Apr 05 2011

Community Indicators in Times of Stress

As readers know from my last post, our family has been celebrating the life of and grieving the loss of my dad, Bill Wright. Yesterday was his memorial mass at St. Joseph Catholic Church here in Seattle where mom and dad found their Seattle “church home.” Right now I have the house to myself and found I needed some reflective time, and some processing of what has been swirling around us: community.

The core of my professional practice is “connected and connecting” people. In any sense of those words. Experiencing the love and community around my family and me since Dad entered the hospital on March 22nd is a fertile ground for noticing and reflecting on those things that tell us community is present, “community indicators.” If I think to the earthquakes in Christchurch, NZ, and Japan, these community indicators are alive and activated. They are alive in my home town.

By chance I happened on a TedTalk by Eric Whitacre today and lo and behold, the soundtrack for my reflection showed up. I received my love of music from my dad. I remember him playing me albums of marching band music, musicals, folk and classical music into my preteen years. Mom and Dad took us to hear Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops when they played at San Francisco’s Stern Grove. Over the last week I curated some music for the funeral reception – lots of folk music, especially banjo. But all with “soul.” So for me, a soundtrack feels “right.” Even more, the soundtrack itself is a community indicator, a virtual choir of hundreds of voices, recorded around the world and brought together. Now this is not about artifice, or a diminishing of the extraordinary power of singing together, but of how we can sing together in many ways. Singing together IS a community indicator. Take a listen.

via YouTube – Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir – ‘Lux Aurumque’. (The final piece will be premiered on YouTube this Thursday.)

So back to this community thing. I want to thank and honor the many communities that have gathered us in their arms over the last two weeks. I was preparing for a three week set of workshops in New Zealand and Australia the week my dad fell into a coma. A few emails and all of my colleagues who have worked hard to set up the workshops, market, book venues and everything replied to my notice that I had to cancel with two things. “Yes, no problem” and “our hearts, prayers and thoughts are with you and your family.”  They lifted that off my shoulders like a warm spring breeze. The participants, some of whom booked plane tickets to come to the workshops handled it all with grace and love.

Washington DC trip (1969?)

Here in Seattle, from the moment the 911 team arrived to my Mom’s emergency call, to the last few hours in the hospital when Dad was leaving us, people reached out. Strangers. Ambulance drivers. Emergency room nurses. Doctors, techs, cleaning folks, everyone. I think they all knew what was happening before we did, so they gently made the path a little clearer, a little more peaceful as we walked along it.

My parent’s pastor, Father John, came to the emergency room and hospital. On the night of Dad’s death, also his birthday, he called his sister with whom he was to have dinner and said he had to be elsewhere and he came to the hospital. My sister was there and she and I were able to sing to Dad through the end. She sings with a Threshold Choir in Davis, California and brought that calm peace. I would not have been able to sing alone. The nursing staff brought in food for the family as we watched and waited through the last hours. One saw my son was really struggling and hugged him and offered words of comfort.

Across town at Mirabella, the next day, as my mom walked down the hall, people started the flow of hugs, tears and “we are here for you” that have continued unabated. Flowers, cards, food. Yesterday at the funeral, 78 Mirabellians had signed up to share two buses and many carpools and came to celebrate Dad’s life. And many promised to keep reaching out to Mom as she works her way through the stages and waves of mourning and loss.

Dad and Randy, Santa Clara

Father John create a beautiful service that, with family members and friends doing readings and remembrances, flowed like a practiced choir. He started his homily with a verse from a favorite song of Dad’s “All God’s Critters Have a Place in the Choir” (by Bill Staines) and connected it to the Beatitudes which he read for the gospel, and to Dad’s generous spirit. MHB Conant sang and Robert McCaffery-Lent brought solace and beauty through music. (See 2011 Bill Wright Program).

Family members did the readings and Jack Blume (a Mirabella resident), Randy Wright (my brother) and Cleve Wright (a friend of my Dad’s and a former Mirabella employee) shared amazing, warm and beautiful stories about Dad. To a one, they all talked about Dad’s openness, positivity and generosity of spirit. Tears, laughter, music. As it should be.

Afterwards at the reception in the Parish hall there were more stories, songs (the water aerobic’s “Zippidy Doo Dah”), red wine (as Dad would want it) and lots of people coming up to me to say “your Dad was remarkable,” or “I don’t usually go to funerals, but I came to your Dad’s and I’m glad I did.” I think Father John also converted a few people to his parish! :-)

Dad and I on the Washington Coast

Back online on Twitter, Facebook and on my blog condolences flowed in. I heard from people in my Dad’s life that I hadn’t heard from in years. Family that I thought didn’t even know I blogged commented here (thank you!) Cards from clients. Tons of love. This sustains us as we ride the waves of loss and grief. They refresh precious memories, sharpen stories that may have been fading.

My Dad was a steady light in my life. Patient to a fault. Tenderhearted. Appreciative. Easy to be with. He fixed things and showed me HOW to fix things. He gave me my curly hair, my love of music and vegetable gardening, my inclination to wave at trains, and  a confidence to step out in the world even when I felt scared and shy. Up to the last he was engineering and reengineering, having recently re-jiggered a no-knead bread recipe to fit into the new cast iron pan he got at the family Christmas gift exchange. His Sudoku prowess blew my mind. Both he and my mom role modeled community service at every turn, in often different but significant ways.

I can’t imagine doing this alone. You are my community. Your “indicators” are blinking and lighting up like the milky way on a clear, mountain night. Thank you.

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12 responses so far

12 Responses to “Community Indicators in Times of Stress”

  1. Janis McCabeon 05 Apr 2011 at 7:04 pm

    Nancy,

    I’m sorry to hear about your dad’s passing. I remember that even though we’d sort of antipicated it, my father’s death was very hard on all of us and I think especially my mother. I think about him nearly every single day and there are lots of good memories to focus on.

    Prayers for you.

    Love,

    Janis

  2. Christy Lee-Engelon 06 Apr 2011 at 10:49 pm

    Dear Nancy,

    How lucky I feel to get to have a glimpse into the rich love of your family and to catch a sense of your wonderful dad. I remember thinking after my dad died, how very surreal it was that the world seemed to be going on as it always had, as if everything hadn’t changed.

    May your dad’s memory be always for a very sweet blessing. Love to you & a big hug, Christy

  3. Jim Wrighton 06 Apr 2011 at 11:41 pm

    James B Wright
    April 4, 2011

    Dear Dolores, Randy, Mary Frances and Nancy,

    You all have had a wonderful and unique experience of being the center of my Brother Bill’s adult life. I too have had a special experience with Bill. It was not quite the same as yours, but was great and truly rewarding also. You all knew him as an adult whereas I knew him as a child and an adolescent up until his mid teens.

    Starting out, I have fond memories of Bill, Harold and me splashing around in a watering moat surrounding one of the apricot trees we had at our home on 418 Superior Avenue in San Leandro. It was a muddy mess and we loved every minute of it. I was about three and Bill about two years old. I believe you may have a picture of that occasion that Grandmother Wright may have provided you some time back.

    Bill was always the least troublesome of the three of us. He always was unperturbed and docile when things were heading toward a dispute (called a fight by us kids). He knew better than either Harold or I when to keep his mouth shut. And, he was usually right about most things as well.

    At this time Grandmother Wright would also dress Bill and me with identical clothing and many people assumed we were twins, much to my chagrin since I was a year, a month and three days older than Bill.

    Then when our parents split, Grandmother Wright took us kids and we moved up to a small spot on the globe called Birchville District, California which is between North San Juan and French Corral in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. That was about 1934 and the great depression was in full bloom. We kids did not recognize it as such since we had enough beans and potatoes to eat and a roof over our heads.

    That entire area was the last remains of the great hydraulic mining era of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s California gold mining days. It left some attractive but deadly dangerous landscape for curious kids like us to explore, quite unknown by Grandmother Wright. On one occasion, we ventured into a drift ( a horizontal tunnel that usually connects to a vertical shaft) to “check it out” . We went in about 100 feet and were met face to face with a skunk. We naturally made a frantic retreat before getting sprayed by out new acquaintance. Had the skunk not been there we would likely ventured on to the edge of the shaft that was just beyond the skunk and who knows what could have happened if we got too close to the edge of the shaft and accidently slipped over the edge. I shudder at the thought. We scampered out to sunlight and on home without telling Grandmother Wright of our adventure lest she forbid us to hike there again. On a return to the same drift we discovered it had collapsed and could not be entered again. We kids had no idea it could collapse like that.

    The hydraulic diggings also had many small lakes called Glory Holes from which water was drawn by huge pumps and sent by pipes to the huge water nozzles where the water was directed on to hills to wash them into gold recovery sluices. Often gold was recovered at the rate of thousands of dollars per hour when gold was priced at $35 per ounce.

    These Glory Holes were nice little lakes for us kids to explore also. On one occasion we kids took some old (and I mean old) logs and tied them together with some old rope to make a raft. It was about ten feet long and about three feet wide. We pushed it off and set out for a leisurely trip on the Glory Hole. All went well for the first half hour or so as we went out about thirty or forty feet from shore. Somewhere along the way we discovered that the logs were quite water logged and slowly was sinking. And, none of us kids knew how to swim at this point. It was a moment of shear panic as we slowly saw the raft going below the water. I am not sure how we came to the decision to jump off the raft and just use it to keep us all above water as we frantically paddled back toward shore. The raft did have enough buoyancy to keep us from drowning. Grandmother Wright never got wind of that adventure either.

    Since the house we rented in Birchville District was heated by several pot bellied stoves plus a fire place, we three boys had to do a fair amount of wood cutting out in the woods behind the house. All three of us took turns on the end of a buck saw until we had enough fire wood to get us through the winter. The same wood source also heated out Saturday night bath water on the kitchen stove.

    There is a substantial river that runs through the are also. It is the North Fork of the Yuba River. We kids would also hike over to the river and catch all the trout we wanted in short order. There were not many people fishing there in those days.

    Then we moved to Bonny Doon in the Santa Cruz Mountains where Grandmother Wright got a job as a secretary for the local fire wood supplier, Mr. Inman. We rented a house he owned. Bill and I went to Branciforte Grammar School in Santa Cruz while Harold went to Santa Cruz High School.

    Bonny Doon is about 15 miles from Santa Cruz. It was quite rural back then. There was a family that did some farming not far from us. The Root family had three boys too. On hot summer days Bill and I would hike over and take a swim with the Root kids and hike back home. Harold was not usually into swimming with us. Our path home took us over a short cut over some sand hills. In the early summer days there would be some lazy rattlesnakes just coming out from under rocks to sun themselves. We got up enough courage to take a small tree branch with a “Y” fork and sneak up on the snake and hold it down with the forked branch while the other of us would grab the snake just behind the head and drop it into a glass gar for delivery to our science teacher at Branciforte which secured us extra points toward our grade in that class. Bill and I got to be a good team for such sport.

    Then when WWII broke out, we moved again. This time it was to Santa Clara where Grandmother Wright got a better job in San Jose. I cannot remember who she worked for. She soon got a better job at the Joshua Hendy Iron Works, which was ultimately bought out by Westinghouse. Bill and I enrolled at Santa Clara High School and Harold was drafted and went off to the US Navy.

    I happened to be what was called a “Mid Term Student” so I wound up being in many of the same classes as Bill at Santa Clara High. It was a bit embarrassing at times since Bill would frequently get the “A” and I the “B”. We spent time on the tennis team and the fishing club as well as other activities. Bill was always so easy to get along with, we had few if any conflicts going through school.

    Then I went into the US Navy. It was then that I lost close touch with Bro Bill. As it often happens, Bill went his way and I went mine. Not by design, but just by circumstance. Grandmother Wright’s opposition to Bev’s and my marriage was no small part of that moving on. Fortunately Bill was also the significant factor in reestablishing some common sense in our family relationship later on.

    One of the defining values about Bill was his compassion for our mother’s need toward the end of her years. Bill and you, Dolores, were there for her in so many ways.

    So, there it is. I have had so many good growing up years with Bill while you all have enjoyed him all his adult life.

    Like you all, I too will miss my Bro, Bill very much. I knew he was there and happily enjoying life to the fullest with family and so many good friends.

    With warmest regards and lots of love to each of you,

    Brother-in-law/Uncle,

    Jim

  4. Dan Bronsonon 07 Apr 2011 at 6:27 am

    Nancy,
    Your beautiful writing says so much more than mere words. It soars.

    Your Dad would be proud. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    Love,
    Dan Bronson
    (Tyken Family / Second Cousin)

  5. Nancy Whiteon 07 Apr 2011 at 6:36 am

    Uncle Jim, it means so much to me that you shared these stories – the memories, the time and patience to write them out and share them. Randy and I were going through Dad’s genealogy files yesterday morning (I’ll be scanning and sharing files) and we saw some pictures of you guys. I loved one of the three of you, all dressed the same (my guess was Grammy W made the clothes!). Big hugs, Uncle!

  6. Nancy Whiteon 07 Apr 2011 at 2:05 pm

    Dan, it is so wonderful to have even these slender electronic connections to our extended family. Thank you.

  7. Doloreson 07 Apr 2011 at 7:14 pm

    YOU SAID IT ALL!!! Thanks—MOM

  8. Bev Wrighton 10 Apr 2011 at 8:52 pm

    Dear Nancy,

    What a beautiful tribute to your very dear and special Dad. I have always felt that we very lucky to have him and your Mom and you children in our family.

    I know you will all miss him so much!

    So sorry we had to miss the service! Neither of us is such Hot condition, but we will keep fighting back! :)

    Lovingly, Aunt Bev

  9. Nancy Whiteon 12 Apr 2011 at 11:27 am

    Aunt Bev, thank you so much. Sending lots of healing beams to both of you!

  10. pumpkinon 12 Apr 2011 at 10:23 pm

    What a beautiful, beautiful, loving tribute to your dad. He must have been so proud to see how you so gloriously reflect all his best attributes, and pay it forward every single day…

    Beams sent your way…

  11. Cindy Weekson 18 Apr 2011 at 5:18 pm

    Nancy – this is lovely! I’m especially fond of the picture of you and your Dad on the Washington coast, since that’s the you I know. Interesting to be reading it after our day with Heather Gold – and to hear that your Dad gave you “confidence to step out in the world even when I felt scared and shy.” Such a gift. Thanks for your part in passing that gift along to me. Another lovely tribute. And I’m grateful that he gave you your love of vegetable gardening, since I so enjoy sharing that with you, and my love of it came from my Dad:) How special to be witness to the love expressed by family and friends here – another aspect of community and connectedness.

  12. [...] of his mom. Having lost my dad in March, I know the role that food, and  the generosity of our communities and networks play  in the path we travel known as death. Or grief. Or [...]

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.
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