Not-so-secret ingredients

by Paxus Calta

from Your Passport to Complaining

For context see Farewell to Gwen

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There are things Twin Oaks does reliably well and funerals are one of them.  

I dislike most funeral formats. Too much religious singing or scripture, often reflecting the wishes of the minister rather than the person who passed.  Too much waiting around for people who are not skilled at public speaking struggle to prove they really cared in oft too long and pained presentations.

Ex-member Kate facilitated the funeral in a Quaker style where people shared what they were moved to say.  Almost everyone was funny in an appropriate way because we knew it would take powerful joy to cut the tragic sadness of losing this person with incredible potential. Very few prepared remarks (though Carly penned this amazing piece), lots of short heartfelt memories. 

As an event organizer, I evaluate this from two perspectives: First is “What would Gwen think?” And I think she would have been very pleased at all these people from her life saying these comic and amazing things about her.  She would have felt seen and celebrated.

But the other perspective is what it must be like to be one of Gwen’s girlfriends in attendance. What would it be like to be among so many people whose principal connection with my partner is that they raised her? Would they be like that relative who does not see how embarrassing it is to show these old photos?  

No, we are better than that. There were some endearing stories of young Gwen, like the one Tigger, her father, told of Gwen at 4 years crying:  

Tigger: Gwen, no one gets their way by whining and crying

Gwen: Dad you don’t know anything about whining and crying.

But this is a story of Gwen in control and defiant and it reveals perhaps the most important not-quite-secret ingredient in what makes commune collective child raising so great. We teach defiance.

We teach kids how to hide from their parents when that is appropriate.  We teach kids how to know when to break any rule.  But more importantly, we teach how to be a conscientious rule breaker. How to know when you’re breaking rules and which rules are silly and should simply be ignored and to know what rules matter and why.

Gwen was the closest thing Willow (my daughter) had to a sister.  But in some ways commune life made them much closer than most siblings would be.  For almost a decade they were in every class, preschool or play activity together. They ate most meals together, hung out together at most parties and celebrations.  And they shared approximately 2 bazillion hours of various video game chats together.  Most siblings a year apart in age spend much less time together.

Gwen’s coffin surrounded by family and clan

Understandably Willow is pretty broken up about it.  She was crying often during the funeral.  I don’t consider myself a particularly great parent.  But one thing I feel our family did well with Willow was encourage her to cry things out. No shame in tears, they are expressing needed emotional release. Let them flow. 

But I am not worried about Willow though she is clearly hurting. Because emotional resiliency is another not-so-secret ingredient.

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Editor’s Note:  Though it is a bit old fashioned, i try pretty hard to run blog posts past people who are featured and named in them, to make sure they are comfortable being represented this way.  Willow gave her blessing and happily thought i was actually a fine parent.  Kate who facilitates sacred ceremonies, was happy to be called out.  And Gwen’s dad Tigger approved this text before it was published.  Carly shared her letter and amazing pictures. Thanks to Summer for more pictures and Kelpie for edits and tech support. Thanks to all of them for quick turn around on this recent event

Joan Mazza’s Poem on Gwen

Ex member Anissa text with current instagram photos.

Not-so-secret ingredients

One thought on “Not-so-secret ingredients

  1. Jake Kawatski says:

    Thanks for sharing, Paxus! I have a teenage garden student here in Savannah, also named Gwen. When I try to imagine her sudden death, and the impact it would have on her family and friends, I begin to fathom what Gwen Tupelo’s loss must have on all those she loved and lived with at Twin Oaks and Charlottesville. When my partner, George died over a year ago, the memorial was held just weeks before covid lockdown. In hindsight, it was a blessing that friends and family could gather safely to celebrate, laugh and cry together. So it was for Gwen, that Twin Oaks could invite the larger community in to grieve and remember Gwen.

    Like

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