Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Family

Snooteville, Tennessee 1981

So make that Nashville, Tennessee, 1981. I’m not sure what inspired us to pose in this magnificent manner. That’s daughter Sherry on the left, son Scott in the middle, and I wish I didn’t know who that woman is on the right! By this time, I’d finished my course work at Vanderbilt, and was probably getting ready for comprehensive exams.

In any case, this photo cracks me up every time I see it!

The lovely framed temple rubbing on the wall was a gift from D’s mother. She brought it back from a tour of duty (as military librarian) during the VietNam War. The empty shell on the fireplace shelf was one of our great finds while visiting beaches on the East Coast.

I wonder what look D had on his face when he snapped this one! I don’t think it was planned. We were probably worn out from having to pose with smiles on our faces….or something like that! In any case, I love this photo.

Hoping this day brings moments of happiness in your life, no matter how they happen to find you!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 May 2022
Photo taken by DAFraser, Nashville, Tennessee, 1981 

Falling in love with yesterday

Peering into a deep well
I inch closer to the edge
One evening after another
In the moment, but not quite,
Old memories stir feelings
Captured in forgotten photos

Who am I now? What did I leave behind? Is there any logic to this madness of yesterday’s joy and today’s old-age awkwardness?

I want to hang onto today and yesterday. Not content with one or the other. I want to see, remember, smell, taste and breathe in the beauty and pain of this world, captured in fleeting moments of wonder, distress, and despair.

The last several weeks have been rough. Marked by several dark nights filled with raging winds, pounding rain, and unpredictable bolts of lightning.

They’ve also been filled with beauty: songbirds waking each day with their dawn songs, a red-breasted male grossbeak sitting on our porch rail, a large bushy red-tailed fox trotting nonchalantly through our back yard, and the full moon casting a nighttime spotlight on our neighbor’s front yard.

Thank you for your visit. Especially during these unpredictable days and nights of uncertainty, fear and unexpected losses.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 May 2022
Photo of our children taken by DAFraser, 1972 at the San Diego Zoo

sorrow and love

When I was very young
my heart learned early
the feeling of being trapped
with no safe alternatives

I believed a lifetime of
blessed freedom was
just around the corner—
the ‘real’ life I for which
I longed and dreamed
every day and night
of my restless childhood

My time would come and
I would emerge from my
imaginary butterfly chrysalis
fluttering away on clouds
of imaginary bliss and freedom
far from my father

The older I get, the more I understand the dynamics of our small family of four daughters. Especially the mammoth workload my mother carried.

When she was 5, my mother was abandoned by her own mother. When she was 28 and I was 5, polio took over her body, including her ability to swallow safely or speak clearly. Then there was my father, whose childhood and youth were littered with brutal beatings from his own father.

Back in the 1940s and 50s I didn’t appreciate how much our mother did to keep us alive. Not because she stood in for our father, but because she cared deeply for her daughters. Each of us. No matter how we rated on Daddy’s Rules for Good Girls, and though she had never experienced safe love from her own mother.

I used to think I would get beyond the grief of our family. But here’s the deal: no pain, no gain; and, surprisingly, no true sorrow without growing love.

This week has been long and sometimes difficult. Not just here, but around the world. The numbers of families being torn apart have skyrocketed. Am I ready for whatever comes next? Somehow all this has prompted me to revisit my relationship with my mother.

My mother, in spite of her disabilities and her own sad family background, helped keep my spirit alive. She died when she was almost 78 years old. Though her body was worn out, some of her spirit still lives in me. Especially now.

Thanks for stopping by.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 March 2022
Photo found at wikimedia.com

I haven’t finished talking

Talking in my head
Talking in my sleep
Talking in my body language
Talking while he drones on

I try desperately not to
Break out in an avalanche
Of righteous indignation
Or galloping fear of retribution

One lesson after another
I learned to die and
How to accept living death
As my female normal

Yes, it began with my father. Sadly, it didn’t end there.

I used to think getting things straight in my head would be enough. If I could understand what happened to me, who did it and why, then I could get on with my life as an adult woman.

Tragically, that’s sheer nonsense. Every time women’s issues are raised, I’m struck by how naïve I’ve been. Talk doesn’t fix anything. It’s helpful, but by itself it isn’t a cure.

So here we are again in a nation that claims to celebrate international women and girls of all ages. It’s our one-day moment to feel accepted, needed, even courageous and bold. Then the day passes, and doors that were never fully opened slam shut yet again.

I’m not appeased by fancy talk or lovely tributes to courageous female angels out there. I want to see action that means business. Action fueled by changed hearts and minds. Plus legal action that gives teeth and dignity to women’s lives, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. I’m fed up with warmed-over pablum and niceties that do nothing to change harsh realities on the ground.

Ironically, this month an agreement to a cease fire in Ukraine was ignored, and a maternity hospital for women and children was bombed by Russians. Why now? And how does this tragedy alert us to women’s daily realities in our own countries? What do you think?

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 March 2022
Image found at etsy.com

blue eyes

blue eyes pierce spring sky
join me on the river boat–
making our way home

* * * * *

Early Easter Morning 1949, Diane was born–Sister #3 with brilliant, piercing blue eyes.  On February 13, 2006, she died after living with ALS for ten years. The haiku above was inspired by a dream I had in November 2009.

Here’s the dream, followed by a few comments:

I’m at a gathering of people.  My husband is also there.  Suddenly I catch sight of Diane!  She’s looking alive, moving on her own (though a bit slowly), and is—as far as I can tell—acting independently of any nurses or family caretakers.

At first I see her as though I’ve just discovered one of my sisters who happens to be at this gathering, too.  I’m thrilled, and want to go talk to her and take in some recreational activities with her.

A bit later I realize she ‘shouldn’t’ be here!  She’s gone.  She died of ALS.  So why did I see her?

Crowds are milling around, pressing in very tightly, making it difficult to get to the spot where I can see and talk with her.  I don’t know whether she’s seen me yet.  There’s an optional boat ride later to tour the river.  It seems to be the river we grew up on in Savannah.

I decide to get Diane and ride with her in the boat.  We can talk and catch up and see old familiar places from a different perspective.  Her presence is a gift—and will be gone when this event comes to an end.

I’m excited, happy, and eager to hear what she might say to me.  I haven’t heard her voice or been able to relate to her as a fully functioning sister for years.  I also don’t know how long her present embodiment will last.  I wake up longing to be with her on the riverboat.

Lent and Easter always bring Diane to mind. One of my tasks during therapy was to connect with each of my three sisters. We hadn’t been in close touch with each other for years. “I’m doing personal work with a therapist.  Would you be willing to talk privately with me, one on one, about this work?”

Diane agreed to talk with me. We had multiple long-distance conversations. She listened, confirmed, added her memories and made astute, sometimes sad observations. In 1993, she flew from Texas to Georgia to witness the meeting with my parents. Diane sat on one side of me; my husband sat on the other. Silent witnesses while I broke my decades-long silence about my father’s harsh punishment.

Three years later Diane was formally diagnosed with ALS. For the next ten years she showed us how to live and how to die with grace and dignity, without once pretending everything was fine, just fine.

Thanks for stopping by today. I pray we’ll find peace, comfort and courage to face each day with its sadness and joy.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 March 2022
Photo of Diane and Elouise by the Savannah River,
taken by DAFraser on 20 November 1993

baptismal waters

During her last years on this earth, Mother and I found each other in ways I never dreamed possible. The hospice near my parents’ home (income not a consideration) took exquisite care of her during her last three months. This piece honors her and the angels who cared for her pain-wracked body. 

baptismal waters
rise gently enfolding her
world-weary body

* * * * *

I’m standing in a windowless, high-ceiling concrete room
with a concrete floor, drainage holes and air vents.
A deep whirlpool tub stands in the middle
filled with warm steamy water.
The room faintly resembles a large sauna minus the wood.
Functional, not beautiful.

Mother is in hospice care after suffering a stroke weeks ago
and then developing pneumonia in the hospital.
Her ability to communicate with words is almost nonexistent.
Today she’s going to be given a bath.
I’m told she loves this, and that
Sister #4 and I are welcome to witness the event.

For the past hour caregivers have been preparing her–
removing her bedclothes, easing her onto huge soft towels,
rolling and shifting her inch by inch onto a padded bath trolley,
doing all they can to minimize pain and honor her body.
Finally, they slowly roll the trolley down the hall.

The hospice sauna room echoes with the sound of
feet, soft voices, and running water.
It takes a team to carry out this comforting
though strange and even unnerving ritual.
Mother is safely secured to the padded bath table and
then lowered slowly into the water.
Her eyes are wide open.

For a few moments she fixes her eyes on mine.
The table descends bit by bit.
How does she feel?
What is she thinking?
At first her eyes seem anxious.
Is she afraid?
The warm waters rise around her and the table stops descending.
Her face relaxes and she closes her eyes.

The team works gently, thoroughly, not in haste.
They focus on her, talk to her and handle her body with reverence.
My eyes brim with tears.
This woman who bathed me, my three sisters
and most of her grandbabies is being given a bath
by what appears to be a team of angels in celestial garments.

They finish their work and roll Mother back to her room.
Her bed has clean sheets.
Fresh bedclothes have been laid out.
Caregivers anoint her body with oil and lotion, turn her gently,
and comment on how clear and beautiful her skin is.
They finish clothing her, adjust the pillows to cradle her body,
pull up light covers and leave her to fall asleep.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 June 2014, lightly edited and reposted 26 November 2021
Photo found at etsy.com, John McManus Fine Art

Setting My Boundaries

Okay…sometimes it’s a bit more complicated than this.

Ready or not
Time creeps up
On closed doors
Never to be opened
Without weeping
And gnashing of
Teeth set on edge
Since my childhood

I review notes
From two years of
My life as the
Prodigal daughter
Or so it seemed to
My parents who
Never walked
In my shoes

Plus notes from
Conversations with
Sisters suddenly
Part of the picture
Even though they
Didn’t ask to be part
Of this drama unfolding
According to my script
Not theirs

Bit by bit I clarified what I needed and wanted to do. My psychotherapist didn’t tell me what to do. She listened, asked questions, and sent me home to keep working on one of the most life-changing events of my life.

In an earlier post I included the letter I sent my parents, telling them not to call or write to me. I would call or write when I was ready. My letter was not well received. My father wrote back to me. Nothing in his long, single-spaced, typed “Dear Daughter” letter was encouraging. I decided to return, unopened, any further letters from him.

The planning phase for this meeting took one and a half years. During that time, Mother became the good parent who remembered us on holidays and birthdays. Seeing her determination to be the good parent, I gave up thinking this was about my father and me. It was about all three of us.

Also, through conversations with my three sisters, I learned who might sit beside me as a witness at a meeting with my parents. My husband David would be there. So would Sister #3, Diane, who lived in Texas.

Finally, I asked a trusted pastor friend who lived in Savannah to host the meeting. We would meet in a conference room at the church he served. He also agreed to stay in touch with my parents after the meeting.

All of this took time and multiple conversations.

As for the meeting itself, that’s another post. It took time to work through what I wanted to say, how I would say it, and what I wanted from each of my parents. Slowly, from May 1992 to November 1993, I clarified how to structure the meeting. I also clarified the roles David and Diane were to fill. In a nutshell: keep your mouths closed and listen!

Yes, the meeting itself was a bit of a drama. Stay tuned.

Thank you for your visits and encouragement! Sometimes it seems this meeting was the most important thing I ever did for myself–even more important than marrying D, though not nearly as much fun!

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 November 2021
Boundary image found at pinterest.com

Setting Boundaries with My Parents

Boundaries. Not my favorite topic. When I was young, my clergy father set the boundaries. My job was to keep them. Daddy’s Rules for Good Girls invaded every area of my life as a female child and teenager.

Nonetheless, if I wanted to find my adult voice with my parents, I needed to set and maintain boundaries with them. The way any adult would. I was in my late 40s.

My goal called for ways to cope with my own unscheduled panic attacks. The kind that screamed at me NOT to go through with this madness.

Three items in my files document my determination.

  • First, an index card with names and phone numbers of six people I could call at the drop of a hat. They included my psychotherapist, my husband, two AlAnon friends, and two pastors (not my personal pastors).
  • Second, on the opposite side of the index card is a list of nine things to do when I have panic attacks or feel overwhelmed.
  • Third, an encouraging card and letter from a woman I’d walked with through her own boundary-setting agony.

The point of these items was to take care of myself no matter what.

In early May 1992, I wrote the following letter to my parents. This was more than 1 ½ years before I met with them in Savannah.

Dear Mother and Daddy,

D and I will be on vacation when you’re up this way in June. We’ve decided not to change our plans. Also, I’ve decided I don’t want you to stay in our house while we’re gone.

I need privacy right now, and for the indefinite future, in order to work on some personal issues. For now, that means I don’t want calls, cards, or letters from either of you. I also don’t want to plan any visits with you. I’ll let you know when I’m ready for a change.

Emergency messages can be left on our answering machine, or given to D at his office or here.

Love,
Elouise

My letter was not well received. In a later post I’ll write about how I handled my father’s at-distance anger, and how I set up a meeting with my parents on the eve of my 50th birthday.

Please note: This is not a template for anyone. It’s what was right for me at that time in my life. I got through this thanks to my own hard work, and strong support from D, my psychotherapist, and friends listed above on my ‘panic’ card.

Cheers to each of you! Life, when lived with integrity, is never easy. I pray you’ll find wisdom and courage for yourself this day.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 October 2021
Photo taken by DAFraser, 10 September 2021, Longwood Gardens Meadow

What Boundaries?

Fake power exercises ruthless control
In vain attempts to nurture sisterly virtues

Bible-grounded communication floods my ears
With thou shalt and thou shalt not

Beleaguered sisters throw group loyalty to the winds
In favor of loyalty to one’s fragile female self

Being docile sometimes becomes a stand-in for
Being truthful or angry or distressed

Like cookies born of one cookie cutter
We stare at our unknown selves in consternation

Who we are together remains a mystery
As we strain to survive apart from each other

I’m aware of being watched by Daddy night and day
Without so much as a polite knock at the door

Driven to precarious survival techniques
My heart and stomach drown beneath anxious fear

During the past week I reviewed dated notes I kept when I began working with a psychotherapist in the early 1990s. I was in my late 40s, drowning in depression. One of my first tasks was to connect with my three younger sisters.

By then we were scattered over the USA and beyond. What we knew about each other personally was fragmented at best. We were aware of the large outlines of our adult lives. However, we didn’t have an informal network for safe, sisterly communication.

I never talked with any of my sisters about the rules in our family, or our father’s corporal punishment doled out regularly to enforce the rules. Nor had we talked together about who our father favored, or why.

Sometimes life felt like a war between sisters. I could deduce which sister was the favorite of the day. I also knew I was a favorite target for ‘Let’s get Elouise in trouble.’ No sibling likes to have the oldest sister designated as the parental stand-in.

As you might guess, we weren’t there to console or encourage each other. We were focused on staying out of trouble or deflecting attention to another sister’s behavior.

I began my adult work on boundaries with telephone calls to each of my three sisters. Would you be willing to talk with me privately (no reports back to Mom or Dad) about our experiences living at home? I was starving for sisterly conversations. Each of my sisters, in her way, helped me come out of my lonely closet of indirect communication, depression, and denial.

My next hurdle wasn’t nearly so easy. How would I name and maintain adult boundaries with my parents? Stay tuned!

Thanks for your visits and encouragement. Tomorrow I have tests to determine how much damage peripheral neuropathy has done to my feet and legs.

Praying for calm in these troubled days, here and abroad.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 October 2021
Photo taken by JERenich, Easter Sunday, 1953

Without a script

Appalled
My eyes retrace the
Tortuous path from
There to here

No magic formula
No prewritten script
No sense of how this
Will play out

With every page
My eyes tear up
Full of anguish
And the pain of
Reality writ large

Planning notes plus
Letters of disbelief
And anger magnify
the stakes on all sides

Win-win is not guaranteed
In this upside-down world
In which eldest daughter
Persists to the bitter end
Not for money or a break-through
But for her own sanity
And adult identity

During the last several days I reviewed my 1993 planning file for a  once in a lifetime meeting with my parents. I chose the eve of my 50th birthday. At the time, I was a professor at the seminary, depressed, and unable to relate as an adult to my parents. My father was a pastor, my mother was a church musician, and we four daughters were the preachers’ kids. A high stakes family.

My depression had become unmanageable. I needed professional help. One of my pastors, a woman, recommended several psychotherapists. I was terrified when I made my first enquiry. In my family, we never sought out “worldly” help for anything that smelled like psychology. Church and the Bible were all we needed.

Still, I took deep breaths, made my first phone call, and began seeing a psychotherapist twice a week. At my intake interview I never mentioned my difficult relationship with my father. Nonetheless, the woman interviewing me suggested I consider a meeting with my father. I was horrified.

Working with my therapist, I began from scratch. Not immediately, but after my first few years of therapy. This would be my meeting, structured and led by me. It wasn’t about ensuring a successful end or pleasing my parents. I lived in Pennsylvania; my parents lived in Georgia. My job was to initiate, plan, and produce an agenda for a meeting in Georgia. No dress rehearsal or second chance.

But first I had to clarify my boundaries. This changed everything, even before I began working on a meeting in Georgia. More about boundaries in a later post.

Thanks for stopping by. Praying for clarity, wisdom and courage in these troubled days.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 October 2021
Photo found at unsplash.com

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