Sunday, February 19, 2012

Grief ritual

I was surprised by how much crying I ended up doing for my family. It was different than I expected. I thought I was just here to mourn how shitty I was treated. Instead I cried and cried and cried for whatever happened to my different family members to cause them to become the kind of people who related to me the way they did. I cried for generations of women who were beaten and raped and told they had no alternative. They were to be seen and not heard.

I cried because my father must have felt a great deal of pain otherwise he wouldn't have hurt so many people.  I had all these thoughts about his parents, whom I never knew.  What did they do to him as a child?  How did he come to believe that female family members were fair game for raping?  What I was told this weekend is each person has to deal with his/her family's grief going back seven generations and what you incur in this life is going to be passed on for another seven generations.  Nieces/nephews count as the next generation.  Even if you don't have children your karma can still be sent on for many many years.

I cried because my sister is so buried under her grief that she turned around and hurt her children.
Anger is healing and inspirational but if you don't do something with the strength it gives you then you risk burning up in the flames.  Today I found a place in my heart for forgiveness for Denise.  I didn't know I could do that.  It took me emotionally hitting a place where I realized just how young she was when she had different experiences.

According to the Burkina Faso traditions when someone in your life dies they hand you their spirit and life so that you can accomplish more.  They had you, essentially, a golden ticket.  Suicides are viewed as a very powerful way to grant someone else your spirit (my understanding is) because the person escaped great torment and brought that with them.  They learned a lot in the process and once they are on the other side of death they can help you better.

My maternal grandmother committed suicide when my mother was pregnant with me.  My paternal grandmother (whom I am named after) died a year or two before my mother had me.  My paternal grandfather died days before my brother Tommy was born.  If Orlando gave Tommy his spirit, maybe that is part of why Tommy was so fucked up.  My maternal grandfather died right before I saw my father for the last time at Jimmy's wedding.  Right before I told my mother that she had to take my father back to court in order to get him to stop touching me.

When I was pregnant with Shanna I lost both my adopted step-mom and my beloved therapist to heroin overdoses.  Two of the women who were among my strongest bulwarks against the dark.  They both suffered terribly from their internal wounds.  They were not strong enough to fight back their demons.

Unsurprisingly I arrived at a place of deep anger.  I raged and screamed and started beating my fists on the floor.  The wonderful facilitator had someone put a thick cushion in front of me.  I would have cheerfully broken my hands to pieces and enjoyed the pain manifestation.  Later in the day I told her, "I have a habit of beating my hands and head against concrete floors.  I really appreciate that you put a pillow in front of me."

Apparently the concept of "personal problems" simply doesn't exist there.  All problems are problems of the community because if the community was functioning appropriately the problems wouldn't exist.  That made me ache with loneliness for someone who would give a shit about me enough to want to actually help me with my problems.  Not just one person at a time.  I wish all of Lakeside School would gather to hold me in their arms and let me sob out my grief.  I wish they had stepped in and helped me instead of saying that people like me don't exist.

It was interesting to think through the level of responsibility I bear for my niece and nephew being sexually assaulted.  My brother thinks it is enough for our generation to shut up and not talk about the incest.  He thinks that will solve everything.  Thus our grief has already passed on to the next generation.  We did not take responsibility for speaking the truth about our family.  Silence is consent.  If my understanding of the situation is correct I was twenty-one when my sister assaulted her children and taught them how to give one another oral sex.  I was living with Tom.  I had almost no contact with my family because I was not ready to have boundaries with them.  I never stepped in on behalf of the kids.  I didn't tell my story to a CPS agent and get a case opened on my sister early enough.  There were already many HUGE issues at the time that would have been enough to open a case.  Maybe if Denise was being watched more closely it never would have happened.

I don't know.  I will never know.

This is where the twelve step programs tell me to trust God.  Well fuck God.  No.  I need to let go of responsibility for my family.  I can't save them.  I don't have enough of me to give to fill their malicious black hole of need and pain.  They have to find a way out of that on their own.  If they come find me I don't know what I will do.  I know one thing I will avoid doing: letting them develop a relationship with my kids.  My family doesn't get to know my kids until my kids are adults.  If they want to go meet my family then I will drive them over.  I probably won't get out of the car... but I'll drive.

I grieved for my mother.  I thought about the smell of her and the comfort of her body against mine as we slept together.  I thought about how very much I love my mother.  I idealize my mother.  It always felt like she was so talented and wonderful and beautiful.  I will never compare favorably to my mother.  Only at the same time I think she was a weak monster.  I think she was shaped by ignorance and pain.  You don't know what you don't know, right?  I don't think I can remain angry with my mother much longer.  I need to treat her as already dead.  I need to move forward in my heart to a place where I no longer desire vengeance.  She is my mother.  She carried me in her body.  She nursed me.  When I think of what my daughters mean to me I know that my mother is already in enough pain.  She has lost three of her children, two to desertion.  I'm sure she has already had enough pain this lifetime.

I feel so very sad for my mother.  She was abused and abandoned over and over.  Her father was a nightmare and he loathed her for the divorce.  Vernon treated my mother like a cockroach because she had committed the sin of leaving her husband.  Who cares what he does to the kids, right?  My mother was feisty and mouthy; her Mennonite family thought she should be taken down a few pegs!  See how it starts?  My mother used to come home from school as a child and have to clean up from her mother attempting suicide.  Again.  My grandparents fostered and my mother was never allowed to have any special toys because it "just wouldn't be fair" to the transient kids.  My mother was never given a Christmas stocking until I was sixteen and I did it.

And I abandoned her too.  Even though I was supposed to be her comfort.  Even though I was the good and affectionate child.  I was so fucking devoted to my mother.  I can't allow her to teach my children that they are small and bad and dirty and they deserve to be tortured.  I just can't.  I was given a sacred trust by the God I don't believe in to guard these people.  My only job is to raise them in safety and love. I'm not about to fuck up my job.  Not even for someone I have loved more than life.

I think the oddest part of today was the random older woman who came to join us.  She likes to just sit in on these rituals.  She was probably in her seventies with broken, missing, and severely discolored teeth.  Her hair was a mixture of grey and white and tied into a braid that went down past her waist.  She had these interestingly bright blue eyes.  She mostly looked like she was in a stupor, honestly.  But if you sat down next to her and looked at her with respect she came alive.

I don't want to give her name because that seems like a violation.  We talked about anger.  She looked at me and she said, "Oh you are vibrating with anger."  It was less obvious than usual, in my opinion, so it was both startling and not.  I felt calm and like I was in a decent mood.  Given how much time I do spend vibrating with anger I just said, "Yes."  I can't possibly remember the exact wording, today has been intense and full of new impressions, but she looked at me hard and didn't ask any questions.  She volunteered these...I don't want to say fortune cookie comments.  It's kind of like reading the Horoscope.  Any of them can fit, right?  Only it wasn't really that.  It felt more like she was getting something from me.  God I feel stupid talking about this woo woo shit.  She asked me if I was selected for suffering every time.  It's not unreasonable for me to feel like that.  It's not true any more, but it was.  She told me very clearly that I escaped because of my anger but now I have to be careful.  She said that there are two emotional experiences that come up completely unprompted: anger and laughter.  She said that I have gotten what I needed from the anger and now I need to laugh.

I cried.  I cried and screamed and ranted about how much I fucking hate them and I am glad they are dead.  I told him that if he wasn't dead I would kill him myself.  I beat the floor until my arm muscles spasmed too hard for me to lift them.  I beat my head against the floor until I could no longer lift it from the pillow.  I lay there and cried and cried and cried for hours lying on my side because I could no longer hold my neck up because I was in so much pain.  People took turns sitting with me to share my grief.  Mostly I could not allow them to touch me.  There were a few specific women who felt safe.  Two.  I let them hug me.

I feel humiliated admitting that in this room full of people having this emotionally bonding experience I could let two of them (three including the instructor) touch me.  I feel like this distance that I keep is part of my problem.  I feel so deeply unable to allow people to love me.  I don't know how.  That is not a skill I possess.

I understood more about my mother today.  I understand her scars and wounds in ways I didn't before.  I love my mother so much.  I understand her frustrations and anger and thinly veiled violence.  I understand why she was so frantic when I misbehaved where anyone could see.  She told me constantly that people would judge her by my behavior so I had to not fuck up.  I understand now why she reacted the way she did to my unpredictability.  Now I have children.  Now I can think about her father and what kind of man he was.  Now I can think about Aunt Vonnie's dark references to terrible beatings.

Sobonfu's tradition believes that diabetes exists in the body because of an inability to truly accept love.  Vernon, my mom's father, is the oldest example of that in my family I know.  And I know he treated his daughters like shit.  He never wanted their love; he wanted their silence and obedience.  Sound familiar? I was actually rarely hit as a child and my mother took flack from fucking everyone over that.  The whole family was ready to line up and beat me with sticks.  I have never been popular.  My mother defended me.  My mother defended me in so many ways.  She saw me as being like her.  We were both the youngest girl in families of four.  We were both raised very separately from our siblings.  We both felt like the black sheep.

This life business is complicated.  I'm starting to understand how compassion is part of this story for me.  I can have compassion for my mother and her suffering and still refrain from contact because my children deserve a childhood safe from people who are likely to tell them things they shouldn't be told.  My mother likes to blame people for things that aren't their fault.  My children will not learn shaming from their family.  They'll have to figure that out somewhere else.

Part of my ancestral grief is our constant desire to have shit roll down hill.  We always pass the blame for our emotions.  I wouldn't feel this way if you hadn't made me.  This is why I cannot be angry with Calli for throwing my wallet out of the wagon.  She is a baby.  She is not responsible.  I should have bloody well put my wallet somewhere secure.  When Shanna is doing stuff that drives me nuts I have to ask her why she is doing something before I react.  9/10 times she has a reason that is totally fucking logical from her world view.  Her world view and mine have only occasional overlaps, mostly things like "ice cream is good" though we strongly disagree on how often we should eat it.

I don't want to teach my children that they are to blame for my rage.  They aren't.  I have a whole god damn book about why I feel so much rage.  I have no ability in any way to blame my emotional reactions on them.  That's kind of annoying, actually.  In my family I was the scapegoat.  I wonder who is getting it now?  Someone is at the bottom, I promise you.

And I spent a long time today thinking about everything I know about my ancestors.  I can see why my family culminated in the horror that was my life.  I can have compassion for all of our respective victim-hoods.  I would kind of like to stop being a victim and they don't even know enough to understand that it is an option.  That's quite sad.  Today I thought hard about the fact that my sister wouldn't do the things she does if she was in less pain.  She was harshly rejected by two fathers.  Her birth father rejected her before birth and then again in her thirties.  He didn't want to know her despite the fact that she did 100% of the effort to have a relationship.  I pity her.

If the book pays off the editor I'm going to use that personal money to go to another grief ritual.  I have many more layers.  But I feel like I can perceive the beginnings of a path.  I think I am going to find somewhere to put an altar in my house.

It's time to wash this grief off and go to bed.  I need to scrub my entire body with salt first.