I thought it would be fitting to start this new month of blog challenge with the second chapter of the book which eagerly awaits my nimble fingers to see it to completion. Thank you to everyone who offered feedback on Chapter 1.
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with “why”. Why did they do this? Why didn’t I notice something was wrong? Why wasn’t I there for them more? But the harsh reality is that it’s not about
you. None of it. So the first thing we learn as we embark on
the road to healing is that you have to get over yourself. Get past the sense of ownership, the
misplaced sense of responsibility. We
especially have to abandon the idea that there was ever anything we could have
said or done differently which would have changed the path our loved one
do. I, for one, was raised by the Queen
of Jewish Guilt. I know she was the
Queen because my father professed her sovereignty quite frequently, especially
on those occasions when I would relate someone’s failed attempt to guilt me
the Queen of Jewish Guilt, and I, being her first born, was the first person,
truly her own, she was able to practice on.
As a result, I spent my formative years with a self esteem the size and
strength of a shriveled pea, and the belief that no matter what happened, it
had to be my fault. But also as a
result, I grew into adulthood, weathered my share of tough times, made my share
of less-than-stellar choices, and built my own strength and character, because
I learned too well what it was to be a follower and a doormat, and knew that,
no matter what it took, it wasn’t what I wanted to be. Admittedly, it’s also made me insensitive to
people who do choose to be doormats, and recognizing that in myself, I’m trying
to learn to accept the choices other people make, even the ones I might, from my own experiences, deem rather
stupid. I’m beginning to realize, as I
smooth out the rough edges, that choices are neither smart nor stupid, but
simply the choices we make.
I appreciate what my mother did for me.
It brings to mind the Johnny Cash song, “A Boy Named Sue”, about the father who knew he wouldn’t be
around to teach his son to stand up for himself, so he named him “Sue”, knowing
full well that he’d have to get tough to keep people from walking all over
him. My mother showed me weak so that I
could learn to be strong. For all of her
hard exterior, Mom was a marshmallow inside, and, as I got older, I learned
that all I had to do was stand up to her for her to back down, and by then, I
had, unfortunately, become so hard that her tears (the tactic she used to get
her way when aggression failed) annoyed me rather than moving me, and as a
result, I failed to see how broken she really was.
responsibility which, at innumerable times in my life has been seriously
misplaced. It’s kind of an “uber”
responsibility which causes me to believe that I am responsible for everything
that happens around me. It was years
before I realized that I really wasn’t responsible for her suicide, nor for
carrying around a load of guilt that Atlas, himself would have been unable to
bear! And heaven help me, I have passed that sense
on to at least one of my daughters!
amount of digging turned up the likely answer to why. But more difficult to accept was that he knew
what we’d all gone through after my mother’s death. Why would he subject us to it again? How could he be so selfish, so uncaring? And even worse, why would he choose a day
which was already painful to almost everyone in the country?
talk to the person now unless we find someone who has a strong connection to
the spirit world, we can’t really get the answers to what motivated them to
take the action they did. With dad,
family history did give me some insight to at least speculate on his motivation. That insight is what eventually made me
realize that he wasn’t being selfish in his own mind, but was giving my sister
and me one final gift. Although his
mother had died of lung cancer when I was about ten or eleven, we visited her
regularly until almost the end when she told my dad not to come any more as she
didn’t want him to remember her in her severely weakened state. For the same reason, my sister and I were not
allowed into her room during those last months.
I believe that those memories scarred my dad and scared him, quite
literally, to death. He truly believed
that his actions were selfless and caring.
As for the date, I believe, now, that it was just a horrible
coincidence, nothing more. But I’ve had nine years to do a thorough self-psychoanalysis and have finally realized that
it never was about me, except to protect me from having to watch my father die
a very painful death.
story, and despite the fact that she’s been gone nearly twenty years, I’m
no closer to understanding than I was the day she died. My sister and I used to joke privately that
Mom had many faces. She showed her
“social face” to anyone she considered outside her immediate family circle, but
even the face she showed us hid more than it revealed. We’d catch occasional glimpses of what made
her the person she was, but I don’t think anyone ever had a complete picture.
grandmother Mildred and my grandfather Sol.
While Sol was off fighting in the Korean War, Mildred wrote him a “Dear
John” letter and moved with my mother to California
to follow Chaim, or Hymen as he was renamed upon arriving at Ellis
Island, an extremely
handsome Jewish actor. They ultimately
married and had my aunt Tammy. Mom
always insisted that Tammy replaced her, but until very recently, I assumed
that it was merely her perception. Tammy
confirmed that, from my grandmother’s point of view, it was the truth. As a young teenager with a new step-father
and a baby sister who occupied all of her mother’s time, I can understand how
she might have learned to just keep everything to herself, perhaps even in the
extreme. Even more so given that, from
the stories I overheard, she spent a lot of time living with one of my
grandmother’s sisters. I can’t even
imagine living as a guest in someone else’s house for most of my teenage
years. The sheer volume of teenage angst
most young girls build up would drive a normal male right over the edge in a
matter of weeks if there was no outlet for it.
And adding maternal abandonment, both physical and emotional, to the mix
just doesn’t make for a tasty soup!
Grandma had once chased her with a pair of scissors (and as she was a tailor,
they had to be big suckers!) and about how she thought she was dying when she
got her first period because Grandma didn’t see fit to warn her of an affliction
visited upon the female of the species. I know that in some cases, she overcompensated
with my sister and I as a result. I
remember her discussing the facts of life for girls at a very young age, and
proudly presenting me with my own little set of Kotex pads and the elastic belt
we used to have to wear to keep the things on (in an emergency, two safety pins
could be used until you could get to your little belt!) I couldn’t have been more than nine and had
several years to go before those items became necessary, but when I did
“start”, I was proud of becoming a woman instead of terrified! How could I know how little real joy this
lovely event would bring me over the years after it had been presented as such
a marvelous rite of passage by my mother?
from a family who was not big on expressing their feelings, and, I believe, the
damage was set in stone. Although Mom
had lots of women friends over the years, I don’t think she really shared her
inner self with any of them. Even the
cousins she was closest to, and who knew where she came from didn’t, from what
I could see, truly know her, or if they did, they didn’t see fit to enlighten
my dad, though they were the first to ask him why he didn’t notice that her
mental scale wasn’t quite in balance! Small
wonder people always amaze me!
trying to prove to herself and those around her that she was as good or better
than the cousins she was raised with, and that her daughters were better and
more accomplished than her cousin’s children.
Although, for a few years, I was close with some of those cousins, after
Mom died, the relationships petered out, because we all got busy with our own
lives, but even more, as I see it now, because all of the old stories were
dragged out and drummed into their heads so they started to believe the
misinterpretations of her behavior.
Instead of seeing that she was desperate for acceptance and to be
something to her cousins, they saw her as always trying to be something better
than they were. They never saw that what
she really wanted was something they had and she never would; a mother who
loved and accepted them and didn’t toss them aside when something better came
along. I almost think, in hindsight,
that Mom would have been better off with her father. I know, to the day he died, that he loved his
daughter and was saddened because my grandmother poisoned Mom’s mind and heart towards
her own father. Sadly, I grew up with
the same sense of duty, and not a lot of love for the man who was my real
joke about a crazy streak running through the women in my mom’s family. In hindsight, which is always 20/20, I find
myself wondering how funny the joke really is.
My grandmother chased her daughter around the house with a pair of
scissors, mom’s cousin had a nervous breakdown when I was young, forcing my
cousin to assume the mother role over her two younger sisters at the age of ten,
and mom committed suicide. Where is the
humor in that? The joke was
perpetuated by the husbands of the Koslowski women. Did they know something they weren’t telling
us? Could there really be an insanity
gene? If so, is it passed on to all of the children
or just the daughters, and can it be diluted by the father’s genetics? Oy vey!
I could be a carrier!
men who knowingly married these women and procreated? Wouldn’t that make them a little crazy
too? Or was the crazy, unpredictability
of the women part of their charm, at least when they were younger? Oy
veis meir! I could be a double
carrier! I wonder what my Biology major
daughter would have to say about a double recessive gene and its impact on
sanity? In all my studies of Mendel and his
peas, I don’t recall the mention of genetics impacting mental stability, or
maybe I just tuned out that day because, given my family history, I didn’t
really want to know!
discover how differently people react to what they perceive as a lack of love
and attention. Part of it, I’m sure, has
to do with the era in which they were raised.
For example, women raised in the nineteen thirties and forties were
practically brainwashed into believing that a woman’s path to fulfillment lay
in being a perfect wife and mother. Even
the pursuit of a college education was considered to be for the sole purpose of
finding a mate, and graduation was neither expected or required. Some fit this mold quite well and went on to
become perfectly satisfied. But as with
any career choice, for many, this role had to be about as comfortable as trying
to squeeze into a pair of jeans two sizes too small after a big Italian
meal. Something has to give! It’s disconcerting to think that nothing
stronger than the slender threads which hold our clothes together contains our
of my parents and those of my friends, alcohol was a major component of every
social gathering, evening meal and end of the work day. It makes me wonder if this was their way of
coping with the unhappiness and lack of fulfillment found in their daily
lives. And in seeking this solace in a
bottle, many ended up drinking themselves to death, either slowly so as to go
unrecognized as suicide, or more quickly so there could be no doubt. The only difference here is that the families
of those who did it slowly didn’t have to add the suicide stigma to their
grieving process. I don’t mean to
minimize the slow death by alcohol, here, but despite the issues associated
with an alcohol related death, it is still far more accepted in polite society
than an out and out suicide, especially when cause of death is something else
like a heart attack or diabetes. The
cause may still be alcohol induced suicide, but the death certificate will
reflect something which friends and family are more comfortable with and for
which they can offer sincere condolences without qualification. Yet the immediate family knows the truth
because they had no choice but to watch as someone they loved simply gave up
and drank away their pain, both real and imagined.
unanswered, and in the meantime, has added even more “whys” to the list. Why was this family member so weak as to
choose to end their life rather than find a way to fix what was wrong? Why did their own history make them
weak? Why couldn’t they see how
devastating their choice would be for those they left behind? But the most important why is still: Why do
we who are left behind take it so personally?
Why is it so hard to accept the fact that, just as we are entitled to
make our own choices in life, and for some of us, fought long and hard with our
parents to do so, it truly is each person’s choice to end their own life if they
believe it is necessary. That’s
it. It’s simply a choice, no right, no wrong.
hour, maybe even every minute. Do I want
to get up now or hit the snooze one more time?
Do I want oatmeal for breakfast or a cookie? And as we make those choices, we rethink them
and don’t always follow through on the first choice, or even the hundred and
first choice we make. If I eat the
cookie will I regret it later? Maybe
I’ll go with the oatmeal after all.
Wouldn’t a suicide victim do the same thing? And if they are like my mom and it was
clearly premeditated, how many times did they choose and re-choose before
actually committing the act? And for
those who choose an act which takes a little while to yield the desired results,
is it possible that they are still going back and forth between choices as the
life seeps out of them?
cataclysmic when taken on a large scale.
There are endless books dedicated to stories of men who took the right
to make choices away from large groups of people only to suffer the
consequences of their actions at some point in time. From the Romans and Hitler’s persecution of
the Jews to our own persecution of blacks, people get tired of being held back,
and eventually they join together and take action, often blindly and violently
as a reflection of their soul-deep anger.
tired of the human form they are in and want to move on, how can we, who are
not living their life, judge their choice as right or wrong? I am not an advocate for suicide, just an
advocate for understanding and healing.
As such, I believe that part of
that healing has to include removing not only the self-recriminations for not
being able to stop the act, but the anger and the blame heaped upon the loved
one who saw no other choice.
Beings, we choose when and where we will return to the mortal plane, who our
next set of parents will be, and even, in part, the lessons we will need to
learn in a given lifetime. And just as
we choose when to come back, we also choose when to leave and return to the sea
of spiritual beings. At the point when
we choose to leave, we have accomplished what we set out to learn in this turn
of the wheel. Although it may seem that
a life was cut short too soon, that we left the stage of life in the middle of
our song, we truly have done what we came here to do, otherwise, we’d have
found a way to stay until the job was done and all of the necessary lessons
were learned. Why some of us leave
slowly and painfully while others go out in a blaze of glory is just another
aspect of the lessons we came here to learn.
And in accepting this, I am learning to find peace with my parents’
deaths, despite the fact that those deaths seemed to me so wrong for so long.