Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Female Bodies

Eulogy for Sister #3 – revisited

Diane, Sister #3, is on my mind today. Diane died from ALS in February 2006. Her death was a mixed blessing. A release from imprisonment in her physical body, and a reminder that the ‘good’ life is about more than being free of catastrophic illness. Including Covid-19.

Houston, Texas – 17 February  2006

Diane directed that my remarks today be “personal, with no preachy tones.”  As I thought about what to say, I came up with only one topic that guarantees I’m being personal—that I’m not avoiding the subject Diane knows none of us can avoid when we talk about her.

Remembering Diane’s Body

Diane had a human body—loved by God
A female body:
—The body of God’s beloved daughter child
—Known to Jesus Christ as a sister for whom he died
—A female temple of God’s Holy Spirit on this earth

A one-of-a-kind body:
—Created and sustained by God
—Loved and nurtured by God’s ministering servants here on earth:
——Her husband, two sons and one daughter
——Her large, extended biological family
——Her church family
——Her nursing family
——Even the family collection of dogs

Diane’s life was shaped by bodily infirmity.
—She would hate that I just used that word!

Diane refused to think, act or behave as a person identified by an “infirmity.”
Yet the truth is simple:
—Diane’s life was shaped by loss in her left arm due to polio.

From a parental point of view, Diane’s weak arm was cause for protective measures.

From Diane’s point if view it was cause for excelling in whatever she supposedly couldn’t or shouldn’t do.

Not only would she do all these things,
She would do most of them better than any of us, things like
—Riding a bike, swimming and playing basketball
—Sewing dresses and suits
——not hankies and curtains, but fancy dresses, and suits with tailored blazers
—Then there was photography, not with small, lightweight equipment,
——b
ut with the best possible equipment and attachments she could afford and lug around!

Diane developed an uncanny knack for figuring out how to carry out activities like these without compromising quality or expertise in the slightest.

She also developed an uncanny knack for taking advantage of our parents’ desire to protect her.

Only as an adult did she confess that her habit of disappearing from the house to do yard work (and not housework) was not motivated chiefly by her pure desire to help Daddy.  Rather, she knew neither Daddy nor Mother would send or call her back inside the house for the latest instruction or practice in vacuuming, dishwashing, dish-drying, table setting, ironing or putting clothes away.

To us, Diane’s body was both normal and different—though it all felt pretty normal most of the time.  Certainly not life-threatening.

Then each of us, her three sisters, got a telephone call from Diane in January 1996.
Diane had ALS.  She was direct and clear:
—There is no cure.
—The disease is terminal.
—I’m going to need help.  Lots of help.

Diane’s left arm shaped her as a child, as a young person and as an adult.
Now Diane’s entire body began shaping her and her family,
beginning most painfully with her husband, two sons and daughter,
and reaching out to all of us gathered here today.

For the last 10 years I’ve flown down to Houston about 4 times a year to visit Diane.  But not just to visit her.  I’ve come to witness a journey—Diane’s very personal journey with ALS.  A journey that relentlessly put Diane’s physical body at the center of attention.

As young girls we weren’t encouraged to pay much attention to our bodies. 
Bodies were a necessary but usually uncomfortable necessity—especially female bodies.  Now, with ALS, Diane was consumed by what was and was not happening in her body.

She suffered losses beyond comprehension—most in fairly rapid succession over a period of years, starting with physical losses such as mobility, ability to care for her own personal needs, eating and swallowing, ability to speak on her own, and breathing. 

She also suffered loss of her position here at the church:
—Loss of her dream of being ordained
—Loss of work and personal relationships as her body more and more seemed to intrude as a difficulty or a problem to be solved
—Loss of time for herself or her family and friends, as personal care began gobbling up hours out of each day
—Loss of privacy:  total and absolute, with only one exception—the thoughts in her mind, which included her life with God
—Loss of little things such as swatting at a mosquito feasting on her neck (as she put it); scratching where it itches; singing in church; being in the middle of the action and making wisecracks

More painfully, she suffered loss of other things such as giving her children a hug, or embracing her husband face to face.  As a female she suffered what most women dread—loss of control over personal presentation of herself:  hairstyle, makeup, body language.  She became the subject of stares and quickly averted eyes.

Diane’s body seemed to be calling the shots.

True to who she already was, however, Diane kept showing up—fully with and in her body marked more and more by ALS.  It was as though she were saying

  • I’m still here—in my body
  • I’m still Diane—in this body
  • I am not whatever you think a terminally ill person should be
  • I am not predictable
  • I am not a saint
  • I’m still Diane!
  • I’m still here and I’m still fully engaged in living–living with ALS
  • I will be who I am—angry, frustrated, filled with anxiety, filled with human longings and everyday needs; direct and clear without being mean
  • I’m dying
  • We need to talk
  • Now

As always, nothing was too sacred for a good healthy laugh.  Especially about her body with its unpredictable body parts, behaviors and small crises:  facial movements, biting her own lip, laughing uncontrollably, head falling over from time to time, drooling from time to time.

Diane continued to be who she already was:
—Determined to speak for herself in her own words, not yours or mine
—Determined to be heard and heeded

She was still directive—now in ways that boggled the mind:
—To-do and Do-not-do lists for family, nurses, friends and strangers
—Rules for how Mom is to be driven in her new van and who gets to say when the rules are being broken (Mom, of course).
—She was still a masterful strategic planner—only now she had to figure out how to get you to do what she could no longer do, but somehow knew must be done.

As always, Diane wasn’t about to fade into the woodwork.  She kept showing up in the flesh—in her ALS-shaped flesh:  at church, in shopping malls, at weddings for her daughter and one of her sons, and even—one month ago, believe it or not, to inspect her daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter’s new home.

Diane remained insistent that she be given choices, and that her choice was the final choice:
—Clothes and accessories for church
—Medical options
—What to keep and what to discard from the kitchen cupboards
—Which movie to watch
—And how this service today would be shaped,
——including the names of all active male pallbearers
——and the names of all 25 honorary female pallbearers!

Diane made her concrete mark in, with and through her concrete, ALS-shaped body.
To deny she was among us in the flesh would be to deny her existence.

To some extent, each of us gathered here to honor and grieve her passing has been a witness.  So many of you are so full of memories.  I can’t speak for you and I won’t get preachy, but I will be confessional:

  • I’m listening, God, for what my relationship to Diane means for the rest of my life in this world you love so much.  Amen.

Eulogy delivered 17 February 2006, © Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 February 2006
Blog post © Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 April 2014

The Shepherdess Speaks

Simple elegance
Strong body
Sun bonnet
casts shade over
tumbling tresses
Hint of smile
Head turns slightly
Eyes averted
Basket of posies
loops gracefully
around bare forearm
Sweet dress
swirls gently over
exposed ankles
Feet clad in
flat slippers
firmly grounded
Left arm cradles
shepherd’s crook
worn and ready
at her side
Beware wolves
in shepherd’s clothing

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 September, 2014, reposted 20 January 2021
Photo credit:  DAFraser
Statue stands in the Main Fountain Garden of Longwood Gardens, PA

Are you willing to be condemned? | Lent, Holy Week and Life

I learned condemnation from my father. When I was very young I heard and felt it in his voice and punishments. Or was it the day I was born female? I wasn’t the son my father hoped for.

If only you would keep your mouth shut and play the piano more often! I really like it when you play the piano. It makes everybody happy and proud. And don’t forget to listen to the men. I like that, too!

No, sweetheart, you don’t need to read all those books. Though we’re proud when you make the honor roll. Still, I don’t think you’ll find what you’re looking for at a big university.

You want to be what???? A theologian? A professor? But you’re married aren’t you? Well….if your husband approves of it, who am I to stand in your way?

How dare you cut your parents off until you’re willing to talk with us again? You need to wake up and remember who you are! You were always rebellious and angry. Too bad you couldn’t be more like your sisters.

Am I willing to be condemned? It’s the question I’ve lived with for years. Not because I live in the past, but because I’m always in the present.

Condemnation can arrive cloaked as something else: being overlooked, underestimated, disbelieved, targeted for harassment.

So…For what am I willing to be condemned? For being the woman I am, fully accepted and loved by our Creator. Not always right; not always wrong. Always one of our Creator’s beloved daughters.

In the meantime, my goal is to keep True North in view, and put one foot, one word, one poem, one truth in front of another.

Thanks for visiting and reading.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 April 2020
Image found at kissclipart.com

The Watchers

Uninvited and hovering
Spirits of the living dead
Fill air space
Drowning me in female shame
For this my body

In vain I cover my face
Hide from myself
And this present moment
Made mad by
Prying eyes and ears
Of a thousand intrusions
On this my body broken –
Now gasping for air

The feeling of being watched was more than a feeling when I was growing up. It was the norm. When I married and moved with D to our first home, I didn’t have a clue how much baggage I brought to our marriage.

Some of my baggage was easily dumped. No problem! Glad to be rid of it.

And yet…other things had taken root in me. Especially those intrusive, internalized, incessant monitors making sure I didn’t do anything a Good Girl wouldn’t do. Or worse, the feeling of being watched by intruders no matter what I was doing.

I don’t know how to talk about this publicly. I do, however, know many of us struggle with internal feelings and habits we never chose to internalize. Things we thought we could leave behind when we left home.

D and I have now renovated/reclaimed five major areas in our current home. Our bedroom is next, thanks to our leaking waterbed. It’s high time. In fact, I have the great leak to thank for prompting me to rethink what’s happening with Our Bedroom. Which, just to be clear, belongs to Us, not to Them.

Happy Monday, and Happy Reclamation Projects!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 August 2019
Found at medium.com/@emilykoziura9

I’m not my mother

I’m not my mother
Or the young girl
She wanted me to be
Surrounded by friends
Pretty with curls in my hair
Dressed in cheery colors
Enjoying a childhood
Unlike hers lived in fear
Of gossip and taunts
From girls going nowhere
Despite their self-assured
Superiority unknown
In my mother’s world

I fought against my mother. Refused her regular advice about clothes and colors. Felt ashamed of her outgoing ways and her polio-scarred body; her face devoid of make-up. Nothing could hide the tremor on the left side of her face. Or the sight of her estranged mother arriving at grade school, dressed like a diva bearing gifts to her royal daughter.

I endured with chagrin and barely suppressed anger her attempts to make my straight thin hair curly and fulsome, like her beautiful auburn hair.

And…she taught me to play the piano. Cook. Clean. Starch and iron clothes. Make beds. Fold towels and sheets. Organize drawers and cupboards. Things her absent mother never taught her.

There’s a saying I remember from my growing-up years. I didn’t care for it; my mother did. Her kitchen wall hanging proclaimed it boldly: “Bloom where you’re planted.” I couldn’t; neither could she.

Two lost souls thrown together. One extroverted, the other introverted. Both lonely; intelligent; eldest daughters; desperate to be loved and heard; musicians from the inside out. Overshadowed and dominated by a world of men. Unable to play and sing our songs freely without fear of having our wings clipped.

And yet…every time I read My mother’s body, I feel a tug at my heart. Pulling me back toward her. Not out of pity, but with understanding that’s still taking root in me. Softening me toward her and toward myself. Especially when I’m playing the piano, and feel some of her musicality playing through me.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 February 2019
Photo of winter snowdrops found at pinterest.com

The Ring of Truth

Yesterday morning I brainstormed themes and titles for a post—all over the page of my spiral notebook. The page got more crowded by the minute. So I gave up, and began writing my Memo to White Women in the USA.

Today our national controversy is even greater than it was yesterday. For some it’s all about party politics and the next Supreme Court Justice.

For others, it’s about the need to take seriously what Dr. Anita Hill and Dr. Christine Ford talked about. Right now, everyday women and their supporters are coming out of the woodwork. Galvanized. Ready to insist on truth no matter how much it may cost them personally.

So I’m back to my page of unused themes and titles. But first I have a challenge. If you’ve never written out your story, at least for yourself, I challenge you to do that now, not later. Not just what happened to you, but how it made you feel.

There’s power in the act of writing your story down. Making it visible. Word by word. Line upon line. As it comes out, unedited and raw. It doesn’t matter whether it’s poetry or prose. Just so it rings true to you. You don’t have to show it to anyone at all. Especially if they’re people you don’t trust.

I wept gallons working on what became some of my early posts. I also had a trusted professional who worked with me when my writing raised things I had to deal with. Sometimes they were about unfinished business. Other times they were about how to take care of myself. I highly recommend seeking trustworthy professional help. Especially when past experiences keep spilling over into the present.

So here are several titles without stories. Maybe they’ll get you thinking, or coming up with your own better titles for your story. They might even prompt you to begin a list of things you remember and wish you could forget.

The Ring of Truth
Against All Odds
Marked for Life
Strength in Weakness
This Woman’s Burden
Broken not Bent
No Prize for a Good Performance
I Dared Say No
At Great Cost
Free at Last
Daddy’s Little Girl
I Married a Predator
I Thought He Loved Me

Perhaps you don’t think this is all that important. Well….You’re important, and that’s enough all by itself.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 September 2018
Image found at India.com

Somewhere she waits

Surfacing above deep waters
Her body a hieroglyphic vision
Of life’s subterranean journey
Through unseen landscapes
Sacred and scarred
Inspected and celebrated
Not for character or fame
But for enduring and surviving
An endangered relic
Visited periodically
In a backwater museum
Somewhere she waits

For all senior citizens periodically celebrated for living yet another year. Keepers of wisdom and history, we’ll never know them unless we ask and listen with our hearts and minds wide open. No matter how foreign, slow or garbled the language. Old age doesn’t automatically confer wisdom. It is, nonetheless, an often ignored tablet of history that shaped, blessed and haunts us.

I wrote the poem after looking at a recent photo of my Aunt’s 91st birthday party. She has multiple daughters and sons who care for her. Not all are so blessed. Though even when blessed, it’s painfully possible to be seen without being heard.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 April 2018
Ukrainian Black Ink Drawing found at 123rf.com

Whose body is it anyway?

Several days ago I posted the poem below. It came to mind this week when I thought about the way women’s bodies are shamed and punished. Sometimes to such an extent that we don’t recognize our bodies anymore as gifts. And many of us haven’t learned to be their vociferous, ferocious and loving advocates.

This body
Like my heart
A house of Your creation
Stands ready to greet the stranger
Whose form and visage
Isn’t as expected
Lost
Dust of the earth
Sorrowful yet not without hope
She stands
Waiting

Who is this stranger who stands waiting? I think I’m the stranger. Alienated from my female body even though I call it ‘my’ body. Part of this is a hangover from childhood and youth. The consequences of being directly and indirectly abused in my female body.

It seems my body keeps trying to get my attention,. It’s tired of hanging around waiting to do my bidding, or carrying me here and there no matter how it feels.

Instead, it wants me to stand up for it and stop forcing it to keep going. Or hoping someone else will save the day, like Prince Charming.

Several evenings ago at the end of an unusually busy day, I stood at the kitchen sink slogging through a pile of dirty dishes. It was late. My feet and back were screaming for mercy.

All I wanted to do was lie down and go to sleep. That, or be rescued by a prince who would gallop into the kitchen and do for me what I refused to do for myself—take care of my weary body.

It struck me as odd if not self-defeating that I wanted help from someone else. There I was, supposedly a grown-up woman with a mind of her own, unable to do what I needed to do. Stop. No matter what happened or didn’t happen to the dirty dishes.

My body works and waits every day, hoping against hope. Have I forgotten how to take the initiative? How to sit down and give it a rest, fuss over it in a kindly way, and thank it for the ways it helps me get through each day?

As a child, it sometimes seemed other people owned my body. They did not. God owns it, and has given me the privilege and responsibility of being in charge of it.

It’s as though God said to me,

Here. Take this body. I created it just for you. It’s the only body you’ll have in this life. Treat it as an ever-present stranger you’ll want to get to know at least a thousand times over. Someday I’ll come knocking at your door, eager to see how you’ve treated it and what you’ve learned from its wisdom.

Women’s bodies are demeaned and pushed beyond their limits every day. Sadly, I can’t put an end to all of it. I can, however, actively love and care for my body. Which strikes me as more than enough. Upstairs attic, here I come! Though Crater Lake would be nice, too.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 June 2018
Photo taken by DAFraser at Crater Lake, Oregon, 2015

Shaming and Punishing Women

One of my longtime followers, Fran Macilvey, left the following request in response to my recent post, Voices long silent.

I’d like to hear more about your view on “….shaming rituals and periodic public displays of what happens to strong women…” because I’m sure it doesn’t just happen to women, and I’m curious to consider why we do it. What are we frightened of? Disapproval??

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, especially about how things like this happen to men. At the same time, from my childhood on it seemed women and girls had to be kept in their places. My personal fear wasn’t disapproval. It was harsh punishment. Not just as a child, but even as a professional. It was important to ‘walk the line’ and remember that I was not in charge. Today I might simply walk out. But that freedom didn’t happen overnight.

In a recent telephone conversation with one of my sisters, we talked about ways young boys shamed us at school when we were in the 5th grade. Our father also shamed us at home every time one of us was beaten. I was the prime example of what would happen to my three younger sisters if they dared to live ‘outside’ the lines of what my father considered proper behavior for females.

So we shared our experiences in the 5th grade. Both involved shaming by a male classmate. There was no one safe to talk with us. Not at school, and not at home. Each of us lived with the burden of believing we were the problem. The truth, however, is that our young, developing female bodies were the problem. Not to us, but to the boys who tormented us.

Silence about things like this, when carried for decades and magnified by repeated body shaming is like carrying a dead weight in one’s body and soul. Still, the only safe way to get through was to keep our young mouths shut and just keep going.

I can’t begin to describe the feeling of release I felt because my sister and I had finally dared tell each other about this insult to our souls and bodies.

Then there’s the companion side of this dilemma. Often when women stand up and report harassing behavior, they become the subject of investigation. Maybe it was your clothes, your tone of voice, the look in your eyes, the perfume you wore to work today. Hence the silence of women afraid to report abuse of any kind on the job, at home, in schools and universities, in churches, or even in friendship circles.

I’m not saying all women are as pure as the driven snow. Instead, I’m saying that experiences like this need to be unpacked. Perhaps we can change our behavior. Not because what we’re doing is ‘wrong,’ but because it isn’t putting our own safety first. Often we need trusted friends and qualified psychotherapists to walk with us.

Reading books about how to survive various forms of shaming or PTSD isn’t a bad thing to do. We can learn a lot. Yet there’s that internal stuff that isn’t going to go away because we read a book. Sometimes we need a safe person to hear us out and help us examine our feelings and behaviors without blame or judgment.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 June 2018

grim and determined

grim and determined
she waits outside the closed door
peering straight ahead
and leaning on her walker
hands wrapped in weathered gloves

~~observed this morning in a waiting room

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 March 2018

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