“The Family Detectives,” from Austin Kleon‘s book Newspaper Blackout. Copyright Austin Kleon, 2010.
Look at the title of my post. I made it! I committed to doing this for 2012, and I finished it. I had no idea what I was taking on when I chose to delve into my own and my mother’s (and sometimes Lynne’s and other family members’) photo archives and write the memories the pictures inspired. Mostly, I wanted to prove to myself that I could write every day, because I haven’t written anything substantive since finishing A Coventry Wedding just after my mother died in 2008.
I did not write every day, though I did end up with a legacy writing post for every day.
First, I could never have imagined as the year began the blow that would strike my family in April with Aaron’s death. Aaron had always been fascinated by our family’s history–from the mysteries that he, his father before him, and my mother before them, could find by exploring genealogy–a study that is also a part of his Mormon roots. When Aaron visited The Compound in March, we talked about so many things. He persuaded me to sign up at ancestry.com so we could share information. I made him register for selective service, since I’d had no idea up until then that every male is supposed to when he turns eighteen, even though there’s no draft. That whole process cracked us up, and in a comment he left on some later post in this blog, he promised not to tell his mom I made him join the Army. (I didn’t, Lisa!)
Aaron also loved to listen to our family stories, even if he’d heard them before. So when I decided to do the legacy writing, I acknowledged that it was with hope that one day these stories and memories might mean something to my nephews and nieces, and to their children. I wasn’t worried that I might violate anyone’s privacy: I’ve long walked the line in this blog between talking about the people and events in my life and revealing too much. In some ways, that came back to bite me when some readers told me they couldn’t relate to my family because their own experiences were much sadder and seemed less worthy of recounting. My family and friends have never been exempt from pain and loss, but I don’t exploit those things here to get readers or attention. I try to provide a whole picture, and despite deaths and disappointments, I’m not an unhappy person. Even when I write about sad things, sad times, I feel so fortunate for the amazing journey this life has been and for the people who’ve been on that journey with me.
What to do, then, when catastrophe strikes, when a loss is as shocking and as painful as Aaron’s? My first impulse was to shut down this blog completely. I didn’t want to look back. I didn’t want to talk about my family. I wanted to be with my family. I wanted us to gather in a circle and fend off all comers and hurt and heal together. But for me, writing is how I cope. The love I share with my family and my friends is the source of much of my strength. These two things together–art and love–have always been part of how I heal and move forward.
After a few days to breathe, I began to write my way back. I tried very hard not to share anything that would cause any more grief to those who love and lost Aaron. And I continue(d) to try every day to celebrate him, and the wonderful people I know, both in my daily life and in the words I write.
Among the gifts that keep me balanced are the dogs, and Rex always, always made me laugh. His loss and how it would impact us all is another thing I never dreamed would be part of 2012. We also lost the friendship of someone we loved and valued, and that continues to be one of the challenges the year brought us.
But those griefs are not all of our year. We still have friends. We still have family. We still have dogs. There are still children laughing in our lives–and more children to come. There are weddings to be planned, birthdays to celebrate, anniversaries to recognize. There are jobs that make us grateful, our health to cherish. There are books left to edit and write and read. There will be more art.
Another thing that made the legacy writing project difficult is that any writing takes energy. Sometimes it was the act of writing. Sometimes it was looking at photos and just planning what to write. There were times when memories caused me such a sense of loss that I’d put my head on my desk and cry for the people I missed. I don’t live in the past–I never have–so a year of looking back could be draining. I’d skip a day or two and then catch up. It was also frustrating when writing the past seemed to steal my ability to talk about the here and now, which is where my mind and heart and soul actually do live.
I haven’t formulated a project for the coming year. I’m going to try to live as much in the moment as possible, and share whatever those moments compel me to write in my blog. I’ve received a lot of gifts and shared a lot of conversations that I believe will give me plenty to think and talk about. I hope you’ll stick around. I thank you very much for being with me for the past year. In memory of 2012, I’ve collected photos in the video below.
Happy new year to you all. I hope you receive all good things in abundance.