As of one week ago, when Lady Renee finally released her 96-year-old body, I, the first child and first daughter, inherited, apparently, a new, and august position: Matriarch. This stunning fact did not hit me until my daughter-in-law Sue pointed it out. Geez! How do I behave? How do I take this enormous shift in family positioning in to my small body/mind? How do I “head up” (or better: “heart up”) this wing of the Kreilkamp clan of eight children, 29 grandchildren, and I think, at this point, 20 greatgrandchildren?
(Yes, it’s true. My family is responsible for the population explosion. Mea culpa.)
Here we are, a long long time ago. I’m on the far left.
Especially, how do I “take on” this role when historically, or I should say, herstorically, for 30 years I functioned as the black sheep, the one who “broke the (strict, German Catholic) mold” to such an extent that at one point, in my early 30s, my father told me, over the phone, that I was no longer welcome in his home.
“Fine!” I said. And meant it.
He backtracked a few months later, probably because Mom (aka Lady Renee) couldn’t bear for one of her children, no matter how “wicked,” to be ostracized. “How did I spawn you?” She’d ask, in wonderment, as I survived, over and over again, and even thrived, decade after decade through yet one more daunting experiment in my decidedly experimental life, many of them dangerous, and none of them anything that any of the other “kids” would even dream of doing.
Even as a toddler, can you detect a certain fearless, revolutionary attitude?
But then, we’re all different. That’s the thing about this particular strict family. Somehow, the extraordinarily strong structure that our upbringing bequeathed to us managed to also inculcate intense individuality in all eight children. How did that happen? Was the structure itself innoculated with some kind of evolutionary virus? Granted, nobody went as far “out there” as I, but then nobody had to, since I had already done it.
And what’s even more amazing, to me, is that despite the intense individuality of all eight of us, and despite differing world views and breadth of experience, interests, talents, skills, etc., we’re all remarkably close. Close in a way that I, for one, did not expect. Close, in a way that decades of rubbing against each other, and gossiping about each other, and common memories, have all woven a thick web of ease and connection such that I’m sure would make King Ben and his Lady Renee, her recently departed spirit now returned to his side, pleased, even proud. They did it. They set the tone. Dad with clear structure, Mom with an extraordinarly subtle lightness of being, an evanescent atmosphere of sheer allowing, along with her impeccable awareness of just which details needed to be attended to at any one point. Their roles were traditional, and complementary, and their partnership worked.
Most of my brothers and sisters are married, and have been, for decades, to the same person. Their marriages vary in tone and elasticity, and yet, I’d say that all my siblings have continued to evolve their own individuality within the context of two-person security. All except me, yes, the “one” who “broke the mold,” who married four times, with only the last turning me into a “widow” rather than a “divorcee.” (For those who have had endured/enjoyed both of these labels, the former is much preferable socially! It gives you a certain cachet, unlike the other which, in America, still carries a stigma.)
Myself, I never understood why marriage had to be “until death do us part.” Rather, I’d say, marriage should last until the cycle with the person is completed, and who knows how long that might be? Two weeks, two months, two years, two lifetimes . . . it’s impossible to know in the beginning just what you’ve signed on to, but in any case, when you think of time as running in cycles, indeed, concentric cycles, with you in the middle of all of them, then doing anything “until death” feels unnatural, a cultural imposition of linearity on the spiralling curve of time.
These are the kinds of understandings my own life processes have gifted me with. Can I convey them as the “elder”? Should I? Well, probably not, unless, of course, somebody asks, or someone suddenly is faced with an unexpected divorce, made all that more difficult because it appears to contradict what the couple signed up for, namely, “until death.” Then, even my close relatives do start to listen. And what are they listening to? My own experience? And why should they listen to me? Well, they needn’t, but if they do, they participate in the wonderful streaming that the universe presents, wave after wave of unknowns washing up on one’s personal shore. And, for those of us who have lived this way, as if each moment offers a brand new dawn, as if each moment is also a little death, a letting go of all that appeared to be certain and sure and correct, as if each single second opens into a brand new universe — well, this is the kind of legacy I’d like to leave when I do go.
I tell my friends and family, that if I have any kind of epitaph, it should read “she opened space.” For that is my function, to keep on letting go of the horizon, each one as it appears, no matter how large or seemingly infinite. There is always more. There is always the beyond the beyond.
Meanwhile, down here in this small body, on this beautiful suffering planet Earth, I notice that today is the day when we set up the official gate to the GANG garden. About time, after nearly six years! Plus a real sign! Still in process, but hopefully to be done by the time of the Green Acres Neighborhood yard sale, tomorrow morning.