Longing to Heal Family in our Differences and Distances by Elisabeth S.

I can’t even save myself. I make bad decisions just like the ones in the world – bombs and wars and the industrial revolution with chains of greed. But then I go on and, without even knowing any part of the story, want to save others. Carol Christ’s post yesterday on family brought me to tears and I instantly had to write a poem. First, it made me think of the memory of my own mother telling me to wait for my dad to get a belt and him saying it will hurt him more than it does me.

Except when I told my mom this, she said it never happened, so I don’t understand the vivid visions in my head that I have being little and hearing the words and being afraid, and why the sight of men’s work belts make me nauseous. I believe my mother. It doesn’t matter either way, I guess, now, in my opinion about my own experience. What I mean by that is I don’t want to do the work of being suspicious or thinking about what is at stake at the moment. I’m okay with shelving it. Let’s just say I believe and don’t feel like trying to explain those visions. I suppose everyone will have an opinion about my decision and perspective on this. Feel free to voice it if it makes you feel better.

Mother Daughter by Tanya Grabkova

But then what I cried about was more just the impetus of thinking back to childhood and my own lack. I wrote the poem below. I think about how deeply ingrained it is within women to want to save, to heal, to nourish, to protect and make things better, to not care that much who is to blame, but wanting to mother. Okay, I said ‘women’ and not ‘some women’ but that’s the way I want to write that sentence. Back to my initial sentence, I know the sentiment of saving others can be presumptuous. Not all mothers know best. I certainly don’t think I do, the mother that I am in a sense, not actually having children. If we all just take care of ourselves, perhaps everything will be okay. So I will continue to figure out how to do that and just leave my other instincts unresolved in reality by putting it in this poem to rest.

Time Machine

Back into my childhood,
crawl through low tunnels,
curl up like a fetus
to backflip through a vortex,
arriving in the musty,
canned corn and meatloaf,
nappy brown carpet and Sears catalogs
livingroom. Save you.

Momma, take more black & whites,
burgeoning photographer,
class or two at the college—
Dad would pay. You could submit
the photos to a local magazine,
get a part-time job as journalist:
you’re a good writer too.
Got that creative gene.

Daddy, you’re my favorite.
Working so hard at the auto shop.
Teach me about Chevrolets.
Always thought you were a doctor,
the way you could diagnose
an engine. Superhero too, chasing
after the Honda in the Bed, Bath & Beyond
parking lot. For some reason.

You both need saving now,
but I’m not sure I can give enough
pats on the back or praise
to boost your confidence, get you to move.
Back then, it was so raw.
Now you have God, the harsh one,
and that is my fault too.
I don’t know how to repair anything

after damage is done,
and that’s when it needs to happen.
As an adult I thought
you should have been different for me;
I guess I was still too young to see
that is not really how it works.
I was still able to grasp a key,
but is the lock too damaged for a good fit?

Or are you not the one trapped
because how can we really know if joy
lurks in the corners of a house not ours?
Why do we realize too late
the power of our could-be kindnesses,
words which lose ability to contain air,
an element needed to communicate
across generations and seas?

I love the support and freedom in the lyrics of ‘Promise’, the mother-daughter duet between Tori Amos and Natashya: “I promise not to say that you told me so. . . I’m getting too old. . . to judge you.” What wonderful sacred relationships between daughters and mothers there could be if we could find the dialogue of friendliness, friends, supporting and advising without agenda or control. Many of us discover relationships with others that are so positive, that are spiritual in that they give freedom while also love, prompting us to grow and then we wish for those elements in all our relationships.

I just hope for harmony and perhaps the best that I can hope for is that everyone can heal their own hurts. I’m still figuring out how to take care of myself and not depend on others, hoping one day to have the resources to help others in material and tangible ways. My parents are still alive, and I want them to live their best lives. But is that just a distraction from figuring out my own situation (basically figuring out what I should do or where I should go next)? The feelings surrounding our relationship to our families can be complicated. I would like to hear from you who also have complicated feelings about and relationships with children or parents. How do you create healing spaces and paths forward?

Elisabeth S., Ph.D., graduated in 2014 from the Women and Religion program at Claremont Graduate University. She teaches online composition from a contemplative pedagogical approach at Oklahoma State University. Currently, she is working on a chapbook of poetry and traveling through Iceland, Spain, and Ireland. 

Author: Elisabeth S.

Elisabeth S. has a Ph.D. in Religion from Claremont Graduate University (2014) and teaches philosophy, literature, creative writing and composition in Colorado.

12 thoughts on “Longing to Heal Family in our Differences and Distances by Elisabeth S.”

  1. Oh Lache, it does matter. Believe yourself. This is the path to healing. If you remember it, most likely it did happen. This is how we have been harmed, not only by violence but also by the denial that it was violence. This is how we learn not to trust ourselves, our feelings, our bodily knowing.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Oh Lache, Carol is so right. It does matter. BELIEVE WHAT YOU KNOW. Please do not do what I did. By betraying my mind/body self I lost access to both and in the process and ended up living my life in total confusion.

      I also think the denial of violence follows us to the grave if we do not own it.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. Thank you for your comment, Carol. I wish we could be brought up in families where there were lessons on just that: trusting ourselves/feelings/bodily knowing.


  2. First, thank you for sharing the powerful, poignant poem. I am very moved.

    In my natal family, one of my siblings recovered memories of early childhood incest. I do not have direct memories myself but have many corroborating memories that indicate it likely happened to me, too. My parents absolutely denied anything ever happened and joined the False Memory Society. I was the one closest to my sibling and in closest proximity to my parents. I was raising young children, one of whom was the same age as my sibling would have been. I took steps to protect my children (no more overnights, no more one on one w/my father), which outraged my parents, and at the same time did what I could not to cut them off from grandparents they loved. It was excruciating. I maintained a strained, careful, emotionally distant relationship with my parents, which only shifted at the time of their deaths when some inexplicable, nonverbal healing took place.

    My children are now in their mid-thirties. Their memories of their childhood often do not match mine. I sometimes wonder what I would do if I were confronted in the way my parents were. I hope, no, I don’t just hope, I commit to being open to their memories even if I don’t remember what they do. I want to say. Tell me more, if you’re willing. Tell me what you need from me now.

    Healing is ongoing. The best way of healing for me was/is writing. Quite a while after their death, I wrote a novel and then a sequel with characters based on my parents. I wrote from their points of view, and learned many things about them and myself in the process.

    Your poem is so beautiful and true, Lache. Right on, write on!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I honor your sharing and thank you so much for your kind words. They inspire me. It is indeed excruciatingly hard to make those decisions that go against the internalized “shoulds” and that might face disappointment or other more intense repercussions, decisions like distancing ourselves from people of family ties, creating boundaries so we can reflect, protect, heal. It takes a lot of bravery and honesty. Who knows what harm you saved your children from? I love the idea of simply asking questions, making the conversation feel safe for the young person bringing it up in their courage, offering what they need. That is beautiful. Thank you for planting such seeds of peace and communication and strength in the world.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Very touching poem. Mothers sure aren’t perfect, no more than fathers are, no more than we are when we become mothers and fathers. I think lots of damage is done, both intentional and unintentional. And, yes, believe in yourself.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. “How do you create healing spaces and paths forward?” Regards your question, thanks Lache S., it seems to me we create healing paths always by way of forgiveness, and including self-forgiveness.

    Regards the mother-daughter painting. I read a review somewhere online regarding Tanya Grabkova’s figures without faces. The reviewer explained that “no one has a face which allows for a completely non-judgmental viewing.” So I looked again at Grabkova’s painting here, and I wondered how it was that we know so easily which is the mom and which one the daughter — I guess because of the difference in height and the mother “tending to” or “watching over” the daughter. I also found another interesting painting online by Grabkova, and it was a lady again without a face, but this time holding a cat in her arms and the cat with a very lovable cat face indeed.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This is such a lovely point. You are right – it is possible to see either/both the mother or/and daughter in each figure. This works perfectly with my poem as my intention was to express a desire to be a mothering figure even when I was young. Thank you so much for this insight.


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