Friday, February 23, 2007

Leaving in silence

It's always sad when a life ends. Death is always tragic. Yet some endings seem somewhat more tragic when they occur in virtual silence. We often ask whether a tree that falls in a forest makes a sound if no one is around to hear it. One can say the same thing about a life.

Before I continue, a little level-set: I'm going to break a longstanding position on my blog of not writing about my extended family. While I write extensively about my wife and children, and the crazy little family unit that we've created, I am decidedly silent on the other folks who have cycled in and out of my life since I first came into the world. As such, you don't hear a whole lot, if anything, about cousins, siblings and other extendeds. It's not my place to write about them.

That'll change, temporarily, today. My father's cousin, Carol, died this week. She had celebrated her 62nd birthday before going to sleep. Just after midnight, she quietly passed away, leaving two children, both in their thirties. Her husband passed away years ago.

She lived a hard life, struggling with her weight, her health and life in general for as long as I can remember. Although as a child I didn't often appreciate her precarious position in life, I came to see glimpses of it in the few times I spoke to her as I got older. She would refer to us as the haves, with houses, cars and opportunities that she never had. She seemed sad that her life never seemed to gain the traction that mine so clearly did. I never knew how to respond. There was no way to reach through the gap between a charmed life and one decidedly less so. I could never find the right words.

It has been years since I saw her. We moved away, got busy, built a very different life in a very different place. We'd hear from extended family members every once in a while who had seen her in passing, but that was about it. Now this.

I write this because when I went to my hometown paper's obituaries page to read the death notice, I saw that there was none. When I continued on to the funeral home's site, her name was there, along with the date and time of the service. Nothing else. No words to remember her by. A half dozen other poor souls had passed away this week, and each one of them seemed to have left something behind. My cousin's page was empty.

It gnawed at me that someone could leave this planet with nothing more than silence, and I thought some words on my blog might ensure she isn't forgotten.

My cousin Carol lived a difficult life, one that wasn't always understood or appreciated by those whose lives she touched. She leaves two children who will doubtless miss their mother's influence as they chart a life without her.

Your turn: What do we leave behind? Please discuss.


Begered said...

I am sorry to hear about your father's cousin. I know exactly what you mean about leaving this world with nothing behind. Death slapped me in the face over the summer when my father passed away. I have been thinking about death a lot lately...I want to make a difference in this world like my father did before I die. That is why I am doing things like raising money for a good cause to run my marathon. I know it's not much, but it is a start.

utenzi said...

That's a tough one, Carmi. I try not to worry about post-death issues but it's impossible not to think about it every now and then. I don't have any kids so if I outlive enough contemporary relatives and friends, I could easily be in the same position as your father's cousin. With your kids and more extensive family and network of friends I doubt you'll ever face that situation.

The other side of this is attitude and it certainly sounds from your brief portrait that she was bitter about life. And not having an obit sounds like she might have even pushed her kids away. That's very sad.

David Edward said...

sorry for the loss in your family, friend.
Somehow, my family has not lost anyone since my fathers untimely death 26 years ago. I don't know what his obit said, but I know he is still missed and still honored on my blog.
being the youngest of five, i mat see a lot of funerals, i suppose.

Snaggle Tooth said...

Hope fully we leave behind love, memories, n empathy.

Sorry to hear no one wanted to fill her page to chronicle her survival here. Reminds me of my fav violin Beatles Tune to play along with, "Eleanor Rigby."

I will light a candle, pray, n play it in her honor in a few minutes.
I can identify with her struggles, having raised two children by myself on very little. I had some prosperous years which didn't last n here I am struggling to pay my way once again.
I'll try to find time to write my own page before it's time to leave...

You have a heart of gold, condolences-

Michael K. Althouse said...

Hi Carmi. I'm not sure what to say. I would hate to think that I passed without notice, that my life meant so little to anyone to pay any attention. At the same time, I believe we create our own destiny and to a large degree, our own luck. There are those with the houses and the cars that appear to be blessed with abundance. Many are the most miserable souls walking the planet. All that money killed Anna Nicole Smith, and now her legacy is a game of grab the cash.

Still, her life must have meant more than the tabloids tell us. Did she not laugh and cry like the rest of us? She once was a child who ran and played and got dirty. At one time she had innocence... but now what is left. A baby girl who is in a legal tug-of-war and a decomposing corpse.

I feel sorry for your cousin and her difficult life. I know what that's like, I've been there - and I was one of the haves. And I found myself in that despair anyway. I also know it doesn't have to be that way. I know that every life is precious - it's just too bad - it doesn't look like she felt hers was.


OldLady Of The Hills said...

It seems a very sad thing Carmi that your 2nd cousin..(If I am correct in that relationship) would leave this world leaving almost no trace...I wonder what impact she had pn her children. You don't say and I understand this is private, but the fact that there was no obituary...that seems so sad and cold, too. You said she had a difficult life....I would love to know in what way...Not curiosity, my dear, mut really interested because people are always interesting to me, especially given what you have shared.
What does one leave...? Well, I would hope that when I go, people will think of me as a good friend who cared...I would like to feel that my life has made a difference in some ways; that I have touched people in some important waysm as George Bailey's life did in "I'ts A Wonderful Life"...I loved the idea of that film that each persons life is important because of the way in which they touch other peoples life....Now that would be a very nice way to be remembered.

awareness said...

Carol left behind lessons.....perhaps different ones for every member of her family......self reflective and contemplative lessons about the choices we make, and about vulnerability and equality and fairness?

I think that how we live our lives and how are lives unfold (because often we don't have a whole lot to say about much as we want "control" of our lives....stuff happens) reveals to us and to others lessons we can all take notice and learn from.

By you posting some of your thoughts and feelings about Carol here, Carmi........I have had an opportunity to think about this question.........I have learned a small lesson from Carol.....

take care.

CG said...

I feel so sad to think of your cousin's passing being so unremarked upon. I'm glad that you can mark the occasion with your memories and your understanding of her problems. I was told recently i was a bit like George Bailey in "It's a wonderful life" - I don't realise that I actually DO make a difference to people. That's one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me.I hope it's true and that after I've gone some people remember me kindly.And believe that I tried to make a difference.

I always remember the words of Anne Frank and her gratitude that the gift she was given for writing enabled her "to go on living after my death".

Bobkat said...

I am very sorry for the loss of your family. This post seemed infinitely sad to me. Your second cousine mourned all her life for the things she didn't have and now she doesn't have an obituary either. What she does have though is a touching tribute to her difficult life in your post.

kenju said...

It is very sad, Carmi, that she had nothing on her obit page, but saddest of all is that she seemed to begrudge others of their achievements (whether monetary or familial). Perhaps her embittered attitude spilled over into her children, and caused them to be the same.

It is seldom that a person cannot have at least one good thing said about them during life or afterward. The universe is better for your post today, and perhaps your words will brighten her journey to whatever is her place in the afterlife.

talj said...

I was saddened to read this and wish to pass my condolences to you, your father and the family.

As for your question, as death has far too recently impacted my life in a huge way I don't feel able to answer.

Sending you warmest wishes x

persia said...

We leave behind memories and if we're any good a better world.

It is sad to hear that your memories of her were that of a difficult life, and worse than that of sadness leading that difficult life.

As awareness said, maybe it can be a lesson for the living of the choices we make and of the (lack of) fairness of life.

Condolences, buddy.

Linda said...

My sincerest condolences on this loss, Carmi. How hard it must be to see nothing to mark her passing.

What do we leave behind? We always leave a legacy. Whether it be a good or bad one, it's a legacy. There's a song by a folk artist, David Roth, called Legacy. This song pretty much sums it doesn't matter the monetary value of your worth, because money doesn't make a person. What we leave behind, our legacy, is how we lived, how we raised our children, how we treated others. I would much rather be remembered as a good-hearted person who did much for many, than to be remembered as someone with a lot of money but no soul.

cinnamon gurl said...

So sorry to hear about your father's cousin.

As inappropriate a time as this is, I wanted to let you know that I listed/tagged you for a Thinking Blogger Award.

Carli N. Wendell said...

I'm sorry for your loss, or, more honestly, her loss. I wonder if people like Carol are pre-programmed to have a lousy lot in life, or if we can change our fates. It's something that's been weighing on me a lot this week. I'm glad that she had you, if not a direct participant in her life, to reflect on her existence, even if to people you've never met.

My main goal is, I don't want people to look at my life as a failure. I hope that my legacy will not be the pain I've caused myself and others. I hope that people remember me and smile at the good times. But mainly, I hope that won't be for a while.

Azgreeneyes said...

Maybe what she left behind was an awareness on others' parts. I'd like to think that when I leave, I will leave behind 2 great and wonderful children, who will be able to pass on my thoughts and stories to their children. I want to leave and be remembered as a mother, daughter, wife, and friend. To me those are the most important.

Seeing you from Michele's today, and I'm so sorry to hear about Carol.

Anonymous said...

I discovered your blog only a week ago, and already you are making me think over some pretty deep, philosophical, theological, I'm not complaining.

First, of all, I was deeply saddened to read about your cousin, Carol...I am sad for her, and also for her immediate family. It almost seems as tho she was living on the perimeters of her own life...only existing, never really "living"...your descriptions of her reflect a kind of "disconnectedness", cynicism, and apathy. How strange that her own children didn't feel compelled to say something, anything, about her death - or her life. She sounded lonely, and sad - and it is good to know, at least, that she apparently didn't suffer at her time of dying....she may have suffered more than any of us can imagine in her living. Perhaps she suffered from genuine depression, and no one ever knew how to help her to understand. Perhaps the darkness of her daily existance kept her a "prisoner", and no one found the keys to help unlock those heavy doors.

Your words are like a kind of "ulogy", and your compassion is evident... this is truly meaningful, in the face of what seems to be so much emptiness. She is not an one-of-a-kind, isolated example of such a life tho. There are others out there, who have given up on hope, on possibilities, on themselves. We may pass by them in the grocery store, or they may be our next door neighbor...or they may even be related to us. If we notice their "emptiness", do we reach out to them? Do we try to give them a "hand up"? Do we offer a kindness, before they are gone from this life?

Your question, "what do we leave behind", is probing, complex, and terribly important. It is one that we all should ask ourselves, and more often than we might prefer. (Did your cousin ever ask this question? Did she teach her children to?) What do I HOPE I am leaving behind? It is my hope, that in my relationships, both personal and professional, that I have somehow touched each person with compassion, kindness, empathy, patience, understanding, fairness, compassion and with love. I hope that my family and friends will remember me as someone who really knew how to love....and how to reach out, against all odds, to share and to give, wherever a need existed. I try to heal, where brokenness is evident. To share the love that I have been given, and to build up a little bit of Heaven, here on earth. If I am remembered for anything, I don't want it to be for the car I drove, the clothing I wore, or the house I lived in. I pray it will be for the way I lived, and what I gave away...the quality of that giving, not the quantity. To quote a line from one of my favorite movies (A Love Divided), "Love is too precious and life is too short without it".

Thank you for giving us something not-so-trivial to think about the face of SO MUCH trivia that comes across our computer screens each day.

God Bless you and yours, Carmi.

get zapped said...

Your post touched my heart. I'm sorry to hear your cousin didn't shine. My friend's father passed away recently and they are having a service for him today. My good friend is sharing a tribute he wrote for his father at the service. It's interesting how some people are honored more than others. I'm sad but, happy you have shed some light on your cousin's life. We can all learn from her. I hope to leave an example of living life fully, by expressing and my creative talents and sharing my little world with those I love and whom I'll never meet. But, more than anything, I hope to inspire my two nephews and niece, to be all they can be, to shine brightly!

Anonymous said...

P.S. I need to make a quick (but important) correction to my commments post. The misquoted that line from the movie (duh...). It goes like this:
"Love is too precious and life is too LONG without it".

Em said...

Sorry to hear about your loss. Even family that we so rarely see still hold a place in our hearts.

Cristin B said...

Michele sent me...

I've often tried to imagine my own funeral. I fully expect to outlive my parents and my husband, and quite possibly my sister. My nephew will be around, but it doesn't look at the moment like we're going to be close. I have no children, and very few friends. I live somewhat isolated, sparsely in touch with relatives. I'm in the process of making peace with the possibility of a silent passing of my own.

For those left behind, I think it's important to remember that human connections require effort on the part of both parties. If your cousin never could get past your differences in "status", that is sad. There is much more to life than money and possessions, and even other people. One of our primary goals in life should be to be at true peace with our SELVES by the end of it.

Anna said...

I am so sorry Carmi for your loss. That is heartbreaking that her passing was essentially unnoticed...that is hard to imagine.

I hope that I can leave behind love....that my children, my family and friends and those who I only encounter for a short time can feel loved.

That love would be from Christ....

Anonymous said...

My Condolences Carmi, it's never easy when a family member dies, even if you weren't all that close with them it still seems to affect you.
I agree with Mr Althouse's comment that we make our own luck, I know I have done so.
Your Cousin sounds like my mother, she is very easily depressed, dwells heavily on the negative & on what 'should have been' She very certainly choses how her life is though she would tell you she didn't.
Either way, your cousin is at peace now. All those percieved inequitys are righted for her now I'm sure.
Here from Micheles.

Shephard said...

Hopefully, we leave behind a loving, compassionate and very human example.

Thought-provoking post.

Anonymous said...

You know, with a very young child, that's a question I can't even bear to think about.

So sorry for Carol's kids.

Denise B. said...

A few years ago, my best friend's mom died. Lola was a fantastic Christian woman. The church was filled to overflowing for her funeral. Her departure was bittersweet. We all had broken hearts for the emptiness she left, but we knew she was with her Savior, and happy. I cried more for her than I did for my own grandmother. As we were leaving the cemetery, our Pastor looked at my pinched face and said, "And that's how Christians die."

I want to leave a similar legacy. The love people felt for her, from her, was undeniable. She was so much an example of true Christianity. That's what I want.

Star said...

I am sorry for your loss CArmi. If you remeber her, then she has left something beind.

Anonymous said...

Hi Carmi. Michele sent me.

I am so sorry to hear of your cousin's passing. I understand both her feelings of "the haves and have nots" and yours of not knowing how to respond.

I can't imagine not having an obituary or a tribute. When my father passed, my mother had hardly any money to put towards a grand casket, huge wake, etc. But she was determined that he would have a great memorial service (he did) and a long, full obituary. How sad that one of her children didn't take the time to at least write a paragraph for her.

Her life was not completely silent, however. Hopefully her children will be inspired to reach out for more and it's obvious that she has had an impact on your life. It does make one think, however. When I am tempted to see myself as a "have not", I will change my attitude to think of myself as a "reaching to be more". Thank you for the insight.

Minerva said...

How very sad Carmi, and how lovely that you by blogging about her, remember and celebrate her...

The saddest thing of all though is the bitterness because that is only perception, not reality isn't it?

I am far too close to mortality myself to answer the question about what we leave behind without crying (!) but hopefully, it spurs us on to live every minute of every day that we are lucky to have on this earth...

Thinking of you and your cousin,


Anonymous said...

Please accept my most sincere condolances.

Anonymous said...

How sad for her that no one had anything to say. But that doesn't mean that she will not be missed, will not be forgotten. You certainly have all of us to say a prayer for her.
What will I leave behind? That's a difficult question to answer. I don't think I have ever really thought about it. Maybe that's part of the naivety of being young and feeling like my life is just starting. But I would want to pass onto my children the belief that we can make a difference. The importance of activism and knowledge. And I hope, that people would see how much love I have inside and how I tried to share that with them.
I guess that's why I scrapbook. So that future generations would be able to share in the things that were important to me. See what I see, feel what I feel.

Ash said...

We leave behind a legacy and memories.

Deepest condolenses to you and your family.

L said...

I'm sorry for your loss :(

Gyrobo said...

Individual people are designed to be phased out.

With each successive generation, the specific details of an ancestor's life fades. But society at large preserves certain aspects of a person, a manner of speaking, an offbeat gait; fragments of an extinguished mindset.

scrappintwinmom said...

I'm so sorry for your family's loss. To answer your question, we leave behind good memories, and hopefully, the world is a better place because of you. Part of the reason why I scrapbook is to chronicle our family's history beyond the "5 w's"; I want my kids and their kids to have a piece of me, to see inside my head - which can be a scary place from time to time. ;)

Unknown said...

Carol and I lead sort of parallel lives. I'm the havenot of my family, and I have no contact with any other members of my family. I think I would probably have the same sort of reaction at my death. Except that I have my children, who love me desperately and who will be there for me as I age.

Since I don't work anymore, I don't have coworkers to remember me by, and I do have friends, but most of them are far away. I just don't know. You pose a tough question. What do any of us leave?

Olyal said...

Carmi, It's so nice that you've managed to create something as a tribute to her. I believe that we are not really gone as long as people remember us. Once there is no longer anyone who remembers us, then we and any good work we have done or messages we had for the world die just like our bodies have done.

Your tribute to Carol ensures that she lives on that bit longer in the thoughts of her family, your friends, and even complete strangers who at this moment cannot get her story out of their heads.

I wish you and your family a long and happy life Carmi. Take care.

rashbre said...

A touching tribute.
My condolences.

Young Lady said...

I am sorry about your second cousin. Death is not easy, but you writing a little tribute in your blog brought a tear to my eye. You should be very proud Carmi

heartinsanfrancisco said...

It does seem wrong that nobody spoke of how Carol's life impacted others. We are conditioned to expect some kind of accounting, but perhaps those who knew her best were too stunned by their loss to do so. Or perhaps they believed that such accounting would best be done by God.

I have no idea what my children will say about me when I go, but we are not a silent family. They will speak their minds and, I hope, their hearts. And hopefully, they will remember that I am lurking nearby, listening, so it better be good.

I think that one of Carol's lessons to us all is to live our lives so that we will be missed for our kindness, compassion, and wisdom, and also, God willing, for some good laughs.

Anonymous said...

Please accept my condolences on the loss of your family member.
She sounded like a very sad soul. Your post about her was both kind and poignant. So she wasn't forgotten after all.
My mother's passing and funeral was much like this. But I've always we live our lives, so we will end them. Perhaps that's why I love to be surrounded with family and numerous friends.

Anonymous said...

I just want to comment on the obit... Maybe she did not want an obit, for whatever reasons. My parents, both have stated they do not want an obit. They just want a small quiet funeral when the time comes. Nothing else. There is no reason beyond the fact they are private people. They just do not want it. Period. End of story. =-) There passing will be remembered in whatever way everyone choses; remembered if there was a simple RIP notice or a long soul searching thought provoking novelette.
So to those saddened by the lack of an obit, don't read more into it than for what it is, lack of an obit doesn't mean the person was not loved, or thought about by someone, somewhere regularily.
Some of us are just pragmatic about it. Myself, just cremate me and scatter my ashes about. No fanfare, it is part of the cycle.

Anonymous said...

(Don't add this to the comments, but I forgot to sign my comment, if you wish to edit it and add my name before publishing it.)


carmilevy said...

Quick note to Alex:
I'm not able to edit existing comments. If you wish to re-post, please feel free to do so.

Otherwise, I'll leave your original one up.

Either way is fine with me. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the blog.