Thursday, October 22, 2009

Are your beliefs yours?

My eldest son called me last night to comment on my blog. It was so nice to hear him say that reading it jogged his memory of people and events that he had forgotten. He then went on to tell me some of his memories of our neighbors from our old neighborhood. This is what it is all about for me. Passing on the stories.

I was out with Zeus one evening at a nice restaurant and I was watching a large extended family having dinner. The older folks sat close to one another at one end and as you moved down the table so did the ages. At the other end, holding their cell phones up were the grandchildren, reading and sending messages on their phones. I could hear bits and pieces of the conversation from the elders closer to me and they were sharing stories. How sad that the younger generation at the other end of the table wasn't interested enough to move closer or ask what their grandparents were laughing about.

My point, about the story of the other diners, was that we may have moved into another age and loss of stories. Family stories passed down helped younger generations to understand why a family member acted the way they did, inspired younger people to achieve something, entertained and perhaps told consequences for actions.

My mother often told stories unfortunately she stretched the truth to suit her story or plain invented something to make it more interesting.
Her life theme was, abandonment, and her stories generally backed up this theme.
It wasn't until I reached my 50's that I started paying closer attention to her stories. I started asking why someone had done this or that or why was she living where she was.

I remember the time I sat down with her, pen and paper in hand and a list of questions and got her talking. Each answer I wrote down seemed to be a brand new puzzle piece. My mother claimed that her parents had given her over to her grandparents when she was two. She says that because she remembers back to that age and pictures support her being in their house.
Up until the day I hadn't really questioned that fact. During the late 20's families often had to have help, from extended family, in raising their children.

As she answered more and more questions it became clear, to me, that there was a constant figure in her life. One that lived with her parents, one that paid for all of my mother's lessons, fancy dresses for prom, nursing school and her wedding. My great aunt. My grandmother's unmarried sister.

My grandmother's sister was a nurse in the 1920's.
Actually, she became a nurse during the big flu epidemic in 1918. She was an independent thinker, a personal nurse for a wealthy matron who spent the winters in the fashionable areas of Florida, a Flapper, a rum runner, and most likely, the biological mother, of my mother.

My mother was born at home in a small town.
I suspect that the names were changed on the birth certificate to show my grandmother a married woman had my mother.
The doctor was a close friend of the family and the one that had encouraged my great aunt to become a nurse.
But, my mother never lived with my grandmother. She lived with my great aunt and her grandparents.

Stories like this aren't about shaming anybody. They are about how secrets kept in families can tear them apart. How secrets can turn people into unhappy people.

My mother based her decisions in her life on the belief that she was unwanted even though she was surrounded by love.
My grandmother was a bitter woman who could not look at me without seeing my mother and the secret she kept to her grave.
I never got to call my beloved great aunt, grandma. Not a biggie but I missed not having a "loving grandmother" in my life.
My great aunt never heard her daughter call her Mama, Mother or Mommy.
My mother had a "brother and sister" that she never really got to live with or know.

This "story" was just NEVER talked about. No one thought it important. No one had any idea of the damage it would do in the long run to some people.

Secrets in families are not good. NEVER We all know that terrible things that happen with abuse when someone insists that something be kept a secret.

The telling of stories to one another can validate a lifestyle or make one question it.
It can bring understanding or confusion.

Whether we like it or not we are who we are based on the stories that we have told ourselves or other have told us. We have a head full of belief statements that may or may not be ours.
As painful as it might be we might use those art life journals to take a belief out, one at a time, take a good look at it and decide right then and there, IS IT REALLY WHAT I BELIEVE or is it something that I have been told, over and over and have believed to be true.
Gently putting them aside might be one of the healthiest things we can do for ourselves.

It has taken a while but I have finally gotten my mother to understand that her aunt might have truly been her mother and that if she looks at her life she will see that her biological mother was right there at her side, every step of the way. And, she can forgive the distant, bitter woman that resented having this lie in her life.

Create, ask what if, explore, LISTEN and be yourself. :)Bea


  1. Oh yes, family secrets. My mothers father died at an early age (29) and I just recently found out the "real" cause, her mother abandoned her (and I just recently found out more on that) and my uncle after (she was 8 and he was 6)at my mothers aunt and uncles in the country. They were there for 10 years. After I got in my 50's I found out more about my mother (who is no longer here). It's amazing what that generation kept secret and what bitterness it caused. My grandmother was a very bitter woman and I didn't see her in her later years. I think my mother carried bitterness and some hate with her as well. Forgiveness is what it's all about. People need to let go or it eats you up from the inside.

  2. Thank you for sharing a little bit about family, Yvonne. It's amazing how many times I hear from people that have lived a life of secrets and how the choices they have made, as a result have been unwise.
    Yes, forgiveness for others and ourselves is most important. :)Bea

  3. There is a book just begging to be written.
    Maybe a collection of short or short-ish stories.
    You are a gold mine, Bea.
    Love, Lisa

    PS: Old art is just old emotions.
    I've kept some because of the expensive canvases...and threw away some that were just filled with pain.
    Nice to know I'm past all that :)

  4. I could just give you a big hug, Lisa. You sure make my day when you tell me you enjoy my stories.
    SMOOCH :)Bea

  5. Our family has had its share of secrets especially back in the 1920's and through the WWII....but with dialogue and real compassion and showing gratitude for what we have been given helps us to realize the importance of listening to one another. In this age of technology there will be some losses unless we model the importance of time shared with one another. Thank you for your generous spirit in your gentle words and photos. "The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time...James Taylor" Imagine and Live in Peace, Mary Helen Fernandez Stewart

  6. Thanks for sharing this personal story of your family Bea...secrets can cause so much pain. Although there is much wrong with our society now, this is one thing that has changed for the better. Young mothers no longer feel they need be ashamed to bring a child into the world and forced to give them up.

  7. A sad story Bea, especially of the pain and bitterness of your mother and grandmother, so unnecessary too. My family had secrets too but they didn't really hurt any of us except for not being trusted with the truth. We were such a strong family unit it wouldn't have made one iota of difference had we been told the truth. Ah well, with both parents dead, we couldn't challenge their decisions. I'm sure they had valid reasons at the time.