Monday, October 31, 2016

Loss

One of the recent transcriptions I’ve been working on has a receipt for the funeral expenses:

Receipt
for 5 fr 26 which the underwritten has received  to procure the orderly funeral with a silent mass for Veronika daughter of [the deceased] Josef Lidiak of Trojanovice,  buried on 6th April,………

       f[lorins       x [kreuzers]
to the officiating priest               2   24
to the officiating cooperator            36                  [cooperator = a clergyman; forthcoming blog post about this]
to the choir director                            48
to the gravedigger                              44
to the organ bellows operator          6
to the altar boys                                   9
to the carrier of the cross                    3
                                       Total     5 f[lorins] 26 x [kreuzers]
                                                  Con[ventional] M[oney]

This record gives me a glimpse into the world of these ancestors. Apparently, at the funeral a choir sang, and an organ was played. The altar boys were there. Somebody carried a cross. These tiny fragmented details help me consider these people as real human beings who lived in real families.

Recent Loss in my Family
In my family, there are four children: Joe, Kate (me), Sarah, and Dot. Sarah is married to Mykle Law, the son of Steve and Connie Law. Steve died three months ago from a complicated case of pancreatitis. He was only 56 years old. My only other experiences dealing with death in my family has been with old people whose passing was sad but not a tragedy. Steve’s death was a tragedy. We were all very sad. Sarah, Mykle, their kids, and Connie came to visit this week. It was nice to visit with them, especially to reminisce about Steve, and to process our family’s loss.

Steve Law had a degree in library science and worked in the Family History Center in Salt Lake City for 25 years. I miss him because he was one of the few quirky people in my family who understood and shared my obsession with family history. He had a wall in the front room in his house in Provo that was covered in old family photos. I loved it. I decided to do the same thing in my house.

This photo wall is not done. Some of the photos are off the wall because Danny is adding QR codes to the back that link to a story about the family member. But some of the stories are really hard to find, and like most projects, I gave up at ~80% completion.

When Danny and I were married in the Boston Temple in 2008, Steve and Connie flew out to attend. Sarah is my only married sibling, but Danny’s siblings (except for the “oops” baby Ella, who is 14) are all married and I only know their parents well enough to chit-chat at Christmas parties. Steve and Connie had just experienced several tragic deaths in their immediate family, and so my parents were really anxious to help them experience something positive. That is why they came to our wedding. I don’t really remember them being there, but there are photos. The only person I cared about at all that completely perfect day was Danny.

The last email I received from Steve was in January. He had taken the time to cut and paste a Czech article for me from J-Stor so I could read it through a translator. He also gave me some recommendations for collaborators, who I am just now contacting, these many months later.

As I look through these emails from Steve, I realize that he helped me with a lot of random translations and lookups through the years. I know it’s a totally selfish thing for me to miss him because of the great benefit he was in my genealogy world; that other family members certainly feel his loss much more deeply than I do. He would have been extremely enthusiastic to participate in the Czech research and transcriptions I’m working on now. I feel so guilty for mourning this specific loss because it’s so comparatively trivial.

Czech Family Dynamics
It makes me wonder about the family dynamics of people in the past. I think one reason I have always felt like I relate more to my Czech ancestors than the other sides of my family has to do with my perception of their family dynamics. I’ve always wanted a big family; I came from a “big” family (four kids...not big by Utah standards, enormous by Massachusetts standards where I grew up). My Brits must have figured out birth control early or had very cold relationships with their spouses, because their families are comparatively tiny; historically, my Czechs all have big families.
Casual dinner with family. Very, very loud.

As I’ve read more Czech literature, I’ve noticed that the children are more present than in Brit Lit. The kids are not ignored. They are running around, making noise/chaos, and just generally present. Authors paint a much more real picture similar to my own current family experience. We all have our individual quirks and silly personality traits that are both obnoxious and endearing (sometimes at the same time).

Sarah being a dork

I had to put a photo of me being a dork, too, otherwise it would not have been fair.

I wonder how my Czech family of the past would have supported a recently widowed spouse. It is interesting to read about what the widow receives in the land records [link], but this is just a scratch on the surface. I want to know what kind of emotional support these women would have received, and what their grieving process was like.

It seems like Czech widows and widowers frequently remarried quickly, within 6 months after the death of their spouse. I’m sure that this had a lot to do with the logistic realities of caring for all the young children; men and women both worked hard, and depended on each other in many ways (just like today). But certainly feelings and emotions also had a lot to do with the next marriage. I had not really considered, until talking at length about this with Connie, about being asked to go on your first date after becoming a widow. What would that have been like in the world of the past? If you inherited a farm after the death of your husband, would potential suitors feel like “gold-diggers” (wanting to marry you just for your money)?

Choir and Music
Before he died, Steve joined a choir out in Utah, but was only able to attend one practice until he became so sick that he could no longer sing. Since then, Connie, Mykle, and the other brothers joined the choir as a way to honor him. When Connie was here, we sat around the piano singing. My dad and I took turns playing the piano.

Aside from the LDS hymnbook, my dad has a huge hymnbook full of a diverse range of protestant hymns. I played one that my dad kept humming, and he told me that it was the song he played at “Granny’s” funeral (Grandma Vasicek’s mom, Alma Irene Sutton). He said that he had never heard that song before her funeral, but that all the old women were crowding around the piano and begged him to play it. He figured out how to play it by ear, without music, and he said that no exaggeration, he must have played that hymn 100 times.

It reminded me of when I was 17 and played "How Great Thou Art" on the piano at my grandpa Vasicek’s funeral.
Obviously, it did not sound like this when I played it.

Although I have been to church basically every Sunday of my life, I have only ever been to a Catholic worship service a handful of times, and this was the one and only Catholic funeral I’ve ever attended. It was in Midland, Texas, and it was completely packed. There must have been 400 people there. Everybody knew my Grandpa, and loved him. I remember feeling really disappointed because he was my favorite grandparent, and so it was very unfair that he was the first to die. I also remember that I was very happy to play the piano at his funeral, because it felt like I could do something other than stand around and feel useless.

There isn’t a lot I can do now to support Connie, besides pray and listen if she wants to talk. I really enjoyed listening to her; it makes me realize that I also miss Steve, even though he is not really a very closely related person to me. Did the people of the past who sang in this choir at my great x grandmother’s funeral have some of these same feelings? Was singing a way for them to come close to expressing some of the depths of their soul?

Music as a gateway to the soul
I sing with my parents in my ward choir at church .

I spy with my little eye...something Czech!

There’s a simple arrangement of an LDS hymn that we are singing now. It has some special meaning to me now, here, even though my loss is comparatively minimal.


I liked this video because it shows the humanity, especially the choir director. Also, it was shot at my beloved Brigham Young University in a building where I had several classes; they are definitely singing in the HFAC. My roomie Cindy was in this choir back in the day.

Where can I turn for peace?
Where is my solace when other sources cease to make me whole?
When with a wounded heart, anger, or malice, I draw myself apart, searching my soul?

I’ve published a few things on my blog about my desire to have additional Czech genealogy collaborators. I think one reason why this feels so important to me is because I really, really, really want to share this part of myself with others, and for this part of me to be understood. I suppose it’s a small thing, but I really value being able to talk about my interests without being rejected or ignored. Steve shared this interest, but it is very sad to me that my other family members do not.

And it really isn’t a small thing, to have a friend who you can understand, and who understands you. I am finding that my genealogy friends are priceless to me, and that while I have many friends, there are actually only a few who I really trust enough to show all those aforementioned “individual quirks and silly personality traits.” I obviously show a lot of them, sure, but there are some that I keep hidden and reserved because I don’t want to be rejected. Basically: it’s okay to be a dork, but not a really huge dork. And in my heart, I know I’m a much huger dork/nerd than almost anybody around me realizes. It is painful.

Where, when my aching grows, where, when I languish, where, in my need to know, where can I run?
Where is the quiet hand to calm my anguish?
Who, who can understand?
He, only One.

He answers privately, reaches my reaching in my Gethsemane, Savior and Friend.
Gentle the peace he finds for my beseeching.
Constant he is and kind, Love without end.

The truth is that my creator already knows all of my dorkiness and loves me anyway. He knows all my thoughts and feelings, and all the answers to all of my questions, even the most trivial ones.

I know that this is true.    










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