our dads were both more or less good people. They had problems, to be sure.”

I cut him off.

“Most people don’t beat their wife and kids. Or fail to protect kids when they are being beaten. They also don’t use the n-word or hold a buffet of prejudices. Or kill people because they chose to drink and drive. Those aren’t problems. They are psychosis. Family preached that they were superior to black people and that anyone sharing their religion wasn’t welcome in Heaven. My Dad tried to kill me and never faced the consequences of the law or even of family stepping in and demanding he act like a human being. Their silence encouraged him to continue for decades.”

I paused, as he stammered.

“Well, my dad loves God. He’ll be in Heaven.” I could tell he was certain of the fact.

“I know you love your dad. You were almost always good a good person and had a way of sharing laughter everywhere you went. It is possible to be a good person and have a parent or parents who were not good people. It’s okay to say you loved bad people because that is how love works. It’s no sin. It is a sin, though, to insist they were good people because you won’t see the truth of their badness. We have to eclipe the shadow of the people who should have known better.” I waited.

I continued.

“Some of my family looked away while my dad beat me dozens of times. They told me to go back to my dad after he literally tried to kill me. They let my dad lock me in a shed in the middle of summer, and make me eat rotted meat to teach me a lesson. They let dad beat mom and told her it was her fault and god’s will. They told people they were better than dark people. They used their jobs to hurt people who weren’t white. They said gay people were the Devil’s children. And as always, I have to reiterate that I had family members who did stand up sometimes and they were shouted down, too. Some tried. People forget that I acknowledge those people, too.”

“Your dad is a better person than me, I’ll give you that much. He’ll die one day and people will piously say he was a good man. And when he’s gone, I’m still be here, writing, if writing the truth can be twisted to be an accusation instead of a recitation. I stood in silence when people called my grandpa a degenerate drunk, all those years ago. Your dad could be generous and lovely as a person. I’ve said so. I know that the negative drowns out the positive. But that is the point. You can’t escape the totality of what you’ve said and done. People might not have snapped my bones with their own hands but their beliefs pushed them to allow others to do so. Had they ever realized they were wrong and told me as much, it would have been redemptive. People like them rarely do, though.”

I continued. “Your dad insisted that if a thing were true he could say it with a clear conscience. Those words alone give me a license to share my story where it overlaps with my family. And I will. Because I can. Because it’s my story. One day, this conversation will be out there, too. My goal isn’t to find the mud. It’s to tell a story. I can’t change what happened. I can either silence it or share it.”

“You’re an asshole!” he said.

“It’s hereditary. That’s my point. I haven’t beaten anyone to death yet, raped a young girl, or allowed anyone to do it and get by with it, so I guess I’m ahead of our ancestors, aren’t I? As an adult, I have not once allowed another adult to beat a child in my presence. I don’t recall ever saying that I wish the white race were back in charge, that gay people should be put down, or that my religion was the only one.” I laughed.

The phone went silent.

I won’t though.

Ashes To Ashes To Box

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“I’m going to save a lot of money on the receptacle for Aunt Melinda’s ashes, X!” She seemed genuinely excited.

“How so?” I asked.

“My Aunt Melinda was a clairvoyant, seer, and psychic,” Susan told me.

“Okay, I still don’t see how her being a psychic will save you money,” I told her.

“Look here.” She help up her phone for me to see the image. “FedX makes a medium box.”

The Gift Of Memories

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My Aunt Ardith and cousin Jimmy, standing in the front yard of their house on Ann Street.

Once again, I opened my email to discover a message telling me exactly what I needed to hear. A sister of one of my paternal aunts wrote me, telling me she’d noticed I added another 100+ pictures of her sister on Ancestry. These are archived in original resolution. My aunt’s sister told me she’d cried a bit, something she hadn’t expected. I wrote her back and told her I put every usable picture I owned of my aunt on there, in the hopes they might last forever, for anyone to see. I also told her I did the same for my uncle and my cousin Jimmy, both of whom now have hundreds of pictures on their respective pages. If you didn’t guess, putting so many pictures on accounts is a rarity.

It was a labor of love and honor. It’s the least I could do. These pictures are in my possession, but I don’t think I own them. They belong to us all – anyone who shared moments, laughter, or time with those in the pictures.

Yesterday, I wrote a post about high school pictures. I used a horrible picture of myself from many years ago. It was a bit satirical, but the message was one I’ve written about a few dozen times: vanity and hoarding regarding pictures is sinful. I’ve never owned a picture that I haven’t offered to everyone who might have an interest. I don’t get the urge to hoard pictures in a box, under a bed, or in a seldom-used closet.

More than one person got irritated at me for preaching the gospel of sharing. Some people righteously guard their past appearance, as if history isn’t going to kick that door open with time anyway. Others play the role of Gollum and greedily keep their pictures hidden in the crook of their unapproachable arms. The last tendency lessens everyone’s ability to remember and cherish people in our past who’ve passed on to the next life.

When my aunt’s sister reached out yesterday, she didn’t know that it was what I needed to hear. My actions months ago opened her heart again, even if for only for a while yesterday. In those moments, she could see that I had paid homage to her sister, to life, and to people we love.

All those pictures? Some of them have been downloaded dozens of times, each time by someone who discovered my treasure, one freely given. I am merely the guardian.

Love, X