alfreddepew

Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Eggnog, sauerkraut and cookies: feeding the ghosts of Christmas past

In Family, Realtionship on December 21, 2011 at 11:59 pm
Alfred DePew
Published in the Vancouver Observer | December 13, 2011 |
Circulation: 100,000 monthly readers

Children at Christmas dinner. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Sauerkraut

Every year, my mother would put a large dish of it on the sideboard along with the carved turkey and stuffing and cranberry sauce for Christmas dinner, and each of us would be obliged to have a small portion as a way of showing respect to my father’s mother, her sister, Florence, and their childhood friend Edwina, three ancient ladies of German descent.

My mother hated Germans, not so much because of the war, but because of her mother-in-law. At best, their relations were strained. At worst, they flared into open combat. At least as open as life in a 1950s St. Louis suburb would allow. Which looked a good bit more like the subterfuge that characterized the years of the Cold War.

The root of the conflict lay in the fact that they were a great deal alike in temperament. Both had strong opinions about how things ought to be, and neither was shy about expressing those opinions.

Christmas being what it is, one makes an effort to be of good will, and my mother’s goodwill gesture toward Grandmother each year was sauerkraut.

There was always a lot left over. Sauerkraut, that is.

Aunt Edwina survived my grandmother and Aunt Florence by a good many years, so each Christmas, my mother continued to serve sauerkraut.  One year, my mother passed around the sauerkraut dish for second helpings, though it was clear than no one had had a first.

“Aunt Edwina,” she said, leaning over.

“No thanks,” said Aunt Edwina, “I’ve never much cared for it myself.”

I could almost read my mother’s mind: if Edwina had never liked it, then what about Aunt Florence and Grandmother? All that goodwill sauerkraut for naught.

Eggnog

It’s got to be the nastiest liquid on earth. I never could abide it — a waste of perfectly good bourbon. Of course not everyone agrees, and since it’s a Christmas tradition, it filled the cut-crystal punch bowl on Christmas Eve and then again on Christmas morning. My mother loved serving it to her mother-in-law and our maiden aunts, all teetotalers. After three cups or so, the old ladies would start giggling, without any clear notion of what was funny.

And my mother would grin, triumphant.

The good bourbon (Jim Beam, Old Grand-Dad, or Jack Daniel’s) was prominently on display, and everyone’s first highball was poured from that, but as my mother went around to freshen everybody’s drink, she’d carry the glasses out to the kitchen and pour from the bottle of 905, a more generic brand produced by the local liquor store by the same name.

Fruitcake

Speaking of bourbon, another Christmas treat that turned my stomach was fruitcake, the second nastiest thing in the world after eggnog. To think of the two together is almost more than I can bear. But, once again, to many it is the very essence of Christmas — heavy, dense, full of candied fruit and highly alcoholic. It was always a gift. From Mrs. Weintraub next door, I think. And so it was also showcased, and after a few hearty souls had a thin slice or two, most of it went the route of the left over sauerkraut.

Candy canes and oranges

They appeared in my Christmas stocking, and both were disappointments simply because they weren’t chocolate. Even so, I remember how exotic oranges seemed. I’m not sure why, but we never had any sort of fresh fruit around, except bananas — orange juice came from frozen concentrate. Oranges on Christmas morning were intriguing because I had to peel them, they sprayed a fine mist that tickled my nose, and they didn’t come out of a can. In the 1950s, that was sort of unusual. At least in our house.

In fact I don’t think I actually encountered an orange on a tree until I was well into my 40s on a trip to California, and — I kid you not — my first thought was: Californians are so weird, they hang ornaments in their trees in summertime.

Santa’s milk and cookies

I can’t for the life of me remember actually putting them out for Santa. It may have been one of those traditions that my family dispensed with before I was born. I was the youngest of four. I do, however, remember, my distress one year that Santa couldn’t possibly come because St. Louis almost never had any snow at Christmas-time. My father took pains to explain to me that for the southern route, Santa used a helicopter.

I was skeptical.

“How does he land it on a sloping roof?” I asked.

“The same way he lands his sleigh up north,” said my father.

“What about the reindeer?” I asked.

“Oh they’re helping to pull. Remember there’s a load of presents. And they know the route better than Santa himself,” my father assured me.

Everybody got the sense that year that I had outgrown Santa, and the next year, Santa didn’t drop in on Christmas Eve to have a glass of Christmas cheer. (The fact that Santa drank eggnog was a mark against him in my book.) True, the two previous years, I’d had a pretty good idea who was behind the fake belly and white beard, especially the year it was my older brother, but I had played along like the good sport I was always trying to be.

I can’t remember how old I was that year, but I was bereft and was working my way into a fit of tears. Whereupon my father snuck upstairs, put on one of my sister’s red winter coats, managed to stick some cotton balls on his face, and came back down.

“Ho! Ho! Ho!” he roared.

“Boo! Hoo! Hoo!!” I roared louder, not to be consoled by cheap tricks.

All these years later, I think: if only I’d had the presence of mind to soften, just a little. I was, in fact, too old for Santa, but I wanted the grown-ups to keep up the illusion, so I could act like I was playing along.

If only I had appreciated the apology inherent in my father’s ridiculous get-up that night.

If only I’d been willing, even for a moment, to believe in make-believe.

Advertisements

The Wisdom of Self-Doubt

In Children, Education, Family, Inner Work, Parenting, Realtionship, Relationship with Self, Schools on December 20, 2011 at 12:30 am

Maria V. Chatila

Guest blog by Maria V. Chatila, ILM, ACC, ORSCC

Maria V. Chatila is presently living in Dubai with her husband and three children. She works as an Education & Relationship Life Coach. She is dedicated to helping schools, families, couples and individuals to build personal and family awareness’ while creating empowering relationships. Maria has given talks to large groups of parents at schools as well as smaller groups of parents at their homes.

I dedicate this article to all parents and children in the hope that it may motivate and inspire you to achieve your full potential.

Anyone who knows me will agree that I am unable to wear the mask of pretender very well. Most often, I wear my emotions on my sleeve. Not only do I hang my emotions out for the world to see, I also assume that others will follow suit. Fortunately, I am mistaken. However, for the sake of this article, I will blast open one particular emotion that I tend to find very interesting and very wise. The emotion of the month is what I would like to call ‘Self-Doubt’.

According to the Collins dictionary, Self-Doubt is a lack of confidence in yourself and your abilities (Collins, 2003)

The Invasion of the Gremlins

As I sit here writing this article, I find myself reminiscing over my school years and the self-doubt that I experienced all of those years ago. The interesting thing about my memories is that my fears back then now seem so young and ridiculous. But, if I remember correctly, to the much younger Maria, those fears were very real and very scary. All these years later, the funny thing is that the essence of my younger self-doubt still exists.
My inquisitive nature leads me to use my curiosity and find the wisdom that lies behind the self-doubt that we may be feeling and use it to serve my audience of readers.
This is the time of the year when children and their parents may be feeling both very excited and very anxious about the upcoming end to the academic year. Most families have plans of enjoying a summer of carefree attitudes that means they could enjoy the freedom and flexibility that summer has to offer. The school schedule these days is about juggling the social and academic obligations and with this comes the knot in your stomach that for most people means SELF-DOUBT. Parents on the one hand are constantly wondering, ‘am I doing it right?’ Children, on the other hand, are wondering, ‘will my parents be proud of me?’

Last summer, I interviewed children of various age groups about how they felt about returning to school in September. The youngest of my interviewees Aya, was only 4 1/2 and she was ever so excited to begin school because this would be her first time attending the Big Girl school. She looked forward to a lovely new teacher who would surely love her and she especially was excited to play on the school playground. Apparently, says Aya, only clever big girls could play on the special playground so she was going to be a clever big girl this year! I was very impressed with Aya because it seemed that until this point, she really did not have any self-doubt. This made me really curious because, if most children were as confident as Aya commencing their careers as students then when did Self-Doubt begin to kick in?

Later on, I met Nicholas. He was 5 years old and he was preparing to attend Year 1 at his primary school. Overall, he had no real fears about recommencing school. However, he did say that he was a little bit nervous about meeting his new teacher. He claimed that until he could ‘see’ her face, he would be nervous. I asked him what he would be looking out for in her face and he said that he was nervous that she may not be nice and he would be able to tell this by looking at her eyes. He would be disappointed if she had ‘big circle eyes when she looked at him’ because this would be bad.

Michael, 7 years old, was getting ready to attend Year 3 and he was most definitely excited. However, he also claimed to feel really nervous too. Michael stated that his fears were mostly about the new teacher and his friends. He stated that meeting a new teacher makes him nervous because new teachers have new rules and new work that he will have to do. He was also nervous about his friends because he stated that if there were new people at school, he would have to make new friends.

Selena, also 7 years old, had a somewhat different stance to Michael’s. She was very nervous about not being able to make new friends which would lead her to be left by her lonesome during break-times to walk alone on the playground. Selena also claimed to be nervous about making mistakes with her class work that would then cause her to getting poor grades and this would eventually be the reason that she would be seen as a disappointment to her parents and they may even become angry with her. As she spoke, I could almost feel her fear.

Finally, I interviewed Dania who was 12 years old. As she spoke, I could feel the weight of the world on her shoulders. Dania discussed how she always has a feeling of self-doubt heavily on the first day of school. ‘Too much is unknown’, she said. She worries that this may be the year that everything goes wrong and she fails at tests and disappoints her parents, her teachers and herself. Dania worries that she may not have a bright future if this academic year is not successful and that she may not be able to accomplish the great things that she dreams of. Mostly, she says, ‘I feel afraid that I may not be noticed or chosen at school to do things that help me to stand out in front of my peers’. She worries that the teachers may not be fair and that she may not be accepted by her peers. Not fitting in amongst your peers is very challenging, says Dania. Some children get bullied if they don’t fit in and this can be scary for children, she says.

As I sat listening to the answers that were being offered to me by these young children, I remained astounded by how much has not changed since my younger years. Although technology has hit an all time high for creating amazing gadgets, our children are still suffering from the same issues of self-doubt as we did in our younger days!

With Age Comes Wisdom

‘Life is 10 percent what you make it and 90 percent how you take it’ Louise Priscoll
Interestingly, my last interviewee was a mid 30s mother of two children who remembers feeling self-doubt as a young child, but most especially at this time of the year when she was younger. To Melanie, the self-doubt reminded her of the ‘inner 5 year old child that lacks confidence, perseverance and drive’. I could not agree with her more. I too remember that my self-doubt really kicked in at the age of 5. Most countries across the globe begin to welcome children into school by the age of 5 and I do believe that although school is a place where children learn to build their characters and learn to mix with other children; I also believe and agree with Melanie’s statement; ‘as parents, we must become aware of our children’s feelings’.

Recently, the news printed a story about a young 13 year-old boy who tried to end his life because of his self doubt. Are parents, teachers and the community really aware of our children’s feelings of self-doubt that continue frightening them into doing things that seem like their only hope for escape?

A Coach’s Perspective….

In my working experience and in my personal experience, Self-Doubt is very common and I have still to meet an individual who has never experienced a lack of belief or a fear of failure. All those years ago and if I am very honest, not too long ago I still believed that my self-doubt existed to harm me. However, it is now my belief that ‘Self-Doubt’ enters our lives to give us some wisdom. The question is, are we ready to ‘see’ the wisdom in our fear of failure? It is a fact that teachers and caretakers have a huge impact on our children. Most teachers have more quantity time with children than some of the parents do. Therefore, it is important that parents and teachers work together to find the wisdom in the Self-Doubt that is causing havoc on our children’s lives.

Some of my tips are:

First and foremost, normalize the self-doubt. Most children are on a sole train called ‘EGO’ and they are not aware of the fact that many of the other children are also feeling scared, nervous and afraid of not being a success at school. As my evidence shows, all of the children that have previously been in school have already developed self-doubt. Sit down with your students and your children and share
your own memories of self-doubt as a child. In fact, share some of your most recent memories of self-doubt as an adult. Normalizing a lack of confidence will help your children feel comfortable with their own feelings.

Secondly, use the child’s fears openly and brainstorm as a family or as a class around the possible wisdom that is available to the child because of their self-doubt. At first, there will be no apparent wisdom just sadness and helplessness. Keep asking and soon enough the child will begin to say something positive about their learning’s because of the existence of their self-doubt.

Finally, once the wisdom has been made consciously aware, ask your child to take more actions that will continue to let them grow. Remember, ‘It is not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters’ (Epictetus) Sit down as often as your family or class feel is necessary and discuss the actions that were taken and give your child the feedback that they need. Praise them for whatever action they took and encourage them to keep moving forward.

Final Thoughts

I believe that it is our role as parents and teachers to help each and every child achieve their full potential. I stand strong and ask that you do too. At the end of our time here, I would like to believe that as a community we were able to light a fire within our children and help them to shine brightly for the next generation to see. What have you done today to help your child see the wisdom in their self-doubt?

For more information about Maria and her work, please visit her website, www.bpacoach.com or contact Maria directly through her email maria@bpacoach.com

.

The Parents’ Drinking Problem, Guest Post by Pearl Mattenson

In couples, Family, Parenting, Realtionship on December 1, 2010 at 10:57 pm

Pearl Mattenson, PCC, ORSCC

He comes home from a long weekend at a friend’s house. He is a senior in high school. At 17, he is able to drive his dad’s car, which he had borrowed for the weekend. Walking in the door, he gives his mom a hug and helps her out with a project.  They catch up on the events of the past few days. His mom asks,

“So was there drinking going on?”

“Yeah”

“Did you drink?”

“No”

Several hours later the mom happens upon her son’s Facebook page left open on her computer. She learns he had been drinking beer. She learns he threw up.

——————

I am so tempted to end this story here and ask: How would you handle this?

But I will share with you what his parents did. Some of these things happened immediately. Other reactions happened in the days following the revelation as they considered their response and reached out to others for advice.

  • They calmly sat him down and asked for a full accounting of the truth, “The whole truth this time.” They asked him what he was thinking when he made the choice to drink. “These were my best friends. I had never drunk beer before. I thought they wouldn’t let me get into trouble or make a fool of myself.” They tell him that if he had to drink, that was actually good thinking.
  • They asked him why he lied. “Because I was so scared of how mad you would get.” They told him they were far more upset about his lying than about his drinking. They expect him to test the boundaries every once in awhile. And they know that there are likely to be many more occasions in the future when he might find himself in a difficult situation. “We need to know that you can tell us what is happening so we can be there for you.”
  • They asked him what he will do in the future when in the presence of drinking. “I think I won’t drink. It wasn’t a good experience. I feel comfortable saying I am the designated driver or the designated sober guy.”
  • They told him that for the next 30 days he can’t drive the car alone. They also banned the home of the friend who hosted the drinking. They asked their son if he felt this was a fair set of consequences. “Yeah, it is.”

Your turn: What did they get right? What troubles you? What should guide a parent’s response in circumstances like these?

To find our more about Pearl Mattenson and her work, visit her website: http://pearlmattenson.com/

Shift Happens: Guest Post by Janet Frood

In couples, Dialogue, Family, Realtionship on November 30, 2010 at 2:14 am
Janet Frood,

Janet Frood, CPP, ORSCC, PCC

It’s official.  Our daughter has moved away to start University.  In one day our family system shifted from four to three — at least those of us living at home.  It’s making me think on a very personal level about system theory and patterns that we witness in teams experiencing change.

System theory says that every time someone leaves or joins a system (family, team or group) that the organic nature of the system changes.  There is an automatic adjustment and recalibration.  Often times the changes happen at an unconscious level.  If the system needs certain roles or relies on certain skills, inevitably those remaining on the team will step into unoccupied roles.  This assures the continuity of the system (functional and emotional).

In families, just like in teams, each person plays a formal role.  In this case our daughter is the oldest child.  As the oldest child, she has played certain roles in all of our lives.  She’s been the responsible one assuring that tasks get done on time and according to plan.  She’s also the tradition holder assuring that holidays unfold with certain reliable ceremony.  She values relationships and always spent time with each of us individually.

In our family system we have two nested systems – two parents and two kids. As parents, we are still parents of two yet the way we’ll interact with them has now changed.  It’s like we have become a virtual team as one of our members will only be connected virtually through Skype, text, FB and phone calls.  The home team of three will shift and change.  We’ll create new patterns and routines that will work for our dynamic.

When family systems change, just like with teams, it’s important to talk about the obvious changes – the ones you can anticipate.  When one member is gone and their strengths and skills leave with them, it’s important to plan for how you’ll mange the changes.  Speaking about the changes is important so that there are no assumptions.  In our case we had a gender balance – two males and two females.  Now, I’m the only female.  Who knows what that means for our family dynamic.  Who will watch the reality dance shows with me?

It’s also important to pay attention to the subtle signals that will emerge; the things that people are experiencing and not talking about.  Our son is already demonstrating more of a need to be close to us and hug us.  As Mom I know he’s giving us the hugs that were reserved for his sister.   It seems that by being the “only child” he’s already taking the opportunity to be seen and heard more as he often followed his sisters’ lead.  This phenomenon is common on teams where people will quietly assume new informal roles held by a former colleague.  If the system needs nurturing then others will start to demonstrate it in new ways.  That’s exactly what our little system is already doing.

It’s a fascinating time.  There are lots of adjustments ahead.  However, I hold a sense of confidence in knowing that we’ll calibrate to find a new balance and still be connected with each other – just in new and different ways.

For more information about Janet Frood and her work, please visit her website:  http://horizonleadership.ca/

The Problem with Obedience

In communities, Dialogue, Family, Realtionship, World Work on October 25, 2010 at 4:47 am

Guest Post by Kathleen Mangiafico, Relationship Specialist at Farmington Valley YMCA

Are you a person who doesn’t like to read ALL the directions to a game, and you just want to learn as you go?  I am.  Sometimes I just feel like it’s too much to absorb at once.  There’s too many rules to follow.  I’d rather just stick with the attitude of curiosity, see how the game plays out, than feel frustrated with the idea of understanding it all.  Interestingly, this isn’t how many of us approach other aspects of our lives.  We NEED to know the exact way to go about living and if we start to get frustrated….well, that’s when the real trouble starts.

Obedience.  We love it!  Obedient people are easy to get along with, helpful, and generally pleasant to be around.  Obedience is an emotional gift that some people are born with by nature.  Historically however, the parent/child relationship model we’ve been working from is to nurture obedience too.  …And there is a problem that comes with being JUST obedient….it’s called the tank of resentment!  So how does obedience affect our view on life?  How does it affect our personality?  What kind of affect does obedience have on our relationships?

We are currently in what I call the “cultural and generational collision”.  When I was a kid (I’m almost 42), and certainly when you go further back in time, children did as they were told.  They followed the rules!  Children were “seen and not heard” and the old adage was “spare the rod, spoil the child”.  Obedience was consciously taught in the home, schools, and through organized religion.  Many generations later, we are coming to learn the downside of this misinterpreted philosophy and are experiencing the repercussions of this type of living.  Yet, we still have not defined how to approach life and all of our relationships from a more balanced approached.

Balance.  There are other terms we keep throwing around like organic, healthy, holistic, etc..  But what we really want to move towards is balanced living.  Balanced living cannot be judged based on a particular food you eat, whether you are being rational at the moment, or if we are completely “whole” within our relationships all the time.  Although we cognitively understand this concept, we are all conditioned to live based on obedience.  And guess what?  The human race is collectively sick of being obedient!  This is evident just by watching pop culture TV, listening to the radio, or watching the dreadful news.  The new norms and values to life are blurry at best.  Childhood and adult emotional disorders, mental illness, divorce, addictions of all kinds (food, drugs, alcohol), avoidance behavior (work a-holics, exercise a-holics, shop a-holics…), and disconnected relationships are the fabric of our lives.

Balanced living is a continuum.  Balance is a moment in time when everything seems to be falling exactly in line with what we deem to be perfect (a.k.a.)…  A peak moment!  For every other moment, we are either left or right of center!  To live a balanced life, you have to be aware of what’s really important to you and who it involves, yet still find an appreciation and value for all else that you would prefer to be different.

So how does obedience affect our view on life?

How does it affect our personality?

What kind of affect does obedience have on our relationships?

Approaching life from just the attitude of obedience will cause you to be marginalized….ignored!  As a kid, you will be loved and valued by your parents and teachers, but you will be tormented by your peers.  As an adult, your voice will not be heard in your relationships and you will start to lose value in yourself.  You will continue to only listen and follow directions and you won’t be able to make decisions!  Human nature dictates that we need to know what someone stands for.  So, if you don’t speak up and use your voice when needed, someone else will use theirs for you!

If you are obedient by nature, here’s some pointing towards growing into the whole YOU when in relationship:

If you are a kid or growing young adult:

  • Stand up for yourself on the playground!  Make sure your voice is part of the decision making for how the game is going to be played.  Stand up for yourself in the hallways of middle school. Accept that some people won’t like it and it’s not the end of the world!  Choose to leave the relationship (when possible) if your voice is not respected or valued.  Stand in the fire when needed and hold your own.  Don’t run.  Over time, you will earn the respect of your peers for letting them know who you are.  Accept whatever consequences come from authority.  Leave room for forgiveness to repair relationships.
  • In your relationship with Mom, Dad, teacher or another caretaker, don’t let obedience hold back your voice.  Sometimes the adults in your life are too controlling.  Try to understand that they are unaware of how they are treating you.  It’s not intentional.  It’s just learned attitudes and behaviors.  In the moment of disagreement, accept their rank and privilege and do what is necessary.  When the situation is calm, go to them to express how you feel using “I statements”. ex.) “I feel ____when ____happens.”  Accept that you won’t always feel satisfied, but at the very least, you will have expressed yourself and not stored your feelings in a tank of resentment.  Overtime, some of the adults will start to hear your voice and will respect it.

If you are an adult:

  • Assert yourself in your close relationships!  i.e. your marriage, co-workers, bosses, extended family, and friends.  Stop avoiding conflict by choosing avoidance behaviors such as:  closet eating, closet drinking, doing drugs, working, exercising, cleaning or shopping too much. Stand in the lions roar!!  Don’t let his/her roar scare you.  Face the lion and hold your ground. Take space if needed and let the lion know.  When the atmosphere is calm, express yourself in a calm, deliberate manner by using “I statements”.  Accept that the lion won’t always like it immediately.  They need time to understand your roar.
  • If you are an adult who grew up in a time of obedience, then ask yourself, “How do I show up  in my role as parent, teacher or caretaker?”  Are you controlling and a bully? …Or do you tend to be a catastrophic push over, only to end up yelling and screaming?  Get clear on your expectations of your kids.  Have a family/class/group meeting to express them.  Allow the kids to express their desires too.  Get aligned on the expectations.  See where you can flex to meet the children’s wants, especially as they get older.  Hold boundaries when needed and be consistent.  Stop the negative verbal dialog.  Be aware of giving genuine praise and acknowledgment.

Obedience is a necessary attitude of life, but is extremely detrimental when used to please someone.  When using the attitude of obedience, think in terms of being obedient to The Relationship…not being obedient to the individual(s).  Result?  With much practice, three generations from now we will have redefined healthy, connected, sustainable individuals and relationships.  They will be co-arising, not co-dependent!

Questions/Thoughts To Ask Yourself When the Attitude of Obedience Shows Up

  • How will what I am about to Say or Do impact my relationship?
  • What Is Trying To Happen for the sake of the relationship?
  • What do I Need to Accept from the other person, that I would prefer to be different, for the sake of the relationship?
  • What Needs To Happen next for the sake of the relationship?

Kathleen Mangiafico, ORSCC is a Relationship Specialist.  Her expertise lies in working with diverse individuals, and other relational systems (youth groups, couples/families, businesses) and can be reached at kbmangiafico@sbcglobal.net

Next of Kin

In Family, Realtionship on October 22, 2010 at 5:35 pm

The Mississippi River

(Reprinted from the Vancouver Observer)

When I get to the Intensive Care Unit in Des Peres, Missouri, I find Pat wired to several machines that beep softly. Her eyes are open. She recognizes me, but has difficulty speaking. The beginnings of sentences come out all right, but the ends are chewed and garbled. Her jaw moves up and down involuntarily. I have to listen hard and ask her to repeat. Her breathing is laboured. I don’t want to make her talk more than she has to.

She doesn’t know what happened to her. All her friend in the retirement community said when I called was something about her kidneys. Something about being incoherent.

“Well,” Pat says, “Here—we—are. Nothing—to—do—but—wait—I—guess.”

I imagine she’d shrug if she could.

“This is a fine how do you do,” she might say if speaking were easier.

The nurse, Dave, explains that Pat has been on a ventilator, but has improved, and is now breathing on her own. Improved compared to when they brought her in. My sense is that she is dying.

He asks if I am her closest living relative, and I have to think a moment. Pat is my mother’s cousin. I run it through my mind: an only child, no children of her own, no nieces or nephews. I suppose I am. Pat had been my grandfather’s favorite niece. For some reason, my mother never liked her.

I met Pat when she attended a reading I gave in St. Louis some years ago. She came up to me afterwards and introduced herself. Nearly every trip since then, we’ve managed to have lunch or meet at Schneidhorst’s for breakfast. I would always invite my mother to come along, but she’d grow evasive and decline.

Pat and I have had similar lives. We are both writers, both worked for a time in advertising, and neither of us married. Even today, St. Louisans view unmarried people with condescending sympathy, and a certain amount of suspicion. And envy, I think. Our independence, perhaps. As if we had cheated, somehow. Shirked some essential duty of adulthood.

When she finished college at the start of World War II, Pat decided to join the Navy. She went in to tell her mother first.

“If it had been me, I’d have joined up long ago,” her mother said, without even looking up from her knitting.

The she told her father, who threw a fit—“No daughter of mine!” … That sort of thing.

Pat earned the rank of lieutenant and trained officers in Washington, DC. She was often assigned to carry secret orders—on the train up and down the East Coast, and by plane to California.

When I saw her last March, she showed me an album and told me stories about the young men and women in the photos—where each was taken, what they had eaten at picnics, who was in love with whom.

She carried top-secret orders for the Potsdam Conference and for Okinawa.

“And Hiroshima?” I asked. “What about Nagasaki? Did you carry those orders?”

“I don’t remember,” she said. “We were trained to forget.”

On the second day that I visit her in Intensive Care, she is neither asleep, nor entirely conscious. Her eyes are slightly open, but she’s not seeing me. I’ve brought a photograph of her favorite uncle, my grandfather, after whom I am named. I’d found it among the things my brother and sister and I had been going through the day before.

I stand by Pat’s bed, praying. I hum the old hymn “Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling.” It’s all I can think to do. I don’t want to wake her. She seems to be resting comfortably. Though her breathing is even more laboured than the day before, she is not struggling. She seems unafraid. Over the course of our friendship, I’ve learned that she’s a woman who goes to her Protestant church every Sunday, the most ordinary kind of religious observance. Conventional. There has never been a hint of rancor or resentment over my mother’s snubs or the complicated social strata of St. Louis. She never made a fuss over her independence. She showed a normal pride in her accomplishments as an advertising account executive and one of the founders of the St. Louis Women’s Advertising Club, which raised nearly twice the amount for charity one year as the Men’s Club.

She has lived by her own lights, followed her own mind and heart, always curious about the world. She doesn’t regret anything. At least not anything she’s willing to tell me about.

The doctor comes in to check on her and asks if I am her closest living relative. I reckon I am. There is no living will, nor anyone they know as Power of Attorney. That’s why they keep asking me. In cases like these, they put together an Ethics Committee to decide if treatment ought to be continued.

All I can say is what I see: my friend and second cousin, an independent woman of deep faith, unafraid, following her failing heart to peace and home.