Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Death of a family man.

Grandpa launches son Greg
My sweet grandpa is in his last days, at home on hospice care. He's not eating much anymore, and the nurse has explained that that is normal--when a person is ready to die, feeding the body no longer makes sense.

He's started hearing a lot of phantom music and seeing phantom people--but mostly babies. Not his dead mother or father or wife or adult son or any of his 13 dead siblings.....but unidentified little babies. I've never heard accounts of dying people seeing mostly babies, and I find it curious. It could of course just be a hallucination--a figment of his imagination, but even if it is, it probably speaks to the unique workings of his mind. Maybe a conscious or subconscious awareness of how his current struggle is nothing more than being born into a strange new world, just as he was 91 years ago? Or maybe thinking back on his life and the most important moments, his imagination is drawn to the little ones he has cherished and the expansion of his beloved family?

On the other hand, my religious faith suggests that there's a very real possibility he's seeing something that's actually there, albeit in a different dimension. Could the babies be those of his great-grandchildren that he will meet in the next world rather than in this one? Maybe including the little one who was born just a few days ago here in Utah? Could some of those be ones I've left stranded by my long spinsterhood?
Grandpa rocking granddaughter Kelly

I have full confidence in the ability of Grandpa to help the babies get sorted out, whatever they want from him. And if he has to advise some of them to just give up on me and sign on for the next Jolie-Pitt delivery, they should take his advice. He's a good man who has his head on straight, even if he's seeing phantom babies. BECAUSE he's seeing phantom babies. Babies are the future, the new cool thing--and heaven is not just restoring the lost past, but adding upon the present. My grandpa gets that, even as he fades away, because he's the ultimate family man.  Kiss the babies for me, Grandpa!

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

The world is many and is mad, but we are sane and we are one.

I've been down the last three months, and my good dead friend Gilbert Keith Chesterton has allowed me to prop my chin up on his big warm heart through the emotionally dreary winter. I've been after his prose only--he was no great poet--but I've come across some deeply felt poems for his wife that have warmed me. I posted one here (in the comments) three years ago--here are two others I just found:

Love's Trappist

There is a place where lute and lyre are broken.
Where scrolls are torn and on a wild wind go,
Where tablets stand wiped naked for a token,
Where laurels wither and the daisies grow.

Lo: I too join the brotherhood of silence,
I am Love's Trappist and you ask in vain,
For man through Love's gate, even as through Death's gate,
Goeth alone and comes not back again.

Yet here I pause, look back across the threshold.
Cry to my brethren, though the world be old,
Prophets and sages, questioners and doubters,
O world, old world, the best hath ne'er been told!

Creation Day

Between the perfect marriage day
  And that fierce future proud, and furled,
I only stole six days--six days
  Enough for God to make the world.

For us is a creation made
  New moon by night, new sun by day,
That ancient elm that holds the heavens
  Sprang to its stature yesterday--

Dearest and first of all things free,
  Alone as bride and queen and friend,
Brute facts may come and bitter truths,
  But here all doubts shall have an end.

Never again with cloudy talk
  Shall life be tricked or faith undone,
The world is many and is mad,
  But we are sane and we are one.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


It was a suicide. The man who swept exuberantly into my life ten years ago and helped restore my faith is gone--by his own hand--because he felt he had not made a difference in the world. I was in the Bountiful Temple a few days ago, thinking about him, remembering when he took our student group to the Winter Quarters and Nauvoo Temples. Praying for his family, and asking for forgiveness for not sending him a Christmas card this year. I didn't send anyone a Christmas card this year. Christmas cards are sort of goofy, right? Especially when you're Facebook friends with someone and they can see everything you do all year and can easily interact with you. But I will always wonder if a renewed expression of my gratitude to him could have made him feel a little better about the worth of his life--enough better to erase this awful ending. As I sat in the temple I asked God to let him know what I was thinking, and to comfort his wife and children.

I was in a hurry to get to the temple, so I forgot to remember that in the dark I was passing Holbrook Canyon right as I arrived--but I noticed it as I was leaving, and a flood of emotion hit me. Four months ago I got lost alone, far off trail, in the Sessions Mountains. I wandered for eight hours, five of those in the dark, pushing through branches, climbing over boulders, wading through streams, and finally stumbled back to the Holbrook trailhead scratched, bruised, wet, and relieved. As I emerged from the gully, the brightly lit spire of the Bountiful Temple, with its trumpeting Moroni, rose out of the dark and silent ground to greet me--the first evidence of civilization. I was so delighted that I called out in the dark, "Hello, beautiful temple!"  I was no longer alone and afraid. God had led me safely through a scary and solitary time and was restoring me to life and community--many of the same feelings of elation I had when God put Rulon in my path and used him to lead me out of a time of doubt, fear, and private suffering. As I passed Holbrook Canyon my brain instantly made the connection between the two events and the tears returned. He had killed himself in the mountains. On a hike, alone. Removed from the world he felt he'd failed.

I have no doubt that he was an answer to my prayers, and one of the most clear and dramatic answers I've ever received to a prayer, in the way he, without knowing my concerns, addressed each of them.  Most importantly, though, he was proof to me that God had been listening and caring that I was alone and afraid and put me in the path of someone who knew those feelings and was able to help, even if unwittingly. That he succeeded in helping with my particular problems and questions was secondary to the fact that God's hand was revealed by putting me in the path of this incredibly generous stranger.

My dead blog is a pathetic place for a tribute to someone who felt his life was for nought. But I think if he'd really understood just how important--how pivotal--a figure he was in my life, he would not have been able to believe he'd made no difference. I'm just one person, but I promised God I'd try to do good with my restored faith, and now I promise Rulon as well. Rest in peace, friend. Your spiritual lineage continues in those you loved and served.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Filial obligation post.

My dad told me he wants me to blog more. As an eldest child, I'm compelled to comply, so here we go:

Hi, Dad! It's past my bedtime, but I'm still going to say my prayers and brush my teeth, because my dad didn't raise no smelly-breathed heathen babies.


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Blasphemous self-consolations.

I get pretty intense baby lust during Christmas. All those images of the new little family with the angelic sleeping baby switch on something fierce and I find myself feeling a bit sad about my situation. The music is to blame, too. I can only think of one Christmas carol that presents the realities of parenthood, and that one's in Spanish--"Los peces en el rio," with its mention of diaper washing and the sore hands that result. And I can only think of one Christmas song ("Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella") in which yacky visitors to the stable are chastised for risking waking the baby.

What if the Baby Jesus was really a colicky wailer?

Allergic to donkey hair?

A not-so-tiny trial to his parents?

The Bible doesn't say, so I'm going to assume that he was, because believing this will help get me through the holiday self-pity-free.

Here are some possible adjustments to the Christmas carols:

The *%@!! cattle are lowing, the Baby they wake
Then little Lord Jesus a ruckus He makes


The Child, the Child, wailing in the night
He will bring us goodness and light
If we just can get through this night


Shall I play for you, pa-rum-puh-pum-pum
On my drum?
Mary shook her head and said, "Are you a sadist, drummer punk?? I just got Him to sleep!"


Yea, Lord, we greet Thee,
Born this happy morning;
Why are You crying--is it something we said?
Word of the Father,
Now in flesh, and wailing
Yes, come, you may adore Him,
But please be very quiet
No, really--SUPER quiet
Or don't come at all.

A thrill of hope, the weary pair rejoices
For yonder lies their Child, still at last
Fall on your knees
But please don't wake Him up
We don't want those gifts
We'd rather have some sleep
And if you sing that high note here
We'll kick you out.

Endless night, sleepless night!
All was calm, 'til you turned on the light
We know you came to adore our sweet Child
So put Him to sleep, since you got Him riled.
Dream of heavenly peace,
Where is the heavenly peace?

Angels we have heard on high
Sweetly singing o’er the plains
Woke the Baby Jesus up
As did all the passing trains.

Glo-oooooo-ooooo-oooooria, in excelsis Deo!
That's ve-e-ry-y pre-tty-y bu-ut please ke-ep i-it down out there! That is what we pray-o.

Shepherds, why this jubilee?
Why your joyous strains prolong?
Use your inside voices, please
If you insist on singing songs.

Glo-oooooo-ooooo-oooooria, in excelsis Deo!
Why aa-are yo-oou still si-iin-gi-ing, have yo-oou no-o pi-i-ty? Ple-ease do not stay-o.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

I am not a professional, so don't bother suing me for malpractice.

A really good church talk on self-loathing and emotional healing this last Sunday brought the topic of avoidant personality disorder back to my mind. I have absolutely no qualifications other than a whole lot of Internet reading, but I'm pretty sure a good 15% to 20% of my single friends have this disorder to some degree. The percentage in the general population is around 1% to 5%, but among us leftover solitary souls it has got to be much higher. The more I read about this affliction, the more I'm convinced that I'm seeing evidence of it in many of the single people around me:

Avoidant Personality Disorder

An avoidant individual has a pathological mistrust of others, always expects to eventually be rejected, and often subconsciously behaves in such a way as to hasten the rejection and so relieve the anxiety over waiting for eventual rejection. They may have friends, but few or no close friends. By avoiding others or behaving in a hostile manner they mask their vulnerabilities and their desire for connection and enter into a cycle of self-fulfilling negative prophecy--they consciously or unconsciously "test" their friends and family to see if they will be loved unconditionally in spite of offputting behavior. During these tests, people who would not have rejected the avoidant individual often walk away from the relationship not because they want the relationship to end, but because they believe that the avoidant individual wants the relationship to end (because the avoidant individual is continually reclusive or hostile). The avoidant takes this as further evidence that they are not lovable and that people cannot be trusted and the cycle of chronic self-loathing and mistrust continues. In certain avoidant individuals this offputting behavior ironically manifests as a mask of superiority, designed to convince themselves that they are too good for the person who they fear will reject them--this is supposed to protect them from feeling sad or inferior if/when that future rejection (imagined or real) occurs. They often fantasize about themselves in ideal relationships, while believing that good relationships are not possible for them.

Possible genetic predispositions are assumed, but a large percentage of avoidants had childhoods marked by some sort of parental rejection or neglect or excessive criticism. Another common background for avoidants is a parent who required them to serve as a substitute spouse--i.e., to help with other siblings to a degree that was inappropriate for a child or to share in too many of the emotional burdens felt by a custodial parent after a divorce or other family upheaval. In the case of the rejecting/neglecting parent, the avoidant individual comes to believe that unconditional love, which is supposed to be a hallmark of parental love, is a fantasy, or that they specifically are unworthy of being loved unconditionally by anyone since their parent did not love them unconditionally--that there is something uniquely wrong with them that caused that parental rejection and that will cause others to reject them as well. In the case of those avoidants who were required to serve as a substitute spouse for a parent, they come to see love as a burden, a chore, and have trouble believing that it can also be a joy and a comfort, so often they feel a lessened motivation to try to be close to others due to their belief that any real-world relationship will be too much pain and not enough pleasure.

Frequently counseling consists of encouraging the avoidant person to force themselves to endure relationships longer than is comfortable for them. This gives them the opportunity to see that what they have historically viewed as rejections from others often are minor misunderstandings that mean little to the other person and do not reflect any negative judgment of the avoidant individual. By forcing themselves to endure anxiety for longer stretches they get better at dealing with the stress and are able to experience more of the positive aspects of relationships that can only develop over time, thus opening up the possibility that they will begin to accumulate evidence that their views of themselves have been excessively negative and that they are worthy of being loved.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Why is my life so easy? Why did I get away with so much good fortune when so many of those around me suffer every day with anxieties like these? I have such great admiration for those who keep trying, whether or not they understand exactly why they're struggling or how to heal.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Pioneer Day: Suffering Saints.

Emil Herman Emanuel Christensen
It wasn't many years ago that I learned that my great-great grandfather, Emil Herman Emanuel Christensen, a convert from Denmark, committed suicide--and at the same time finally understood why photos of his daughter Lillian, my great-grandmother, almost always show her with a mournful face.

It turns out he was an alcoholic. This was not terribly unusual in Utah Territory at the time, as the alcohol prohibition of the Mormon Word of Wisdom, while encouraged, was not yet enforced as a entrance requirement for the temples. That policy change didn't happen until 1902, when he was 39 years old and well set in his addiction.

As the story was told to me, he had not long prior managed to quit drinking long enough to earn permission to enter the temple and be sealed to his wife and children--a very joyful event for the family. But soon thereafter he relapsed, and the despair of failing his family and religious community drove him to hang himself.  No doubt Lillian's sad face reflects the burdens laid on an eldest daughter in a household with a drunken father, and (later) no father.
Lillian Christensen Fullmer Brown

I mourn for Emil Herman Emanuel Christensen, who battled with what was seen at the time as a solely moral failing, and failed. Had he lived in this time, he would have had far more powerful options for grappling with and overcoming this demon, and his daughter's face might not have been so sad for so long. I don't know his character, but I like to believe he would have succeeded if he had been given more tools for recovery.

So the question becomes--was it cruel to exclude people like my great-great grandfather from the temple? People with crippling addictions who didn't know how to overcome them? Can part of the blame for his suicide be attributed to that strict new temple admission rule?

Perhaps in light of what we know now, it was cruel--perhaps one could say that he wasn't given a fair chance to beat his alcoholism, and so should not have been made to suffer socially and religiously.

But there is also his sad daughter to consider, and the marred family life that resulted from her father's drinking. Without that harsh shaming laid on alcoholism beginning in 1902, perhaps the great shift to sober living would not have happened in the Mormon community--a shift that has blessed my life and the lives of countless others. The heavy weight of chemical addiction has largely been lifted from faithful Mormons through this social and religious pressure, making it easier for families to remain intact, making us more productive, and adding years to our lives.
Death certificate of Emil Christensen

I am so sad for you, great-great grandfather Christensen, that you had to be the one to live in that moment when the traditions of thousands of years bumped up against a difficult new standard. I doubt I would have fared better in your place, given my own rather addiction-prone nature. But thank you for taking the blow in that moment and for signaling to your children through your efforts to quit--and even through your suicide--that you viewed your actions as wrong and believed that there was a better way. For all the sadness your sad end caused, and even though that tragedy was unnecessary, you stood at the beginning of a new tradition in our family, and by it I have been greatly blessed.

Rest in peace.