Los Angeles Chapter  California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists

Los Angeles Chapter — CAMFT

President's Message

03/31/2021 11:00 PM | Mike Johnsen (Administrator)

Jenni J.V. Wilson, LMFT
President, LA-CAMFT

Notes:  Grief.  Loss.  Mourning.  Eulogy.  Legacy.  Vaccine.

A year of locking down, a year of loss, a year of grieving and mourning at distances, mourning of norms, of hands held, of lives lived and not living. Who among us has been untouched by this, has felt no empty spaces, has driven no empty roads, faced no empty shelves, known no empty words of comfort? In this loneliness we are together, in our unknowing we are known.

The call was no surprise. My father had been in and out of the hospital for years, was resistant to help, and refused himself self-care. Sam Cooke sings, “It’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die‘cause I don’t know what’s up there, beyond the sky,” and no matter how hard I tried to stop the refrain from playing, a change was going to come.

The constant terrible whirring of anticipatory grief, spiked each time the 313 exchange appeared on my phone. In the weeks between March 20th and April 9th, 2020 I somehow held it together, texting my sister Alejandra, “I am caught between crying that doesn’t come and numbness that feels like, ‘don’t get ahead of yourself, he keeps bouncing back . . .’". It took over a week, those days, for Covid test results to confirm what we already suspected. Then came radical acceptance.

Pretty much all the women in my family are writers—different stylistically, but similar in that we seek an outlet with no immediate response . . . a quiet place to collect observations, explore ideas, howl in the wind, and temporarily escape judgments before feedback commences. Posts, texts, journal entries, and email exchanges record thoughts, feelings, and recollections of my dad in fantastical bilingual baroque elevations of his internal life, which none of us can truly claim to know. He’s memorialized in metaphors, imagery, and obscure references that most readers would skim without impact, due to unfamiliarity with their origin. We attempt appropriate homages to a deeply flawed, yet extremely interesting man whose obfuscations and projections created chaos and toxicity in his relationships. Hiding loudly in his interests, he displayed endless curiosity about all forms of artistic expression. He was drawn to esoteric, classic and modern art, as well as anything weird and off-beat. He immersed himself in music, literature, theatre, and film of all kinds. He studied eastern philosophy and Buddhism, with surprisingly limited ability to actively apply all he understood.

He was a vain intellectual, handsome snob, with amazing hair and an accent. He was a lapsed Catholic, a blackbelt in Aikido, an accomplished director, actor, set-designer, and visual artist. His talents exceeded his ambition, and his traumas impeded both. He was the eldest of five, the only boy, a Chicano from Houston’s 5th Ward. He followed music and words out of the Barrio of his youth, to Florida then Detroit; married two women, and sired four daughters who could never love him enough to love himself.

I text Alejandra: “. . . I think he disappointed himself more than he was ever disappointed by any of us. We have to allow each other to be different from each other, from our younger selves, from our parents . . . we have to acknowledge where we change and grow. That’s the hard thing in familiespeople create myths and roles that people are assigned and then punish or protect each other with them. We’re all just people doing the best we can.” Like the rest of us, my father was more than his worst moments, and he was more than how he was with just me.

He gleefully sought to impose his appreciation for other cultures, and his broad acceptance of differing aesthetics, on everyone he encountered. As his guest, he would literally throw a book at you or anything he thought you should read, while regaling you with a forgotten fact about old Hollywood, a strange Japanese horror film, or the featured artist at the DIA. He would play you a recording, dig out an old photo he found, ask about your family, and offer you an exotic food or Little Debbie snack cake. He wanted to share where he found wonder, beauty, and worry. He wanted to change your life, and for better or for worse, he always did. He influenced everyone he allowed near, but he was not easy, no matter how much he insisted he was.

He controlled by withholding affection or acceptance. A welcoming kiss on the cheek was met with a squinched-up face, as if he smelled excrement. He’d use biting sardonic wit to cut you down, saving his most elaborate praise or compliments for whenever you left the room. To make him laugh without sarcasm or a shaming headshake, was my favorite feeling in the worldI’m not alone in that.

We’d been locked down less than a month. He was gone before we’d figured some things out. He was gone while people were still overwhelmed with toilet paper and Clorox shortages, before the advent of fashion masks. No one was getting on planes. No one was in the hospital room to witness any pithy last words he might have once imagined he’d utter. Everyone was as important and as unimportant as everyone else.

There was no viewing, no service, no wake filled with empty stares, nervous energies, awkward acceptance of condolences, quiet tears, arguments, and overindulgent sobs. My family’s tributes were never voiced at a lectern or read aloud in a Zoom Room, because there’ve been no eulogies made for my father. Until now I haven’t written of him publicly, and this is more about me than him, right?

Covid deaths were under 100,000 worldwide and 17,000 in the US the night that call came. That day 1754 people had died of Covid, 117 people in Michigan, 58 in Wayne County, with my father numbering one of the 25 in Detroit. One father, a brother, is survived by: 6 daughters, 1 granddaughter, 3 sons-in-law, 2 ex-wives, 2 of 4 sisters, 3 brothers-in-law, nieces, nephews, grandnieces, and grandnephews, cousins, many dear long-time friends and coworkers.

A year later we’re still separated behind doors, missing loved ones, evolving ceremonies, and writing blathering adventures in self-indulgence like this, to contain feelings of mourning without closure. You are not alone in your fatigue. Some colleagues have asked about forming a support group for those of us who are grieving and processing the loss of lives and the loss of our old ways. If this is of interest to you or if you’d like to volunteer to get such an effort off the ground, reach out to me at President@lacamft.org. If there are enough of us out there, I’m in.

Each day I hear from those who are getting their shots, and I breathe easier. A text from my mother, announcing her first appointment is set, makes my step lighter throughout the waking hours. We have lost too many livesover 520K upon this writing. The virus has devastated our population of beloved village elders. If you’re able, I urge you to get the vaccine as soon as you’re eligible. I’m right behind you.

Paz y Amor, mi familia. Paz y Amor, my friends.

JJVW—Jenni June Villegas Wilson

Jenni J.V. Wilson, LMFT is a collaborative conversationalist, trained in narrative therapy and EMDR. She works with creative and anxious clients on improving, avoiding, and eliminating co-dependent and toxic relationships, while finding healthy ways to be unapologetically themselves. She is the primary therapist at Conclusions Treatment Center IOP in Mission Hills, and has a private practice in Sherman Oaks.

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