Tag Archives: families

Passing it On

16 Mar

My daughter, Leah recently took it upon herself to organize the family archives (archives, you say? Oh, yes—we have archives!) After sorting through dozens of boxes of old photos and letters, some that are over 100 years old, I came across an old photo of my grandmother, Martha (my mother’s mother) with her mother, Leila, (my great-grandmother) and her grandmother Mrs. H.D. Weed, (my great-great grandmother.) The photo was probably taken in the early 1900’s in Jamestown, Ohio. Tucked inside the photo was a tiny letter, written by my grandmother to her uncle Harry when she was around ten years old.

Dear Harry,                                        Jamestown, Ohio, Jan. 1, 1913

I am writing you to tell you how much I liked your present. I think that this letter will get to you, before Hellen will get home. I got four books, three boxes of kf, a sewing box; and lots and lots of things too. This is New Years day, I will have to close.

Yours Sincerely,

Martha Smith

P.S. Aunty Kate was here today with Uncle Ed and Bernerd. Thank you              for your present.

Give Hellen my love. M.S.

 

Kisses xxxxxxxxxxxxxx                             Hugs oooooooooooooo

M.S.

 

 

On the back of the envelope, her mother, Leila writes: I don’t know what is in this as she did this all herself. We are having winter for sure her this morning. Leila

Martha Smith Green. My grandmother. Reading her tiny letter in her delicate cursive lettering, I realize that she was once a precious little girl who was deeply loved by her family. I only knew her as a frail old woman in a mink coat, doused in Chanel No. 5, wearing too much red lipstick, her stooped body draped in colorful silk scarves and gaudy jewelry. She always had a cigarette in one perfectly manicured hand and a glass of whiskey in the other. She lavished me with presents from her world travels, while completely ignoring my two brothers. At the time, I thought she just didn’t like boys. Only later in life did I discover why she didn’t interact with my brothers. I also learned that she carried so much pain and trauma in her heart, that for decades, she needed to self-medicate with alcohol. She died of cirrhosis of the liver when I was ten years old.

Over the years, my mother and I have had many conversations about my grandmother, Martha. That she had a brother who died in childhood. How she had a career as a concert pianist, but gave it up when she married. How three of her babies died (two late term miscarriages and one full term birth) before my mother was born. That she and my grandfather refused to do anything to prepare for my mother’s birth—no crib, no diapers or layette—because they believed that my mother was most likely going to die, as well.

Five years after my mother’s birth, Martha had another child—a boy—named Johnnie. He was the light of her life. When he was five, he ran out into the street between two parked cars, and was hit by a speeding car. He died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. My mother, who had just argued with Johnnie and told him to drop dead saw it happen. In her ten-year-old mind, it was her fault.

Neighbors removed Johnnie’s clothes and toys from the house the very next day and my grandparents kept my mother home from the funeral. One day he was there, the next, he was erased. No one talked about Johnnie’s death. One afternoon, my mother walked into her parents’ bedroom and witnessed her dad methodically banging his head against the wall—over and over and over. When my mother was a senior in college, her dad died of a heart attack. She thinks it took him ten years to die of his broken heart. My grandmother took longer, but still died at a very young sixty seven.

Generational trauma. The sadness, the loss, and the secrets become part of who we are. For years, I never knew my mother even had a brother. I always thought she was an only child. Throughout my own childhood, my brothers and I were never allowed to speak negatively about anything. Everything had to be wonderful all the time, even when my dad’s own childhood trauma (he died before I ever had the understanding or maturity to ask him about it) turned him into an alcoholic and wreaked havoc in our own lives. My parents couldn’t handle any kind of conflict, grief or sadness, so they wouldn’t allow us to, either. We had to pretend everything was okay—when it wasn’t.

My own childhood trauma manifested in anxiety and depression that I’ve fought for years to overcome. But what I’m now learning in therapy is that my anxiety may have actually been a good thing—it prevented me from turning to alcohol and drugs to dull my pain. Because my anxiety is based on a fear of losing control, I never liked how alcohol made me feel, so I avoided it. My husband and I made the mutual decision not to drink, so our children never had to deal with any family alcoholism.

Of course, we gave our children trauma—all parents do in some form or another. But I at least broke one cycle that won’t haunt them for the rest of their lives. And I’ve broken the cycle of keeping secrets, as well. I’m an open book (sometimes without a filter) and will freely admit to my foibles, vulnerabilities and shame. I will talk until you tell me to shut up.

I’m also realizing that life is not meant to be happy every single minute of every single day. Society has fed us this big lie that we MUST be content all the time or we’ve failed. It’s just not true. If anything has taught us that life is not always easy, it’s these past few years. And it looks like it’s not getting any better real soon. Yes, there will always be great pain in life; but there can also be great joy. Often, it’s somewhere in the middle.

And good or bad, this too, shall pass.

No More Pretending

22 Nov

I wrote this post for last year’s Thanksgiving and I think it’s appropriate to post it again because now I feel even more grateful and blessed than ever before. May you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with love and blessings.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I’m expecting a large crowd at my house. I’ve been baking and cooking and chopping since last weekend, and have made at least five trips to the grocery store in the last three days. The refrigerator is so full of food I can barely get the doors closed. All four of my children are home, along with three of their cousins, and they’re all downstairs making a racket that could wake a dead pilgrim. A few years ago,  under these same circumstances, I would’ve already had a headache with all of the stress. I would’ve worried about the house being a mess; I would’ve been panicked about all the food I had to prepare for so many people; and I would’ve felt resentful about how I’m the only one who does any work and that no one ever appreciates me.

I would not have been thankful.

For many years I pretended to be thankful on Thanksgiving. I sat at our festive dining room table set with sterling silver, ironed cloth napkins and my great grandmother’s floral china heaped with delicious food and I pretended. I spoke the traditional words of gratitude which easily flowed out to those around me like melted butter basted over the browning turkey. I expressed aloud the words that were expected of me and tried to believe that what I said meant something. As I stared out across the table into the candlelit faces of the people I hold most dear to me, I tried to believe that my words of thankfulness were true and heartfelt.

But they weren’t true and they certainly didn’t come from my heart. They were lies—because there was no honest feeling behind them. Over the years I had learned to shut down emotionally and hadn’t allowed myself to feel joy or gratitude anymore. Even with a lavish Thanksgiving bounty laid out in front of me, I couldn’t shake the buzzing sense of dissatisfaction that lingered in my head like a thick, despairing aura. What I had just wasn’t enough.

Then four years ago everything changed. I’ve written about this pivotal change many times in my blogs but I felt that in light of tomorrow’s celebration, I need to talk about it again.

I was lucky enough to be given a gift by my youngest child: her diagnosis of cancer. It was a gift many would consider a curse; something so horrendous and evil that no good could possibly ever come from it.  I watched Isa suffer so much during those two years of chemotherapy and I suffered along with her, never imagining how this experience would turn into something so miraculous.

But I’m on the other side now and I can see the wonder of my transformation. I look back on those first days in the hospital and remember that within one day of Isa’s diagnosis, the change in my life became apparent. The darkness that had consumed me started to dissipate like a blindfold had been gently untied from my eyes. The ensuing gratitude I felt toward all of those who helped me and my family began to seep in and metastasize into something lovely and tremendous in my heart.

Through the pain and fear I began to feel again. I began to feel real thankfulness.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I will be sitting at the same dining room table, eating off the same china plates, staring into the same faces of my family as we gather to share our traditional meal together. I will speak the same words of gratitude that I have in the past, but this time, everything is different. My words of thankfulness will be earnest and genuine and heartfelt.

I won’t have to pretend anymore.

 

I am grateful for all of you and I wish you all a joyful Thanksgiving filled with love and gratitude!

No More Pretending

23 Nov

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I’m expecting a large crowd at my house. I’ve been baking and cooking and chopping since last weekend, and have made at least five trips to the grocery store in the last three days. The refrigerator is so full of food I can barely get the doors closed. All four of my children are home, along with three of their cousins, and they’re all downstairs making a racket that could wake a dead pilgrim. A few years ago,  under these same circumstances, I would’ve already had a headache with all of the stress. I would’ve worried about the house being a mess; I would’ve been panicked about all the food I had to prepare for so many people; and I would’ve felt resentful about how I’m the only one who does any work and that no one ever appreciates me.

I would not have been thankful.

For many years I pretended to be thankful on Thanksgiving. I sat at our festive dining room table set with sterling silver, ironed cloth napkins and my great grandmother’s floral china heaped with delicious food and I pretended. I spoke the traditional words of gratitude which easily flowed out to those around me like melted butter basted over the browning turkey. I expressed aloud the words that were expected of me and tried to believe that what I said meant something. As I stared out across the table into the candlelit faces of the people I hold most dear to me, I tried to believe that my words of thankfulness were true and heartfelt.

But they weren’t true and they certainly didn’t come from my heart. They were lies—because there was no honest feeling behind them. Over the years I had learned to shut down emotionally and hadn’t allowed myself to feel joy or gratitude anymore. Even with a lavish Thanksgiving bounty laid out in front of me, I couldn’t shake the buzzing sense of dissatisfaction that lingered in my head like a thick, despairing aura. What I had just wasn’t enough.

Then four years ago everything changed. I’ve written about this pivotal change many times in my blogs but I felt that in light of tomorrow’s celebration, I need to talk about it again.

I was lucky enough to be given a gift by my youngest child: her diagnosis of cancer. It was a gift many would consider a curse; something so horrendous and evil that no good could possibly ever come from it.  I watched Isa suffer so much during those two years of chemotherapy and I suffered along with her, never imagining how this experience would turn into something so miraculous.

But I’m on the other side now and I can see the wonder of my transformation. I look back on those first days in the hospital and remember that within one day of Isa’s diagnosis, the change in my life became apparent. The darkness that had consumed me started to dissipate like a blindfold had been gently untied from my eyes. The ensuing gratitude I felt toward all of those who helped me and my family began to seep in and metastasize into something lovely and tremendous in my heart.

Through the pain and fear I began to feel again. I began to feel real thankfulness.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I will be sitting at the same dining room table, eating off the same china plates, staring into the same faces of my family as we gather to share our traditional meal together. I will speak the same words of gratitude that I have in the past, but this time, everything is different. My words of thankfulness will be earnest and genuine and heartfelt.

I won’t have to pretend anymore.

 

I am grateful for all of you and I wish you all a joyful Thanksgiving filled with love and gratitude!