Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Linchpin

From the comments on my postings of the last three weeks, I know that most of you want to “pinch” my grandmother, if not outright assail her. You’d also like to give my mom and dad a good talking to. I deeply appreciate your chagrin and indignation on my behalf. But I want you to know that I’m at peace with what happened. 
            It’s true that loving parents don’t desert their children—even for a year. Concerned grandmothers don’t act the way Grandma Ready did.
            I do not seek to excuse them for their seemingly thoughtless, inappropriate actions. Still, I would like to explain what I have come to believe might be the reasons for these actions. Of course, this is speculation on my part based on my own experience of becoming more fully human. My understanding of my own life prompts my three musings this week.
            Let’s begin with my father’s mother.   
            Grandma Ready tied her four children to her apron strings. All of them stayed close throughout their lives. They never left the Kansas City metropolitan area. She was, in many ways, an autocrat. She sat on her Queen Anne chair as if she, too, were a queen and it her throne. From that throne she daily handed down her edicts. She was a bully.
       She reigned supreme. I can remember her once telling me that neighbors came to see her; she didn’t go visit them. And yet, I also remember her taking me one day down the street to visit her oldest friend. She was, as are we all, a compendium of contradictions. Like Walt Whitman her inner voice asked, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”
            And I believe she did. But everyone in her family was so afraid of her censure and judgment that no one ever explored the multitudes within her. And so she lived and died a discontented woman. A conundrum. Self-absorbed to the end.
            But why was she so bitter? What emotional baggage did she carry that made her disgruntled with all those who populated her life? Why did she live in such disharmony?
            Those eternal “whys,” “whats,” and “wherefores” beset us here, and there is no clear answer except perhaps that every generation leaves its mark on the next. And perhaps we have no clear answer to the "why" of a person because each of us, not just my grandmother, is an enigma. We are, I believe, as mysterious to ourselves as we are to others.            
            From the way she treated my Great Aunt Pearl, I think Grandma was jealous of the attention her father gave to her stepsister, his first-born.  Aunt Pearl offered kindness to everyone. Her gentle smile assured acceptance of each person she met. This must have threatened Grandma who was so absorbed in herself that she couldn’t look beyond her needs to see the needs of others. But the question is: Why was she so needy within herself?
            She didn’t ask for love from her family members. She asked for the willingness to let her make decisions and direct their lives. Only someone truly insecure could demand such fidelity from others. She wanted always to be the center of everyone else’s existence.
            Because of my own insecurity, which I described in my most recent posting—I, too, wanted to be the center of everyone’s attention and concern. My own life and my own struggle to become fully human help me understand my grandmother. Not only understand her, but also empathize with her.
            Who in the generation before her failed to give her the love she needed to feel secure? I don’t know. But in the past year I’ve explored all my memories of her and I find myself thinking that, like myself, she, too, felt abandoned as a child. And I wish—I so wish—that before she died, she and I could have shared our inner lives and come to an appreciation of one another.

Grandma in her early seventies.

            She died in 1962 when I was in the convent and couldn’t come home for her funeral. She had become the linchpin in her children’s life. They were bereft without her. Especially my father. It is their relationship, I think, that led to my parents going to Parsons in August 1941.
            On Thursday, I’ll begin to explain my understanding on my parents’ actions during this time. They, too, are a compendium of conflicting needs.   
                                                                             (. . . continued on Thursday)                                                                                      


  1. Her picture shows a discontented person, I think. She reminds me of my own paternal grandmother, who never smiled and was hard as nails. But I do appreciate your ruminations about her. Maybe before you are finished I will understand her a bit better. :-)

  2. I have caught up with the last two posts (sorry, i've been too busy for blogging) and I can only say that you are describing an almost textbook path through childhood and life.

    I am so glad that you have found a way trough the morass and have been able to put the past where it belongs: in the past. Finding explanations is a good thing; understanding why is good. It doesn't mean that you will live happily ever after, all the dark patches remain for ever, but at least you recognise them now for what they are.

    My therapist said: when the voice rises up and tells you the reasons for being unloveable yet again, just knock it on the head and say back: you're taking nonsense.

    These feelings about oneself are still a core belief, but we don't need to live our life by it anymore.

  3. I was privileged to have been raised in a very secure home. We moved quite a bit in my younger years, but my parents were rock solid in our lives. I always felt incredibly safe in their care and knew that they both loved me, flaws and all. As I grew older and found out how many of my peers were unhappy with their home situation, I came to realise just how fortunate I was. The example my parents set has kept me grounded throughout my own life.

    I am a firm believer that early childhood experiences set the standard for much of the rest of our lives. If the core of who you are feels well-grounded, secure in the knowledge of your worth and value, you are better able to withstand the onslaughts of life. Insecurity in both humans and animals creates fear and anxiety and leads to all manner of inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour aberrations. Someone such as your Grandmother, who vented so much bitterness, could only have been acting from a place of deep hurt, resentment and discontent. It is clear that there was much hurt and anger coming from a deep place in her own life and the only way she was able to protect herself was to be a bully. As you said, how very sad she was not able to open up before she died. Her children's reaction to her death (you mentioned the word "bereft") would very likely have been caused by that unnatural attachment felt by the majority of children who suffer emotional abuse at the hands of their main caregivers. They, too, would not have felt secure. Their lives would always have felt confusing and frightening and they would not have grown up with a particularly good self esteem. When the pivotal figure who governed their lives, died, they would very likely have felt adrift, scared and unable to move forward with the confidence and conviction of their own innate worth. At least, that's how I would understand it.

    You write incredibly beautifully, Dee. It is a treat just being able to read what you've written, but knowing, once again, that this is not a fictionalised account, and rather your own raw experience of life makes it all the more compelling. And I, for one, feel privileged that you have elected to share your story with us. I can see you are reaching out to many others who shared similar fates when they were children and who, as adults have been silently carrying the pain of those early experiences.

    I am so happy to know you have dealt with all of these demons and ghosts from your past, examined them under surgical lighting and been able to move through and beyond all of the harm that was done to that innocent little girl, all those long years ago.

  4. How true! If we look closely enough we can find a piece of ourselves in the very people we find the most unsettling in our lives. The more they upset or bother you, the more there is there to learn.

    We each have our own issues that we deal with in our own ways. We all want to be loved and accepted--and people find all kinds of different ways to attain that feeling. I've found that the people who look down on other people and have a need to control people are driven to do that to make themselves feel "better than", you know? It's a way of making yourself feel worthwhile. Without it, they are bereft. As bereft as those controlled people who aim to please someone else to feel worthy.

    You have great insight. Even imagining a heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul talk with your grandmother is such a healing thing. Sounds like she was an unhappy, lonely soul.


  5. It's sometimes hard to understand peoples actions when they are so foreign from our own mind set. I think she treated everyone very selfishly including you, but I can see your point as to needing and wanting that acceptance when one is insecure. People are truly an enigma. Well written my friend and again your compassion shows through even to those that have done you a great disservice. You are truly a treasure. Thank you for your comments today. I truly do love Phil. He is a jewel of a man..

  6. Your willingness to delve into the reasons for your family members' actions is yet another example of your courage. It would be so much easier to simply live in anger at their inability to nurture you the way a child deserves to be cared for. Although it is difficult, I honestly believe it is incredibly important to explore others' humanity in an effort to understand and forgive as well as come to some realizations about who we are.

    As always, thank you for sharing.

  7. I was so deeply moved by your post today that it is difficult for me to formulate a comment--but comment I must, since you are sharing your life (& soul) with us. I do not think I would ever have the courage to look inside myself as deeply as you have done--& then to share it with others. I feel so blessed to have had a wonderful childhood & adult life, surrounded by a large & very loving family. You went through hell as a child--overcame it & have become a beautiful person. I am proud to be counted as one of your MANY friends!

  8. Another wonderful post, Dee! You do write so beautifully! I think it's so very true that difficult people in our lives are complicated and usually do have a painful backstory. I wrote about my father in my blog this past Father's Day and because he had shared with me some of his very painful past, I did understand, a least a little, why he was the kind of parent he was: alternately loving and violently abusive. That didn't make it okay. But I understood him and was able to love what was lovable and at least comprehend the scary parts of his nature. I think that this understanding, or willingness to explore, the nature of another helps us toward a peaceful place, something that is so special and so hard-won in your case.

  9. Not everyone can be eyes hard open. I think a lot of people need a blaming crutch(or believe they do). You don't. But you happen to be a very insightful person..sometimes that helps, sometimes it leads to more ruminating about pain. You've dealt with it all much better than many others have. ~Mary

  10. Dear Dee,
    You seem to have truly come to a place of acceptance and love for those who caused you grief, especially your Grandma. I think you totally hit it on the head, that she was who she was due to the childhood she lived. People don't become bullies by accident or without good reason. People who have to have control over every aspect of their life and those around them certainly had something missing in their own lives.

    It is gracious of you to "see" into your Grandma's behavior, and know that it wasn't really "personal". She treated all people pretty much the same, as I see it.

    Thank God that you have sought counseling and persevered in your quest to find not just reasons for why your were treated as you were, but also to discover that you didn't create your situation, you were a victim. You weren't responsible for the treatment you were dished out, and there is healing in that discovery, no matter how many years pass by.

    Thank you for sharing your story and your insights. May you enjoy the peace you pass on to others.

  11. You are very wise to think about what might have made her the way she was. There are so many layers to this story. I'm completely heartbroken for you, but so glad you've found and are still seeking understanding about yourself and those who hurt you.

    I know I've written this many times, but I must write it again:
    You are so inspiring.

  12. Conundrum is certainly correct. I wonder, too, what happened to your Gma to make her the way she was. Also, I wonder about that generation; WW I was a big destroyer of innocence and security. I see things about my gmas (my little abbrev.) and can observe that closed-in emotions.
    Another great post. You write beautifully.

  13. It is freeing when you can understand where the tyrants in your life came from, and what made them how they are. Still so very sad though. The best we can do is not perpetuate the cycle if we are aware enough not to do so.

  14. Your understanding and empathy are the roots of forgiveness. And it certainly seems as though you've managed to end the cycle of abandonment and harsh control that was such a part of your grandmother.

  15. This post really showed what a beautiful person you are. Thank you for sharing, and I'm sorry it took me so long to read it.

  16. Your posts are so compelling! My paternal grandmother was often difficult to understand and caused a lot of strain in our family with our cousins. She thought it was 'helpful' to compare her grandchildren of her daughter with the her grandchildren of her son. Whatever we did -- we could have done better. It wasn't because she didn't love us -- she just had no idea of the kind of damage she was causing by her attitude. The scowl on your grandmother's face is a sad reflection on her life and it is good that you have come to terms with her influence in your own life...