Life, Death and Grains of Sand

We never know how long we have. We don’t know how long we have with the ones we love. Today nineteen elite firefighters lost their lives fighting a monstrous fire near Phoenix. A tragic loss. Countless others passed quietly, without making the news. Actually, every day in the world, about 150,000 people die.  That means almost two people die per second. This weekend the statistics landed closer to home for me: a dear aunt passed away.
People’s lives are incredibly complex. The more you know someone, the more complexity you become aware of. My Aunt Clara’s was one of those complex lives. She wasan overcomer, a love against all odds. She was a foster mom in her younger years, a mother to many. At 80, a widow for the second time, she tackled the woods behind her home, pulling invasive vines down to make a path to the creek. In the process, she wore off the nodules on her hands and rid herself of much pain! She was a woman who wholeheartedly laughed, danced, hugged and took on whatever stood in her way. In the few short times I spent with her over the years (separated by distance), she shared family stories that inspired me, guided me and most certainly entertained me! I often felt like a misfit in my family of origin, but with Aunt Clara I felt a kindred spirit. I will miss her and treasure her memory. She would be 93 this month. People tend to not get too torn up about someone who lived so long.

Aunt Clara Irene Brown Fraley White

Aunt Clara Irene Brown Fraley White

People say, “Well, she had a good, long life,” and they move on. Yet a life, whether short or long, is a complex, tremendously valuable thing. Every life has value and effects the whole of humanity to some degree. Every loss is worth grieving, and as we grieve, we assimilate attributes of the one we miss into who we are.

In research for the book I am writing, I am reading and interviewing people to learn more about family history around the turn of the twentieth century. Each of those people, gone now, are coming to life again in my mind’s eye. I imagine their daily lives. I imagine their interactions, struggles, thoughts and feelings. I am learning a lot, too. I am learning of strengths my family had for generations, and rethinking some of the flaws we’ve had too. I woke up yesterday morning recalling some of the painful incidents from my own past, snippets of things that happened that left me with unanswered questions, and there is no one left to ask about them. After many years (my twenties and most of my thirties) actively recovering from childhood abuses, healing internally in mind and soul, I know how to quickly process my thoughts and feelings, usually without coming undone. The thoughts I awoke with soon merged into wondering just how and when some of the problems in my lineage began. They are not the kind of things most people talk about. I started thinking about other family members who may still be hurting with unidentified wounds, not knowing exactly why they react the way they do. I know I have been given a gift of mental and emotional health where one would expect otherwise. It was a gift that I have worked at honing too, and worked plenty hard! It is a gift I would absolutely LOVE to be able to share, to pass on.

I want to share with you that the book I am writing (see my page, Why Another Blog?) is going to cover some pretty heavy territory. It is a fiction, but draws from many real life experiences and people. In it, you will meet some incredibly strong characters, all flawed, and you will experience resilience, inner healing, regenerative relationships, and growth. Generations will take you on this journey through time. Your comments and feedback as I share with you on this blog will help me as I write, and hopefully help one another too, and by the time it is finished, maybe the word will have spread so far that I can actually get it published. It is going to be a way for me to share a deeply valued and treasured gift with the world in ways I could not do if I were to simply sit down and tell you my story. However, the challenge before me–both the writing and the process of publishing–is daunting! Sometimes I feel like a grain of sand on the beach. . . me so infinitesimally tiny, the ocean unfathomably huge. I feel foolish just entertaining the idea! Oh well, so be it, if I am the fool. At least I will have written what is in my heart and mind to write.

After all, we never how long we have. We don’t know how long we have with our loved ones.

Joan T Warren

9 responses »

  1. This was lovely. Every Christmas I think of and miss Clara. She was my nanny. We lived in Huntington Harbour in Southern California. From birth to age five she was my constant. Then again during my 5th and 6th grade years. We once traveled to Maui together. Just the two of us. We were very close. I’ve missed her so long. I have a daughter now. I wonder if she can see her?
    I hear your Aunt’s laughter still. She had a huge impact on my life.


    • Robin! So nice to meet you! I’m amazed that you stumbled across my blog and found Clara here. I’d love to hear how that happened!
      I’m not surprised at all that she was a great nanny like you described. When you say nanny, was she your grandmother?

      I visited her in Anaheim area once when I was a teen. That visit was extremely pivotal as her input led to my decision to not marry the person I was with! Yet she did it in such a fun and sneaky way that I didn’t realize she’d swayed me until much later. Smart gal, she was. It wasn’t easy to sway me when I was a teen.

      When I last saw her she was so happy. She and her last husband had a little house near Atlanta. She had missed him sorely when he died, as he was so good to her. She took all of those feelings and worked really hard at clearing the woods behind the house to make a path down to the creek. In so doing, the arthritis in her hands actually cleared up. She’d go to the creek to just sit and be, along with her doggie who was her pal. She’d go out back and hand-pick the bugs off her garden and squish them. Hehehe, such a lady.

      I’m sure if there’s a way in the universe for her to see you and your little girl, she’s cleared that path, too. May you feel her happy visit in your heart this and every Christmas.

      Stay in touch!


  2. Another beautiful post Joan. In the next week there are two anniversaries which also bring home to me the same emotions. Your Aunt Clara sounds like a great lady and in a lot of ways I was reminded of my Granda who will be 96 this month. When I moved away from Newcastle for work I was worried that I would lose part of the relationship I had with my Granda but, on the contrary it has actually meant that we have become closer and when we speak on the phone it is as if we were brothers. In fact when he does call me and I’ve got friends there, they always ask me to put him on speaker phone because they love listening to him.
    Also like you I am fascinated by that generation and I try my best to get my Granda to talk about things and now and again he’ll tell me an amazing story of something that happened when he was a child or something that happened during the war. Anyone who reaches that kind of age deserves respect before anything else. I will definitely look at your other blog relating to such issues. Thank you once more for a wonderful heartfelt post.


    • That’s wonderful! There is an old saying about absence, it goes something like this:
      Absence is to love
      as wind is to fire
      it extinguishes the small
      and kindles the great

      I hope the same will be true in my relationship with my daughter, son-in-law and grandkids; they moved about a 7 hour drive away last summer. I miss being a part of their weekly (or at least monthly) activities. . . football games, gymnastics meets, family dinners, shopping trips, even sometimes church together. However, we do stay in touch by facebook, phone and visits. When we do visit we get to spend more quality time together.

      Your Granda sounds like a great character. You and your friends are wise to enjoy him while you have him! Your lives will be richer for it.

      God bless.


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