Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Regarding Grief and Regarding Marshall

The modern way of computer-assisted grief is surreal. Because so many of my brother's friends communicate by way of Facebook, I found (and still find) myself in a state of having to deal with something that is deeply personal and deeply complicated in a public way. The constant stream of kind thoughts and carefully worded messages of condolence have helped me to feel very far from alone, so some of the attention has been most welcome.

I have also been stung by the occasional unintentional violation of boundaries by people I do not know. Everyone's family has its specific ways of relating to one another, and when a family is in the "public eye" of the community of musicians, perhaps people assume the right to have sudden intimacies because of the intimacy of a shared musical bond with someone who has died.

I wrote a "note" on my Facebook page so that people who do not know me might be able to understand something about my relationship with my brother Marshall. Here are some excerpts:

Growing up with Marshall Fine as my big brother was not always fun. He was indeed a musical savant as a child, and I was (of course) terribly jealous of his supernatural musical gifts (and they were supernatural). He truly did have the most accurate of musical ears and a great intellectual understanding of form and function in music.

He had serious social difficulties as a child and as a young adult, and it pleases me a great deal to know that he had such a large community of people who really valued what he did as a composer, a violist, a violinist, and as a conductor.

My relationship with Marshall was always riddled with sibling rivalry (Mom did like him best). We did not spend much time together as children, and when he was home (he went to a special-needs boarding school) life was difficult for everybody.

After we grew up we would sometimes go years, and sometimes go decades without seeing one another. I can count on one hand the number of times we have seen one another since he left Boston for Atlanta in the late 70s or early 80s.

We spent the past decade in (rare) phone and (less rare) e-mail contact, and during the past year we worked together helping our (blind and disabled) mother get out of her basement apartment and into a care facility. Our communications over these things had their difficulties, but the difficulties were challenges from the outside our family: people who acted in ways that gave our mother a great deal of grief and difficulty (don't get me started).

I was always bothered by Marshall's elevated image of himself and a whole slew of other things not worth going into here, but in his last six months I also got to know him as a person with a good heart. Perhaps my greatest feeling of grief comes from the fact that I felt that our relationship as brother and sister had really started to have some meaning, and then it was suddenly cut off.

For those people who never knew Marshall, he was indeed as brilliant a person as his friends present him to be. I joined Facebook last year because someone who played at a music festival with Marshall told me that he was on Facebook. I was indeed surprised when I "friended" him how many people loved and admired him. It does me proud as a sister to know that Marshall found his place in Memphis and that he had devoted friends.
Last night I got out Marshall's laptop computer (which I removed from the wrecked car he had been driving), and I sorted through the compositions I found on it. I converted his Sibelius files into PDF files, made a page for him on the IMSLP, and have started uploading his music. My father has manuscript copies of Marshall's violin and viola music that haven't been engraved. We will arrange to have those manuscripts scanned.

Marshall's music, like his personality, is intimidating. I spent much of my young childhood under the shadow of Marshall's enormous ego and intellectual brilliance, and the experience of going through his music puts me right back into "Marshall's sister" mode, something I don't remember feeling since I was a young teenager.

I began my professional musical life doing different things from the things that Marshall did, and now I find myself doing the exact same things that he did, only with a very different musical personality and a different purpose. I am learning through first-hand experience that musical ego does reach far beyond the grave, and it is strangely healing to be able to keep that musical ego available for musicians to enjoy (or fear) even when Marshall is no longer among the living.


Lisa Hirsch said...

Thank you for this, which conveys so well the complexity of your relationship with Marshall and the complexity of your family life. You've written before about your family and the difficulties of growing up in it.

I'm very sorry for the boundary violations - at any time, but especially during such a sad and complicated time.

That was a huge mitzvah that you and Marshall did for your mother. I am deeply sorry that the process of getting to know him better, and perhaps in a different way, has ended.

Lyle Sanford, RMT said...

Over and over again I've seen the siblings of special needs children having really tough times. Anecdotally it seems to happen more often than not.

Best wishes and prayers.