Charlene memorial notes

11 June 2016

Ed Hensley

It’s hard to miss someone who’s died. Even harder is to have missed knowing that person while alive.

Siblings can get to “know” each other so well that they aren’t capable, except in extraordinary situations, of seeing the fuller person inhabiting that sibling body.

“Extraordinary situations.”

Death is an ultimate extraordinary situation, along with war - and love - and art.

You could say we shared all those. We loved in the entirely unspoken and unspoiled way of shared being assumed in the blood. We warred in the sometimes spoken and sometimes unspoken ways of shared blood that hasn’t learned to listen as well as it’s learned to react or speak. And art turned out to be more our blood than blood in some ways, even if shared sporadically and distantly.

Distant until now.

I’ve seen recently, primarily in the flow of the 14,000 images I found on Charlene’s computer, the pulse of a life I knew and didn’t know. The very familiar - scenes of home at Shingle Springs, dogs, cats, flowers, turkeys, deer, sunsets through the trees we used to climb. And the completely unknown - strangers gathered around tables, arms around Charlene, smiling in that “we’ve all bonded over something beyond ourselves” way.

We’ve all done that with Charlene, bonded over something larger than our individual selves. Some of us as family, some as friends, coworkers, fellow seekers. Here’s our chance to give each other a bit of the Charlene only we know.

Here’s a bit of my scattered, fragmented Charlene. I left home when she was 10, so I missed the years that form the adult she would become. My recollections leapfrog years from childhood memories of backyard adventures cooking grass over forbidden fires, to climbing Half Dome, to the cryptically disturbed sister, then to person who found help in therapy and medication. I remember the difference. I remember thinking, “I got my sister back.”

She wasn’t wholly back or even whole, evidenced by her continued searching and continued therapies.

She was broken, as we all are, but she worked at her own mending far more than I would ever know how to.

Thanks more to Facebook than anything else, I knew Charlene as a photographer and appreciator of art, as well as a participator in life as fully as she could manage, including environmental activism, women’s meetups, and singing.

She was by far our most active participator in our own family’s history. She took on the role of archivist and ancestry researcher. I couldn’t keep up with all the names and historys she knew. I just would ask her the questions: How many kids do Mike and Twyla have now? Where did mom go to high school? Did our grandmother really make moonshine? We’ve now lost a big chunk of our collective family memory.

She also documented one of her most dramatic transformations in those photos. At one point, her home seemed to consist of pathways through piles of debris. Over the course of about 2 years and 400 photographs, she documented the transition from something she must have been ashamed of to a colorful and cozy little country home.

In some ways I wish I’d known, but I’m also glad I didn’t. I can’t imagine the work and determination and discipline it took for her to spend years doing all that work alone. She took on the task of organizing her life and painting the walls of her being in the bright palette that she imagined for herself, the ones she wanted to live inside of.

All signs are that she was continuing to work on all parts of her life, settling into the strong and creative Charlene she knew she was and building out the Charlene she knew she could be.

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