Having Her Own Thoughts

The conversations between Daniel and myself were happening simultaneously to a great deal of drama around my parents who were in their final years. Family disruption, conflict, guilt, sorrow, continued abuse of my mom, breakdowns of my dad, struggles with siblings. This all entered into my conversations with Daniel in some way. I confided some of the ongoing story to him.

When a woman is in a relationship where she is being dominated, where she is fearful, where she can’t speak truthfully, she disconnects from her soul self, her true self. She lives outside of herself in other words.

I confided in Daniel that we brought my mother to safety, away from my father who was starving her. We put her in a safe place, a care home with eight other residents. She was there for six months while he wrangled with the administrators and social services, trying to get her back home. My mother was an invalid in a wheelchair at this time and totally dependent. My sister and I visited her regularly. She was always glad to see us as she adapted to this whole new world away from my father. My mother’s eyes lit up when one or both of us entered the room. When we asked my mother a question, we noted how she had to really stop and consider for awhile before she answered. She wasn’t accustomed to speaking for herself. My father typically answered for her or she looked to him for a nod of approval before she spoke. Now, here she was after sixty something years of marriage, called upon to find her own answers. It was fascinating, really, to wait patiently for her to decide what it was she wanted or felt or needed. My sister and I, over a six month period, noticed a certain newfound empowerment arising in her.

In a way, as my mother was remembering herself, my sister and I were discovering her for the first time. My father was able to talk to her on the phone and he tried to influence her through this connection. However, he wasn’t right there in the room. He couldn’t use his icy stare or body language to subdue her. For the first time in many years, she had a sense of safety. And perhaps, a feeling of freedom.

Two other sisters had power of attorney over my parents and, after six months, they decided to reunite our parents in another care home. I was opposed to this as I knew that the same patterns of the cycle of abuse would return. And they did. Old patterns die hard.

****
For my mother to have her own thoughts and to finally have a small opening in which to speak them was also true for me to a different degree in the conversations with Daniel. My childhood had been one of being voiceless and invisible and not feeling safe. This carried over into my marriage. Now, with Daniel, I had an opportunity to speak to a man who had once-upon-a-time been an abusive male. A man who was consciously deepening his own self-awareness. I wasn’t going to hold back. I was going to be truthful, authentic and to have my voice heard!

I noticed that during the conversations , Daniel was sometimes so eager to speak that he would interrupt me to interject his thoughts. He is quick and when you’re that quick there is a tendency not to really settle in and listen to the other person. He was so ready with his own thoughts that he didn’t allow me to complete what I was saying frequently. It made me wonder if I was really received and heard. Perhaps not. He admitted this…he was excited about the topic and he was eager to express his thoughts and insights. There was a lack of patience on his part for the conversation to unfold at a pace that felt respectful to me and my point of view.

For someone like me with a history of an abusive father and spouse, that isn’t the best way to have a dialogue. It could shut me down. It could cause me to waiver from my own train of thought. I might fade out of the conversation. I might disappear and become voiceless and invisible once again. However, recording the conversations and making a cd for both of us to review, enabled Daniel to recognize this for himself. Between our meetings, listening to the cd, he observed that he talked too much or interrupted or was overbearing. He vowed to be more conscious of that. Even with the best of intentions, Daniel mostly was true to form and carried on in the same way throughout.

Having the cd served me also in that before the next meeting, I listened and wrote down my questions and observations and was able to interject my thoughts and insights with great presence and persistence the following week. In retrospect, I viewed this less as an opposition and more of an opportunity for both of us. I also considered that Daniel and I would take away from these conversations what we each needed.

I genuflect

I came across this poem I wrote back in 2009…my dad was resisting allowing in-home-help for my mom.  When we were finally able to get someone in to help my parents, when my father finally acquiesced, I wrote a poem of gratitude for this corps of helpers.  Caregivers are underpaid and unsung heroines and heroes.  They do women’s work which, as we realize, is undervalued across the globe.

****
I genuflect
before all life
and the caregiver who
washes a sink full of dirty dishes
and changes diapers
or empties bedpans
bathes my parents
–to those who wash urine-soaked mattress pads
with grace.

I revere the life
which enters in a bloody burst
catching its first breath in a cry
and releasing its final breath in a shudder
and everything in between
–especially women’s work
which great corporations
like hotels, restaurants,
the hospitality industry
model themselves after.
Women have always
prepared our food,
cared for the sick,
done the laundry,
and not been paid for
their necessary labor.
i.e., my mom
–now my dad has to pay wages
for her care after sixty-six years
of her unpaid service to him.

To pay for women’s work
is a tough pill for him to swallow
wash it down
wash it down
and cough up the money
for these worthy and necessary chores
from worthy givers of care
to my more than deserving mom.

****
Ultimately, my parents moved to a care home.  Their needs were met by caregivers making minimum wage. There is a real humility in accepting help as we age.  And caregiving is a humble profession that deserves to be elevated.  Where does any one society place its value?  This becomes obvious in what they put their money towards.
My father passed away in 2010 and my mom died six months later.

Is She a Victim?

(from a journal dated 04.26.2018)

Mother
comes with a built-in judgment
a plan for struggle
to fall and fail
Her platform, built by men
an ‘ideal’ that doesn’t allow her
to be whole.

While Mother has the most amazing qualities,
potential
–she is placed in a hotbed of
masculine insecurity and his misuse of power,
his idea that power means to overpower–
to oppress, suppress and make her subject to…
his unhealed places.

Her qualities, natural instincts of care, nurture
compassion
and feminine power
are contorted to fit into his world,
to meet his needs.


Mother is stolen from herself
and her children.
She is lost, she is sad.

*****
Today…03.11.2021
I have written about woman, wife, mother for most of my life. I am or have been all of these. Some humans would like to believe that we’ve evolved so much that there is no longer oppression and abuse of women. We hear world news rendering this belief as false. Yet, we hold onto the idea that it’s not happening here. Sadly, it is present today in our own country, our own community and our own families. Domestic Violence is real. It is mostly the abuse of women and children.

The woman victim often denies that she is a battered wife. There is a complex of qualities that create a circumstance for domestic violence. For the woman being abused, it can involve low self-esteem, trauma, shame, confusion, the desire to be loved and cared for, fear and more. There can be an economic component as to why a woman stays in an abusive relationship. There are always hidden reasons and causes, below the level of her awareness–often, she grew up in a household where this was modeled. The male abuser has likely been a victim himself–of trauma and having grown up in such a household. He has not learned to value a woman nor has he learned how to manage his own triggers, anger, past trauma.

When I moved to the mountains, twenty-plus years ago, I determined to write about the battered wife…her battle for sovereignty. When she recognizes that she has stayed too long in an abusive and demeaning relationship, how does she finally leave? My mother never left. She stayed true to the model of battered wife to the end. She stood by her husband despite the ongoing abuse. In the care home, I witnessed how my father finally had only to give my mother an icy stare for her to comply with his demands. The patterns were so well-established and neither of them knew how to extricate themselves from such a merciless cycle.

This is one of many tough topics. One that many people in my circles avoid. I understand why. It’s an ugly topic, isn’t it? It has ancestral roots. How does one change something that is so embedded? And, of course, how does the prevailing and entrenched attitude towards women as inferior to men begin to change? How does a woman change that diminished model within herself?

Sometimes, when a woman has experienced domestic violence over a long period of time, it is hard for her to talk about it. If she has left the situation, there is a part of her that wants to shrink away from it and ‘have a happy life now.’ However, the effects are lingering and the body has set up patterns of re-traumatization with the intention of protection. Reading about something along the lines of domestic violence, a woman can get triggered back into an event in her life. Fight, flight and freeze strategies are engaged. Conducting a normal life is unrealistic given this response to triggers.

This topic of Domestic Violence is up for me now as currently some of my family members are living through this nightmare. For one of them, it has been carried to the extreme and she is in the hospital fighting for her life. When and how does this change? First by shining a light of recognition on it. Bringing awareness to that which we would rather avoid. The world has been under the spell of man’s dominion over woman and nature long enough. We’re missing everything until we are inclusive of the wisdom that is innate when we embrace our interdependence on one another and the wholeness of life.




My Mother’s Hands

mom1

This mixed media piece was to be my entry in an upcoming art show.

It was also a challenge to myself to integrate poetry with paint.  In some way, it was a homage to my mother’s life.  The photo is of her at age seventeen.  She was a beauty.  My mother died in 2011 at age 91.  From my perspective, her life had been a long, hard road. I’ve written so much about her, about our relationship, about her relationship with my father.

****
One of the layers of this painting is a poem, My Mother’s Hands.   After writing the poem  on the canvas, I remember feeling vulnerable.  I was revealing her story to an audience who might not understand the battered wife syndrome.

The poem begins:

I wonder if a palm reader back then would have foretold
–a long life
–an unloving marriage
–an abusive spouse…

…and then I smudged some of the words with gesso and paint.

In the last three years of their lives, my parents were in a care home, a house in a neighborhood with eight elderly residents.  Another sister and I alternated visiting them during the week.  Two other sisters orchestrated their care from afar.  The brothers remained aloof until the very end as they didn’t feel at ease with our father.

In her later years, my mother’s hands were contorted with arthritis.   Her fingers had trouble gripping a spoon and then navigating it to her mouth.  But she had lost so many of her abilities that I didn’t want to help her too much.  I watched as the spoon wobbled towards her mouth.  Her mouth like a quivering bird anticipating food.

My father in the background would say “These are not the golden years.”  I could see that.

One sunny day, we were sitting outdoors under fruit-laden orange trees.  My mother said “I wonder where we go from here.”

“What do you mean, Mom?” I asked.

“After we die.” she said.

“I thought you believed in heaven,” I said, trying to offer comforting words.

My father said “There’s nothing.”

“Dad,” I said, “I thought you had a dream of heaven.  You said it was beautiful.”

My father said, “It was lonely.  I was the only one there.”

In slow motion, my mother reached for my hand and held it–an unfamiliar gesture.

Yesterday was Mother’s Day.  I’m sure thoughts of my mother weave through my mind on any given day.  For one reason or another.

I wonder what she’d be thinking about the state of the world today.  She once asked me to write her story…I’m not sure which one…the one of the devoted wife who stood by her husband no matter what abuse.  Or the possible woman who hid herself away and didn’t have an opportunity to blossom.

The Gold in Your Journals

You witness your daily life experiences on the pages of your journal.  You share your reflections, fears, hopes and dreams.  Your feelings of the moment.  Your encounters, reactions and more.  This journal is not only a confidante, it is the keeper of your records.  As a journalist, you follow yourself around with pen and pad writing down the details of your experience(s) firsthand!  You describe place, person, thing, incident, occasion, a vista, your own feelings, reactions, goofiness.  You write down dialogue and phrases caught on the wind in a cafe.  You really don’t skimp on writing down these details.  They could be useful in your blog, a book, an essay, a poem, whatever.

Your powers of recall are amazing.  But what you recall is typically a feeling or an image, sometimes a smell.  You don’t remember the specific details, the exact feeling, the precise colors, your immediate reaction or the words of a conversation or your thought process.  As was noted in an earlier blog, it is through the image details that your writing rises out of the ordinary into the authentic and believable.  Writers paint word pictures.  Therein lies the gold in your well-kept journals.

Excerpt from an earlier journal…

“Once you lose the ability to speak, you really appreciate it,” my father slurred following a stroke.     (Having been a girl and woman without a voice for most of my life, I thought but didn’t say–tell me about it)

He tried to recite a poem Elegy in a Country Churchyard.  I couldn’t understand a single word of it!

My mother wore his yellow bathrobe, his watch on her wrist.  His wallet was in the bathrobe pocket with two medications that he was taking.  Like a high-schooler wearing her boyfriend’s lettered sweater.

When the doctor mentioned the question of life supports, her face screwed up as she tried not to cry.

****
I wouldn’t have remembered these details had I not written them in my journal.  As a writer, have you mined the gold in your journals?

 

 

Truthbound

Sometimes a quote stays with you.  This one is from the 1956 film, Anastasia, starring Ingrid Bergman:

“Truth serves only a world who lives by it.”

****
In their later years, when things were so difficult with my aging parents, I was taking a creative writing class.  The instructor, a wise woman, witnessed my turmoil.  One day at the end of class, she took me aside.  She knew some of the challenges I was facing with my parents and family.  She challenged me to write a type of sonnet called a Sestina.  I didn’t know what a Sestina was.  I asked her for a timeline.  She said I should write it that evening.  I went home, studied the form and this poem virtually flowed out of me.  It was the perfect vehicle for what was happening in my life.  As art, poetry and writing can do, it shifted the energy for me.

Truthbound
© by Christine O’Brien

Truth lies in a shallow grave

while perspectives hang out everywhere.

Semantics argue with the unwary

as he admonishes “feelings aren’t facts.”

She remonstrates that mine is not the only opinion!

I inquire “How does one unearth truth?”

 

A sly animal is truth;

in its lair as silent as the grave.

Taunted by every brand of opinion,

each certain that his truth binds everyone, everywhere.

Scientists are burdened with facts.

Buying facts carte blanche is for the unwary.

 

My mother has been unwary,

living my father’s lies, denying truth.

Out in the cold, the stranded facts;

a story of lies they take to the grave.

Wounded healers, their children lay everywhere.

On unalterable facts I do base this sad opinion.

 

Really, what is there to opinion?

What warning can I give to the unwary?

The pain from his misdeeds is everywhere;

his forked tongue can’t speak the truth.

“Oh Dad, set yourself free before the grave

takes you and the unspoken, faltering facts.”

 

Weakening into old age, do they matter less, the facts?

That my mother be separated from him was my opinion.

Yet, there they are growing fragile together, headlong to the grave.

His rage bursts her peaceful ending, she the constant unwary.

In this sad scenario, can one find the concealed truth?

Fragments of perspectives and hurt feelings lay everywhere.

 

When division and broken hearts are everywhere,

are they less important now, the historical facts?

Is forgiveness the elixir of truth?

It seems opposition only supports an opinion

as egos argue in the territory of the unwary.

Let’s bury our perspectives in a grave.

 

Though facts, feelings and opinions are strewn everywhere

is it only the unwary who bind them to truth?

The grave is the end for all; is it wiser to pave the path with love?