“Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human.” ~ Aristotle
On Friday, June 9, our family said, “We will see you again” to an incredible woman.
Joy Payne devoted her 88 years on this planet to three things: faith, family and work.
Her passing marked a first big loss for my two oldest kids. As her grandchildren, much of their lives rested on this family pillar.
From infancy to elementary school, they spent countless days in her care. And, despite the fact she became a grandmother later in life, she made the most of every one of those days. She played on the floor with the kids and kicked soccer balls in the backyard. Cookies and ice cream were served with a simple “please Nanny” request.
Joy was born in the middle of the birth order of 12 children in the Porter family. These people knew how to “do” family.
Brothers and sisters were close. Cousins played at the annual Porter Family Reunion at Hunters Landing and later at King Park as the family grew. In retirement years, the sisters living in the area regularly gathered for coffee at the Breadbasket.
My own children attended the Porter reunions annually. They experienced family gatherings filled with love and void of drama. Reality television would never survive in such a healthy environment.
But, life goes on and people pass. About five years ago, the reunions ended and my kids lost touch with those familiar faces and voices.
As they arrived at Petersen’s for the family visitation time last week, they faced the foreignness of it all. What should they expect? What was expected of them?
What came next, I believe, is the transferrable theme for all audiences.
My daughter was suddenly overcome with grief. She had held everything together through the days of planning, but in that moment, it all became too real. She excused herself and tried to pull together the strength to get through the next three hours.
And then, she received the gift she never knew she needed. She heard the voice of Uncle Wayne. Following his were more familiar sounds of other family members streaming in.
As she describes it, in that moment she felt “safe.” Isn’t that an interesting description?
My daughter is in college. She is strong and emotionally intelligent. She does not feel the need for legions of girlfriends or co-workers to process her every thought. She never posts to social media.
I admire her for it. She even finished high school a year early because she simply didn’t have need for the day-to-day drama.
Considering all of this, I was intrigued by her experience. In her grief, she found comfort in the mere presence of others.
The “social animal” theory popped to mind. Would Aristotle refine his theory today in a world filled with technology? Do we really still derive value from face-to-face interactions?
Ironically, on Facebook I saw a meme about the 80’s movie The Breakfast Club. The author pointed out that if the kids were in Saturday detention today, they would all have their heads down looking at their phones. They would never have taken the time to figure out which one was the brain, and which one was the basket case.
I reached out to a couple of my friends on this topic.
Certified Peer Specialist Marva Weigelt connected with my daughter personally as also being “quite self-contained” and yet finding “levels of self-understanding, healing and integration” through community.
She put the family visitation into context by stating, “Community rituals are such an important part of belonging and feeling a sense of mattering in the web of human connections.”
Local clinical psychologist, Dr. Joy Hoofer echoed those sentiments, “We are definitely wired for connection.” “Social networks are very important, not only for daily living but especially in times of crisis and loss,” said Dr. Hoofer.
Then they both took it to the next level. They explained that “being told we matter,” as individuals and members of the social network, leads to the development of empathy.
Interestingly, empathy leads to resiliency. Marva cited the work of Dr. Diana Fosha by writing, “The roots of resilience are found in the sense of being understood by and existing in the mind and heart of a loving, attuned self-possessed other.”
Dr. Hoofer pointed out the key is authenticity in those relationships. While lip service can come from anyone, true value comes from a source who genuinely cares.
“Many kids don’t get this and thus their resilience, not to mention their brain development, nervous system health and ability to give and receive empathy are impaired,” Marva explained.
That quote should both frighten and inspire each of us.
Because death is a figurative term. In our community, we experience death of sorts every day. Divorce, job loss, kids entering foster care are all examples of a change thrust upon the parties.
One of our best friends received a layoff notice last week.
His reaction, and how it contrasts to others, tells us something.
Has an interview on Wednesday.
He is resilient.
— Tina Payne is the director of Harvey County United Way. She can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org or 283-7101.