Posts Tagged family

Different ways to mourn — remembering my dad

My dad passed away three weeks ago. It was relatively fast, being about two weeks after learning he had stage four cancer, but dying can be one of those things that takes both too long and not long enough at the same time. The times he got to play with my kids on the floor certainly weren’t long enough, and the times watching him be in so much pain felt like they would go on forever.

My dad was born in 1931, into a family that was pretty much broken already. When he later got a stepfather, they got on so poorly that dad ended up in an orphanage, which evidently people did at the time. He wandered most of his life, tallying up two failed marriages and five kids in his travels back and forth across the country. He met a girl who introduced him to the Church, but it he wasn’t really interested in religion. The young missionaries didn’t impress him, and he was used to his life doing whatever he felt like doing. Eventually he was befriended by an older couple, who taught and fellowshipped him. He quit smoking and drinking cold turkey, got baptized, and wholeheartedly turned his life to God.

He eventually met and married my mother, 20 years his junior, and they’d been married for 45 years. He could never seem to figure out how to do the whole “parenthood” thing, but one of the biggest lessons I got from him was how to be a Dad. Nothing tangible or easily explained, it just is. Though I don’t recall ever hearing how he personally felt about his faith (aside from various testimony meetings), he did every calling ever requested of him as completely as possible, no matter what the challenge. He was scrupulous in his Home Teaching and often looked for other ways he could serve people around him. His last assignment was managing to get through speaking in Sacrament Meeting the day before he died. He could barely move and had a hard time concentrating on the talk he wrote, but he did it. I have no doubts he knew (and knows) the Church is true, and is now enjoying the time with his parents and deceased children, looking for what work he can be doing.

Mourning has been a bit different in our family. It was sad when he died, but it was also a bit of a relief because of the pain he was in. I think I did most of my mourning when we found out about the cancer in the first place. When my older brother died from cancer 25 or so years ago, all of us in the family kind of mourned on our own, breaking away from each other as if it would be better to not have that connection so we couldn’t hurt so much ever again. This time, it’s been much different.

My living brother and sister were able to be here before he died, and mom and dad lived right across the street from us, so we got to band together in those hard days. Afterward, we were sad, certainly, but we spent a lot more time falling into our old habits of being together as a family. We made really bad jokes. We played cards. Even jokes about death and dying were interspersed through brief times of introspection. I had to go through the mass of genealogical work he’d collected over the years. It was more a wake than weeping and wailing, though without the drinking. We knew he was gone but part of our family forever, and we got to come together like we’d not since before my brother died.

That’s one of the great things about the LDS Church. We can be sealed together forever. Marriage does not end with death. Children can be sealed to their parents in part of a chain back to the beginnings of the world. We can return home to our Heavenly Parents, together, as a family. Death isn’t the end. It’s just a temporary and unexpected journey. The time apart may be hard, but we know it won’t last.

My dad got to live two lives. Most people will never get such a second chance, but he certainly made the most of his. Our family has a long history of fathers who had a hard time staying with their families. I hope that I can take what I’ve learned from my dad and do even more to break that history and make something new.

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On dreams and the interpretations thereof

Many years ago, in the time between the end of my first marriage and meeting my second wife, I had a dream. I was feeling particularly down and had asked in my prayers for a dream of the future. I wanted to know there was hope when I’d not been able to see it. The dream I had I have rarely shared, but what bothered me most is in being unable to interpret what the dream might mean.

You see, in the LDS Church, we believe in many “gifts of the Spirit”. These are mentioned in the New Testament(1 Corinthians 12) and Book of Mormon (Moroni 10:8-18), and are more specifically listed in the Doctrine and Covenants (Section 46). They include many different types of miracles, including healing, the gift of tongues, interpretation of tongues, wisdom, discerning of spirits, knowledge, and prophecy. These had been much more evident in the early Church than appear now, likely because we tend not to talk about such sacred things. How does one gain such things? The scriptures say it is by the Spirit of God. We’re also told in scripture that we should seek after these good gifts and to use them for the benefit of the children of God in the name of Christ.

We don’t seem to pursue them much anymore, perhaps from unbelief. We have a hard time believing that such miracles could be for us, even when we see or hear of them in the lives of others. But still, we are told to pursue them to help build the kingdom of God. I’ve always wanted “interpretation of tongues” myself, though I have a hard time learning languages. Others would be amazing to have, but how do you prepare or practice such things?

In any case, back to my dream. In my dream, I was returning home after attempting to catch someone at the bus station who was returning to us. I opened the door and to my left were my parents, easily recognizable but obviously much older. On a couch to the left was a young looking woman (perhaps a teen) excitedly jumping and two young boys. The excitement of everyone was electric. Then the woman who I’d gone to pick up entered.

At the time, I’d believed this would take place in the millennial era, when Christ would reign and the dead would be resurrected. The people there could be fit to those I knew of at the time; my parents, my younger sister and her then two sons, my older sister who had died before I was even born. As time has gone on (being 16 years ago now), I realized the roles could be different; my parents, my younger daughter and two sons, my wife.

It could also be that it was all “just a dream”, and I’ve been projecting my hopes on it. My father, who is in his mid eighties and has now been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, may soon die. I know of no one who has the gift of interpreting dreams like those of the Old Testament, Joseph and Daniel. If it was the future, could I not even know the people in the dream in present time?

Prophecy is a tricky thing. We could be shown things we have no words adequate to describe, like John in the book of Revelations, we can have no idea of the time frames involved, yet still for some reason they are given. There must be something about them that is needed at the time they are given, possibly even for times afterward. For me, my dream has given me hope, even when I’ve not been able to see a way for it to happen. It confirms my knowledge that our family will be together forever someday, no matter what separates us.

And that day will be gloriously happy for us all.

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Political ideals – Immigration

We have been told to make Zion wherever we are, but Zion cannot be found where people, where families, do not feel safe.

My ancestors, almost as far as 400 years ago, came to this continent as illegal immigrants. No, there weren’t codified laws as such, but the land wasn’t just theirs for the taking. Why should I deny this land to anyone else?

I want to address some of the objections I’ve seen.
– “They’re leaving families behind”
In doing family history work, I’ve seen many, many families that were separated for a time, some for their entire life) because of the need to go where the work is, to find a way to help the family survive. Some took jobs on the railroad, being gone for weeks or months at a time. Some widowers placed their children in orphanages to establish themselves in a job so they could afford being able to take care of them. Some went ahead in new territory to establish themselves and make a place their families could live with less hardship. These were the choices these people made for the circumstances in their own lives.
I sometimes wonder how others are judging my own choices in how I try to build my family and home, and try to remember that they’re not in a position to judge, just as I cannot adequately judge how they are managing their homes. Despite times when I have seen people actively working to try and abuse the generosity of institutions and people around them, I still have to believe that people in general are doing their best with what they have. I hope others can show me the same charity of judgment.
In addition to this, our Government (the United States) isn’t doing a good job of keeping families together when they to immigrate together. The system separates by age and gender, effectively making everyone, even those with families, into single, childless, orphans. If we need a system to work people through the process of sending them out of the Country, then it needs to treat families as whole groups no matter what their size or makeup. Treat them as people, not widgets.

– “They should stay where they are and find work there”
We keep forgetting that we’re not just one Country; we’re a collection of States. When I graduated college, I wanted to move from Utah to Washington, where the jobs in my field would be. Should I have stayed where I was? Possibly, but the work that I was trained to do, the work that I wanted to do, wasn’t really there. How would it feel if you moved to another place and the reaction was “we don’t want your kind here”? Would you want them to welcome you to their community, to enjoy the unique contributions you bring, or would you prefer they keep you in isolation so you don’t “contaminate” their culture? If your response is “we’re all Americans, American culture is the same everywhere”, then you need to do more travelling and really look at the differences region to region.
If you think that illegal immigrants are taking your jobs, then you need to look harder at what jobs you’re willing to do. I’m a fan of Mike Rowe (of Dirty Jobs) on this; there is lots of work out there if you change your ideas of what you “deserve”. Yes, this is coming from someone who isn’t physically able to go out and dig ditches all day, but that’s why it was important for me to get an education; so I wouldn’t have to. If you are willing to use what you have (and to build up what you want) there are plenty of opportunities around.

– “Those people are just lazy and wanting to milk the system”
This is a cross between plain racism and classism. If you ever classify “those people” or any specific group as being all the same, you need to take a good look at the groups you are a part of but may never have seem it being unfairly labeled. “Mormons are polygamists” – “Women are too emotional” – “I’m glad for the charter school, cause it doesn’t have so many Mexicans” – “Gun owners are dangerous hicks” Some of these generalizations sting more than others. Some hurt deeply, even if they weren’t meant to do so. They are not all the same in effect, but they should all be removed from use, in deed, word, and thought. This is not censorship, this is warning you of the poison that it is to your own soul. If you make these kinds of judgments, expect pushback. I may not even be nice about it, because this kind of thinking is dangerous and hurtful not only to others, but to you. If I push back, it’s because I want you to be better.
As I mentioned, I do know those who “milk the system”. For one reason or another they believe they deserve what they can get. For them, no one “deserves” anything. It doesn’t matter what it is, a relationship, living expenses, whatever, it needs work or it isn’t going to happen. I’ve been glad for the help I’ve been given, and I know that at any time that help cold not be available to me, so I will keep working to find ways to make life work without help. Hopefully, I’ll then be more able to help others in need. Now, while there are some who take advantage, it is a very, very small percentage of those who actually need the help. We should not punish everyone for the crimes of the few; we should punish the few for their own transgressions.

– “We just don’t have the room/resources”
We’re a rich country. We lead rich lives full of luxuries of which many in other countries could not even dream. But no matter how much we have, we never think we’re rich. Do you have a home, food, clothing? You’re doing a lot better than a lot of the world, especially those who tend to be immigrants. We are so wasteful with our resources, food, water, “luxuries”, that it would only take a little improvement to make room for someone else.
Ok, let’s say you’re -not- rich. Does that mean you’re exempt from giving help? To put it Biblically, “God Forbid.” Christ didn’t give caveats to the boon of helping the poor. No matter how little you have, there are those with less. And, if your only “more” is being a citizen, why refuse that gift to someone else?

I could go on, but that’s enough for now. There are people in need, and our response should not be putting up a wall so we don’t have to see them, nor should it be shoving them into a machine as if they were not human beings.

Those of us who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) should be better than that. Far better.

Official Church Statement

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The reason we should not have “White Pride”

Occasionally I do see posts from friends (and I do consider them friends) with something glib about not having a “White Pride” parade or meme, just as there seems to be for every other group. This is usually a point made by those in the United States, by those who emphatically do not believe in ranking one race above another. Those who use it in the same vein as white supremacists, if they are my friends at all, should completely reexamine their ideas on what race is and how their “purity” does not make them better than anyone else.

I wanted to talk briefly about how we got to where we are in defining who is “white” and who is not. This differentiation has only ever been used to describe those who are “better than” some other group, the delineation rarely being that of skin color. For example, in the early United States, Irish and Italians were considered “non-white”. Groups without a shared country of origin, like Mormons and frontiersmen, were considered “non-white”. It made it easier to discount these groups as “God ordained inferior”, so the same rights would not apply. Over the generations it became harder to discern who was “white” and who was not. Losing the accents of previous generations native countries meant the only things left to use as an indicator was the lightness of their skin. Even then it wasn’t reliable, as someone with light or pale skin could have at least one dark-skinned parent. These people could “pass” for white, but had dire (sometimes lethal) consequences if they were found out.

Today, “white pride” is almost completely used by white supremacists. They don’t just want to have pride in their heritage, but in the “purity” of it. All others are “unclean” and should be eliminated or used as the “pure” see fit.

If you’re feeling the need to have “pride”, start by getting to know your own history. Where did your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents come from? Learn about those cultures and embrace them as part of who you are. Turns out you’re 11/16 British, 1/4 Scottish, and 1/16 Moroccan? Great! You can rock a kilt, bow tie, and fez all at once. Enjoy the different cultures that came together to make you.

If you’re only going to go as far as “American” because your tenth-great-grandfather came here from some other country, then allow that your tenth-great-grandfather was just as American as the immigrants who are currently here, striving to be part of the culture you most hold dear, to also have “pride” in being American. And don’t limit anyone on what rates as “American” aside from wanting to be a part of this country. American customs and attitudes very widely within each State, not to mention between States and geographic areas.

You want a parade and fireworks for American Pride? Turns out we have one, a big one, every year on the fourth day of the seventh month.

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My beliefs on marriage and gender essentialism

This has got to be one of the most difficult topics to talk about, as I have a number of people I know and love who would not only disagree with me but see it as an attack on the fundamental beliefs they have on who they are. I’ve skirted around it in the past (“Who will we be when we wake?“,”Feminism and Same Sex Marriage are not compatible“,”Defining the uniqueness of men and women“), but I’ve thus far avoided trying to put down my rationales in full.

One of the poorest arguments I’ve seen against same sex marriage (SSM) is that SSM could not be legitimate because it does not have the possibility of producing children. This makes procreation the measure for legitimacy, leaving out many instances where procreation doesn’t happen or is impossible.

The better course of argument for two-gender marriage, even when no progeny is produced, is in that it provides an example of the advantages of joining together two disparate genders, male and female. Marriage is the bringing together of the greatest difference one person can have with another, creating something more than the sum of its parts. That this doesn’t always happen is immaterial. The intent in marriage is always to be a part of something greater than you can be with your own view of the world limited as it is by your gender.

Two gender marriage is better for children to grow up in as it affords them the opportunity to learn how to interact with those of each gender. Are there many ways this can be messed up, even by well meaning people? Absolutely! There are abusive marriages, families without an adult of one gender or the other, families where one or the other parent is gone for long periods of time, etc., etc., etc.. All of these, however, would be better off in a -good- marriage than in the state they are currently in. There are many kinds of families, from families of one person to families of many. All of these families, whatever their experiences and circumstances, should be celebrated and aided the best we can, even (and especially) our own family. All of these families are on a path of improvement, even those who seem to “have it all” and be perfectly happy.

Some would argue that gender should be immaterial. The problem is that there is something inherent in our gender, something nearly impossible to quantify. Our gender is the second strongest marker of our identity, the first being humanity. So much of our life is of experiences that only happen and relate to the gender we are. Changing completely from one to the other is simply not possible, as we cannot create the cache of gender based experiences we’ve not been part of, no matter how much we desire them. Those who are forced to or themselves attempt to become the other are at an extreme disadvantage, as their lived experiences will not be enough to know what it means to be that gender.

I’ll close this with a simple request. Respect the beliefs and decisions of others. You do not have to agree with their decisions, but you should respect the work, tears, prayers, and pains that they went through to arrive at their current situation. Your own experiences, progression, and faults can not make you better than them, only different in your journey.

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The Difficulties in Looking to the Future

I have five children. All of them have some sort of learning disability on the medium to low range of the Autism spectrum or having the not so simple attention deficit disorder, much like I, their father, probably has. I have hope that they can overcome it somewhat as they grow, since I was able to (at least some), and I hope they can do it sooner than I managed.

Being optimistic can be hard. I see them having a hard time keeping their attention where it needs to be. I see them having a hard time fitting in because they have a hard time controlling their emotions. I see them having a hard time when they just don’t understand what others are trying to get through to them. I hurt for them, even in the times they don’t see a problem. It’s hard to stay optimistic when you can’t always see the progress they make day to day.

Looking to the future can be even worse. What if they don’t get over these behaviors? What if they don’t find good friends who can love the things that make them different? What happens if, as they grow to adulthood, they can’t learn to control their tempers, or concentrate long enough to take an exam?

But I do have reason to hope. As I said, I came through many of these things through my own childhood and teenage years. I know what it’s like to go through depression, anxiety, not fitting in, not being able to communicate your thoughts clearly, and not being able to concentrate on the work that you need to get done. I won’t be able to help them with my experience all the time, as part of feeling like you don’t fit in means no one else could have had the same problems, but I can help some.

So in general I’m optimistic. I see each of them as growing to be strong, intelligent, and capable men and women, despite the difficulties they’ve been born with. I can share joy with them in each of their successes, from deciding they’d rather use the toilet to exceeding in their school work.

There are days, but I think overall there is hope.

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Genealogy, the ultimate “Missed Connections” board

Since much of the family history/genealogy work for my forebears has been done (and continues to be done) by my parents, much of my concentration has been on finding cousins, the other descendants of my ancestors. It’s been interesting to see how their lives have developed, even if it’s just through the glimpses left in the records left behind. There’s the widow left by a rail road worker cousin who marries his brother, also a rail worker. The couples who had just a few or many children who saw either all children live and grow or saw all their children go into early graves. The cousin whose wife died, leaving him with two small children he had to leave in an orphanage until he could reclaim them again. There are just so many stories, and we, too often, barely get a one sentence summary.

I’ve particularly been gratified at finding the cousins whose lines have ended. These are those who never married or never had any children. There’s no one to remember them. I wish I’d posted about it nearer Memorial Day, but I wonder how many of those who died in the past wars are simply forgotten?

In any case, the most difficult part I find in this research isn’t the heartbreaking stories, but in finding cousins that have just recently died. You finally get down to people that you could conceivably talk to and get firsthand information from, and they’ve already passed on. Most of the time you don’t even know who their next-of-kin are. So here’s my “Missed connection”:

To my 6th cousins, once removed, children of Inez Pellett-Cavin-Rounds-Bevroot-Linley. I know your mother passed 25 years ago, but I’m hoping to make a connection to learn what you know of your family. Do you know anything about your father or where in Central America he came from? Hope I can find some way to connect with you soon.

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Of course, now that I check again, one of them died just 6 months ago. Blast it all.

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