A View from Sierra County

Small town life and politics, lots of knitting, and travels with and without my five burros

My Photo
Location: In the Sierra Nevadas, United States

I blog about rural living and social issues, and the creativity that comes from knitting, as well as post random pictures of the Sierras and my burros. "In order to be an artist, one must be deeply rooted in the society" - Simone de Beauvoir


Friday, March 24, 2006

Loss and a Story of Love

My life has been thrown into chaos this week by the grief, loss and soul-searching that comes from losing a member of my family. My dear uncle, Ed Mohlengraft, passed away last week, following a lengthy battle against both Parkinson’s and heart disease. He was 84. He was also one of the last adults in my life who knew me from my birth, and he and his wife, my mother’s sister, Jane, were my godparents, in the true sense of the term, throughout my life. There were many times when they stood in for my parents, most particularly when my parents were tending to my youngest brother’s battle with leukemia. They lived only two miles from us during those years, and spent many an evening and an overnight, either tending to us at our house, or bringing us to theirs. They were so much a part of our ongoing lives at that point that we accepted this, on the surface. They cooked for us and fed us, kept us entertained reading stories and playing board games. I was seven, and my two other brothers were five and three (the youngest was a twin to this brother). Their hearts must have been breaking, knowing the loss for all of us that was coming, but they showered us with love and we took our fears and frustrations out on the babysitters who came during the days, and not on Uncle Ed and Aunt Jane. They were the ones who tried their best to explain the night that my baby brother died.

My aunt and uncle also provided the kind of safe haven a child needed as they came to challenge their parents. They were less judgmental, and I remained close to them both. They were my anchor a dozen years ago, while I was managing the care for my mother, facing the end of her own battle with emphysema. They helped me through the funeral arrangements, and the process of becoming the guardian for my father, lost in the dementia of Alzheimers already. My aunt had been the one to care for my grandmother, and they provided the same support for my cousin as my mother’s older sister and her husband became infirm and required her care.

Throughout it all, my uncle maintained a very active volunteer life. He had retired at a young age (at least it sure looks like it to me now), having survived a brain anerysm at about age 50, and once he returned to good health, became a docent at the Sacramento Zoo, and very active in his parish and the Knights of Columbus. He made giving back to the community a full-time job, and was always gentle and kind to those around him.

This photo was taken in 2006, on my aunt and uncles 50th anniversary. My cousin Gaytrell is in the middle. My uncle's best friend Milt spoke at the funeral, telling a moving story of over 50 years of love between the two, and how amazed he was to watch as my uncle was able to comfort my aunt when she was in great pain following surgery for a broken hip a few years back, simply by saying "Jane, I am here with you".

My DH, DD and DS joined me in attending his funeral Wednesday afternoon, which was the most elaborate Catholic funeral for a layperson I had ever attended. There were four visiting priests, something pretty unusual for a "citizen", as well as several lay ministers and four alter-persons (yes, one was a girl - this has become common in the past decade or more). It was a tribute to his service to others that they desired to be there to honor and commend him. Listening through the service was both familiar and difficult. I can still remember every word of much of the ancient ritual and yet there are beliefs that are now so far removed from me. I can treasure the love all of these strangers had for my uncle, just as there are people in my daily life who love and treasure my presence, and still feel unique and alone in my loss.

I have felt frail and vulnerable, yet thankful that he lived such a full life. My cousin and I shared our fears about having no elders left in our shared grandmother’s lineage; it is just us now, and a three other sibs/cousins, although they were not in attendance. I know that we both are strong and competent women (this is the same cousin that raises 80-100 cattle a year on our family’s ancestral ranch while running her own interior design business), and yet we have not needed to rise into the position of wise women, elders, until this moment. It is enormous. We have agreed to make a greater effort to see each other regularly, in part to help each other make this step, and in part to share our grief. We have each lost one of our best mentors, the person who taught us compassion by example, and who never had a harsh word for us while we were growing up. We were lucky and now have to draw upon those reserves and share that knowledge back somehow. Will we be up for the task?

From this experience, I attended a day-long training in values-centered leadership. I am challenging each of you this weekend to think about what your core values are... they are what keeps you coming back to read my work, instead of someone else's blog, for they are where our commonality really lies. Many of my blogworld friends value creativity, but they also have a deep love of friends and family, and a sense of responsibility to the world. What else ties us together? Please go and hug your family for me.


Blogger margene said...

A life well lived is a phrase that comes to mind. He was a treasure to have in your life and his values and commitment to others will always be a part of who you are. Coming together with the cousins to take over the 'head' of the family will be a rewarding experience for you, too.
Safe journey and enjoy the party of your FIL. I'll be thinking of you.

8:16 AM  
Blogger Ruinwen said...

I'll be keeping you in my prayers.


10:05 AM  
Blogger Carrie K said...

I'm so sorry for your loss and your loss sounds great indeed. Margene said it well, it sounds like your uncle had a well lived life.

10:28 AM  
Blogger Stacie said...

I am sorry for your loss and thank you for sharing your deepest feelings in this venue. I love the way that bloggin allows a person to write without hesitation. Thanks again.

10:35 AM  
Blogger Sara said...

My condolences Birdsong. It is a strange and untethered feeling to be the elder, and yet I am quite sure you are up to the task. Stay well, even in grief, take care of yourself.

1:37 PM  
Blogger Kathy said...


Grief is so powerful. It is such a gift in a way. A painful odd gift.

I think what some of the bloggers have in common is compassion. I like to post to bloggers who are kindhearted in their posts. Yours certainly is.

7:48 PM  
Blogger FaeryCrafty said...

I am so sorry for your loss Birdsong. Big hugs to you and your family.

8:37 PM  
Anonymous Colette said...

Birdsong, please accept my sincere sympathy in the passing of your Uncle. Treasure those wonderful memories for it is from those that you shall draw your strength and direction as you become the elder members of your family.

2:41 PM  
Blogger KnitNana said...

Dear Birdsong, dear "sis,"
How sad reading this entry made me, yet, how glad. Your uncle was well loved, well lived. He and his wife helped form you to the loving woman you are today!

The mantle passes - we each come to it. It's very hard to realize that now we are "orphans" when we are in our 40s and 50s - and odd term - but orphans we are, when that generation of our parents moves beyond.

Know you are loved, you are "hugged" across the miles.
Dear sis.

6:53 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

I am so sorry for the death of your Uncle.

I think when we are younger, we just "expect" our elders to be around us forever! I know that I look at my parents and think that as I get older, so do they and it is tough!

Hugs to you.

11:47 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home