Saturday, January 28, 2012

Relatives: Dead And/Or Alive

It hit me Wednesday night, and I just have to talk about it. I woke up Thursday morning and thought, “If I don’t say anything about it, I’m just not being honest.” So, as much as I’m dragging my feet (it is starting to drift into that late night ambience at this point), I’m making myself say something.

Perhaps you’ve heard of Schrodinger’s Cat? (Clue: this is a stalling tactic; you see this in subjects reluctant to get on with the business at hand.) When I first came upon the concept that people refer to as Schrodinger’s Cat, the message I received was: Well, there’s this cat; the cat is in a box; the people—conveniently standing outside the box—are wondering about the state of the cat (Dead? Or alive?); the paradox is that some mind-twisting philosopher is tormenting said cat-loving people standing outside the box with late-night-bull-session-esque questions like, “And if you open the box to see if the cat is dead or alive, how do you know that you have not, by the mere act of opening the box, set in motion a long chain of misfortunate events that will, in and of themselves, be the very cause of changing said cat from a living state to a dead state?”


Well, as it turns out, the Schrodinger’s Cat thing is not exactly like I first learned it. (Warning: Cat lovers, do not look here. Or even here.)

Which is a total shame, as I thought I was the first person ever to own a Schrodinger’s Washing Machine. (Is it spinning? How can I know, unless I open the lid? Oops, I guess it was spinning, but if it wasn’t broken before, it is now.)

I am not the only one to have my moment of fun with Schrodinger and his unfortunate Cat. I’ve seen the Schrodinger duo reduced to the level of tee shirt. And sitcom.


Which is all to say that, if a blog reader reads a blog, how does she (or he) know the blog writer is as cheerful (or talented) (or witty) (or expert) as the words on the virtual page seem to indicate? What if said blog reader were to open the “box” and see? What would be found? Would that blogger be found to be “dead” or “alive”? Would peeking make it so when it wasn’t before?

I don’t know. I’ve recently read (and my apologies for not being able to conjure up the link to the article just now) that some writers—particularly those famous types who write novels and such—thrive on anonymity. Sweeping back that shroud of mystery seems to steal away the mystique of the author, too. And then, there’s that taboo about revealing too much of one’s self online—as if some evil stalker would immediately materialize on the writer’s doorstep and impose some vile sanction on everyone’s wellbeing.

The truth of the matter is—and perhaps someone might have noticed this little change here, lately—I’ve just gone through one of those most painful experiences of life and yet not been able to say word one about it, about who I really am at this moment, about how that experience has impacted some of the most important aspects of life to me right now.

And that’s just not right.

Actually, it downright stinks. (Kinda like in The Big Bang Theory when Penny says she didn’t need Schrodinger to figure out that the cat was dead—like, really dead.)

The way this attitude shift came about in my mind was this:

Wednesday night, poking through my blog-reading list, I came across a fresh post at Clue Wagon. If you don’t know Kerry Scott (well, I don’t either, personally, but I have made her virtual acquaintance), she is one of the most delightfully blunt genealogy bloggers you’d ever hope to come across. Just the right dose of snark. Someone I enjoy reading.

It just so happened that she posted a piece called, “Can You Die of a Broken Heart?” Well, I read it through. Made a comment, too, I think. All the while, to the right of her posted article, my subconscious was drawn to the red of her outfit, thus absorbing the nearby text of her hallmark statement: “My name is Kerry. I like dead people.”

How much can dead people affect you?

Genealogists, getting a chance to gather together, have instantly bonded with total strangers—even those who insist that they are “painfully shy”—over their commonality in research passions. Face it, we are all about cataloguing the minutiae of the lives of dead people. It may be blunt, but it gets to the point.

That wasn’t the message that my mind took in that evening, though, as I closed the e-book on the night’s reading. What my mind picked up was the juxtaposition of liking dead people with dying of a broken heart. By the next morning, before I swung my legs out of bed, it hit me that I was being very unbalanced by not saying anything about who I am when I write so much about who other people are.

At that moment, I decided I should say something.

Of course, I’m a procrastinator. (You notice you didn’t read anything about this on Thursday, now, did you???) So I needed a little help to strengthen my resolve.

Thank you, coffee partner and fellow GeneaBlogger, Sheri Fenley, who unwittingly shoved served as my rescuer when she posted, “An Open Response to Dahling Polly Kimmett.” (Anyone who knows Sheri can expect to eventually be addressed in that manner. Dahling.)

And that, of course, required that I read the post that dahling Polly Kimmett wrote—“Caps for Sale—the State of My Life”—so I could get the drift of what Sheri was referencing: a discussion on the permissibility of showing a blogger’s true “face” instead of a plastic online persona.

Yet I still couldn’t bring myself to say anything. So I wasted a day at the keyboard, poking around, “doing research” to delay the inevitable of saying, “yeah, this is where I’m at.” However, with his transparent Friday afternoon post, “Memory Hole,” about his recent loss of a valuable life mentor, another online friend and astute researcher, “Iggy” (who sometimes posts about roots and history and stuff but makes his blog a holistic place where all the aspects of his life can claim a rightful place) unhinged the last nail in Schrodinger’s Cat’s coffin, and I lost all excuses for not finding my own voice.

And so, here it is: what’s been bugging me.

The fact of the matter is this: As anyone who enjoys researching family roots, I can stand with Kerry and say, “I like dead people.” But if I like dead people because I value family—value knowing about my family’s heritage so I can discover and explain how it connects the past to my family’s present—then I need to “like” alive people, too.

Not that Kerry, or Sheri, or Polly don’t value the living people in their families. I’m sure the living members of their family are important to them—more important than life! I say that only to remind myself that it is for the living that I find, organize, memorialize, preserve and pass along what I’ve discovered about my family’s past.

And so, during the time all those uncharacteristically short posts were showing up on this blog through the first half of January—pre-written, bot-posted—my husband, my daughter, and I made the difficult decision to find our way cross-country to the home of a loved one who was rapidly losing her battle with cancer. We got to sit with her during some of the most agonizingly painful times I’ve ever seen anyone undergo.

I’ve sat at the bedside of three other terminally ill close family members up to moments before their death, but I’ve never seen anyone work so hard at dying. To say it was emotionally painful to witness this would be so trite. I have no words to describe it.

And so, I didn’t say anything.

Since then, I’ve watched the words just get sucked out of me. The further I’ve gone without speaking, the less the words were there to serve as vehicles when my insides needed a ride out into the fresh air of living, thriving Life. It is such a shriveling-up experience to not say anything.

So there: I’ve said it.

I’ll also say that that most difficult, painful, heart-wrenching experience is one of those parts of being family that I can never set aside. After all, if we say we do family research because we “like dead people,” it is really the family that we are focusing on “liking.” Dead or alive.

Or, as Schrodinger might have put it: “…dead and/or alive.”

Photograph, from private family collection: William and Mary (Brezina) Stevens at a family celebration in 2004; though we miss them both, now together again.


  1. The writing in this entry is so powerful that ... I find myself struggling to put to words what it did to me.

    Losing family (genetic or adopted) is very hard - and I'm not sure which is harder - like the bandaid that needs to be removed - the fast stunning shock of here now - gone a second later, or the slow agonizing, bit by bit, hour by hour fade into oblivion. I know the big "C" has had profound impact on your life (as well as mine.) It is a horrible, horrible disease.

    It is the living - however - that surround you, that can offer support and "reminders as you need them" that life goes on and you are still with the living - and are appreciated and loved.

    *Hugs* I'm so sorry about your loss - even the photo shows how this couple lived - as a soul-mated team... two combined as one with two aspects... and the light of their love shines forth. I knew you had experienced something "bad" a while ago - but didn't understand in a "more complete" way.

    I was told we all grieve at our own pace yesterday... and surely we do. And we live with the unwanted and encroaching thoughts of "did we say we loved them (enough)?" and other second guessing... They haunt us as well as the "special memories" we select in order to remember those that pass on - in order to preserve their "time spent on Earth".

    Be well Jacqi and be in peace with yourself.

  2. Oh Jacqi. I don't have the words available to express my thoughts at this point. Going to have to let them sit in that box with the cat for a bit and see what emerges.

    That said, please accept my sympathy for the loss of your dearly loved Mary. I have never regretted dropping away from day to day life to to sit watch as a loved one moves on from this life. Hugs as you acclimate to the world lessened. I pray you find it enriched by those around you who knowing of your loss, express their care for you and yours.

  3. I am very sorry for your loss. It must have been a very difficult time for you. Sometimes when we write about our losses it helps to put them in their proper perspective. Sending you a hug:) Connie


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...