Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Healing and Hope

Mom and Arnica Ointment

ArnicaFlowerExtractfromVideo

~~~Arnica Flowers and Healing Oil

Touching Mom was never easy for me. That included everything from an arm around her shoulder to a kiss on her cheek. Hold hands? Forget it. The ache for physical contact was there, but the reality—or even imagining the reality—was an immediate turnoff.

In the late 1990s I got a telephone call from Savannah. Mom had just been taken to the hospital. She’d had a stroke. No, it wasn’t the kind that could be easily reversed. It wasn’t major, and it wasn’t minor. It was what it was. She couldn’t talk clearly or move independently.

Mom was 78 years old. Too young, I thought, to die. I immediately made arrangements to fly down for several days. I wanted to see her. I loved her. In fact, during the last several years we’d developed the most positive relationship we’d ever had with each other.

The afternoon I arrived I went straight to the hospital. There she was, arms and hands covered with multiple bruises. The result of too many attempts to find veins to poke for various medical tests.

Mom always bruised easily. But this was horrific. Though she couldn’t talk, she signaled early on her extreme displeasure (slight frowns) and even embarrassment (a few tears) about the way her arms looked.

I didn’t know what to do, so I sat there talking to her and looking at the bruises. They were ugly.

When I travel, I always have a small tube of arnica ointment in my bag. It’s great for many things, including bruises large and small. It’s anti-inflammatory, has no nasty side effects, and needs no prescription.

I pondered the tube in my bag. Normally I would just give it to Mom so she could put it on her skin. Not possible today.

I took a deep breath. I knew what I needed to do, though I didn’t know how I would get through it without feelings of revulsion. If that sounds over-dramatic, it was not. Touching Mom in any way, except for a brief hello and goodbye hug, wasn’t even on my to-do list.

What I really needed, so I thought, was to maintain that ‘safe’ distance I loved and hated so much. The emotional and physical distance that seemed to shield me from being rejected.

When I suggested putting arnica ointment on her arms and hands, she perked up immediately and moved her right arm ever so slightly closer to me. I can’t even describe my gut feelings as I began applying the ointment. Just touching her skin was difficult enough, much less applying ointment.

She watched my hand intently as I gently rubbed the ointment in. It took a long time to do one full arm and hand. When I finished her right arm, she signaled that was enough for the evening. The nurses were coming to get her ready for the night.

The next morning she raised her right arm for me to see. Her eyes were bright. Her skin wasn’t 100% clear, but the difference from the day before almost took my breath away. She looked over at her left arm and pointed with her chin. She wanted me to do the left arm, too!

Mom’s arms and hands didn’t fully recover while I was there. Yet the difference between before and after was as dramatic in her body as it was in my heart. I got over my fear of touching her.

I still have regrets about what she and I missed in our relationship. This wasn’t the last time I ever saw Mom. It was, however, the beginning of the end. As unexpectedly wonderful as it was sad.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Psalm 23:5

 © Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 June 2015, reposted 13 August 2019
Image from purepro.com

The Collage revisited

“Writing when Awake is dangerous.” I wrote this piece years ago, while Awake. When you get to the collage, click on it for a close-up.

*****

I agonized about whether to begin this blog.  Not because I had nothing to say, but because I was terrified.  Of what?  I’m not sure.  Probably the concreteness of truth.  Even though I lived with it all my life, putting truth out there in concrete words is different.

The words below are from my journal.  I made the entry on 19 July 2012, about 18 months before I published my first post, Dear Dad.  It’s a one-hour, non-stop writing exercise.  What you see is nearly every word I wrote—reformatted.  I made the collage in the early 1990s.

I’m at my desk, keyboard in my lap, eyes closed most of the time—except to check the clock.  The collage is on the wall just above my desk.  Nothing but bits and pieces cut out of old magazines.  It’s not a lovely work of art, but a crude icon.  It reminds me of where I’ve been and how far I’ve come.

* * *

8:53am
Showing up.
Facing my fear and inhibitions.
All my life.
Small, invisible, insignificant, scared,
trying to fit in while desperately longing to stand out—
to be counted as somebody—
to make a difference.
A big difference.

Telephone ringing.
I’m a writer.  First.
Not afraid to let the phone ring,
to close the door,
to do what wants to be done.

Write.
Big.
Bold.
Unashamed.
More willing to live with the
consequences of big and bold,
than small and insignificant—
lost in the noise.

Shout it from the rooftop.
Hit the front pages of the newspaper.
Unavoidable and compelling.
A wake-up call not just for ‘them,’
but for me!!!!
Especially for me.

To tell the truth—
not for the faint-hearted
or for those like me given to
strategic choices of words that mask,
hide and protect the reality of what is—
whether we/I like it or not.

The truth not just about what happened
and is happening,
but the truth about what it takes—
the cost of belonging to the human race.
From the inside out—
not simply about them,
but about me.

Without fear or holding back;
without malice of mindfulness;
and without any agenda but one—
to bear witness in a way that
forges solidarity with others.

I’ve always wanted to belong—
to be normal—rather than strange,
set-apart, holy or the preacher’s kid.
The only way to get there, I think,
is to strengthen to completion
the bridge I can build
between myself and people I may never know.

A bridge of understanding,
of sisterly compassion,
of challenge,
and seemingly unending damage and pain.
A bridge of respect for survivors.
A bridge of honesty about my past
and the people who damaged me
and prepared me for the life I now live.

Am I looking for healing?
When that means acceptance, yes.
If it means pressing a restart button, no.
Things done and internal wiring completed
can’t be undone so easily.

If, however, it means healing
of my self as God’s beloved daughter child,
Yes.
This life was entrusted to me.
Not to anyone else.
Only I can live it.
Which includes/entails telling
the sad and sorry truth about growing up female.

Suddenly feeling drowsy.
Do I want to just stop and start over
on another topic/project?
Yes.
This feels way out of control and out of reach.
So yes, I have a strong desire
to put my head down and snooze.

(I just caught myself not sitting up straight.  Interesting.)

It’s now 9:15 am—
not quite halfway through this exercise.
I need to sit a bit and collect my scattered self.
I am a writer!

Centering Prayer.
Mindful breathing.
Surrender.
This is a practice I need as I write.

9:21am.
Back to it
Not sure where I am except for this:
To belong to the human race takes audacious courage.
Courage to do what doesn’t come naturally and is not always rewarded.
Bottom line:  Which price am I prepared to pay?
There’s a price for me either way.

Still struggling with drowsiness.
I ate breakfast before writing—
and now I’m struggling to stay present.
Feeling a tingly desire to go to sleep and not wake up!
Wakefulness—mindful wakefulness—
is worse than a nightmare.

9:26.
The clock seems slow today.
I need to just sit.  Drink Water.
Keep my body and mind awake,
open and receptive.

Drinking water.  Good.
I’m thirsty.  For what?
For something to calm my heart and mind
that wants to shut down just now.
Something to keep me going.
Alive.  Functioning.  Processing.  Growing.
Eliminating what is poison or no longer of use to me.
Water.

9:31am
The collage comes to mind.  I’m looking at it, getting teary.

The Collage

  • Life can be murder
  • Without Clear Proof
  • The Secret Within a Secret
  • DANGER
  • Somewhere in your house a battery is dying….
  • Lost.  Lost.
  • Failure
  • Stuck in Neutral
  • Defend Yourself
  • Sometimes you can tell what’s missing.
  • Much Less Than Meets the Eye
  • Someone Who Really Likes to Stay in Touch
  • For a Child’s Sake

The collage wakes me up!
Brings tears to my mind [sic].
This is reality.
My reality—about which only I can bear witness.
There’s no prettying up the truth.
There may be understanding,
but in no way is this a pretty picture.
Or a pretty story.
Telling it will not be pretty.
It will be dangerous.
And it keeps telling me it wants to be told!
Not hidden away like some shameful piece of my life.

I don’t like having to tell the truth
about things that may seem ‘sensational.’
They weren’t.
They were the sad and sorry everyday reality
of my everyday life.
Some things can’t be omitted.
To leave them out is to betray myself.
In some ways this writing is a plea for understanding.
This is who I am.
Late start telling the story,
but right on time in God’s economy.
9:51am

Journal entry written 19 June 2012
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 August 2014, re-posted 11 February 2019

the red cardinal

the red cardinal
sings his bright clear spring song
perched on bare branches

When I published my first post, Dear Dad, on 27 Dec 2013, my voice was anything but bright and clear. Singing was definitely out of the question. As a survivor of childhood PTSD, I used an elaborate strategy of calculated silence and half-truth.

How much did I owe the world? How much did I owe my family? How much did I owe the church? My father was a clergyman. Revered, respected, loved and sought after by people with sorrows such as mine.

But I wasn’t one of his followers. I was the first-born of four daughters. I had to watch my tongue constantly. Smile when expected. Stifle tears. Do as I was told. Set an example. And take the beatings like the contrite spirit I was not.

Breaking my silence of decades took decades. It started when I was in my 40s, with trips to Al-Anon meetings for five years. There I learned to relax and share things I’d never told anyone. Then I worked with an intern therapist who helped me complete a genogram (family tree, with notes). Finally, in the early 1990s, I began working with a psychotherapist with whom I’m still connected.

I put in hours and years of work. Did tons of homework. Cried buckets of tears. Filled unnumbered journals with dreams and personal entries.

Yet my recovery isn’t measured in months, years or numbers of pages written in journals. It’s measured in my voice. At first feeble, halting, self-conscious and terrified. Beginning with my husband and immediate family, then with my sisters and parents, slowly but surely with several trusted friends, and finally, a few years before I began blogging, with my large extended family on my father’s side.

My voice is the measure of my recovery.

Regardless of the weather, the political climate, or my health, the question is the same: How free am I to tell the truth? That’s the thermometer that matters.

I’ve always cared about issues that have to do with women. I used to think that getting a decent academic position would somehow ‘prove’ my worth. Or set me free. Especially if I was granted tenure.

Well, that wasn’t my riddle to solve. My riddle was my voice.

I began blogging because I knew it would challenge me to tell the truth freely, with words chosen by me, not by someone else.

So the little red cardinal outside my window caught my attention. The ground was covered with snow, and the laurel bush had been beaten down by more than one Nor’easter. Yet the little red cardinal was singing his heart out. Freely. Telling his truth about life and announcing his territory and the hope of spring.

Though I’m a follower of Jesus, I don’t believe this makes my life easier. In fact, I’d suggest it makes it more difficult because it means both living and telling the truth. Especially when it’s most unwelcome or unexpected.

Many thanks to Candice for this topic! Though I’ve already written elsewhere about this blog, this is another way of looking at it. Equally true and challenging.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 March 2018
Cardinal duet found on YouTube

setting sun

setting sun
kisses cold western sky
clouds blush

The magic lasted only seconds, and this photo captures but a reminder of what my eyes saw. And still I’m drawn to it. A magnificent flame-out at the end of the day.

I wonder, are we not meant to flame out in the last years or moments of our lives? I picture the human spirit about to set off into another world. Sometimes in dire circumstances, yet always still a living human being. Never without beauty even though our eyes may not know how to see it.

Do I know how to see beauty when the photo or the reflection isn’t beautiful by my standards? We seem to have become a race obsessed with beauty. Searching for it, measuring it, trashing it and moving on quickly if we don’t find it in the moment.

I’ve often felt disappointed about what I see in the mirror of my life. Not all of it, but significant chunks of it. These  days I’m beginning to see it differently. I see the reflection of a woman making her way slowly, yet surely, from one revelation about herself to another. The kind that often come at the end of the day. Beautiful to behold.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 January 2018
Photo taken by me with my IPad, 21 January 2018

I love my Physical Therapist!

Partial face of a young woman wearing vintage glasses and blancing four books and an apple on her head

I love my Physical Therapist! Only six sessions with her so far, two per week, and I already feel the difference. Muscles in my upper back, neck, head and mouth have begun to relax, instead of Read the rest of this entry »

Mom and Arnica Ointment | Memories

ArnicaFlowerExtractfromVideo

~~~Arnica Flowers and Healing Oil

Touching Mom was never easy for me. That included everything from an arm around her shoulder to a kiss on her cheek. Hold hands? Forget it. The ache for physical contact was there, but the reality—or even imagining the reality—was an immediate turnoff. Read the rest of this entry »

petrified pieces of my heart | Memories

Petrified wood bits unpolished

“Petrified pieces of my heart.” Thank you, Mahmoud Darwish, for words that still move me to tears and help me better understand your exile and the importance of keeping lost memories alive.

In the opening pages of his Journal of an Ordinary Grief, Mahmoud Darwish writes these haunting words: Read the rest of this entry »

from the podium

Beethoven at Longwood

from the podium
Beethoven in floral garb
conducts ode to joy

* * *

Things that gladden and soften me, Read the rest of this entry »

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