When my aunt died a couple of years ago, a distant cousin found out before I did, because he was in a different time zone and got the news while I was sleeping. (My own immediate family, who knew I was asleep, had been waiting to call me when I woke up, so they could break the news to me over the phone, gently, and with all the love and time that I would need — both in and with, and after the telling.
But instead, because of this well-intentioned but — how else to say it? — trigger-happy relative (with whom I was not even regularly in touch...), the way I found out that my aunt was gone, was by waking up to a two-line text iMessage.
“Sorry to hear about Shahida Phuppo’s demise.”
Years later, a precious best friend of my father’s, a father-figure to me in his own right, was in hospital and failing rapidly. I was in touch with his immediate family every day, and we all knew the end was coming. And then it came, and as someone who was considered family by the family, I knew as soon as it happened.
A few hours later, another distant cousin forwarded me, via Messenger, a boilerplate public announcement of this man’s death. No preamble from her. No “Hey there, I just heard the news and wanted to check if you knew. I’m so sorry,” etc. (And here too, another cousin I had not spoken to, or swapped messages with, in years.) Just a cool and efficient, contextless copy-paste, of a public post from some community organization or other, to all its members.
“The Committee announces with regret the passing away of our member...”
I didn’t respond for several days. Not only for the obvious reasons. But also because, what was I supposed to say?
“Thanks for the update?”
And years before, when my father died, a friend decided to inform all of our mutual friends on my behalf, as well as some friends of mine that weren’t mutual, but whose email addresses she happened to have... She did this without checking with me first, or even telling me after the fact, that she had done it. And so all of a sudden, I had all these people contacting me to tell me how sorry they were, when I hadn’t even known they knew. When I had been waiting to tell them myself.
Waiting too, to be ready, myself.
I remember from years ago, that diagram about Ring Theory, and the idea of dumping out.
There’s more to all this, of course. But that’s a start.
[Santo Spirito, Firenze | sabato 28 gennaio 2023 ore 15:12:03] [¶]
[family] [grief/loss] [memory] [pakistan]
This week was a week in which I lost another someone I love, and from far away too, as usual. But listen. This isn’t really about that. Not today anyway.
(I know so often in these parts, it is.)
Instead it’s about talking on the phone to my father’s brother—my uncle (except we say Chacha, in my world...). He had just come back from the funeral and he was telling me of a moment, with one of the sons of the man who had just died. How the son tried to thank my uncle for something he’d done to help, in that last week of trying, and losing, and loss. And my uncle told him — almost cut him off even — to say something like “Don’t even say that. Don’t thank me. We’re family. You don’t need to thank me.”
And yes, alright, maybe I was thinking a little about my mother and my brother, and of what it feels like to have grown up with people who seemed to believe (one of them is still alive, and seems still to believe...) that your immediate family are the people with whom you can be rudest, most careless, and least inclined to say “please” or “thank you” or most of all, most f*cking-ever-of-all, “I’m sorry.”
Maybe that crossed my mind.
But also and alongside, these days I have been re-reading The Gift, by Lewis Hyde. Mostly, this has meant I’ve been reading about how we might make art (when art must always be more a gift, than a commodity), in a society that functions and makes sense only, in terms of commodities.
But The Gift also has some lovely, deep, and thoughtful ideas on human relationships — the things we give or do for each other — and what all that giving and doing does.
For example, the notion that gifts bespeak relationship (italics mine), and that gratitude is not a response to the gift so much as to the affection it carries.
And so, after I hung up the phone, I wrote my uncle a letter. I wrote about the idea, that maybe when we say “thank you” to someone we love for something they have done for us (or anyway, for something we think or feel or believe they have done for us...), one of the things we are really doing is expressing gratitude, not only for the deed, but for the relationship that engendered the deed—the relationship that forms the ground of the deed.
(A fertile, giving ground...)
I wrote about how, like so many emotions when they are shared or communicated or offered from one person to another, this gratitude feels to me like a form of connection. Maybe even as much a connection, as the deed itself.
Listen Chacha, I wrote. This is what I wanted to say when we spoke yesterday:
Do not tell the people you love not to thank you when you have done something for them (or when they feel you have done something, even if you feel it was nothing...). Do not say, “Don’t thank me, because we’re family and family doesn’t say thank you.” Because by saying that, in a way you are rejecting the connection of gratitude. You are rejecting a bond of love. It would be like if you lent a hand to help someone up, and after you did, when they extended their other hand to thank you and to show you they feel connected and close to you, you refused to hold that other hand.
Listen. Hold that other hand.
[Santo Spirito, Firenze | mercoledì 25 gennaio 2023 ore 17:03:18] [¶]
[family] [grief/loss] [pakistan]