MY SISTER CHRISTY*
27 NOVEMBER 2021
Emergence, Watercolor, 21.5" x 29.5", Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**
She died August 28, 2021 of pancreatic cancer. Unafraid of death, she chose not to undergo the most aggressive treatments. Doctors said she could live up to 14 months from the date of diagnosis. She suffered additional complications and lasted only a few. Her six children, all accomplished, diverse, independent, strong-willed, and with first names that begin with “J,” gathered to be with her in Austin, Texas when she passed. Her oldest, a physical therapist, is serving as a mission president for the LDS Church in Arizona and her youngest, who farmed marijuana for a short time, works for a refinery in California. The others are an engineer, an ENT doctor, a life-flight nurse, and a Ph.D. who works as a Public Health Practitioner for Jemez Pueblo.
Christy and I were as close as two siblings could be for much of my life. I received information about her health status second-hand. It had been some time since we spoke. A few days before she died, her daughter and caregiver Jessica, the life-flight nurse, arranged a meeting through Facetime so we could say goodbye. I cannot say whether Christy was aware. Jessica extended this gesture as a kindness.
Very early in my blogging, I addressed the power differential between genders (unfortunately intimating only two) in government, religion, and relationships, organizations and systems that tend to bleed into the others. That post, unsarcastically titled Pence: “‘Choice’ is Now Limited to Victims of Legitimate Rape,” concerned men making decisions for women. I referenced Christy in that post, the patriarchal culture into which she was born, the gaslighting and mansplaining to which she was subject, some of the influences that shaped her, and what appeared from my vantage to be a difficult and often painful existence. In that regard, it should come as no surprise that Christy was born in Utah and died in Texas. Having experienced similar accidents of birth and culture but with the absurd and outsized privilege of a “y” chromosome, I’m sure I compounded her struggles. As an observer I lacked full capacity to understand and, most important, to empathize. Granted, we connect through shared emotion more than through shared experience. But when it comes to gender differences, that may beg the question. I will say that Christy tried to break the cycle by raising her daughters to answer to no man and only to themselves. She was immensely proud of her children, as she should have been.
As close family and friends gathered this Thanksgiving, I spoke about Christy. I wished things had been different, better, between us leading up to her diagnosis and sudden death. I hadn’t written about her, until now, because I haven’t known how to grieve. I still don’t. I will write more in time. She was my go-to, my sounding board and sage, my confidant and advisor, my default. Until she wasn’t. Given the shared history, our mutually maintained distance may have been more difficult and painful than the alternative. I don’t know. But I do wish things had been different, better.
*My brother the very talented fiction writer and novelist, Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, deserves considerable credit for offering both substantive and technical suggestions to https://medium.com/@richardvanwagoner and https://lastamendment.com. Rob’s second novel, a beautifully written suspense drama that takes place in Utah, Wyoming, and Norway, dropped on November 17, 2020. Available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple Bookstore and your favorite local bookshop, this novel, The Contortionists, which Rob himself narrates for the audio version, is a psychological page-turner about a missing child in a predominantly Mormon community. I have read the novel and listened to the audio version twice. It is a literary masterpiece. The Contortionists is not, however, for the faint of heart.
**Christy modeled for this painting. Richard J Van Wagoner is my father. His list of honors, awards and professional associations is extensive. He was Professor Emeritus (Painting and Drawing), Weber State University, having served three Appointments as Chair of the Department of Visual Arts there. He guest-lectured and instructed at many universities and juried numerous shows and exhibitions. He was invited to submit his work as part of many shows and exhibitions, and his work was exhibited in many traveling shows domestically and internationally. My daughter Angela Moore, a professional photographer, photographed more than 500 pieces of my father’s work. On behalf of the Van Wagoner Family Trust, she is in the process of compiling a collection of his artwork. The photographs of my father’s art reproduced in https://medium.com/@richardvanwagoner and https://lastamendment.com are hers.