Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Healing

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

In the deep mid-winter | 3 Haikus

buzzing ears open
for business this frigid day
listening to nothing

wind howls
through cracked walls
a baby cries

travelers
missing in action
full stop

Real Winter. We haven’t had it here in Eastern Pennsylvania for several years. Now it seems to be making up for lost time.

This morning I set things up to make a big pot of spiced red lentil soup. I also used my SAD ‘happy light’ to help with my mood. Best of all, I decided not to race out early this morning (with D driving) for a blood draw before 9am.

Not a bad beginning to what promises to be a gusty, sun-shiny day, with the temperature plummeting tonight. Not many birds were out for their early morning suet feast.

Beginning this week, I’ll see three of my doctors, one a week, to find out what my blood tests, MRI, and other tests to my feet and legs are adding up to.

In the meantime, I’m finding out when my feet don’t hurt. It’s all about music! Playing the piano instantly takes my mind off the pain. So does walking in the house or working in the kitchen with my new headphones, listening to direct-feed music, babbling brooks and birds, or anything else remotely musical. Thanks to our daughter and her husband for the birthday headphones.

Best of all, I have no pain when I’m sitting at my computer writing poetry or posts for you.

Until next time, I’m still
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 January 2022
Photo found at houstonchronicle.com

My prayer for the New Year

Finding my place
In this pandemic madness
Proves elusive

Perhaps my eyes have
Learned not to see clearly
What others predict

Or I’m just weary
With hanging out and waiting
For the same old news

Don’t get me wrong. I admire every news commentator and guest who speaks from diligent research and personal experience. Especially about the current pandemic.

At the end of the day, however, we haven’t a clue what will happen next here in the USA. Not just regarding Covid and its growing family of unpredictable offspring, but also about our growing habit of living in alternate realities.

Right versus Wrong, Left versus Right, Independent, Nothing at All. Identities proudly held and widely approved as political signatures. They announce one’s loyalty or disloyalty not to a country or to the world, but to unproven and often unprovable opinions about many things.

In fact, most of us have been swimming and/or drowning in alternate realities since the day we were born. When I look back at my childhood, I’m horrified. Just within my own family the push was already on. The goal was crystal clear: obey your parents (especially your father) or pay the price. This goal permeated and shaped every area of my life.

Early experiences of ‘my father’s way or the highway’ didn’t help me become a thoughtful citizen, a trustworthy neighbor, or a careful listener to strangers. I know, anything can happen. I might get into big trouble. However, that’s not news. News would be my growing ability to welcome even more ‘strangers’ into my life.

My prayer for the New Year is that I’ll find simple ways to reconnect with and welcome friends and strangers, especially those who don’t see the world as I see it.

Thanks for stopping by today.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 January 2022
Image found at brandsandplaces.com

Smiling through rain and sun

My one-eyed bright white light
Peers at me wondering where
I’ve been and why it took
So long to remember her

Smiling through rain and sun
Alike she cheers me on without
Great fanfare or even the
Hint of a bill for services

Rendered day or night
Without complaint and with
No thought of tomorrow
Or what lurks around the corner

Today the sun is out, the temperature is a bit warmer than yesterday, and I just finished cleaning out several kitchen cupboards. They were groaning under the weight of out-of-date or unused ingredients and yummy snacks I used to eat. That was before Lucy (my pacemaker), a broken jaw, kidney disease, plus whatever else has piled on since 2016.

My MRI (to help clarify the kind of peripheral neuropathy I have) did not happen as scheduled, thanks to a mistake made by the hospital. I’m now scheduled for December 29. In the meantime, I’m learning to pace myself and take time to put my achy feet up, meditate, read a bit, listen to music, or play the piano (not with my feet up!).

I still struggle with bedtime coming too quickly—before I’ve gotten ‘anything’ accomplished. At the same time, I’m keenly aware that my feet, legs, mind, heart and hands have worked with minimal rest for most of my life. I seem to have inherited from my parents and most churches I’ve attended the need to accomplish something (for others) in order to prove my female worth in this tired old world. It’s way past time to turn the tables.

Thank you for stopping by! When I review what you’ve been reading, I’m often drawn to an old post that makes me weep—not with despair, but with a kind of joy I didn’t think I would experience in this life.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 December 2021
Photo taken by DAFraser at Longwood Gardens, December 2017

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 females do not deserve

We don’t need fancy degrees
Or positions of so-called power
To agree on one thing:

In today’s downhill avalanche
And dismissive coverup of truth
About women and girls of any age
Soul-searching is quickly dismissed
In favor of shameful, angry blaming
Of women who dare speak
Their own minds or
Live their own lives
Despite the cost

Females of any age do not deserve to be shamed, humiliated, or silenced.

Nearly 28 years ago, on the eve of my 50th birthday, I said to my father: “I did not deserve to be shamed, humiliated, or silenced by you.” I wish I could say that making this statement fixed everything for me as a woman. It did not.

Instead, as an adult professional, I still had to live with sometimes brazen attempts to shame, humiliate or silence me. For example,

  • Disgruntled students who didn’t approve of my gender or my approach to teaching and learning sometimes filed written complaints with my dean or the president of the seminary.
  • In my work with and in the seminary dean’s office, my value was sometimes measured by my willingness to go along.
  • My questions weren’t always welcome, especially regarding university decisions that impacted the seminary.

Bottom line: Most of my paying jobs involved a significant degree of holding back, keeping my mouth shut and my emotions under wrap. Sadly, the same was sometimes true in churches I attended, especially regarding issues of concern to women and children.

My decision to meet with my parents in 1993 was costly for our entire family. Would I do it again? Yes. My life today would not be what it is without this tough family work. In some ways, it became my fulltime job, the underpinning of my professional and personal life. As I’m able, I’ll be posting about this from time to time, drawing on written notes I made years ago, and correspondence with some family members.

Thank you for the privilege of sharing some of my life with you. Next Friday I’ll have tests on my feet and legs. Hopefully I’ll learn more about what can and cannot be done to alleviate the pain. Peripheral neuropathy stinks!

Thanks for stopping by,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 October 2021
Quotation found at thewei.com

A lament for 9/11/2001 and today

I wrote the lament below for an open seminary forum held one month after the 9/11/2001 attack. Today, 20 years later, the lament rings painfully true.

We haven’t had more unexpected attacks on skyscrapers or the Pentagon. Instead, we’ve had a home-grown physical attack on Congress; home-grown political attacks masquerading as MAGA; routine home-grown attacks on people of color, immigrants, and women; unprecedented fires, floods, drought and tornadoes; and daily fallout from protracted global warfare and upheaval.

Back to 2001. I was one of several faculty members asked to open the forum. I’m speaking in our seminary chapel. A large wooden crucifix is on the wall behind me. Hence my reference below to Christ’s death being in the room.

It’s difficult to focus.
Voices and images
clamor for my attention,
my response,
my analysis of what is beyond all reason.

I force myself to stay close to the bone,
close to home, close to my Christian roots.

Death is in the room.
Not a new presence,
not even unexpected.

It, too, clamors for my attention,
masquerading in terrible new configurations.

I don’t want to die,
especially if I must suffer in my death.

From the throne of his cross,
the king of grief cries out….
‘Is it nothing to you, all ye who pass by?’

There is no redemption
apart from suffering and death.
None.

I want to be redeemed.
I do not want to die, or to suffer.
I’m not a very likely candidate for redemption.

Death is relentlessly in this room.
My death.
Your death.
Christ’s death.

Unfinished family business is in this room.
Violent behaviors and attitudes
passed down from father to daughter;
Habits of not telling the truth,
passed down from mother to daughter;
Withholding of love and affection,
Relentless inspection and fault-finding,
Love wanting expression but finding no voice,
Truth wanting expression but finding no listening ear.

Unfinished family business is in the room with death–
A gnawing ache more than my body can bear.

I like to think I’m ready to die.
But I am not.
Nor will I ever be.
Not today, not tomorrow,
Not in a thousand tomorrows.

If I say I am ready to die,
I deceive myself,
and the truth is not in me.

There’s always more work to be done–
Unfinished family business
Unfinished seminary business
Unfinished church and community business
Unfinished personal business

Christ died to relieve me
of the awful, paralyzing expectation
that one of these days
I will finally be ready to die.

Christ finished his work so that
I could leave mine unfinished
without even a moment’s notice.

The Heidelberg Catechism says it all–

“What is your only comfort in life and death?

“My only comfort, in life and in death, is that I belong–body and soul, in life and in death–not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ….”

Praying for ways to maintain lifegiving connections with those we love and those we too often love to hate.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 September 2021
Quote from the Heidelberg Catechism found at etsy.com

Glory Falls | Maya Angelou

Here we are, near the eve of July 4. Though it’s a day to be proud of our nation, so much has gone so wrong. My comments follow Maya Angelou’s poem.

Glory falls around us
as we sob
a dirge of
desolation on the Cross
and hatred is the ballast of
the rock
      which lies upon our necks
      and underfoot.
We have woven
      robes of silk
      and clothed our nakedness
      with tapestry.
From crawling on this
      murky planet’s floor
      we soar beyond the
      birds and
      through the clouds
      and edge our way from hate
      and blind despair and
      bring honor
      to our brothers, and to our sisters cheer.
We grow despite the
      horror that we feed
      upon our own
      tomorrow.
We grow.

Maya Angelou, poet; found in Sterling’s Poetry for Young People series, page 47.
Published in 2013 by Sterling Children’s Books, New York, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.
Editorial material © 2007 by Edwin Graves Wilson; Illustrations © 2007 by Jerome Lagarrigue|

I’m reminded of John Stainer’s heart-rending chorus from The Crucifixion, with its invitation to pay attention to ‘the king of grief’ instead of simply passing by.

From the throne of his cross
the king of grief cries out to a world of unbelief,
‘Is it nothing to you, all you that pass by?’

It’s one thing to celebrate the insight, agony and beauty of Maya Angelou’s poem. It another to understand that most white people in the USA would prefer to walk on by and try to get on with their lives.

A few weeks ago a friend from seminary days recommended a new book. It’s helping me understand our current impasse here in the USA. It’s written by Drick Boyd, and is titled Disrupting Whiteness: Talking with White People about Racism.

The main point? It’s time for white people to start talking with each other about our individual and collective racism. What are our earliest memories about racism? What forms does racism take? When did we start assuming most white people are superior beings? How do we give up what feels ‘normal’ but is not? How can we support each other for the long haul?

As James Baldwin pointed out in The Fire Next Time (pp. 21-22):

White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this—which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never—the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.

Thanks for stopping by.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 1 July 2021
Photo of Maya Angelou found at usatoday.com
Book covers found at amazon.com

My Mother’s Depression

I’m reposting this in honor of my Mother and all other mothers who have suffered from depression. As you may already know, depression is a widespread problem here in the USA. Especially for mothers.  

My mother’s depression
Is not my depression

It doesn’t belong to me
Nor did I invite it in to stay
Yet it lives in me now and again
A link to this woman who bore me

Deftly intertwined it moves
As though it were mine
A weight I bear unbidden
My lot in this half-life

What would it be like
To let it go as an alien?
To visit without falling into the pit?
To understand it from her point of view?

I’ve been turning things like this over in my mind and heart for the last week. The insight isn’t mine. It’s a gift from a friend who has walked with me for several decades.

‘My’ depression isn’t mine. Yes, it’s real and present. Yet it was and still is my mother’s deep depression, fed by my father’s behavior toward her and toward me.  It’s the sad price of being a gifted white woman in post-depression (ironic) and post-World War II life in the USA.

Held back, kept in check, insanely busy with housework and babies, submissive preacher’s wife, versatile church musician without a pay check, resourceful volunteer ever ready to help others in return for nothing, cheery and even-tempered, industrious and persistent, she held it all together in her bent and broken body.

Uncomplaining, weary, in pain 24/7 and depressed. Sometimes crying herself to sleep. Other times waking with horrifying cramps.

My heart goes out to her today in ways it couldn’t years ago.

Yet I can’t accept her depression as my depression. It isn’t mine. This one insight invites me to stay connected to her reality without making it my reality. I can only breathe my air, not hers.

These days it seems ever more acceptable to trash women of all colors and make them into problems they are not. In response, I want to do justice to the woman my mother was while showing mercy to her as the woman she could not be or become.

She was not the problem then, just as I am not the problem now.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 November 2018, reposted for Mother’s Day on 8 May 2021
Book cover photo found at bookdepository.com

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