family, memories, musings

The Heavenly Thanksgiving Party…

Thanksgiving has historically been my favorite holiday. For years, I loved it because it meant going to my Granny’s house, hanging around my mostly fun extended family, seeing the mountains of Virginia, and eating good food. Then afterwards, we’d have a party. There are a lot of musicians in my family, so on Friday after Thanksgiving, there was typically dancing and live music. I remember a few post Thanksgiving Friday night “hops” over the years that were real “barn burners”. Almost every year, for as long as I can remember, there’s been a big Thanksgiving family reunion party at Granny’s. It was something we could all count on, except for a couple of exceedingly rare years when it didn’t happen. 2020 is one of those years.

I haven’t been home for Thanksgiving since 2014. I went there to sing at my dad’s memorial service, which was held over Thanksgiving so more people could come to his memorial. He actually died in July 2014. Since then, a lot more people have passed away, but living in Germany has kept me away from home for their funerals. Some deaths have hurt more than others.

I’m not a very religious person, but I do like to think that Heaven is a real place. I imagine my cousin Karen, who died on Saturday, arriving in Heaven, being greeted by long lost loved ones like her parents and our grandmother. I think of my Aunt Jeanne and Uncle Bob waiting by the Pearly Gates, ready to embrace her and lead her to see Granny, who passed away in 2007.

I love Rhonda Vincent’s music… even when she sings about Jesus. I picture the Homecoming kind of like this.

I like to think of the arrival of a new soul in Heaven as a big party, like the ones we had years ago at Granny’s house, when everyone was still young enough and healthy, and wanted to stay up visiting. My mom would have a couple of drinks and get on the organ and play with my Uncle Brownlee’s band. Or my Uncle Steve would play trombone. There was a lot of dancing and singing and drinking too much… Maybe that’s what homecoming was like for Karen and my other relatives. Maybe they’re all sitting around a big table, as if they’re waiting for more people to join the party up in Heaven.

Actual footage from one of our Thanksgiving parties… That’s my niece dancing with one of my cousins. I’m pretty sure the music was live, too. It usually is.

I picture my Aunt Nance serving turtle cheesecake that has no calories. I picture my Uncle Kenneth sitting at the table telling stories with my Uncle Carl and his wife, Aunt Betty. I think of my Aunt Susan, who died in 1962, healthy and making up for lost time with her brothers and sisters who have finally passed the bar. I think of my Uncle Brownlee playing organ while my dad nods along approvingly. I think of Granny and Pappy looking on adoringly. No one is drunk or angry or being obnoxious. Everyone is having a great time, just like we did at so many Thanksgiving parties over the years… and they’re all waiting for the rest of us to arrive.

Thanksgiving 2014. A number of the people in this picture are no longer with us. They’re at the Heavenly Thanksgiving Party.

Then I start thinking about all of the people I’ve found as I’ve searched our genealogy. I wonder if they’re at the party, too. Will I somehow know my ancestors in Heaven? What about people I’m related to by marriage? What about Bill’s dad, who died just nine days ago? Somehow, I think if Heaven exists, he’ll be there. Because anything is possible in Heaven, right? And there will be no worries about not enough bathrooms, cleaning up the mess the next day, lack of parking spots, or paying for anything. There will be room at the table for everyone; everyone will be heard and appreciated; and there will be no talk about politics or controversy. And no one will be sneakily taking any unflattering photos, either. πŸ˜‰

Me and my sisters in 2014… this picture was taken by my cousin, Karen, who just passed away a few days ago.

My Uncle Brownlee was probably my favorite relative. We had a lot in common. His birthday was the day after mine and we shared a love for music and off color humor. He died in 2019. I couldn’t be at his funeral due to the logistics. Now that we have COVID-19, it’s even harder to go home. And even if we were in the United States, people would probably shame us if we tried to have a gathering this year. In fact, attending Thanksgiving with a bunch of relatives on Earth might hasten our own arrivals at the Heavenly Thanksgiving Party.

I don’t think about God as much as a lot of my relatives do. Some of my people are super Christian types. They don’t curse and they go to church a lot. They figure cursing offends God. Personally, I think if God is as perfect as people claim, S/he (does God have genitals?) is probably above being offended. Being offended is a human thing. I don’t think God is human. Humans aren’t perfect. I’d like to think that God is nothing but wisdom, kindness, and love, but that’s probably too simplistic of a description. The fact is, I can’t imagine God, although I’m not quite at a point at which I don’t believe in God. But even if there is no such thing as God or Heaven, I do think that concept has inspired a lot of people to do incredible things. And that’s mostly a good thing. On the other hand, the concept of God has also inspired some pretty horrible things, too… albeit for very flawed human reasons.

Granny’s house… it’s been the family homestead since the 1930s.

Anyway, as Thanksgiving approaches, I am picturing my long lost relatives, all of whom loved being together on Thanksgiving (I presume, anyway), and enjoying the holiday up in Heaven, eating, drinking, laughing, singing, dancing, and visiting, with no worries about anything. They could have that Heavenly Thanksgiving Party forever, if they wanted to. Because Heaven is a perfect place, where there’s no suffering. Or, if they hated parties on Earth, maybe they’re somewhere they loved to be. Sitting by a quiet, rushing brook in the most beautiful place, with nothing but the company of beloved pets… actually, that sounds more like Heaven to me. Ditto if I’m surrounded by books and music and maybe enjoying the company of my favorite person, Bill.

Maybe this perfection doesn’t exist. Maybe death just means cessation of life. In that case, it means there’s no more pain or problems. That’s not a bad thing for the person who’s gone. It’s bad for the people who miss that person, left here on Earth, stuck in a cumbersome body that eventually fails for everyone. But eventually, everybody gets an invitation to the Heavenly Thanksgiving Party. Or so I’d like to believe. And I find it comforting to think of my relatives and friends enjoying their time at the Heavenly Party, waiting for the rest of us to join them in the fun.

As for our 2020 Thanksgiving celebration, it promises to be as quiet and peaceful as the last five have been. We’re just not going to cook. This year, we’re ordering a Thanksgiving takeout meal from a restaurant. It makes sense– less cleaning up and leftovers, and we do our part to keep the restaurants going until we can get a vaccine against the dreaded COVID-19 virus. I expect our 2020 Thanksgiving will be much like our anniversary was yesterday… kind of boring in some ways, but extraordinary in others. Bill’s daughter wished us a happy anniversary yesterday and even sent us a gift. Up until a few years ago, I never thought she would speak to Bill again, let alone acknowledge our anniversary. So even though our 2020 celebration had no naked dips at Irish Roman baths or palatial accommodations, it was remarkable just the same. We had originally planned to see Keb’ Mo’ in concert in Mainz. Naturally, that concert has now been rescheduled twice, thanks to COVID-19. I expect we’ll still be here when it finally does occur… at this point, in September 2021.

The featured photo is my dad and his mother… looks like maybe it was taken at my sister’s wedding, which was also a pretty epic celebration at Granny’s house. My dad died just seven years after he lost his mother, so they probably had a pretty awesome reunion in 2014.

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Bill, family

Life… and death… goes on.

Today is the 18th anniversary of my marriage to Bill. We usually take trips for our anniversary. This year we couldn’t go anywhere because of COVID-19. Bill went to work because there’s a big project he’s working on. I’m reminded that last year, he had a TDY that started the day after our anniversary. I went with him on that trip, because it was to Wroclaw, Poland, and Wroclaw is a neat town. That was before the pandemic radically changed everything.

A week ago, we learned of Bill’s dad’s passing. Bill was already dressed and ready to go to work when he found out about it. I told him he needed to tell his co-workers that he wasn’t coming in. That was a good decision, since he did need some time to process the news and the fact that we were not going to be able to go to Tennessee for the funeral. A few days ago, a relative sent Bill a picture of his father in his casket. He had said he’d wanted to see the photo, but I think it was a shock to see his dad laid out like that… not looking like the man he knew. Part of it might have been because he’d been very sick, and part might have been that when someone’s soul leaves their body, the body simply turns into a shell of what it once was.

The news about Bill’s dad came less than a month after my cousin lost his husband to liver cancer. And it came a week before I found out my cousin, Karen, passed away from colon cancer. I wasn’t very close to Karen, although we had some things in common. Like me, she was a musical person. Like me, she loved visiting our grandmother’s house in Natural Bridge, Virginia. But she was much more religious than I am and we had very different political views. She was also significantly older and lived in a different state. I never got to know her as well as I might have, although her presence in our family was one of great prominence. She was the eldest grandchild on both sides of her family, and very much a leader among us. By contrast, I am one of the youngest grandchildren on my dad’s side and the youngest on my mom’s side (which consists of my three sisters and my cousin Sue).

2020 has really been a surreal year so far. It started off fine. We visited France three times between Christmas 2019 and February 2020. Bill’s mom came to visit, and he went to the States for business and found time to stop in Utah to finally see his daughter, her husband, and his two grandchildren. It was the first time he’d seen Catherine since 2004, when she was just eleven years old. She’s now grown into a beautiful, thoughtful, and kind young woman. As much as I complained about the Mormons over the years, I am grateful there were good people in the church who helped her escape her mother and launch a more normal life. Obviously, she had some good role models to emulate. And it was such a joy for Bill to see her and meet her family. It had been fifteen long years, and clearly, they have missed each other so much. It took awhile, but we finally learned that we weren’t in the Twilight Zone, after all. ‘Nuff said about that.

Then the pandemic struck, just as Bill was returning from that trip. Everything changed. Bill had to work from home. We tried to adopt a dog, only to have it escape its transport on the way to us and get hit by a car. We sued our former landlady, and Bill got asked to be a witness in a lawsuit. We did some traveling, but it was a different mood, with constant worry about masking and personal hygiene and not getting sick. And then we adopted Noyzi, the street dog from Kosovo, who has stolen our hearts.

It hasn’t been all bad. There have been some unexpected moments of joy as we’ve adapted to this depressing pandemic experience. I’ve loved having more time with my husband, who isn’t able to jet off to faraway places for work right now. We’ve been eating more meals at home, although I do really miss getting dressed up and going places. I’ve loved getting to know Noyzi, who amazes us every day as he adapts to life as a pet in Germany rather than one of many dogs in a group home in Kosovo.

I would have liked to have gone somewhere special to celebrate our special day today. The last 18 years have flown by, and we’re still happy together. But it’s not a bad thing to be home, safe and well, and enjoying the company of Arran and Noyzi. I didn’t expect to suddenly lose three relatives within a span of a few weeks, though. It really makes one stop and think how fleeting and fragile life can be.

Well… I think I’ll take the opportunity to make some music today. Maybe someone will like it. Maybe someone won’t. But at least it’ll keep me out of trouble. And I expect Bill will bring home some bubbly for tonight.

Edited to add… this was our wedding song and I somehow never did it for YouTube. So here it is…
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Ex

Full circle… lessons learned

Bear with me, folks. Those of you who hate it when I write about Ex probably ought to pass on this post. I’m about to vent about old business.

In April 2006, when my husband’s ex stepson was 18 years old and planning to move out of his mother’s home, he called Bill at home. I answered the phone, because Bill was at work. Bill was overjoyed to hear from his ex stepson, since they hadn’t spoken for about a year and a half. Of course, he was just calling to make sure Bill would still pay child support to him, as he had promised when he and Ex divorced. Although ex stepson was technically not Bill’s legal responsibility, Bill had practically raised him and thought of him as his son. He assured ex stepson that he would support him with $850 a month.

Ex then called us at home. I answered the phone again. I remember her sounding very professional as she said, “Jenny, I hate to bother you, but may I please speak to Bill.” I handed the phone to Bill and they proceeded to have a very long and heated talk. Ex was basically telling Bill not to keep paying child support to his ex stepson, even though it was she who had demanded it in the divorce. She didn’t want ex stepson to have that money and the freedom it would bring him. Bill refused to grant Ex’s request, mainly because he felt ex stepson needed to get away from her.

That phone call started a tsunami of trouble that has lasted for years, but really crested about a week later, when Ex wrote Bill a hateful email. She wrote that everything bad that was happening, complete with ex stepson’s decision to move out, was Bill’s fault. She claimed he was a terrible father, conveniently forgetting that almost everything that had happened was her doing.

For those who haven’t read the backstory, here’s a brief recap. She tracked Bill down in Germany in the late 1980s, dumped her first ex, convinced Bill to marry her, had two kids with Bill, and then unilaterally decided to divorce him and completely estranged him from his kids. At the same time, she tried to force the kids to bond with her third husband and had two more kids with him. The youngest one has severe autism. She also did her very best to ruin Bill’s relationships with his own family of origin. Fortunately, that didn’t work, though there were some tense moments after Bill’s parents first heard Ex’s lies. She does lie convincingly.

In her email back in April 2006, Ex blamed most of her problems on us, but she also specifically called me out. She claimed the kids hated me, even though they only met me one time and I had seen firsthand that they had fun during their visit. Then she asked Bill not to tell me that they hated me. Bill doesn’t keep secrets from me, so he shared her email with me– specifically the parts she had written about how I was to blame for how terrible the situation was.

I knew that what Ex wrote was untrue. I was angry with her for bringing her drama into our marriage and for demanding that Bill keep secrets from me. So I wrote back to her. In some ways, I wish I hadn’t responded to Ex’s vitriol. In other ways, I think it was a good thing to do. At the very least, my email to her put a stop to her emails and phone calls to Bill. But I have also learned that whenever you respond to a narcissist, you give them ammunition. I’m sure she’s shared my email with people she could use to manipulate, not that it matters anymore. She no longer has any power over our lives. However, thanks to Ex’s hatefulness, Bill has missed out on a lot of his daughters’ lives. He missed younger daughter’s wedding, and ex stepson, who used to be a son to Bill, is now ex stepson. It didn’t have to be this way, and now the chickens have come home to roost.

In 2003, when Bill and I were first married, the kids visited us. It was the only visitation we ever had with them when they were minors. They clearly had a good time over the 48 hours they spent with us in our apartment in Fredericksburg, Virginia. We later heard from Bill’s dad and stepmother that they were raving about how much fun they’d had. Apparently, the fact that the kids had fun, particularly with me around, was deeply upsetting to Ex. So she decided to rattle her saber.

After that one visit in 2003, Ex wrote a hateful email to Bill, demanding that he double his life insurance coverage so that it totaled $1,000,000. Bill couldn’t afford to do that at the time, and it would have also required him to get another policy from a different life insurance company. So he declined to cooperate with her demands. He asked her to leave me out of her complaints about their divorce, as I had nothing to do with their decision to end their marriage. And yet, even though we’ve never met each other in person, she was certain I was doing all I could to sabotage her. I specifically remember her haughtily writing, “I’m so glad we have everything in writing so I won’t have to battle your wife in court.”

I remember being really pissed off and telling Bill, something along the lines of, “Next time that bitch writes something like that to you that includes me, I WILL be answering. And you bet your ass I would not hesitate to take her to court if I ever need to assert my rights. So you’d better stay healthy until your kids are grown.” Thankfully, he has.

So when Ex wrote to Bill in 2006, I ultimately decided to write back to her because I thought it was time someone explicitly called her out on her bullshit. Up until that point, it seemed like no one ever would. I had also made a promise to Bill that the next time Ex had a complaint about me, I was going to rip her a new one.

In my email, I remember writing to Ex that someday, she would pay for what she’d done. I told her that I knew her kids weren’t stupid. They would eventually grow up, and there would come a time when they would realize what she stole from them– not just their money, which she DID do, but also time with beloved family members. Ex was adopted and hadn’t met her biological parents at that point, so Bill’s family was the only biologically related family they knew. Keeping the children from Bill and his mother, and using visits with them as tools to control Bill’s dad and stepmother would eventually backfire. The older the kids got, the less power she’d have as they inevitably woke up to who she really is. There was a lot of other stuff I wrote, but thankfully, I no longer have the email.

Well… as Bill’s father died the other day, much of what I predicted in my warning to Ex has finally come to pass. Bill and I can’t make the funeral because we’re in Germany. If we could be at the funeral, Ex would not gain admittance. But even though we’re not able to attend, other people have decided that Ex isn’t welcome. Younger daughter decided not to send the obit to her older sister, who lives with Ex. Why? Because she doesn’t want her mother to crash the funeral. Ex may decide to crash it anyway. She can Google with the best of us. But at least two of her children know enough not to facilitate their mother’s getting her hooks back into Bill’s family, especially by using Bill’s older daughter.

Of course, in this age of COVID-19, it wouldn’t be wise for anyone to go to the funeral who isn’t local and very healthy. Ex and older daughter live in New Hampshire, and we have heard that older daughter mostly takes care of her mother’s youngest child, who has severe autism. They shouldn’t be traveling to Bill’s dad’s funeral because it’s so far away, and no one needs to be exposed to their cooties– COVID-19 related or just the plain fuckery that follows Ex wherever she goes. But knowing Ex, she wouldn’t have the consideration to stay away because of a silly pandemic. Her emotions are what matter most, at least in her mind.

We have also heard that older daughter has repeatedly tried to get SMIL’s permission to let her come down to see her grandfather/attend the funeral. I’m not completely sure if she knows her grandfather has died. I assume she knows, although it wouldn’t be up to us to tell her, since she hasn’t spoken to Bill in 15 years and is now 29 years old. In any case, SMIL has repeatedly denied her permission. Bill’s sister agreed with her mother’s decision, saying “We don’t need to deal with that BS right now.” Younger daughter supposedly reminded her sister that she hasn’t spoken to them in years, so what does she expect?

Bill said he wouldn’t have a problem with his older daughter attending the funeral, since he was her grandfather, and she did, at one time, have a loving relationship with him. I’m a bit more of a hardass, which probably comes from being the evil stepmother. Personally, I don’t think she should attend. She didn’t have enough respect for FIL when he was living to call, write, or visit him. Why should she be there to mourn him and share the grief with those who loved him enough to have a real relationship?

It would be nice if older daughter would learn from this experience, although I suspect that if she’s anything like her mother, she’ll let it turn her into more of a victim. I hope she isn’t like her mother. I thought younger daughter was, but she proved me wrong. I had always assumed, from my few interactions with her, that older daughter was a kind-hearted person. Maybe I was wrong about that.

Anyway… older daughter really should grow up. FIL won’t be the first person who dies in the family. She’s made a choice to have things her way, and that choice is now haunting her. And you better believe that if I survive Bill and she’s still behaving like this, she will get an even less welcoming response from me if she wants to attend Bill’s funeral.

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divorce, Ex, family, obits

Another ray of light…

I love this arrangement…

This morning, Bill got the news that his father, Ray, passed away. It happened at about 1:30am, our time. Ray was not alone when he died. His wife was holding his hand and there was a Catholic priest with him. We were not surprised that he died. Last night, Bill was told that his father’s kidneys were failing and he was on a ventilator. So we knew this news would be coming to us soon… and Bill even said that it was probably going to happen within hours.

I didn’t know Ray very well. I visited his house a few times, but unfortunately, our relationship was rather stunted. Many of the reasons we never knew each other that well have to do with the fact that Bill and I have always lived far away from him. But there are also other reasons we were so distant. A lot of it has to do with family drama.

Bill grew up mostly without his dad around because his parents divorced when he was very young, and his mom moved him away from the Memphis, Tennessee area, where Bill’s dad had lived almost his whole life. Bill’s parents were from extreme northeastern Arkansas in an area so rural that Bill was born in Missouri, because there weren’t any hospitals in the Arkansas town where his parents lived. A couple of years later, they moved to Memphis, where Bill’s dad found work and settled down permanently.

When Bill was married to his ex wife, she developed a relationship with Bill’s dad and stepmother. She basically claimed them as her parents, probably because they were more the type of people she would have preferred to be her parents than the people who raised her were. And she used Bill’s daughters and her son from her first marriage as a way to leverage that relationship. Ray adored his grandchildren, so Ex would use that love to get what she wanted. Ex even used Ray’s home as the setting for multiple hurtful dramas toward Bill. It was in Ray’s house that she demanded a divorce and then banished herself to the guest room for hours.

Naturally, when I came on the scene, there were a lot of ghosts of the past… I think Bill’s dad and stepmother had trouble adjusting to me. I’m not at all like Ex is, and I think they thought I was a snob. Ray was Bill’s best man at our wedding, which took place on November 16, 2002. The night before the ceremony, Bill was nervous. His mom said to him, “Bill, don’t worry. No one ever died at the altar.” The next day, Ray was trying to emulate the soldiers who were there in uniform and he locked his knees. Just as Bill and I were about to recite our vows, Ray fainted! And Bill was horrified because he thought he’d killed his father! Meanwhile, the wedding photographer was taking pictures until she caught one of me glaring at her through my veil.

I looked forward to getting to know Ray better after the wedding. Unfortunately, it never really happened. I visited them a few times, but we’d end up spending most of the time talking about Ex and the kids. There wasn’t much time for them to get to know me as a person, although I do fondly remember bonding over banana pudding with Bill’s dad and stepmother the last time Bill and I visited them together, almost eleven years ago.

The last time Bill saw his dad in person was in May 2014. I stayed home in Texas and took care of our dogs while he visited his father, mainly because I didn’t feel comfortable in Ray’s home. Ray’s wife can be wonderful, but she’s never liked me very much. I don’t want to be where I’m not wanted, so I opted to stay home. At the time, Bill was transitioning out of the Army and we needed to save the money, anyway. Bill said the visit was awkward, although he was glad he went to see his dad.

Then my father suddenly died, and we moved to Germany… and COVID-19 happened, making travel difficult. It wasn’t easy to maintain those ties. But the truth is, Bill had felt kind of disconnected from his family, anyway. His stepmother would send him texts and private messages on Facebook, shaming him and demanding that he call or visit. And Bill would call, but his father sometimes didn’t seem interested in hearing from him. So Bill simply went on with his life. I sometimes wondered what would happen when the inevitable came to pass. I still don’t know.

A couple of weeks ago, Ray went into the hospital with pneumonia that had gone septic. He was reportedly terrified and already planning his own funeral, although initially, it seemed like maybe he’d get better. At one point, doctors thought he might have COVID-19, but it turned out he didn’t. His doctors did get the pneumonia under control. A CT scan revealed scarring on his lungs caused by pulmonary fibrosis and making it difficult for him to breathe. He’d also broken his back twice because he had osteoporosis.

The initial plan was to give him a drug to make his bones stronger and do surgery. When I heard about that, I started thinking that what was happening was Ray’s preparation to leave this life. I have had enough experience to know that when a person gets to a certain age and multiple things start going wrong, it’s a sign that time is getting short. Nevertheless, he was intubated a few days ago. Last night, his kidneys started to fail and his heart rate was all over the place. Bill and I knew that it was only a matter of time. Indeed, it was just a few hours.

One of my covers… this is a very healing song.

Bill did get to talk to his dad one more time. He saw the top of his head on Skype and they had a chance to say “I love you” to each other. We both feel glad that he had that chance. I was similarly blessed on Father’s Day in 2014, when I called my parents and spoke to my dad, who was unusually lucid that day. I remember telling him that I loved him, too. He was gone less than three weeks later.

One of the really sad things about our current times is that many people are dying alone. We’re grateful that Ray was spared that experience. He had his wife and a priest with him, and many people sending love… But unfortunately, I don’t know when Bill will be able to pay his respects in person. That’s what really sucks the most about this– along with the fact that his daughters may also be denied that chance, at least until the virus is more under control. There is no way Bill can go now, though, thanks to the travel restrictions, quarantine requirements, and everything else.

Bill spoke to his younger daughter last night on Skype. She said that she’d sent a message to Bill’s still estranged older daughter about this situation. Ex apparently reads older daughter’s texts, so she found out about Ray, too. And it would not be surprising if Ex got it in her head to try to visit during this time and, perhaps, horn in on SMIL’s grief. Bill does have a sister who has a wife– hopefully she, along with SMIL’s friends, will be strong enough to protect SMIL from Ex. It may seem crass to point this out in a post about death, but unfortunately, this is the kind of thing Ex does. She’s done it repeatedly over the years. She is a big fan of “ye olde surprise visit”, then she lays guilt trips on her victims to get them to host her and be an audience to her self-absorbed dramatics. I know older daughter is upset about this and, if she hasn’t already heard about Ray’s death, she’ll probably be devastated when she does get the news.

However, this situation may also have a silver lining. I have also pointed out that this may turn out to be the thing that gets older daughter to pull her head out of her ass and speak to Bill again. I don’t know… Death has a way of helping people put things in perspective. I hope she is deep enough to realize that we don’t have as much time as she might think. Life is full of surprises. Older daughter is 29 years old and really needs to grow up and face reality. But that’s just my opinion, of course, and I’m sure there’s a lot more to it than that. I don’t know her perspective at all. I could only try to guess. Personally, I think it’s tragic that Bill’s daughters have lost so much time with their family, due to divorce and petty grievances.

This post may seem kind of dry and matter-of-fact. I wish it weren’t so. Although I did know Ray and liked him very much, I never got to know him well enough to love him as much as I could have. But I do love his son with all of my heart, so I’m going to do what I can to help him through this. I truly hope that Ex has enough class to keep her distance during this time. Unfortunately, I have a feeling she may try to make this about her.

I think if there hadn’t been so much divorce and parental alienation in the family, Bill and his dad would have been very close. Ray was a really kind man, and Bill shares that kind spirit with him. I know Bill will take today to grieve and adjust to the news.

Incidentally, like Alex Trebek, who also died yesterday, Ray was also 80 years old. If there is a Heaven, maybe they’re playing a round of Jeopardy. In any case, I wish I had known Ray better. He was a good man, and I know his son is heartbroken that his father is gone.

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family, obits

Goodbye…

Bill and I spent a quiet weekend at home. The weather was cold and cloudy, and there are the persistent fears of the coronavirus to consider, so we hung out with the new dog. I completed my latest jigsaw puzzle and Bill bought me a new one– it’s much smaller, so I’ll probably finish it quickly. Bill also made some killer chocolate chip cookies that could not have come at a better time, since I happen to be enduring a visit from everybody’s favorite aunt. πŸ˜‰

Just as we were about to retire for the evening last night, I saw that one of my female cousins had expressed condolences to my cousin, Bruce. Bruce lives out in Las Vegas. He’s gay and, for over twenty years, had a relationship with a man named Dustin. Last month, Dustin announced that he had stage four liver cancer. Yesterday morning, he died.

I first met Dustin in 2000. At the time, I was in graduate school in South Carolina. Dustin had come with Bruce to our annual Thanksgiving family reunion. I used to be a regular attendee at those annual parties. But then I got married, and life took me away from Virginia. I came to realize that I didn’t want to spend the time or the money on family visits because too many of them ended in heartache. Now that I live in Germany and COVID-19 is a thing, that sentiment is especially true.

Not that I would have seen Dustin at a lot of our parties anyway, since he lived in Las Vegas. Bruce and Dustin didn’t come to a lot of our family parties either, both because it was expensive and time consuming for them to get from Nevada to Virginia, and because their relationship wasn’t all that enthusiastically accepted in our southern, politically conservative, Christian family.

Dustin was about my age, had blond hair, and was very thin. He had an asymmetrical face and liked to wear jewelry. He told me stories about how he was involved in the fashion industry and had worked with Versace. He said he’d done interior decorating for the Kardashians and other celebrities. He had done hair and makeup for celebrities, too, and told me that he thought I should color my hair deep red to make my blue eyes “pop”. I remember that Dustin wore a dental appliance because he was missing some teeth. Last time I saw him in person, he removed his teeth right in front of me. I quipped that being able to do that probably made him especially popular among gays. He had a good laugh at that. πŸ˜‰

When I first met Dustin, back in 2000, Bruce’s youngest brother was married to his first wife, who had two children from her first marriage and a son with my cousin. I remember first wife’s daughter was a very pretty teenager at the time who had aspirations to be a pop singer. She’d made a homemade CD. I don’t remember being all that impressed with her music, but I do remember that Dustin was giving her advice. He was very encouraging, but cautioned her against getting fat. Dustin was very outspoken about the dangers of obesity and how much it raises the cost of healthcare.

I didn’t see Dustin in person again until 2014 or so, although we were friends on Facebook. He used to get involved in lively debates on my Facebook page, as well as some family members’ pages. In July 2014, my father died, so we had a memorial for him at Granny’s house in Virginia. Bill and I flew from Germany to attend; we had only been in country for a few months. I haven’t been back to the States since that visit in November 2014.

Dustin told me that he hoped I wouldn’t mind if he didn’t attend the memorial service. He said he didn’t feel comfortable in churches and hated to attend funerals. He said that when he died, he wanted his friends and family to throw a party, not have a funeral. I assured him I wasn’t offended that he couldn’t come. I remember talking to him during that visit. We got along well because we both kind of felt like outcasts in the family. Most of our contact was on Facebook messenger, and we did have some lively Facebook messenger chats with lots of dishing.

Today’s featured photo is a screenshot that came from one of my many chats with Dustin. He liked to laugh about some of the hypocrisy he noted in my family. One of my cousins took issue with the “that post gave me cancer” post. It turned into a huge row. Dustin shared with me about it and we had a good laugh.

I am among the few rare liberals in my family… there are a few of us in the family, but really not many at all. I’m loud and opinionated, like the rest of the family is, but I’m not conservative anymore. Add in the fact that I’m not physically cute and demure, and I don’t put a lot of stock in religion, and you soon realize why I’m not that popular. Dustin could relate. I think some people in the family might have blamed him for the fact that Bruce is gay. It’s a preposterous notion, of course. Dustin had nothing to do with Bruce’s sexual orientation. He was just Bruce’s loving partner for over two decades.

I was shocked last month when Dustin announced that he had late stage liver cancer. I felt dread for him when I read about it. I didn’t expect him to be gone so soon. It was another shock to read that he’d already passed. I worry about Bruce, who is a kind, sensitive soul. I hope he’ll be okay, but I know that he has many friends and loved ones who will be there for him.

Although it had been awhile since my last boisterous chat with Dustin, Bruce told me that I was one of Dustin’s favorites of the in-law relatives. If that’s really true, I can understand why. He could be candid with me. I’m not offended by homosexuality, atheism, or filthy language. And I understand what it feels like to be on the outside. I wish we’d had the chance to know each other better, but life took us in different geographical directions. He was truly a unique individual, someone I’ll never forget. Beneath his flamboyant exterior was a man whom I know went through a lot of pain. I take comfort in knowing that the pain is over for him now. He is already missed by so many.

I’m sure that Dustin’s friends and family, especially my cousin, Bruce, are planning a banner bash to send him off to the next existence. I know that Dustin would rather people remember him and smile rather than cry over him at a funeral. I will definitely miss our Facebook dish sessions.

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