Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Healing

Old survival habits die hard

Dear Friends,

Over two years ago I began working on issues I still had with my father who died in 2010. These weren’t just childhood issues, but things that affected me as an adult.

During the last few months I’ve been distressed about something I thought I shouldn’t or couldn’t do. Why not? That was the issue.

My reluctance began, but didn’t end with my father’s voice reigning me in. Even though he’s not around, I still hear a voice trying to hold me back. Many voices have tried to reign me in all my life. Sometimes they succeeded.

Yet the sad truth is this: They could not have succeeded had I not already internalized by father’s voice as my voice.

So why is this so difficult for me today as the woman I am right now?

Simply put, I have cared too much about what other people think of me, beginning but not ending with D. This is almost unbelievable to me, even though I know it’s true. I’ve lived my life (as a preacher’s daughter, seminarian, professor and dean) under a microscope of male and female scrutiny, not all of it pleasant. Plenty of people have wished me gone. Not necessarily dead; just gone. Far away.

So here I am today with a wish for myself. I can’t shake it off, and I can’t accomplish it in secret.

I miss seeing and worshipping with friends from my former church. The church is less than a mile from our house. I want to worship with them from time to time.

I also have wonderful friends at the church I attend with D. So what to do?

I’ll attend both churches, though not on the same Sunday. From time to time you’ll see me here or you’ll see me there. Or, if you live far away, especially across the great pond or down under, you probably won’t see me anywhere–for which I’m very sad indeed.

With thanks to all the strong women, men and children who’ve encouraged me to be the grownup I am.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 October 2019
Photo of Sisters #1 and 2 in Easter dresses, with Parents, taken in Seattle, WA, 1946/7

I Worried | Mary Oliver

Here’s a prose poem from Mary Oliver, written in her later years. My brief comments follow.

I Worried

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
hopeless.

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And I gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

© 2010 by Mary Oliver
Published by Beacon Press in Swan: Poems and Prose Poems

Ironically, I found this poem in the front pages of Katy Butler’s book, The Art of Dying Well: A Practical Guide to a Good End of Life. It seemed a strange way to begin a book that helps navigate end of life decisions. Are you tired of working on this or that document, or making choices about things that may or may not happen? Just go out into the morning, and sing whether you think you can sing or not!

Which is exactly what I’m learning to do. No, it doesn’t come naturally. Worry comes naturally, sometimes dressed up as Work I must accomplish today. Not for a paycheck, but perhaps to ensure my peace of mind?

Yet even all the completed medical and other documents duly signed and filed in their appropriate places can never ensure full peace of mind. Sometimes I need to get outside my list-driven environment, enjoy the day and sing.

A calm mind. Most appropriate in a distressed world over which we have limited control.

Happy Monday to each of you, with a prayer for those living in distress this day and night, and calm courage to reach out as we’re able.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 September 2019
Photo found at pixabay.com

Four Sisters in Waiting

This is one of my favorite old photos. There aren’t many that have the four of us looking so spiffy! I think we were at a summer conference in North Carolina. If so, this was 1954. I was 11 1/2; Sister #2 was 9; Sister #3 (Diane) was 5; and Sister #4 was 1 1/2 years old.

Judging by our outfits, this was probably taken on a Sunday morning. White socks, shiny shoes, clean dresses, and curled hair. Obediently looking into the camera whether we wanted to or not. We were the daughters of a preacher. Surely life was a piece of cake. Not.

Even so, I love this photo, and am grateful for every opportunity I’ve had to spend time with my sisters. Especially since the late 1990s. They’ve been mirrors for me–telling me more about myself and about themselves and our parents than I remembered.

As some already know, Diane died of ALS in 2006. So now we’re down to three. Even though we don’t always see eye to eye, I find great solace in connecting with them, mostly via the phone.

Back to the photo. If I’m correct, this was the year I played afternoon babysitter to Sister #4. Each day, immediately after lunch in the large conference dining hall, Mom (known as Mother back then) took a much-needed nap and left Sister #4 in my care.

To my great chagrin, more than one conference attendee assumed I was my sister’s mother. I don’t think Sister #4 was keen on the optics, either. I was distressed. How was I going to meet good-looking young men if I had to play momma to my sister?!

One other memory. Sister #4 loved nothing better than lively music to which she could dance. Informally, of course, since dancing itself was a Huge No-No in our family and church.

At this conference, all guests stood at their assigned tables for a hymn or two and a prayer before sitting down to eat. Sister #4 was in a high chair, and broke out into a little sitting jig every time we sang a hymn! I’ll never forget a grumpy old man telling my father he’d better keep his eye on this little girl because she was going to be big trouble!

Little did he know that this docile, obedient Sister #1 was going to be big trouble, too. It takes guts to become a Disobedient Daughter of Eve. A lesson I didn’t learn until I was an adult. Which is why I began this blog in the first place, and why I keep writing. Not to sort things out, but to document what my big trouble looked like, and what it took to break decades of destructive Good Girl habits and beliefs.

Thanks for the visit!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 July 2019
Photo taken by JERenich, Summer 1954

Loose ends

At loose ends with myself
Weary after a week of pain
Strangely connected to my
Healed yet still broken jaw

Struggling a bit with morning
Light now arriving so early
That my body rebels when I
Try to sing it back to sleep

Heat is piling on this week
Heavy eyelids insist on falling
Down when I want them to
Stand up and fight for me

My attic chair beckons
High above the noise of
Everyday traffic and business
As usual in these strange times

I think it’s time for another
Little catnap from the ups and
Downs of this week perhaps
With my eyes closed snoozing

What a bizarre few weeks. Sharp pains in my left front side—triggered, it seemed, by lifting items or bending over and then standing up. It made sense to me.

Wrong! My doctor says the pain is triggered by tight muscles in my upper body. It seems they’re trying to protect me from the pain of chewing anything too hard or crunchy. Along with some muscles in my face, they’ve become stiff, inflamed and painful.

As of yesterday, I began exercises that seem to invite pain. Not in huge amounts, but as much as I can tolerate. This is followed by smearing my favorite inflammation remedy (arnica cream) on my back. I’ve also signed up for clinic sessions to work on my rib cage and scapula. Though I won’t be as loose and relaxed as Smudge or his distant cousin at the top, I can’t wait to get there.

That’s all for now. Thanks for listening! The attic beckons. Life is good.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 June 2019
Photo taken by DAFraser, 6 May 2019, Longwood Gardens

Exiting the scene | A waking dream

Wandering from room to room
Looking for clues
Uncertain where I am or why I’m here
And why no one answers my questions
As they scurry here and there
Setting up tables with no chairs
And no food I can eat and now….
Look at this!
They’re closing off doorways!
No exit?

A tall black man with a kind face
Follows me from room to room
Watching me though I don’t know why
He’s here and why other people
Are in this now awkward space
Made less grand by tacky rugs and
Faded wall hangings from a dusty
wannabe palace weary
of being fussed over
and shown to strangers

I decide to leave and find a quiet space
Where I can rest and be alone with myself

Suddenly a tall white woman with fancy clothes
A loud mouth and curly gray hair turns
She blocks my way out
Her face radiates scorn and entitlement

She scolds me for my bad manners
and unkempt clothing
Then looks beyond me at someone else
and nods ever so slightly without smiling

I turn to see the tall man with the kind face
Smiling as he walks toward me saying
This is a surprise party for me….

Whirling back toward the tall woman
Words spew out of my mouth:
How dare you plan a party that offers
No food I can eat and nowhere to sit
And rest my weary body and feet
To say nothing of commandeering my house
To do something on your own behalf
Not on mine!

I wake up and exit the scene shocked at my outburst
And wondering what this is about

This was my waking dream this morning. I’ll be working on this one for a while. Feel free to comment if you notice anything that stands out or raises questions to think about.

Actually, I’m relieved and thrilled I had this dream. Not because of its content, but because my dreams are returning after months of virtual silence. Not just snatches here and there, but dreams with detail, color and substance. It means I’m sleeping better, and that my body–though fading into the sunset–still has the capacity to surprise and delight me.

Yesterday was all about my regularly scheduled checkup with Dr. K, my wonderful integrative doctor. As always, I came away with a few things to work on. Nonetheless, I’m encouraged by the progress I’ve made, especially in the last several months. Not just in dealing with health issues, but in practicing a small handful of things that bring me joy and calm my heart no matter what its pace.

Happy dreaming!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 April 2019
Harold Gilman’s “Edwardian Interior” c. 1907; found at Tate.org.uk

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

Listening to the sound of my soul

Listening to the sound of my soul
I reach for the sky and deep into earth
Stretching strings and finding notes
I never thought I would hear or play
No overnight miracles promised
Just the overwhelming satisfaction
Of moving a fraction of an inch
Closer to the woman I now am
And the young girl I longed to be

Years pile on one after another
I pause for a slow deep breath –
Raising my head and sinking my feet
Down into the ground beneath me
I reach up and out one more time for
Improbable dreams already dancing
Within my soul by heart and on pages
Of this body of graceful ligaments
Listening for the sound of my soul

With thanks to Eugene Louis (Luigi) Faccuito for this quote: “To dance, put your hand on your heart and listen to the sound of your soul.” Luigi had a long career as a dancer, choreographer and dance teacher. Most of it against great odds, due to physical challenges and limitations.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 19 December 2018

My Mother’s Depression

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.  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
Book cover photo found at bookdepository.com

Moldy, moldy, moldy | Dear Friends

Dear Friends,

My body is moldy, my house is moldy, my mind is moldy and I’m not giving up!

I now have data from the first of three mold tests, with two tests to go. One of the two makes me laugh out loud every time I think about it. It’s a hair test for ‘heavy’ metals.

If you see me from time to time, you know how short my very fine (not heavy) hair is. Especially in the back. I like it that way.

So now this lab wants a measured (by weight) amount of hair from 5 to 6 places on my head, preferably from the back of my head. Each ‘strand’ should be 1 inch long! They’ll be lucky if I can find that much from the top of my head.

The worst moment will be after the deed is done and nothing can be glued back onto my head! As my trusted partner of more than 53 years, D will have the honor of clipping those precious hairs from my head. I don’t want to end up looking like a molting sheep.

The third test has to wait until I have the proper computer screen. It seems my old faithful isn’t young enough to calibrate within the limits of the vision test.

Then there was a visit with my cardiologist yesterday. Always stressful, no matter what’s going on with my heart. Especially with the added reality of almost constant work on Alzheimer-related testing. Though I don’t have it, my genes mean the risk factor rises with every year of my life. Mold is a big Alzheimer’s issue, best dealt with early and often.

I’m sleeping well most nights. Last night was an exception. I was surprised how weepy I was early this morning. I lay there thinking about my life and how difficult yet astonishingly wonderful it has been. And how many gifted, dedicated people I’ve had the privilege of working with. And how much I don’t want to leave this life just yet.

Despite all the health stuff, I turned a big corner last week. I don’t need to prove anything to anyone about myself or my worth. I already knew that in my mind. Last week my heart finally began getting and loving the message. I’ve already passed on bits and pieces here and there. It’s done, even as I keep growing like a persistent bit of mold–the good kind, of course!

Today I’m taking it easy. Practicing justice and mercy on behalf of my weary body and soul. Eager to keep moving ahead, yet no faster than my feet will take me on this damp, rainy day. The photo at the top is there just because I like it.

Happy Tuesday, and thanks for stopping by.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 November 2018
Photo taken by DAFraser, Hoyt Arboretum, Portland, Oregon, October 2012

At loose ends with myself

At loose ends with myself
Wandering up and down
The stairs of my distraction
Overturning this and that
Within my overactive mind
A clock ticks relentlessly
Counting down the corridors
Of tasks undone and words
Never recorded yet dissipating
Into a gray atmosphere silent
And secretive not yet menacing
Though the thought occurs
to me that I am being unraveled
strand by limp strand falling
to the floor of unknown reality

Unraveled. A word rich with possibilities. Terrifying and welcome all at the same time. Loss of control. Change of direction. Once-blind eyes coming out of misty half-truth and patched-together personas. Fragility unbound and hanging out there. Human. Vulnerable. Out of control in the best possible way.

All this and more went through my mind today. It isn’t just about getting older. It’s about getting real. Becoming a real rabbit, a real human being, a real baby. Not just a make-believe look-alike.

Here’s to more loose ends of the fruitful kind. Those that lead to something greater than you or I could ever become on our own.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 November 2018
Image of unraveling butterfly found at movestrongkbs.com

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