Comments

  1. Fran Stekoll says

    My husband Matt passed away three months ago. This is the first time in 60 years I’ve been truly alone. I am a grief counselor; but applying my knowledgeto myself has been totally impossible. I’ve chosen to handle my grief by keeping unusually active. My mind has been racing in five directions at the same time. I’ve overpowered my family and friends. Everyone keeps asking”How are your doing?” I reply that I’m just fine; but deep down inside there’s a huge void. Grieving is God’s way of letting me know that “into each life some rain must fall” , God crying through my soul, a cleansing process which erodes away false hopes, feats, and heartaches and prepares me for my own demise. Grief creeps up unannounced when I least expect it, while driving his car, hearing a song, seeing a soul who resembles him, smelling a familiar fragrance, feeling his presence and realizing how long it’s been without him, yet knowing deep down the void is still empty as an open wound. Grieving is uncomfortable, uncontrollable, unpredictable, unintentional, and very necessary. Just as there are seven stages of dying, there are probably that and more to grief. Grieving grabs my heart and squeezes tight, causing throat lumps pushing unannounced tears up to and out through my eyes. Even though it is an uncomfortable and uncontrollable act of the senses, after a short bout with grief, I feel relieved , rejuvenated, and somewhat contented that it took place.
    Grieving unclogs my being so I can somehow smile again, only this time I seem more prepared for whatever God has next to have me face. Grieving cushions the next blow and strengthens me for the rest of my life. Grieving is like Listerine, I don’t like it but I know it’s good for what ails me . Some friends who say they Love me have distanced themselves from me as I’ve become manic. They want me to see a shrink, take anti-depressants, Listen more than talk. One even said I made her sick to her stomach and canceled a trip we’d planned. Another said I was bi-polar and wanted to make an appointment for me to seek professional help. She even put her hand over my mouth as I expressed my innermost thoughts . I have a close
    friend who is a Psychologist and I asked her “What’s the difference between Manic depressive, Bi-Polar and Cyclic?” She told me they were all the same, but expressed on different levels. I finally got the courage to stand up to these so called friends who said they loved me and couldn’t be with me and told them I was sorry they felt that way; but I would not go to a shrink, nor would I take drugs. I confided in a close friend about what I was going through and she said she’d faced this all her life. It seems some folks can’t stand to see someone who is contented and joyful and a self realization arises which brings us to the truth of who our true friends really are. I now know that truth. The courage it took to see myself as others see me has given me more balance and the ability to know how to calm myself in ways I’d never thought possible. I guess we’re never too old to learn something new. I reflect on a poster I once displayed in my office-”Be The Change You Want To See Happen” I am now living that .

    • Terry Gibson says

      Fran, I’m so sorry for your loss. Your description of grieving is revealing to me; you have words for that complicated process. Thank you.

    • Laura Davis says

      Fran, thank you for sharing your grief with us. I support you no matter how you cope. No one can tell us the “right” way to grieve. You do it your way.

    • Bobbie Anne says

      Fran, it takes a lot of courage to be on your own and share your experience as a grief counselor. May God Bless you as you continue to take care of yourself.

    • Debbie says

      Fran – I am touched by your journey and in awe of your personal courage. I can connect with you on the sense of loss, the way people react and our own challenges in allowing those feelings just to be. Thank you for this beautifully written piece.

  2. Barbara Keller says

    Sorry Fran, this isn’t a comment on your writing, it’s just my post and I only get the “leave a reply” section.

    The Courage To Speak

    That’s not my definition of courage. I wanted the normal people to be able to define me. I wanted to be normal. But it never worked. I am who I am, and no one else’s expectations or very strong desires ever had any effect. OK, some effect. I not only knew I wasn’t normal, I felt guilty and knew I was a dissapointment as well.

    I do agree that sticking by your principals takes courage. People are rarely pleased to learn that I’m a Christian. Born Jewish into a generation indifferent to God, in a country somewhat hostile to God, it’s not popular. Sometimes I want to keep it to myself, to avoid the eyes that get colder and the shoulder that turns away, also colder. But I try hard to not waffle. After all, it’s the core of who I am, and not a good idea to deny it.

    So, now I see the struggle and the conflict and the need for courage. If people would prefer that my beliefs be more middle of the road, and I am struggling to ignore their wishes, I see that courage is required to avoid letting them define me – at least as it effects what comes out of my mouth.

    • Bobbie Anne says

      Barbara, God Bless you for sticking to your principles. I too wanted to be normal, but realized it wasn’t all that important. I am Catholic and my friend Andi was Jewish and when I broke my ankle, to give me communion. My faith is what matters to me as well. Just be who you are!

  3. Judy Lynne says

    Early in 2005, *Cathy Sosnowsky approached me about organizing a presentation at the World Bereavement Conference taking place in Vancouver, BC that summer. “Do you know anyone who could do a program on understanding lesbian and gay parents who’ve experienced the death of a child”? Cathy saw it as not only identifying some of the obstacles we face when our lives and supports are not recognized, but would also provide some direction to care providers and self-help groups like The Compassionate Friends (TCF), a support group for bereaved parents. Cathy was the Chapter Leader of the North Shore TCF and knew I was a lesbian because we came to know each other when she taught my daughter a few years earlier.

    What initially seemed like a terrific opportunity, turned into a more dubious one when I was unable to find any gay/lesbian bereaved parents who were willing to respond to my outreach. I suspect that Cathy, ever the teacher, had me in mind all along. So, having committed to a project that was sorely needed, I reluctantly stepped up to the plate, all the while wondering what I could possibly contribute to such a dialogue. My experience was atypical, or at least not the experience that needed to be told at the conference. My son’s death had been tragic, just like all parents who lose a child. But my experience of support far exceeded the shared stories I had heard from other parents who attended TCF. Shouldn’t I be talking about how much harder it is for queer parents? I imagined talking about the tremendous support my children and I were blessed with when Neil died; support from my extended “family of choice”—friends, most of them women and most of them lesbian. My experience was and continues to be remarkable. Because so many of us have struggled with discrimination, family rejection and invisibility, we have built a strong community of care, self-help and organization that becomes so very evident in times of crisis. I wanted people to know that for those of us who are “out”, our chosen families are where we find our support. Bu this is not the only story, the only experience of queer parents who lose a child.

    The people who shared with me the experience of losing a beloved child, came to Compassionate Friends, as I did, to remember and grieve with others of us who knew this was the one place where we were free to express our pain and take whatever time we needed; a place where, as was announced at the beginning of each gathering, we wouldn’t be judged. It surprised me how many of them found all of their support at these TCF meetings. Their friends and often even their families didn’t know how to offer solice, their spouses grieved differently and their marriages drifted apart, their employers, neighbours and friends didn’t understand why they didn’t “get over it”. A deeply religious woman lived in unrelenting sorrow because her church taught, and she believed, that her dead son would not be admitted to heaven because he was homosexual and had died of an AIDS related illness.

    My son, Neil, died on April 12, 2002, in a back-country skiing accident in the Canadian Rockies. He was 32. Bereaved parents in the North Shore group knew about Neil, but, aside from Cathy, they didn’t know very much about me.

    Thinking about the conference, what else needed to be said about being a bereaved mother who is also a lesbian? Since Neil died my entire identity had shifted. If I wore a label before it was “Lesbian Feminist”. In the blink of a tragic accident I had became “Bereaved Mother”. Now, while struggling to think of a focus for this conference presentation, the discovery that I had been censoring myself since Neil’s death came as a sudden shock. “Bereaved Mother” obscured any previous identity I presented to the world.

    Gifts come from the most unexpected places. The request to present at the conference seemed more like work and not at all like an opportunity The people who should be presenting were not visible and I – well, I was not struggling like those gays and lesbians living in rural closets, in conflict with their beliefs, or in countries where choice is not an option. My experience of support following Neil’s death was in fact so much more positive than most other bereaved families. And while the expectation of safety and non-judgment at TCF was certainly intended, it didn’t take into account the fear of being judged and the self censorship that comes with that fear.

    For some reason I didn’t feel strong enough to expose myself. Other parents shared the death of their child in ways that might be stigmatizing; deaths like suicide, drugs, or AIDS, risking that they or their children mightl be judged. I don’t and didn`t experience stigmatization around how my child died, but I feared rejection around who I was. I had never indicated that I’m a lesbian at a TCF meeting. Nor had I heard anyone else identify themselves as lesbian or gay.

    “Why would they?” “What difference does it make? It’s nobody’s business”. “This is about our children, not about us”. “Nobody else talks about their sexuality either”. Aw, but they do. Parents talk about their spouses, their partner’s support or lack of support, expectations they have of their spouse or their in-laws, difficulties reconnecting with an estranged spouse, struggles they’re having in a new relationship, the often present and assumed “we”. Pronouns make it clear. And I realized that I hadn’t talked about those things because safety and acceptance had become paramount to my new identity. I will always be a bereaved mom and Neil’s death has changed me, but I needed to recapture more of who I have always been.

    I, too, have an ex-partner. Janet and I were together for 9 years. She had a very special relationship with Neil, teaching him how to drive, listening to his secrets and to the struggles that he was having with his sister or with me. It was Janet who encouraged me to send Neil to the Outward Bound Wilderness program when he was a difficult teenager. When our relationship ended, Janet continued to be there through Neil’s accidents and foibles. She loved him and was devastated when he died. She was part of my support system; but I had never talked about Janet at a TCF meeting.

    In 1976, two of my children were kidnapped by their father. Eight months later there was a custody hearing that lasted 4 ½ days. Those eight months were a living nightmare. I was terrified I would lose my children because it was then not considered “in the best interests” of a child to live with a homosexual parent. If I’d lost my children, I don’t know how I could have survived. Fortunately I didn’t lose custody of my children, but this is another example of the kind of sharing that might come up at a TCF group. I never mentioned it.

    These are the ways we identify our sexual orientation, but those who belong to what I will call the dominant culture, don’t see their stories as revealing anything other than the norm. In fact, it’s still assumed that we are all heterosexual unless we indicate otherwise. When we don’t, we feel invisible. When we do, we risk rejection and we feel very vulnerable.

    I’m fortunate to have lived in an urban centre in a country (Canada) where there is support, acceptance and human rights protection for lesbians and gays. And yet I know three other bereaved lesbian mothers in Vancouver, and none of them would go to a bereaved parents’ group for support. How difficult is it for gay or lesbian parents living in rural communities where they may be closeted, or in parts of the world where extreme hatred, homophobia and violence are tolerated or even encouraged; where homosexuality is simply not recognized or is illegal. These are the people whose stories I wanted to have heard at the conference. We didn’t, and they aren’t visible. So I needed to be.

    The presentation was about visibility and safety in finding support when a child dies. What I’m talking about is also true for parents who’ve lost gay or lesbian children. The TCF chapter I’ve been attending has a mailing list of 120 families and only one of those families at the time had disclosed that their child, a gay man, died from an AIDS-related death. Considering that AIDS had claimed the lives of more young people between 1980 and 2005 than any other single cause of death, it was odd that not more of the parents of these young people sought the support of this international support network. Why is that? Where were they finding support? And what of those parents whose children died from suicide because they were afraid to reveal their sexual orientation, or because of homophobic harassment and isolation? I`ve met at probably 50 parents who have lost children to suicide, most of them in their teens. Not one said their kid was gay or was struggling with his/her sexual orientation. What are the odds?

    Bereaved parents from every walk of life find different ways of moving through their grief journeys. Not all of us need or want to be part of a support group. Many prefer to seek help from other self-help organizations, such as AA, or from our families, friends, spiritual groups—or alone. But self-help groups like TCF need to make sure that the expectation of safety is more than mere tolerance. We need to find ways to ensure all families are welcomed and embraced, and that they and their children are honoured, respected and made visible through our newsletters and at our gatherings. Many of the people attending the 2005 World Bereavement Conference were eager to find ways to make that possible and I am very gratified to be a small part of providing the opportunity.

    This article is a record of my own personal opening and self discovery and resolve to speak up. As I said earlier, “I reluctantly stepped up to the plate”. While I can’t say I scored a home run, I can happily report that I made it safely to first base. Thank you Cathy.

    —Judy Lynne, mother of Neil Falkner – September 17, 1969 to April 12, 2002

    See http://www.neilfalknerlegacy.ca

    08/20/2005, World Bereavement Conference, Vancouver, BC

    * Cathy Sosnowsky lost her teenage son, Alex, her only birth child, in a freak accident in December 1994. See http://cathysosnowsky.com

    • Laura Davis says

      Judy, I was deeply moved by your beautifully rendered story. I`m so glad you spoke out for the right of all gay and lesbian people to grieve fully and in the open. I hope your article gets spread widely and that it ends the silence that some feel in having to suffer their loss alone–or with huge pieces of the truth omitted.

      • Judy Lynne says

        Thank you Laura – for your comment and for creating this wonderful space, support and inspiration to write. Judy

    • Terry Gibson says

      This is an incredible story, Judy. Please let me thank you for your amazing and difficult work. I live in Vancouver and know we need to organize and provide for each other, what is necessary to heal in a place of safety. My brother died of AIDS in late 2009 and I couldn’t even find bereavement groups that included siblings of the deceased; but that is not the anguish of a mother who lost her child. I am so sorry for the loss of your son. I cannot imagine the pain nor the frustration of feeling so stilted in your efforts to communicate to the sometimes uncommunicative, unreceptive and judging. Thanks for teaching me so much. I promise to bring some awareness on my end too.

      • Judy Lynne says

        How lovely to hear from you Terry. I am so sorry for the loss of your brother so recently. While it’s true that a mother’s grief is very deep, siblings often experience equally devastating loss because they are reminded by family and friends that their parents’ loss is greater than theirs. When we lost Neil I was hyper aware that my children knew each other in intimate ways that I did not because they shared secrets & experiences I was not privy to. This awareness meant that my children and I were able to support each other and connect more deeply through our sorrow.
        I now live on the Sunshine Coast having moved here from Vancouver 7+ years ago when I retired. If you would like to be in touch you can reach me through Neil’s Legacy website. There is an active writer’s community here, and of course, the Sunshine Coast Festival for the Written Arts every August in Sechelt.
        Blessings, Judy

  4. Jim Dowling says

    It was the early 70’s and I was a twenty-one-year-old, west coast kid working oil rigs in Louisiana. My job had me working as part of a ‘lay down’ crew. As three man crews we visited rigs that needed drill pipe brought up and out of the ground quickly – often routine maintenance such as changing out a drill bit. A shift could be 5 hours, it could be 24. On this particular afternoon we’d been working hours non-stop when the word suddenly came down we could take a break and relax for a spell. I took my sack lunch and sat down in some shade with a wall of drill pipe to lean my back against. Lunch. It was probably another baloney sandwich. I got comfortable. The other two fellows, guys considerably older, ate their lunch on the other side of the same wall of drill pipe. I didn’t know them very well, except that they looked and sounded like they’d been doing this kind of work a long time. I respected that and tried hard not to screw things up in any way.
    So, they’re eating their lunches ten feet away, on the other side of the drill pipe and I’m overhearing their conversation. Topic: The Negro Problem. They didn’t define it very well, but it sounded like they were convinced that blacks were responsible for the bulk of southern society’s woes, crime and poverty especially. Not a shocker. I’d been down there long enough to get a whiff of this logic more than once. I didn’t like it, but I kept my views to myself. Hell, I was drawn to the region because I expected it, actually wanted it to be different. I’d journeyed to Cajun country; a stranger in a strange land. Why make waves?
    They kept going. The conversation got quite animated. The exact words are lost to memory, but I believe the following captures the flavor:
    “Problem’s only gonna get worse unless we find a way to cut down on the birth rate.”
    “Yep.”
    “If we could find a way to sterilize them. Maybe at birth, right there at the hospital.”
    “Ain’t gonna happen, but you are absolutely right.”
    Wow. These guys were totally serious, and I was getting uncomfortable. Did they care that I was listening? Did they know how absurd they sounded? I cleared my throat, making enough noise that they had to know I was close by. They kept right on and I suppose something in me snapped. I weighed in.
    “There was another guy about thirty years ago who had some of the same ideas,” I said, trying to sound as if I might have something humorous with a punch line to it.
    Talking ceased on the other side of the drill pipe.
    “Yeah,” I continued. “His name was Hitler.” Just like that, I’d said it. I’d uttered words that were certain to set things in motion. I was scared. Visions of Easy Rider scared. I waited. Nothing happened.
    Break over, we went back to work. The guys were “cool” toward me, but not outwardly hostile in any way. Maybe I’d come out of this okay. I’d crossed the line, but perhaps they chalked it up to me being another stupid kid from “up north”. Fine by me. These two guys could think and say whatever they wanted. No prob. Tomorrow’s a new day. Right?
    For the rest of my time working for that outfit, I was segregated – the only “white guy” on an all-black crew. I understood perfectly what was going on. Someone’s idea of humiliation. I’m eternally grateful. Because of my faux pas I got to meet and work with George and Linus, two incredible oil men. Of course in the beginning it was awkward. I was a little like kryptonite. No one was sure how to handle me or if it was even safe. But I worked hard with those guys. Together, we braved the heat, the unrelenting swarms of mosquitoes, the scrutiny of others from afar, and a slowly evolving realization that we might be forging new ground. Over time we became genuine friends. That, of course, would be another story.
    “My definition of courage is never letting anyone define you.”
    –Jenna Jameson

    • says

      Fantastic story. Thanks for sharing your courage. I’ve been in those situations, too, and sometimes I’ve spoken up and sometimes I haven’t I hope you inspire many more through your story to speak up in those kinds of terrible challenging situations.

    • says

      It takes courage to speak out for justice, especially when you are not sure if it is “safe”. Welcome to the blog! Thanks for sharing this story with us.

    • Beverly Boyd says

      Thank you Jim for your courage in speaking up. Unfortunately now according to a brother who lives north of Chicago and a son north of Dallas even more people now need to “get it” and speak up as you did. we can’t let hate pass unchallenged.

    • Terry Gibson says

      What an great story about courage, Jim. That goes on your part and that of the African-American men you came to work with; I’m so happy that that effort on both parts was rewarded with close and genuine friendships. You inspire me very much. I speak up often, which sometimes frightens my partner, even though we are both passionate about fighting against any of these disgraces. Thanks so much for writing this.

    • Ilana says

      Wow, Jim- What an amazing story! I am in awe of your courage. I was sitting here thinking that as disgusted as I was with the conversation you described I would never have had the courage to do what you did. But I suppose I have in my own way, just called it stupidity. When I was visiting colleges I was waiting out in the hall for my hosts. They had forgotten and left campus. I was SOL. As I sat there I heard from another room, “When I heard I was hosting a senior all I had to say was. She’d better not be black and she’d better not be Jewish.” Long story short, this voice belonged to the roommate of the girl who found me in the hall and took me in. She asked if I had any questions. I immediately asked where the Jewish student center was. Everyone else in the room looked at her and said, in unison, “Oh my God she’s Jewish!” I was embarrassed, felt silly for challenging her in this way. I don’t know why. I took it a step further by pulling my hair aside to show her that I did not have horns. (I’ve been told some people actually believe we do.) Nothing came of it but I always thought about how stupid I had been that night. Your story gives me a little outside perspective. Thank you. IM

      • Ilana says

        Beverly, Laura and Terry- Wow! Thanks you guys! I REALLY needed to hear that. It’s been a shameful memory for me for 19 years and you all have given it some dignity. Thank you, Jim, as well, for helping me see my experience from the outside.

        • Fran Stekoll says

          Great profile in Courage. You gave me
          some ammunition to go forth in new ways I hadn’t thought of. Thanks

      • Frances Lesenski Talamantes says

        Jim, thank you so much for that story. That was real courage. It hit such a chord with me for I grew up in the south and was sickened by that kind of talk. I grew up hearing it and hated every word of those conversations. Cannot tell you how disgusted I was.
        I now reside in CA where things are different and am I happy. I hate to say it but when I go back home I hear that same talk. Maybe, in another world we will be tolerant of others. Let’s pray. Amen

    • Ilana says

      Jim- Wanted you to know what you started with your post. I will be telling your story of courage to illustrate a point when I give my drash (speech about the piece of the bible I am teaching) this Saturday. I will not use your name but your story will demonstrate why we must do what we feel is right even if it is unpleasant or scary. Thank you for sharing this story. IM

  5. Bobbie Anne says

    Hi Everyone! Happy 4th of July, Independence Day! I’m happy I’m an American in the United States. When the King of England heard the news that the American’s were celebrating the first year of our independence he wrote “Nothing happened today”.

    • Ilana says

      Thank you Bobbie Anne and all of you in this community- With your permission, I’d like (no, I need) to share something that is both extremely painful and a triumph. Last 4th of July I gave my father a letter detailing the abuse that he had forgotten. I haven’t spoken to him since that day. A few months later I cut off communication with my mother as well. (and of course, my brother, before then) I don’t know how long this personal revolutionary war will continue but it is with your support that I have faced the pain and fear involved in each battle. I hope that it will be with your support as well, when I finally celebrate my own independence, healed, safe and at peace. Bless you all, “Ilana”

  6. Bobbie Anne says

    Hi. I’d like to share this with you. Even though the teacher lost the job, the teacher did the right thing.

    CLASS CUT-UP

    Sitting in the back row
    long blond hair covering
    bloodshot blue eyes
    licking capped lips
    staring at nothing
    feeling the fresh cuts
    drawn across pale
    flesh this morning
    doing it just so
    she could feel it
    the student silently sits
    her teacher calls home
    her mom is a nurse
    knows her daughter
    cuts herself and told
    her to wear long sleeves
    so no one will know
    her teacher is mandated
    to take the report
    but is firmly told it
    involves too much paperwork
    the teacher can’t sleep
    tossing and turning
    such suffering such sadness
    something must be done
    her teacher fills out
    forms in triplicate then
    is let go by the next week
    budget cuts you know
    too many cuts
    ***********************
    By the way, cutting is a serious problem and it has only gotten worse. It needs to be addressed and not hidden by some school districts.

    • Beverly Boyd says

      Thank you for your story. It has been haunting me all day. I’m sorry the teacher lost her job, but she could have lost her self esteem and that would have been so mucn worse!

      I don’t remember cutting and other similar self abuse when I was in high school in the fifties. It really seems that it has gotten worse. There was one boy who cut initials into the back of his hand. Was that cutting or something different?

    • Terry Gibson says

      Bobbie Anne, thank you for drawing attention to a difficult topic. I was once a cutter myself and I know it should be addressed. What a brave and caring teacher this woman was and is. If not officially teaching–given her wrongful dismissal–her words and actions continue to reach the height of a great teacher’s aspirations.

    • Ilana says

      Bobbie Anne- I’ve got to agree with Terry here. What that teacher did was the most important job a teacher has. I can’t help but ask, though. You never mentioned the teacher’s gender. Was this a purposeful omission? If it was, I’d be interested in the thoughts behind it. Thank you for sharing this wonderful, and wonderfully written, story. IM

    • Ilana says

      PS. I love the pun at the end. “too many cuts”. I generally don’t like puns because they seem to trivialize the message. Not here. In this piece it underlined, circled and highlighted it.

  7. Terry Gibson says

    Many people say I’m courageous. I guess I understand that. However, most of what I’ve done is not fuelled by self-confidence. It’s powered by the necessity of life over fading to darkness. My fight-or-flight response is triggered by strong emotions, which bubble or percolate and often wear me out. I struggle with these highs and lows daily but have noticed that as I’ve aged, things are on a more even keel.

    Today, my courage is about saying the following: Whether this is to appease my inner critic or not, I don’t care right now.

    I never lied about a single thing that happened to me. Not a single thing. I haven’t even embellished.

    In fact, I’ve held back so much out of embarrassment, shame, anger about dealing with people’s accusations, contempt, and their inevitable labelling of me. This also includes the fear of making new friends, some of whom must eventually reject me because my reality is just too much. Saying that doesn’t mean I am unsympathetic to what’s going on in other people’s lives, their sensibilities, or difficulties reconciling who I am today with who I was—especially, when at this point, I feel compelled to share my whole story. I care very much about other people and empathize always, almost to a fault. I’m still learning how to stay centered in my own skin.

    Recently, I was attacked through an email for what I’m trying to do on my site. This hurt me and made for a couple weeks of introspection and troubled sleep. I am just now bouncing back and work with a renewed passion. When I cut through to the root of it, I think: I take up so little space in the real and virtual world, get over it emotional stalker.

    This quote, the origin of which I do not know, is relevant here. “It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out; it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.” In other words, if one trauma equals that grain of sand, which can have so much impact, when multiplied three, six or even eight times, the contents of that shoe might as well have claimed your whole leg. My whole leg. So, given I’m climbing Everest without a prosthetic, I couldn’t have healed any faster than I did. I will work on it as long as I need to and no longer than that, thank you very much. Nobody has a right to judge me based on their projected timetable for my healing and inevitable reckoning with the life I was given.

    Finally, I still struggle with my self-image. I don’t think I’m special or important. I’m just trying to give some of what I have to share, make a decent living, and open up possibilities for myself. The alternative makes my hair bristle.

    There. I feel much better. Woo Hoo! Thanks Laura and all. I so appreciate this community. I hope I haven’t been too long-winded in comments; I couldn’t stop myself given the variety of stories this week.

    • Laura Davis says

      You are special and important. Of that I have no doubt. None whatsoever. Because I’ve seen “you.”

      • Terry Gibson says

        Laura, in so few words, you made me feel hugged and happy. Thank you. So excited about the retreat!

    • Ilana says

      Terry- First of all, you are very special. We each have our own gifts to share with this world. Your ability to recognize your gifts and your strength to share them makes you as big a part of each person’s world as we have the courage to allow you to be. Whoever it was who felt the need to attack you simply did not have the courage to let your gifts in. His or her loss. I am more fortunate than that person. I love the quote about the sand in your shoe. I also felt very connected to the idea that “I will work on this as long as I need and no longer than that, thank you very much.” I recently told myself (in my healing journal) that “It is going to take as long as it takes and not a moment less.” I am, thus, giving myself permission to do this in my own time. Your quote gives me permission to be done when I am done, as well. Thank you, for this and all your gifts. Remember, you are the star of your own life and therefore the most important person in your world. Be well, my friend. sIMz

      • Terry Gibson says

        A huge thanks to you as well! You offer me a different perspective, which I’m always eager to hear. We’re connecting on a few different things these days. Things you’ve shared recently. No doubt, there’ll be more. Enjoy your weekend, Ilana.

  8. Ilana says

    Redefining Me

    “How would Cindy act if she were on pot?”

    “Like a normal person.” I responded without thinking. My hands flew to cover my mouth in a reflexive act which accomplished nothing. The words were out. “I can’t believe I just said that.” I murmured from behind my hands.

    “Neither can we.” Someone said. I looked at the shocked faces of my husband, Zander, My brother, Matt and his wife Holly. I had spent years protecting my mother from everyone else in the family. My father and both my brothers ridiculed her on a regular basis. Zander and Holly, being in-laws, were not as cruel as my family but it was clear they thought she was difficult, to say the least. I was the one who always told my family off when they put her down. I was the one who defended her to my father when he yelled at her for being cut off in traffic. (He hadn’t been there but was sure it was her fault.) I was the one who told them to back off when they made fun of her phobias and anxieties. I was the one who defended her when she canceled plans over and over again because there was a 10% chance of rain or when she insisted on controlling every nuance of a family get together to work around her fear of bugs or getting lost or getting stuck in traffic or… I can’t keep track of all her phobias.

    Zander, went along with it. I was going to say that it was because he is such a generous man but no, it was because of me. I simply would not allow a negative word to be said about the woman. So together we bent over backwards to make everything work. Matt did quite the opposite. He gave up on her. He saw her on rare occasions when it fit his schedule and needs. When he was around her he ridiculed her nonstop. Sometimes, at family functions, I got up the courage to chew him out for his maltreatment of her. Zander and I found some good times with her. As long as we did things her way, she could be fun to be around. We were the ones who saw her most. What did it earn us? Just being taken for granted. She knew she could count on us to pack up the kids to drive the hour and a half to come see her on a regular basis. We were always exhausted and had trouble getting the kids to bed after these outings but it was the way to get to see her. Zander grumbled all the way home about “Why can’t she come to us sometimes? She doesn’t have three kids to get home in time for bed!” I did my best to make excuses for her. Sometimes I got frustrated too. Those conversations always ended the same way. “How else are we going to see her? The kids have a right to their grandmother.”

    So that night, as the four of us sat in my living room, having put the kids to bed, my exasperation finally got the best of me. I don’t know who had asked the question, “How would Cindy act if she were on pot?” It must have been Zander. Holly never would have said it and Matt would have referred to her as “Mom.” My little rebellion was short lived. I went right back to protecting her for two more years.

    Everything changed when I began to confront the physical violence and incest I had endured for almost all of my childhood. Although it was my older brother who abused me, I blamed my parents for condoning it, for playing it down and blaming me for “whatever I did to set him off.” I cut off all communication with my brother, Andrew and my parents. Presto! No more “Ilana, enmeshed protector of her mother, Cindy.”

    She wants it back. She pushes me any way she can but I will not give in. The only communication between us is e-mails about the children. Short, choppy messages bitten out to provide just enough information to set up the exchange. “Pick them up at school. Drop them off at a daycare the next day.” I cannot deny my children their grandmother. So I make it work. She sets up a trap and I side step it, tenaciously clinging to the boundaries I have worked so hard to create. I know that if I were to begin talking to her again I would sink right back into my old role. That I cannot allow. I’ve worked too hard for this, suffered too much for it. One day this war will be over. One day it will be different. I’ll be able to speak to her without falling back into the role of her protector, therapist, confidant, and insanely enmeshed child. I can’t imagine what that would look like but I intend to get there.

    As for Matt? I can’t decide if he’s loving every minute of it or hating me for leaving him holding the bag. Now he is “The good child.” He was the one who took her out for mother’s day. He was the one who bought her flowers when the lump in her breast turned out to be non cancerous. Even in the face of his indignant attacks on me, I stood my ground.

    Our relationship may not survive this. My relationship with my parents may not survive this. It doesn’t matter anymore. My own survival and the safety of my children have become more important than anything else. Being defined the way I was all my life would sacrifice them and me. I will do whatever I have to in order to protect us from that. I am fighting like hell to redefine myself and I am winning. My new definition is so clear that I can feel it running through my veins, in my blood. “Ilana M: Mother, fierce protector of her children. Survivor, fierce protector of herself.”

    • Terry Gibson says

      I read this a couple times to appreciate all that’s here. It takes so much strength to set our own boundaries, especially when our roles were defined well in advance of us. I understand your mixed feelings so well. Some people made fun of my mother and, while I couldn’t be in her presence for my own emotional health, I felt protective of her, angry at them, and even embarrassed. You’re doing incredibly well, Ilana, even if it doesn’t feel like it. Just think about it: even with all you’ve been through, not only did you not become mean, but you also found the strength and love within you to stand firm in protecting yourself and your children.

      • Ilana says

        Thanks. I needed that. Sometimes you get confused, you know? It’s helpful to have some outside input. I’ve never had a place, before, where I could be so honest. Thanks for sharing how you felt/feel about your mom. It makes me feel less ‘crazy’. IM

    • Jessica Smith says

      Ilana, thank you for sharing about your mother. It takes immense courage to write about this kind of stuff, and even more courage to post it.

      Presently, I’m in the throes of severing sinews with my mom. I feel like a clumsy impatient surgeon cutting fat slabs of mom away from me with a butter knife. Every attempt to share my feelings and erect a low white picket fence boundary or the necessary cinder block blockade topped with concertina wire is considered by the family, mom’s entourage, to undermine and destroy our relationship. I wish I was more mature, calm and effective in my communication skills, but my parents taught me how to hide and lie and never confront, unless it was an explosive sarcastic letter, chucked like a grenade. No matter how gentle, gracious, apologetic and geared toward growth and reconciliation, I am quickly accused of being irrational and cutting her off. The process is so draining and defeating, but when I hear of others who are faithfully building protective walls and toll bridges for greater relational health, I am encouraged. I’m grateful you are protecting yourself. I feel supported to do the same. Thank you.

      • Ilana says

        Jessica- Thank you so much for sharing. It helps immensely to know that I am not alone. As we painfully stack each brick may we both gain strength from the knowledge that we are doing the right thing. IM

    • Debbie says

      Ilana – such an inspirational post. You have some great lines – I hope you remember them everyday! “I am fighting like hell to redefine myself and I am winning. My new definition is so clear that I can feel it running through my veins, in my blood” Hooray for you!!

  9. Frances Lesenski Talamantes says

    Thanks again to Jim for his input.
    I made me start to think of times when I showed courage. Not until now did I think of it as courage, I just felt it was making a statement.
    I used to ride the bus when I lived in the South. I was a late teen and early twenty. I would see all of the blacks in the back of the bus and felt it was unfair that they could not sit anywhere.
    I would sit in the back of the bus with the blacks while being a young white woman. I had people give me dirty looks and even some that would tell me that I needed to get to the front of the bus.
    I just could not stand what I felt was an injustice. Thank God, that part of our history is over.

    • Ilana says

      Thank you Francis for sharing your story as well. Jim really started something, didn’t he? I think what you did showed great courage. You said that you didn’t see it that way at the time. You didn’t call it something negative, as I did, but you also didn’t give yourself credit for what you did. It seems the more we share with each other the more we learn about ourselves. I am so grateful for both of your stories and what you have taught me. IM

    • Laura Davis says

      I like to think of you sitting back there like that. That was amazing courage through action. Even if you couldn’t articulate it at the time, you did it.

    • Terry Gibson says

      So cool, Frances. Reminds me of “Long Walk Home” with Whoopi Goldberg; I think it was her. Awe and inspiration for breakfast. Sounds good! So brave of you!

  10. Debbie says

    It is my blessing and my curse.

    I am highly aware and able to sense the feelings of others. When I meet someone, often waves of feelings will wash over me emanating from a part of them of which they may be unaware. On this point my conscious and unconscious mind work as a team. One “receiving” the unspoken feelings and channeling those impressions to a place that can interpret what has been shared on this level into spoken words or a gesture back to the unknowing author.

    I wanted to post to this prompt that I never let anyone define me. The truth is, however, is that I struggle with this every moment of every day. Being so sensitive to the messages of others, my primal response is to comfort, soothe and ease their way. Or, should I be picking up on their discomfort with me in any way, to flex, bend and morph my style into something that will allow us to connect. This can be very helpful to those others and wreck havoc on my own sense of self.

    I have often wondered if this is why I need, no require, alone time to re-energize. I have watched in awe, wonder, and a touch of envy, those who seem to draw energy from the presence of others speaking and moving with ease in large groups. At the end of the interaction, they are already energized while I am dreaming of being alone, seeking quiet and time to process.

    I don’t know if it can truly be defined as courage but I do doggedly plod on trying to better integrate the “internal me” into this whole exchange with others. I spend more time, now, untangling the expectations of those with whom I interact, or care about, from my own self-concept. I have mediated most of the resentment toward the others in my life. Facing the brutal facts, I accept that most do not ask of me this convoluted dance.

    And for those that do, I am no longer a willing participant.

    • says

      Debbie, I love your honesty and your acute self-awareness. I was especially intrigued with this section, “I have watched in awe, wonder, and a touch of envy, those who seem to draw energy from the presence of others speaking and moving with ease in large groups. At the end of the interaction, they are already energized while I am dreaming of being alone, seeking quiet and time to process.” You captured the essence of the introvert perfectly. What’s interesting to me is that in my life I am definitely moving more from being an extrovert to having strong introverted needs! Something I never thought would happen.

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