I apologize, blog friends, for having been silent since Wednesday night, when our family lost my brother-in-law, Steven Westmark, to a sudden and tragic heart attack.
I almost turned off the comments on this post, which may seem rather odd. But I know that you all would offer my family condolences, and if you do so in the comments and emails, I’ll feel guilty not responding to each of you with thanks. Your sympathies are assumed and accepted as are my thanks in return. But that’s not why I’m writing this post.
What has puzzled me these last few days is what I should or should not write about this and how personal this blog or any blog really is.
I often tell people that the best blog posts come when you see, read, hear, experience, or decide something and think, ‘I should tell my friends about that.’ Your friends, of course, are your readers.
There were many such moments in the last week. If this were fully personal, I’d be chronicling our debate about whether to be angry at God or kill him; the impressive maturity I’ve seen emerge from young people in the midst of trauma; the social and manipulative business of funerals; and even the media story of charging the bereaved $400 to share their news and grief (where is the craigslist of obituaries? perhaps it should be craigslist).
But I’m not doing any of that because it would, I believe, be an intrusion on my family’s privacy. I’m not doing it for their sake.
But for my sake? My life is an open blog. Sharing these moments and the context they give to other thoughts is what I do now. It is reflex. Or that’s what I’ve discovered in this time.
This isn’t unlike my days as a columnist in San Francisco in the late ’70s. I constantly had the column on my mind and when I saw or thought something column-worthy, I’d store it away like a nut in a tree until I could publish it. But that was more opportunistic. That was about filling a space six days a week. That made experiences a commodity to be exploited.
A blog is different. Pardon me for restating the overstated, but it’s a conversation, a conversation among friends. It’s different from publishing. And, of course, it’s personal: one person talking among others. And so privacy has a different impact. That’s a lesson young people teach us often these days in their attitudes toward privacy online: In this conversation, you can’t get something in return if you don’t give something of yourself. And in this case, I don’t mean the return of condolences. I mean the return of experiences and ideas and viewpoints. I can’t get those from you, which I value, if I don’t give something myself first: my experiences, my thoughts, and the context for them. It’s personal, a blog.
Sometime later, I may well have that conversation about killing God. And I think I will contemplate the impact of someone disrupting the obit market. But not now.
Now I’ll just say that personally, I miss Steve greatly. He was a magnificent uncle to my children. No one in our family understood kids like he did; there’s a special smile only he could bring to their faces. He was a wonderful brother to my wife and a generous brother-in-law to me. He was a great husband, father, brother, and son. Steve was a devoted Deadhead, a talented builder, great fun, one of a kind.