Posts Tagged ‘loss’

Phil Provenzale: It’s about the Little Things; or Knowing a Person that you Don’t Know


2013
08.11
My cousin and her husband Phil

My cousin and her husband Phil

How does one know a person yet not know a person? We all know so many people that we don’t know, and one day we will wish we had. But – is it possible? Perhaps not, at least in the current arrangement of our lives and our world. It’s all too big and too fast.  Two things happened last week at a funeral I went to: I finally got to know my cousin Andrea’s husband better, and he was the deceased. And I got a nugget to chew on regarding the current arrangement of my life.

My cousin’s husband Phil died last week.  He was only 61, but he had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma for many, many years and to say he fought this disease valiantly, with faith and spirit, with optimism and courage, would be an understatement.  He continued to work during his extended illness at his job as a senior vice president at 20th Century Fox International (http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/fox-film-executive-phil-provenzale-599700).  But other than knowing he had something to do with the film industry, I only knew him as Andrea’s husband Phil.  He was a person I knew yet didn’t know.

It’s funny how we all know people differently. I knew Phil as the handsome, tall young man marrying Andrea at one of the most beautiful weddings my husband and I attended.  Then I knew him as Andrea’s husband Phil, whom I spoke to in pleasantries about not much of consequence at family occasions – birthdays, weddings, celebrations, and, as the years passed, funerals.  Since we did not live in the same cities, we didn’t have day-to-day encounters where we would know each other in a more comprehensive manner.  We kept up with what was happening in the families but that’s it.

Until we went to Phil’s funeral and I got to know Phil better.  And I found out that his life was about the little things, and now I want to make the rest of my life about the little things too.  Here’s what I mean.

First, we know Phil was excellent at his job because if he hadn’t been he wouldn’t have had it, but no one mentioned that Phil was good at his job. No one listed his accomplishments.  No one talked about the blockbuster deals he made or the financial successes he produced. They talked about how nice Phil was. They talked about Phil the incredible human being. Over and over.  The words I heard were nice. Kind. Universally respected.  Good manners. Loved. Charm. Warmth. Gentle. Unconditional love.

Nice.  Not nice like, yeah, he was a nice guy. But NICE. A woman who had been with him for over 16 years at Fox and at Carolco Pictures before that said that he greeted every single employee in his division every morning when he got to work before entering his own office – every day. I got the impression this was not just a cursory hello. And that it was “required” that everyone say goodnight to him or he to them before leaving. Why? Because he genuinely thought it was important to take the time to know people and care about them and let them know that they were more than an interchangeable body at a desk. He thought it was important to treat everyone with respect, and in turn he was highly respected himself.

One person who spoke said Phil had a candy dish and found he couldn’t put it in the normal position on his desk because if his back was turned to the computer, people snuck by and took some quietly so they wouldn’t disturb him. He had to place it on his desk deep in his office behind the monitor, forcing people to actually come in and face him to take candy.  In other words, human interaction was important to Phil.  He was never too important or too busy.

These are all seemingly little things – good manners – hellos, goodbyes, respect, caring – that in aggregate add up to something bigger.  Like ten plus ten equals twenty, the little things add up to something bigger.

The priest officiating at the service talked about the tall, quiet guy who was always helping, ushering, cleaning up, doing what needed to be done.  He didn’t know his name.  The tall guy didn’t require that his name be known. Of course, as the priest later learned, it was Phil. Doing the little things.

And someone spoke from Phil and Andrea’s son’s elementary school.  Their son is in college now but Phil and Andrea will never be forgotten at that elementary school because apparently they have virtually created it. Andrea volunteered there when their son was a student, and when she saw a need, she told Phil, and the school would mysteriously find a new copy machine in the office, or a teacher would all of a sudden have something needed in the classroom.  All done quietly without fanfare.  And it continued long after their son left that school.

At the graveside service I talked to several of Phil’s colleagues and I heard the same things over and over – how absolutely incredible a person he was, how kind he was, how well respected he was, until I pictured him head and shoulders above everyone walking down the hall, and he was already tall enough to be head and shoulders above everyone. 

I think I could tell you some other things about Phil too, even though no one said them.  If anyone who worked with Phil is reading this, you can tell me if I’m right or not.  I would guess that Phil would do anything in the office that he would ask someone else to do from making coffee to fixing a paper jam in the copy machine. I expect he would do anything he could to assist an employee in a family emergency.  He probably acknowledged his employees birthdays. He was probably the first to arrive and the last to leave.  All the little things that add up.

What does all this mean besides the fact that Phil Provenzale was truly one of the finest people I didn’t know? I don’t know that I could have known him. Living in a different town, even not too far away, seems like a continent when you are raising a family and then having grandchildren, working, taking care of parents – all those things that make a life. 

I can, however, look at the people I know here, where I live, and ask myself if I know them.  I have a feeling I may know a few too many people that I don’t know.  And I can take a lesson from what made Phil so remarkable and polish up my manners.  I have the inner sincerity in caring about others but I think I trend towards impatience when it comes to showing it.  Or am just not present enough and forget to show it.

So then, if I can keep my head together, that’s two takeaways that will, I hope, make a difference.  But there is one more.  The aforementioned nugget to chew on about the arrangement of my life.  My husband and I are at that stage where we thought we had made our last move but due to some recent experiences are rethinking that.  And the question becomes – stay in Bakersfield or not?

The nugget to chew on is this.  At the funeral, the priest talked about this regarding Phil. He talked about the impatience and impermanence of our society, our need for the next fastest computer model, the most updated phone, the bigger house, the more upscale neighborhood, and so on. He talked about the lack of roots that keep people from knowing each other through the years, neighbors getting together over time, and so forth. And he talked about Phil’s constancy.  How long Phil and Andrea lived in their house without the need to move up, leading to continuity in the neighborhood and with neighbors; how they stayed committed to their son’s school long after he left and thus over time made a great difference in that school and especially its library; how a long involvement with the church made a difference there – and how all of that contributed to stability as a family.

So – leave Bakersfield someday?  Maybe not. We have some roots here. Our lungs have adapted. Something to think about.  We may for family reasons but it’s not a given. There are reasons for permanence.

Two takeaways and a nugget.  Lots to think about, thanks to Phil. I’m glad I got to know you this much, Phil.  It’s not enough, and it’s too late, but under the circumstances, it’ll have to do.

 

#1 Daughter: Longevity and Loss


2013
03.28

Photo by Felix Adamo

#1 daughter.  Susan. That’s how I signed cards to my parents.  It was just a fun thing because I was the first-born, a way to bring some levity to the same old “Love, Susan.”  Now both my parents are dead and #1 daughter takes on a new meaning because a new word takes its place – the M word.  Matriarch.  #1 in birth order. That word has a forbidding sound.  Kind of like the name Bertha, which always intimidated me.

But let’s back up a bit.  I’m 66.  I feel I may be a tad unusual to have had both my parents so long; Mom living until 87 and Dad until 94.  The last 10 years have been a rocky journey demanding a great deal of attention from us kids as Mom and Dad navigated hospitalizations, and then increasing dementia with Mom, while continuing to live independently.  “Independently” was a misnomer but we enabled them to believe it was so because we knew there were no options: they were not going anywhere or having anyone in.  Dad knew, however.  But he was a master of self-deception, not recognizing what he knew to be true.  Yet even that isn’t true, because on a deeper level he knew what he was doing and chose to ignore it.  He was a master of levels.

Mom died just in time.  She was on the verge of major cognitive changes and neither she nor Dad would have handled them well.  But losing her broke Dad’s heart.  It broke all our hearts, but Dad’s irreparably.  He showed so much courage in tackling life and trying to move forward but the struggle was brutal.  I found myself thinking it was time for him to die and wondering how it would come to pass.

And then he planted a rose bush on the coldest day of the winter.  My sister Janine, who was visiting from Alaska, and I were on an adventure – a day trip to Boron and having a wonderful time.

Janine in Boron

Dad had his own unexpected adventure.  We got a phone call from my housekeeper Connie who had been cleaning Dad’s house too – had we seen her glasses?  She had left them at Dad’s house, we said.  And the next thing we knew Connie was at Home Depot with Dad buying a rose bush.  What?  Janine and I were ecstatic!  Maybe this would be our answer – maybe Connie could take care of Dad and that would give a spark to his life!

Before we could even get to the idea we heard that Connie was too much woman for Dad – too “take charge.”  But planting the rose bush on that very cold day almost did him in, and he told us it was time for him to move to a retirement home.  We were so excited!  We had such high hopes for him to have two or three or who knows? even more good years where he would meet people, have more to do, more to eat.  His new apartment was wonderful and he was so happy and excited.  And he only got eight days and he died.

Photo by Felix Adamo

It breaks my heart.  I was not ready.  None of us were.  It’s been a month and I’m still not ready. We wanted Dad to have more.  That’s what we wanted.  And Dad wanted it for us – he was making the very best of what he had but truly, he hadn’t had a happy day since mom died, and he was ready.  It’s not about us.  He lived a remarkable life and he died a remarkable death and that is the end of his life on earth.

My dad, Edward Reep the artist in his studio in the mid-60s

It’s hard to believe he is gone.  And after 27 years in Bakersfield, there will be no more trips out to the house on Crowningshield Drive.  I won’t be driving out two to three times a week and calling every other day or more.  When the phone rings at 7:00 a.m. I won’t be cursing the fact that I’ve been woken up and it won’t be my dad.  Just like that, the pattern breaks.

And I contemplate a new role.  Matriarch.  Does that mean anything nowadays?  My father took his role as patriarch quite seriously.  I’m not sure he actually did anything but he felt a responsibility.  We aren’t a tribal society and we don’t look to the tribal elder for advice or approval or special dispensation for anything and I am not sure I’d want to be giving it anyhow.  But I am the female head of the family and the oldest family member, male or female.  I’d like to think I acquitted myself well in the role of daughter – not perfectly, but well – and now there’s a new role to play.

What family am I head of?  My own little (or not so little) family?  My extended family – sisters, brother, nieces and nephew?  Their spouses?  Cousins? It’s probably a meaningless contemplation but interesting nonetheless as we think about the structure of family and how families are coming back together as finances shrink.  How the wagons are circling and kids are gathering around the campfire again instead of scattering to the four winds.  Or is that the wild winds and the four corners of the earth?

I guess it will sort itself out, probably by disappearing completely as anything to think about at all.  A meaningless contemplation.  I just won’t be #1 daughter any more because there won’t be any more cards to sign.  My role as a daughter is over.  Now it’s part of history.  It’s an overwhelming thought, that the role of daughter is over.  I don’t want to give it up.

Maybe we’re never ready.  We just move on.  But I’ll be all right.  And as Dad said the night before he died, “I’ll be all right.”  I love you, Dad.

The Theme is Home: I’m Home, a Fractured Home, and a Poem


2010
02.03

I’m home from the cabin – finally – but I feel like I’m sleepwalking.  When we arrived home Sunday afternoon I went straight to the home of my former student who passed away.  This is a fractured home.  It’s a home that holds great sadness right now.  I wanted to call first – but in my card box with info on all the students I’ve had, Mike’s card was missing.  I looked on the white pages online and at least they had the address.  So I went over.   I don’t need to dwell on the great void that exists after the death of a child of any age.  That house will be a home again but it’ll never be the same home.  It’ll always hold an empty space.

I helped them with the obit and I’m going to speak at the service Friday.  Also making a photo board with 7th and 8th grade memories. I’ve done other things this week, including two lunches with friends, but nothing feels quite real.  Come Saturday, though, I’ll be able to put it behind me and move forward.  Mike’s family won’t be doing that so easily.

It’s an unfortunate way to begin the reflection on Home – February’s Creative Every Day theme.  But that’s life isn’t it?  Good, bad, in-between, all begging for understanding, celebration, mourning, creation.

Loose ends:  I was looking for a measuring tape in my purse today and I found – my tripod plate!  I knew it had to turn up soon, now that I’ve got two more on order.  My phone stopped charging so I spent three days cell-phoneless.  Wasn’t so bad really.  But I couldn’t call anyone because their numbers were in my phone!  New Blackberry is now in hand, thanks to the Assurion insurance program.  At $5 a month and a $50 deductible, it would take a long time to reach the cost of a new Blackberry.  A missing package that UPS showed as delivered showed up – they delivered it to my next-door neighbor by mistake, and she rarely uses her front door.  Finally, she brought it to me, and I emailed the company, that meanwhile was shipping me another one.  Photoshop stopped working on my computer, and I suspect my computer is going out.  Glitch after glitch has been occurring.  My macbook dies recently but it’s  now fixed. It just feels sort of chaotic around here and it clutters my mind.  Talk about a cluttered home?  A cluttered mind is worse.

I seem to be losing things – my brand-new Treo, my iTouch, then the tripod plate.  It seems to happen when I put something in a place other than the accustomed place.  I tell myself, remember where you are putting this, it’s not the usual place.  Doesn’t seem to work very well.  Leah says she’s cleaning out her purse, her files, getting things in order.  I have a tip, Leah – don’t put stuff in brand new places!  Of course,  Leah’s young.  She can still remember.

I remember that after than 1994 Northridge  earthquake, two of the kids came home.  All three girls lived at the epicenter, attending college at CSUN.  We completely rearranged the house to enable them to move home, then one got an apartment and we rearranged again, then the other got an apartment while the first one came back home, so everything was changed again.  Then, our youngest daughter was pregnant and Ali was born, so we cleared out of our master bedroom so Kim and Ali could have it, and by the time all of this was over – we couldn’t find anything!  We’ll be moving in about a year so we can get used to everything well ahead of the time when it’ll be too late to remember new things.  More lessons from observing my parents.

Even this post is rather chaotic, isn’t it?  It’ll have to do.  I’ll end with the last of three poems I wrote at the cabin.  It touches on home – the forest home, home for our thoughts.

Barren

The forest in winter

Is deceptively barren.

The only signs of life

Are footprints in snow.

An occasional crow

Squawks a greeting.

Or is it a warning?

Stay out of my woods.

The bird feeders sit empty.

The seed-eaters are gone,

As are the hummingbirds.

But their nectar waits, unfrozen.

I look out the upper window

Hoping to see a deer,

Because I once saw one there.

Why would it happen again?

Yet at dawn my heart quickens.

I look through that window,

The same window, the same spot,

Knowing there won’t be a deer.

No deer, no disappointment.

I knew it wouldn’t come.

Nothing green breaks free.

The snow is deep.

The deceptively barren forest,

The winter woods

Offer stillness and space.

Thoughts fill my woods.