Trigger warning: sexism
On my father’s side it means remembering the humanity in the divinity as we hold our former matriarch and patriarch up on pedestals. Their memory is so revered that their children don’t dare talk about how human their parents actually were. We all revere them as the ultimate parents and grandparents with hardly a word that isn’t of praise. In many ways they deserve the praise. In others they deserve to be questioned for their choices, though those mostly seem to be created out of the time during which they themselves lived. When men and women had specific rolls that they fulfilled in relationships and families.
My Grandmere and Grandpere met during WWII, in DC, while they both worked for the Navy. Him as a Captain, her as a secretary. They both dated around as was common for the times. My Grandmere told me that she was pretty sure that he was the one but that he wasn’t so sure. When she was proposed to by another man that she spent time with she asked for some time to consider and went immediately to see my Grandpere. She told him of the proposal and asked him what he thought she should do. According to them both he offered her his congratulations. He felt that he wasn’t ready for marriage and that if she was, she should marry the man who asked her. Six months later he sought her out and expressed his regret as well as asking her to reconsider her engagement and marry him instead. Grandmere immediately changed her allegiance and broke off her now former engagement and accepting Grandpere’s proposal.
That is part of our family legacy. True love prevailed!
Yet true love also had lots of challenges. Adhering to society rules as to the roles of men and women as well as married couples wasn’t always easy. Upon their marriage my Grandmere received a binder of what was expected as the wife of a Navy Captain. There were a lot of rules.
During my father’s upbringing my Grandmere might wear pants during the day but would change into a skirt or dress before her husband returned home from work. She always had to be prepared to entertain at a moment’s notice if necessary, at his request. Things that seem so odd to us today.
About ten years ago, a couple of years before she passed, I was talking to my Grandmere about some of my childhood memories of visits with her and Grandpere. I mentioned something about her car and going on outings with her. She said, “what car? I never owned a car.” That was a surprise to me. When I told her which one, she said, “oh, that was Grandpere’s second car. I was allowed to use it for household tasks and at his discretion. He could tell me at any point that it wasn’t available for me to use.” That was at such odds with what was in my mind. I had never thought that there would be such restrictions within their relationship.
They had agreements about who was responsible for certain things in life. He took care of all the finances such as paying bills and paying taxes as he was the bread winner. She was allotted an allowance that she could spend at her discretion, yet he might ask her why she spent it the way she did. There was a household fund that she could use for groceries and such. He would pay cash for every car he ever bought. When he bought one, he would put money aside in a savings account for when the next one was needed. He was very fiscally conscious having lived through the depression and several wars.
It wasn’t until the last ten years or so of their lives that I learned about all the things that had been allocated role wise based on sex. Around then was when my Grandpere’s macular degeneration came into play and created a need for change. As time went on after that their roles changed a bit more year by year until she was gone.
My Grandmere told me that in all of their 65 years together that there were really only a few times in which she considered even the idea of divorce. The first was when they were selling the old blueberry farm in New Hampshire. It had been their summer home since the children were little. My Grandpere had taken photos of before and after the sale and the changes the new owners made to the house. He was an engineer and liked things to be linear. She said that he took over every room and surface in the house with laying out the photos, five sets of each image. He was creating memento photo albums for them and the four kids. A reminder of all the good times that the farmhouse had brought into their lives. She told me that they had more arguments during that time than any other in their marriage as he took over her domain. That was around the time of their 40th anniversary.
The other times were all in the last 5 years of their lives together as he was more and more debilitated by his eyesight and the limitations brought about by the dialysis, he received three times a week. He became grumpier with the challenges he faced. Grandpere still wanted things done the same old ways that he had done them. He kept trying to tell her what to do, even how to write checks – which of course she had been writing for decades. My Grandmere was as gracious as she could be about such things but sometimes just had to tell him off so that she could get things done. She told me that she felt that was the hardest of times. As they both aged and neither was fully up to the tasks, he had to rely on her more and more every year. It was uncomfortable for both of them, but I think that they learned to appreciate one another in new ways during that time.
I know that he appreciated her in ways he didn’t expect after she passed as well. He was in some ways happy to do things, make decisions, and create a living space that he didn’t have to consult her on once she was gone and he had to move into an assisted living space. I also know that he missed having her around every day between then and the day he left his body.
The legacy of a deep, soul love yet the dichotomy of being a man and a woman and their roles in the world so different from the roles we prescribe to today is a perspective that makes me think about what I am creating in all of my relationships in life. I appreciate that my Grandmere and Grandpere were able to be so honest with me about their lives. I honor and revere them as good examples and yet there are things that I would not want to replicate in my relationships. The standard they set it high, but I am looking for something higher while honoring the humanity in my beloveds.
Trigger warning: abuse, trauma, addiction, sexual abuse
Isn’t that what we all hope to leave once our time is done? What does that mean?
In my family it means creating a legacy that discontinues the perpetuation of abuse and negativity on one side of the family. On the other side it means not picturing our predecessors only as angels every day.
On my mother’s side of the family there are generations of mental, emotional, physical and sexual abuse. We are successfully bringing that to an end with my generation and with the next including my niece and nephew. It also means that of four siblings only one has decided to have children with the rest of us abstaining. I always thought that would be me, a mama of lots of lovely children. That isn’t what I have manifested this lifetime. My younger brother and sister have chosen to not have children consciously. We are healing our personal relationships with our parents and with one another. It isn’t easy. It takes honesty and it takes time. Some of us put more time into it than others. We all know though that we don’t want to carry forward what the past created. It is our hope that we create something new that hasn’t been seen in this family for a very long time if ever.
My mother and her siblings spent years not talking about their past. It was too hard. The trauma runs so deep that there is no easy solution for dealing with it. Traditional therapy was never enough. It was also a trigger and would bring about bouts of extreme depression and mania. Each of the siblings became addicts in their own ways trying to self-medicate and forget the things that were unforgettable. In order to not have memories spring up and catch them unawares they also spent years not talking to one another. The abuse was so prevalent that it was easy to perpetuate it on the children without them even realizing. My mother has always said, be grateful that you haven’t experienced what I have. Anything that you have gone through is nothing in comparison to what I have lived through.
I was also the catalyst for stopping the abuse. Even as a young child I was outspoken and said no, not me. You can’t do that to me. I had to say it a lot. A couple of years ago my mother verbally attacked me saying, you weren’t raped so it doesn’t count. Always competing for who had it the worst is her outlook. I have always chosen to not compete in any form. To her it doesn’t matter that I spent most of my childhood being abused by the men she brought into our lives, her brother, her husbands. It took me a long time to learn how to not walk in the world as a victim. Her family was used to training the next victim.
Each of my siblings, her children, have experienced abuse in some form or another. Mostly mental and emotional. I am the only one who was sexually abused. I spent a lot of my childhood standing up for us. Trying to teach them to not be victims and finding their inner strengths as well.
That doesn’t always make me the most popular sibling. I am always asking them to be the best, most heartfelt self that they can be. I am always asking for honesty and realness in all interactions. That isn’t always easy either.
The hope is that for my niece and nephew that they will have good relationships with each of us. That they will have fond memories of family rather than memories of monsters not imagined.
Leaving a legacy means leaving things behind that will continue. May we continue to do our work and leave less work for them to do when their time comes.