Category Archives: family

A Cautionary Tale

I have a friend. A dear friend; the dearest possible friend. We met when I was in my early 30s; she was 25 years my senior. We were (are) both writers.

When I moved away from the town in which we both lived, we began a correspondence. An almost-daily correspondence. At first it was letters via snail mail (which would cross in the mail), then fax, then email. We were quite intimate with our conversations, covering the whole emotional ranges of our very different lives.

correspondence

Thirty Years of Correspondence

We talked very eloquently about our divorces, our marriages. We talked about infidelity. We talked about our children and various problems we had with them, their illnesses, their marriages, both successful and failed. We talked about ourselves, our histories, our futures, our feelings, in excruciating detail, because that’s what writers do. We talked about our glory moments and our devastations. There was nothing off  limits for us to discuss with sometimes brutal honesty. As we saw it at the time.

Imagine my astonishment when about three years ago she mentioned that she had kept–was keeping–all that correspondence. It was all boxed up, in her office closet.

This is stuff that could wound, hurt, devastate her children, my children, my husband. This was personal, very confidential stuff between two people. It never occurred to me, not once in all these years, that what we had written to each other had been saved. I assumed she let it drift into the ether as I had.

But her reasoning, she said, was that one day she would cull through it, excerpting it, writing the book of our friendship.

She is elderly now, and doesn’t remember the tortuous times we wrote about. She doesn’t remember the emotional firestorms we went through that we dissected, how we helped each other through rough patches, how we helped each other understand the motivations of those who slashed us to the core.

Needless to say, since this revelation of the existence of these papers, I have been far more judicious in things I say to her. I mourn the loss of that intimacy, and am a little bit resentful that I have to edit myself in this way.

When I asked for these papers, her caretaker (a family member) said she wanted to go through it for family history.  When I told her it was private communication not meant for others’ eyes, she was unmoved.

I had terrible thoughts of my friend’s children reading our letters and having their worlds rocked by what they read—the truth about their mother’s most intimate inner musings–and her friend’s unabashed opinions.

So I became determined, absolutely resolute, that this material would be shredded. I began to get insistent. I may have hurt some feelings in the process.

Yesterday, seven boxes were delivered to me by FedEx.

I breathed a sigh of relief that it is now in my hands, and no one will ever read it.

I do not regret baring my soul, naked, with both beauty and ugliness, to my dearest friend in all the world, but I’m sorry that we did not have an agreement beforehand about the disposal of our correspondence.

This is a cautionary tale.

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Filed under Aging, family, regrets, relationships, Writing, years

Family Values

I hear a lot about “family values,” although never more than during an election cycle.

My question is: What are family values? People tout that phrase all the time, yet when pressed, I can’t imagine that a one of them could mention a single value that would fill the bill.

values

(As an aside: People who talk about “family values” are usually the same people who say they’re fighting for “social justice,” but I suggest that most of them cannot define “justice.”)

So for people interested in values, these are the seven that I hold dear. I believe they are universal as well as personal. I believe they are inherent in our DNA. I believe that any law written anywhere should be held up to this short list of values to see if it passes muster. If so, let it be. If not, then tweak it until it does.

Life

Equality

Quality of Life

Opportunity for Personal Growth

Empathy

Compassion

Love for Humanity

Please note that Life, Equality, and Opportunity for Personal Growth are strangely similar to: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, a phrase etched into the Declaration of Independence. Those men knew what they were talking about.

These are good values for your family. If we all taught our children to admire these values and adhere to them as adults, our society would be a better place. Our world would be a better place.

It’s never too late to adopt them as your own.

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Filed under Beauty, family, goals, Goodness, Truth, Uncategorized

Hi, Dad.

Hi, Dad.

I understand that you’re nearing the end of your journey here. We’ll miss you when you cross the threshold, but it won’t be that many years before I’ll see you on the other side. I know you don’t think that’s in the cards for us, but to my mind, this whole earthly experience would be meaningless if relationships weren’t carried on—for eternity, if we choose.

I hope you can look back on your life with great pride in your accomplishments and very few regrets. We’re all human, subject to the vicissitudes and frailties of human existence, but your unshakeable, unwavering faith in God has always been an inspiration to me, even as we all fall prey to our baser natures now and again. Take with you all your exquisite memories of joy and peace and family and love, and just leave the other memories behind. They’re the product of a material existence, and will have no reality in the next world.

I’ve come to understand that the veil between this life and the next is very thick and impenetrable when we’re young and it thins out as we grow older. Now, I expect, you’ve got a foot in both worlds now and then, perhaps even crossing over when you’re sleeping, and stepping back into this world when you awaken. Don’t be afraid to just look over your left shoulder at the light and walk toward it. There’s no reason for you to linger in a world of pain and disease. Your angels will help you make the transition if you ask them and then listen carefully for their instructions.

I believe that what you find there will surprise you; the next step on a marvelous eternal journey of love and universe adventure in our Father’s service. Grandpa is already there, and I hope you’ll look him up, or maybe he’ll be there to greet you. I’ll certainly look for you when I arrive, and we’ll have a nice time talking over old memories of our strange earthly association from the new perspective of spirit.

I’ll love you forever.

–Liz.

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Filed under Aging, Death, family, Graduation, peace, Spirituality

Evan Engstrom – 1942-2010

Heaven is richer today for the presence of my former husband and one of my best friends of all time. Evan Emil Engstrom died yesterday after a 26-year battle with cancer. The man was a warrior. 

I first met Evan when we were both struggling to get sober. I knew his sister and she was everything I wanted to be. Shortly thereafter, I met his mom and his kids, and knew this was the family for me. We married, I adopted his two wonderful children, and we set out to have a full life together. Evan was incredibly smart, the master of the one-line zingers, handy and clever, but most of all, he cared. Deeply. About everything, all the time. He wanted to do the right thing in all situations. My honorary Uncle Paul told me to marry “a man I could live up to.” Evan was just such a man, and he provided a moral compass for me from the moment we met, as well as everyone with whom he came into contact.

It wasn’t long after we married that Evan’s dentist found a small lump under his tongue. The surgery to eradicate this squamous cell carcinoma took the floor of his mouth, all the lymph nodes and big muscle on the left side of his neck, and required a skin graft from his thigh. The doctor told me: “The chances of his being here in two years are slim and none.” Well, they didn’t know Evan.

We moved from Maui to Oregon to provide a broader perspective of life for the kids, began to eat organically, raising most of our own food, and for a long time life was good. Eventually, however, we began to see that while we were really good friends, we did not make good mates. We discussed the fact that friendship is eternal while marriages are likely not, and we were in danger of losing our friendship as we toiled to maintain a broken marriage. So we separated, and eventually divorced, still committed to one another, still connected to one another via the heart, forever, in this world and throughout the next.

When I married Al, Evan came to our wedding. His classic comment: “I’ll come to all of your weddings, Liz, if there’s a meal in it for me.” Al had to know that my commitment to Evan was part of my family unit. And when Evan and Sharon discovered each other in a new way, we all became one big happy weird family, impossible to describe, but precious in every way.

Evan’s cancer came back. Again. And again. And yet again. He never gave up the fight against it, not after all the rest of us thought it might be a good idea that he just let go and let God. But he wanted to see his kids grow up. He wanted to see his grandkids grow up. And for the most part, he did. He leaves his two wonderful children, Nicole and Eron, and five grandsons, Luke, age 19, Joey, 17, Edison, 8 and Dean and Davison, both 3.

Evan left us too early. I particularly grieve that he and Sharon had such limited time together to explore their new relationship, to travel the world in happy retirement. But it is what it is, and we are all richer for knowing and loving him for as long as he was on loan to us.

Congratulations on your graduation, Evan. We all look forward to seeing you on the other side.

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Filed under Aging, Cancer, Death, Dying, family, Graduation, Marriage, relationships

Those Waves of Grief

It’s been two years since my mother passed away, and every now and then I am blindsided by onrushing waves of grief that are so intense and severe that they verge on disabling. They don’t last very long, because I refuse to dwell in the guilt that always accompanies grief, but when they happen, they always surprise me.

My mother and I were good when she died. We had a stormy relationship from the very beginning, but by the time she breathed her last, we were good.

Last week I realized that the waves of grief stem from personal reflection and memories of things I wish I could apologize for. I’d like to just call her up and say, “Mom, I’m so sorry I was such a little shit.” But I can’t. She’s gone. And I have to live with the fact that there are years of amends I can no longer make to her. She never demanded or even asked for any kind of apology. She loved me with a parent’s unconditional love and affection, rewriting history in her mind as she grew older until we were all perfect children in her memory.

I have only to trust that I’ll see her again, and if those things are still important in that place where we’ll meet, I’ll have the opportunity to make it all good then.

In the meantime, these waves of grief and guilt are testimony not only to my enduring love for her, but my personal spiritual growth that allows me to reflect and realize these things. Wherever she is, I know she understands.

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Filed under Aging, Death, family, regrets, relationships, Spirituality

Have We No Shame?

I haven’t been feeling well lately, so haven’t posted, because I was uncertain as to whether my impatience with Jon and Kate and the whole Letterman affair was due to my feeling low, or if I was really fed up.

Well, the verdict is in. I’m fed up.

Jon and Kate: You should be ashamed of yourselves.

You’ve had your fifteen minutes of fame,  you’ve entertained some folks, your children are adorable, and worth way more than you’re giving them.

Kate: go home. Tend your children. You have EIGHT of them, for cryin’ out loud. What are you doing making the talk show circuit when you should be home being a mom to your kids?

Jon: Go home. Get a job. Forget the television series and all the unearned bucks it throws into your pockets, and act like a father and a provider and a gentleman. We’re sick to bloody death of your spotlight addiction and airing the minutia of your dirty laundry every time I log on or turn on the television. Enough, already.

Mr. Letterman: You broke my heart. I have been such a die-hard fan of yours since the very beginning, and I have cheered for you and celebrated with you and worried over you. And now I find out that you’re just another one of “those guys” who cheats on his woman with sleazy office romances. This is so far beneath you I cannot even express my disappointment.

You’re a victim on top of a victim, and I think that is a shame, but you brought it all on yourself. I hope you can hold your family together for the sake of your young son. At least you’re not rubbing our noses in this distasteful turn of events every time I turn the television on.

No, someone else is doing that. And we watch it.

If we demanded that the talking heads shut up about all of this, perhaps they’d find something else to talk about. Something educational. Something worthwhile, something that would enrich the lives of those of us who watch their programs. Even something entertaining, instead of endlessly slogging through tiny details, twisting and turning them, trying to find a fresh angle.

They do it because we watch it.

Not me. Not any more.

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Filed under disappointment, family, Marriage, Promotion, relationships, Resentment, Social Consciousness

I’ve Been Arrested. Again!

This time every year, I go to jail for the March of Dimes.
 
I support this organization because they do so much for the babies. Al and I have three healthy (adult) kids and eight (count ’em!) healthy grandkids, and we’re making a donation in gratitude for each of those eleven healthy bodies.
 
If you have healthy children or grandchildren, won’t you consider making a donation, too? The March of Dimes is working tirelessly on behalf of the children.
 
Consider this: 1 in 10 babies is born premature, half for unknown reasons.
 
1 in 33 babies is born with a birth defect.
 
1 in 8 women receive inadequate prenatal care.
 
Premature birth and birth defects are th eleading causes of death in the first year of life. 
 
The March of Dimes is working on all of this and more, but they need to keep their funding to keep up the research.
 
Please help. Even $5 makes a difference.
 
 
Thanks!

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Filed under Beauty, family, Goodness, Social Consciousness, Truth