There are few things more difficult than dealing with grief. Each of us has to process our grief in our own way and in our own time.
Losing Isaac was easily one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to deal with. We were friends for twenty-one years. We lived under the same roof for the last seven years of his life. We had plans, as we used to say to the oncologist. We had planned to go to Oregon, to write more books, to plant gardens, to grow old together. It was not to be.
He left me in charge of his estate. In his final months (I almost wrote year, but it was less than a year from his diagnosis to his death) we had endless conversations about his legacy, his papers, and his possessions. We even discussed what to do with his ashes. I hope you never have to have these conversations. I hope you and your loved ones all go together, and you are not left with spending twenty or thirty or forty more years without them. Such is not my lot.
Isaac was famous, in his way (he called himself a “micro-celebrity,” or sometimes more wryly he would say, “I used to be famous”). He had a lot of acquaintances, a lot of friends, more than a few lovers, one son, and four ex-wives. And me, the last one, the widow.
Every one of us has to process our grief in our own way.
Unfortunately, sometimes those ways clash. Maybe it’s differences in culture, or temperament or something else, I don’t know. But I do know there is a clash going on right now.
Back last August, within days of Isaac’s passing, ADF held a beautiful memorial service for Isaac at their Summerland festival in Ohio. You can see excerpts on ADF’s YouTube channel. I wasn’t able to be there, and it meant a lot to me to see what I could of it on YouTube.
I say “what I could of it” because as many of you know, I live in a very rural area right now with no broadband access. It can take me ten minutes to download a one minute video. (I’ve had trouble getting this blog post up today.) So I was delighted to know that I would be able to get a DVD with the entire memorial service on it.
Those DVDs are now available. And now the kerfuffle begins.
A member of ADF paid out of pocket $3000 to have the memorial service professionally videographed and edited. Then ADF paid to have one hundred DVDs made. Members of Isaac’s family have been given DVDs. To ADF members and the general public, they being made available for ten dollars apiece.
One of Isaac’s ex-wives, the mother of his son, Arthur Lipp-Bonewits, is objecting to this. She wrote a letter to ADF telling them that they were exploiting Isaac’s memory to make money, and that if they did not cease and desist, she would write an open letter denouncing them. Then ADF contacted me. Then I contacted Isaac’s siblings. We were all OK with the DVDs being sold. (Do the math; $10×100-nfamily giveaways is not anywhere near the cost of the videography. It’s not going to “make money” for anyone.) In fact, we in the family are delighted to be able to have copies of it.
You can read Deborah Lipp’s post here.
I need to state publicly that I profoundly disagree with her post. Ms. Lipp must process her grief in her own way, as I must process mine. But I cannot stay silent on this issue.
On her blog, I commented thusly:
As someone to whom his loss is intensely personal, I am appalled at your misrepresentation of the situation. I am in contact with other members of his family and we are all fine with both the DVD having been made and with it being sold at a nominal price. His mother is looking forward to seeing it, and so am I, as I do not have a good enough broadband connection to watch it on YouTube. The $3000 videographer’s fee came out of someone’s personal pocket as a donation to his memory, not ADF funds. The nominal price of the disc is to defray manufacturing costs.
You also misrepresent his wishes concerning his library. As both his wife and the executor of his estate, I had many, many, many conversations with him as to disposition of his library and other personal effects. None sounded like what you recount. I was with him every day for the last seven years of his life. You were not. Please do not presume you fully understood his wishes.
As I reread it, I can say, yes, I sound angry. I am angry, and very, very sad.
ADF has been a huge help to me in processing my own grief. Kirk Thomas, ADF’s current ArchDruid was at our home doing healing rituals for Isaac as late as June of last year. We (Kirk, Isaac and I) had many discussions about Isaac’s legacy and his estate. It pains me greatly to see ADF and Kirk maligned. I imagine it would pain Isaac, too. ADF was so very dear to him, as was he to them.
Ms. Lipp included ADF’s reply to her, which ADF had shared with me yesterday:
On August 12, 2010, P. E. Isaac Bonewits, the founder of ADF, passed to the next world. Many of our members were unable to attend the memorial service, and many struggled with their own feelings of loss and grief following Isaac’s death.
We were able to release selected videos of the memorial on our web site to aid in this struggle with grief and loss, but many of our members do not have access to broadband internet, and they asked for complete videos, knowing that even though they could not be there, they would be able to release some of the pain and remember again the love they had for our founder.
So we are selling a limited release of the DVD’s created. ADF spent well over $3,000 on memorializing Isaac. We have purchased a limited run of DVD’s for re-sale at $10 each. We are not seeking to recoup the full cost of the memorial: we consider the funds spent on the memorial an offering of love and honor to the spirit of our Founder. In charging for the DVD, we only seek to recoup a fraction of the costs associated with their creation.
Ten dollars? You can spend ten dollars at Starbucks without half trying. Ten dollars for a DVD to which you can go back again and again is nothing. Ten dollars so the non-profit organization that had it manufactured can make back a mere fraction of the cost of producing it is more reasonable than spending it on that muffin and latte you’ll forget about tomorrow.
Bottom line, I do not want anyone to think that the opinions of Ms. Lipp, Isaac’s ex wife, represent my feelings, or the sentiments of any other member of Isaac’s family other than those of her son, Arthur Lipp-Bonewits. They are entitled to feel what they feel, but their feelings are not representative of the rest of us.
I can’t presume to speak for Isaac, not really. But he did put his legacy in my hands because he loved and trusted me, as I loved and trusted him. Thus, I want to state unequivocally that I do not find the videotaping of the memorial, nor the distribution of the DVDs at nominal cost to be in any way disrespectful or exploitative of his memory. I completely support ADF in this situation, as do his siblings and his own mother.
Now excuse me while I go off with a Guinness and a box of tissue (about ten dollars worth) and have a good long cry while I try to get “Hymn to Bridget” to download off of YouTube. It breaks my freaking heart that I’ll never hear Isaac himself sing it again.
We all deal with grief in our own way.
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Actually, our family, but primarily my MiL, do have a video (but haven’t uploaded it to YouTube!) of her husband’s memorial. I forget who made the video, but copies were made available for those who loved him.
We *have* had Those Conversations, long before they are needed. More people should. I’m glad that you two DID think of his works’ legacy and disposition: too many writers and artists do not, and their artistic estate may disappear or be the focus of acrimony.
My husband and I need to make a will, and he needs to write out an Advanced Health Care Directive (I already have, as has my MiL, with copies filed with our doctors and available in the house, just in case). We got a lovely urn for Irby, my FiL, and it could fit three or four persons’ remains in there. Edna and he had already decided what they wanted done with their ashes–they will be commingled in that urn–after the last one died, although Edna is rethinking where their hearts really are.
When a beloved former boss/employer died, ages before I knew of it, she left me a bit in her will. When I went down to see the attorney on whom executorship devolved after all previously designated ones had died, I asked about her remains, where they went, and what memorial service had been held for her. Turned out no service had been held, and her box of ashes were on a shelf in his storage room. Her wish was similar to her late husband’s: to be scattered near the top of a mountain, but she designated a different one than he had. Hmm.
No one, he said, had said they’d scatter her ashes, but no one had said yes, either. I said I would and tried to contact some of the folk who knew her or worked with her–at least the living ones. At the end, it was one other staffer and me, with a short memorial service, including singlemalt and shortbread, eaten and scattered. It brought me a certain measure of peace.
When my favorite professor died, I did not find out for over a year. She hadn’t wanted even her best friends to know she was sick with bone cancer in the jaw, and not seeking surgery and reconstruction. I had been in a major unmedicated/unmedicatable depression for over a year, so the fact I hadn’t been able to reach her kept slipping from my mind. I still don’t know where she might have been buried or scattered, if there’s a memorial tree or bench, or how to contact what family members of hers who I had met. Sorrow still rips through me about that and her loss, or rather, my loss of her.
When my mother, ten years after a very debilitating stroke, finally died, all I felt was relief that her body and soul were at rest. I hadn’t really known the persona she was after the stroke, but I didn’t like her much. It was then that I did most of my grieving, because that’s when I felt the loss.
Three deaths. Three different reactions. Three different kinds of loss and grief. “For still there are so many things that I have never seen!/In every wood in every spring there is a different green.” –JRR Tolkien, The Road Goes Ever On and On, in the first book of The Lord of the Rings, spoken by Bilbo in Rivendell, in the chapter The Ring goes south.
just a question…. why was Arthur not consulted? He is Isaac’s son, after all.
Many memorials were done for Isaac and many have appeared on the Internet. The family has not been consulted on any of them. I can’t imagine why any of us would be. Isaac was a public figure. His brothers, his sisters, his mother and I have all been touched and honored by the outpouring of emotion. No permission should necessary for other people to express their grief.
The ADF memorial has been on YouTube since last August. It was only over the Memorial Day weekend that Arthur expressed any objection to it. We have all been shocked and dismayed at his objection. I consider the fact that people asked me to video the memorial that I led for Isaac in New York (one that Arthur and his mother participated in). The only reason I did not was because I did not have the tech available. Had I done so, I could certainly have seen providing DVDs to people who (like me) have difficulty with high-bandwith downloads. And I’m sure I would have had to charge for the DVD. I’m not made of money and would have to cover the expense somehow. So I put myself in ADF’s position, and I can’t see any reason for them to have done any differently than they have done.
I do not understand why Arthur has a problem with this. I am sorry he is upset, but I genuinely cannot see the reasonableness of his objections. His father will always belong to a world greater than that of the family alone.
I’m sorry to hear that Deb chose to take this to a public forum. As someone who was grateful to be able to attend the service in NY and view the ADF videos, since I could not be there with my friends, I agree with what you’ve written. Hopefully I’ll be able to purchase a copy of the video; the excerpts ADF put up are beautiful and, as painful as some of it may be for me, I’d love to see it from start to finish.
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