Friday, November 14, 2008

Gratitude, Day 14

Another gloomy gray day here in Hancock. Today, I'm grateful that I can get up on my own schedule and that my aches are a little less than they were yesterday.

I was lying in bed not getting up this morning and thinking about what I wanted to say for this morning's gratitude. The first thing that came into my head was that I was grateful for having had my sister for as long as I had her. Then, I thought that I was even grateful for my brother... and from there it went to the whole psycho family. Unfortunately most of the old family photos I had scanned some years back were erased by a virus and my scanner died before I could rescan them, so I have just a few photos that will have to do for my family. In the end, even though they were deeply dysfunctional, I'm grateful for the family I grew up in. "It's them what made me who I is," as they say (do they say that? Who are they?) ... good and bad.

My Mother: My mother messed me up pretty badly, but she didn't do it with any malice and for all that she gave me many of my fragilities, she also gave me many of my strengths. Given even what I know about the childhood she endured - and I know too much - that my mother was as sane and balanced as she was is a tribute to her strength of spirit. My mother thought she was homely. I thought she was beautiful. She had a wry sense of humor, a very keen and inquiring mind, and an absolute passion for justice and truth. She was a plain cook, but she was a good one. I think she put the love she couldn't express elsewhere into cooking. She wanted her children to be happy. She wanted us to get along. She wanted to be a good mother. She just sucked at it. She wanted peace at the price of truth. She grew up with such abuse that she thought peace at any price was the answer. For whatever reason my mother projected a lot of stuff onto me. I was the youngest, I guess, and I was deeply empathic. And probably it was the timing of my arrival in her life following the loss of a baby born during the war (WW2) and after the war when she and my father had gone through separate hells and weren't ever able to quite reclaim whatever I imagine they had before he was gone to sea for years. In any case, I adored my mother. She never saw her own beauty and I don't think she ever saw me, but I saw her. Despite her inability to hug or praise, despite her dementia in her last years, there were times when I swear she glowed with light. I wanted her love more than almost anything in the world. And I probably had it even though I didn't feel it. Being human is such a complicated mess. But anyway, much of a hatchet as she took to my psyche, I wouldn't trade her for anyone else.

My Father: My father was a good man and a kind one. He was also an alcoholic. He loved music. He played the mandolin and he and I spent lots of time at the piano. I had a huge repertoire of folk songs under my fingers by the time I was seven or 8. It was all very idyllic except that it wasn't. A big part of my role in the family was to be my father's keeper when he was drunk, which was most of the time. It took me quite a few years in therapy to face the truth that wonderful as our music sessions were, they were also very frightening to me. It was often not my father but some bleary eyed, swaying weird person who sat too close to me on the piano bench and tuned and re-tuned his mandolin over and over and over. But this is a gratitude day. The positives of my father; there were many: He was brilliant. He was an actuary (math genius). He was generous. He literally gave someone the shirt off his back. He was kind to the core. Even drunk, he was never mean or violent. Tasteless and stupid, maybe, truly repulsive, but never mean. He never met a pun he didn't like. I've always said I'm a kernel off the old cob. And he was loyal. He adored my mother and dedicated himself to her in her last years in a way that most men would not have done. He stopped drinking after she got sick. I was the one who confronted him about it. He was very gracious about it, actually. He was ready, I think. But that's a story for another day. When I was very little, my father and I would make up chain stories as part of my bed time ritual. Or he would read to me. One of our favorite poems came from a book of bad poetry (literally). It was written in dialect and was nauseatingly corny. It began: "Da Spring has come, but oh da joy it is too late/da littla boy he no could wait..." My dad and I cried. Silly us.

My sister: Carole was as good a sister as a kid (or and adult) could have asked for. She was 10 years older than me. She was an instinctive mother, I think, and I suspect I got a lot of the mothering I got from her. I probably owe what sanity I have to her love and sister-mothering. As I've written before, my sister introduced me to all kinds of books and music. She read to me, she wrote to me and she encouraged my own writing. She took me to Europe when I was in my 20s! She was generous and funny and everything you could want from a sister. And she left behind three amazing children who I adore and love as though I had given birth to them myself.

My brother: My brother Phil actually led to this post. I thought about how grateful I am to have had my sister. My brother is harder. He and I have been estranged for the past 22 years. When he dies, perhaps I'll write about how and why that came to pass, but while he is still alive, I've chosen not to speak of it in detail. And this post is about gratitude. When I was a little girl, I adored my brother. He was handsome and brilliant. He's a genius... IQ of 162 or something like that. He was funny. He played with me a lot for someone almost 8 years older than me. Sometimes he would turn into a robot named Tobar. Sometimes we would do take-offs on Sky King (ancient TV show) .... Earth Queen and Nickle, I think our characters were... I wore glasses starting at about age 8. Making fun of the TV shows of the 50s, I would whip my glasses off and he'd pronouce. "Why, Miss Jones, you're beautiful." (Like Miss Jones in the movies hadn't been drop-dead gorgeous with the glasses on... ugh. But I digress.) There are darker aspects to even my childhood relationship with my brother, but there were these moments too. And along with my sister's murder, my brother's malevolence and cruelty ultimately pushed me into therapy. That's a gift he gave me. One of the ugly wrapping paper ones. But sometimes those are the best.

I'm not sure I'm sounding very grateful in this post. I'm not doing my family justice. My parents were amazing people. Screwed up as hell, but also amazing. My sister was such a gift in my life. My brother not so much, but still he is part of who I am. We are all shaped by our family relationships and experiences, good and bad. I am who I am because of the best and worst of my family. It's easy (I'm very prone to do this) to focus on the negative impact, but much as these 4 people re-enforced and helped create some of my weaknesses, they also re-enforced, created and nurtured some of my strengths. Truth is that some of my strengths and weaknesses are the same traits used differently.

So today, I am grateful for the people who formed me, for the love and the pain and the wonder of knowing them. Another plug for Dr. Jim here. I'm so grateful I found a therapist who has been able to slowly navigate my pain and confusion about this family of mine. I'm not sure what would have happened to me if I hadn't found him. I don't even like to think about it. So I'm also grateful again for James Mulry, wise and patient demystifyer of family dysfunction. Working with me probably qualifies him for sainthood.

So that's it for today. This is kind of a garbled mess.... but family does that to me.

Have a great day.

9 comments:

Finding Pam... said...

Hey Raven, what a great post about you dysfunctional family. Oh, those crazy family moments. I know my family was insane.

It is passed down from generation to generation unless someone says no more. I bet your mother was very creative.

Sometimes we learn what not to be from those we love and that hurt us most.

I too believe in gratitude in my attitude. In all things give thanksgiving. Some days are just harder than others. Have a great weekend and I am still working on my wordzzle for tomorrow. :)

Dr.John said...

I doubt there was ever any fully functional family.
It is good that you can reach in and find the positive things in your family. It is the start of healing.
Perhaps it is time to forgive your brother not for his sake but for yours.

Raven said...

hi pam - I think all families are insane to one degree or another. My parents were born in 1910 and were the kind of people who thought therapy was for the criminally insane. With the exception of my brother, who I think is a psychopath and perhaps incapable of being other than he is, they did their best.

Dr. John - the fact that I am and will remain estranged from my brother doesn't mean that I haven't forgiven him, whatever that means. I was raised to believe that forgiveness meant denying the truth. I don't believe that any more. And I think forgiveness is always about us and not the other person.

Off to finish up my wordzzles which are not dripping from my "pen." Running late again. Sigh.

peppylady said...

I don't know if I could fine the one prefect word to describe my family.
No there not even close to prefect but I love them the same.

Coffee is on.

Travis said...

Families are complicated and imperfect. But they are ours.

Lu' said...

Very good post Raven.

Carletta said...

I love how you can write about it all and still be grateful. A wonderful trait Raven.

Michelle said...

Hi Raven

I came by to say thanks for your kind reply on my blog for Peace post a while back (been busy and still trying to reply to all the wonderful people).

Now I'd like to reply to this. No - it wasn't messy or garbled. It was lovely. I couldn't just see your family, I could feel them as well. :-)

To me the strangest beauty of family is those moments when you can look at them, warts and all, and still love them and be grateful for them. I got fairly lucky with my parents, but some of the rest... well let's just say there have been times where they were hard to be grateful for, but the truth is every pain holds a lesson and it's always up to us how we use that lesson - to grow or make excuses.

Oh, and while I'm here - I chuckled at your profile comment of being 61 and 8. I have two dear friends boern the same year as you and they both say the same thing, more or less! Must be a Chinese Boar year (Piglet person)thing, as my mom's 73 going on 8 as well. :-)

PS... the name Crow does connect me to more, you were right in guessing that. ;-)

SnoopMurph said...

I was just talking to Cindy about my own family and she gave me great advice. I cannot change them or expect what they cannot give. I think writing can provide healing, no matter how garbled or messy it feels.

And I believe every family is dysfunctional-haven't met a fully functional one yet! :)