...The bond that links your true family is not one of blood,
but of respect and joy in each other's life. Rarely do members of one
family grow up under the same roof...
Richard Bach, Illusions
No one in my father's family became involved in our lives when our
mother died. When my father was 15, his father had died suddenly, and
perhaps the death of our mother reminded them or brought them back to
their own uncomfortable memories or trauma.
Many females at 16 years of age might have been able to take enough
responsibility in the household to compensate for the loss of a
parent. However, I already had serious problems with functioning
myself and had tried to commit suicide some months prior to my
mother's death. I didn't ever receive effective treatment.
My maternal grandfather seemed devastated by my mother's death at age
37 of a burst aneurism. It was too much for him so soon after my
grandmother's death 5 years previously - she had died as a result of
complications due to rheumatoid arthritis after a lengthy
A year and a bit after our mother's death, he remarried. At first
(when he and his future wife were dating) we were invited to visit
more frequently than in the past, but eventually the pattern changed.
We used to spend all Christmas Eves with our grandfather, but we
ended up usually going for the Christmas dinner during the last
weekend of November - in order to accommodate his wife's busy
schedule. Her family took priority. I wondered if there was something
embarrassing about us, and I think there were definitely some value
and tradition differences that were fairly major, but eventually I
wondered if it was about me specifically.
My mother's sister and her husband had no children of their own, and
this was probably by choice. Not only did they not become involved in
our lives, but my mother's sister appeared to take out her unresolved
issues with her sister, as well as her grief, on me in irrational
(contradictory) ways on the few occasions we did see them.
My mother's family provides an example of Catholics who do things
'just for show' or 'just in case'. I was christened, and I had
godparents. My godparents were my mother's cousins. One was a
neurosurgeon, and the other was a female Vice Principal of a school.
They never became involved in my life, even after my mother died,
although they had sworn at my baptism to provide spiritual guidance.
They both came to the funeral. When I think about what they could
have done to provide spiritual guidance (without much effort or
expense) it is this: they could have provided a suggested reading
I heard this secondhand, so I am not completely sure it is accurate,
but apparently my godfather had said that if my mother had been taken
to a better hospital, she could have been saved. (She died of a burst
aneurism in a small Northern Ontario hospital - he was a Toronto
Both sides of the family continued to celebrate Christmas and to
remember birthdays, but everyday life was something they never had to
know about. We all learned to present an acceptable face on family
occasions. For me, this became increasingly difficult, and I started
making up excuses for lack of attendance. I felt a lot of guilt, and
was always torn over the decision, making and unmaking it many times,
with no decision bringing a true relief.
My mother had probably moved with her boyfriend far away to Northern
Ontario for the following reasons: to get away from my father, in
large part so that he would have less involvement with us; to escape
the shame of divorce (her Catholic family did not believe in divorce,
and had disapproved of my father); and eventually it was to take a
big risk in order to have a chance at a better future.
If she could have sought more support within her own family, would
she have died at 37? If she had an aneurism that she had been born
with, is it possible that she could have been effectively treated if
we had still been living near Toronto?
It could be argued that her pride and spite were motivations that cut
us off to some extent from some of the experiences and resources we
might have had access to. However, I think that the four of us all
remember the Northern Ontario summer resort with a particular
nostalgia. Of all the places we have ever lived, I think that the
four of us would agree that it was the one that had the greatest
impact and of which we had the fondest memories. I think she made a
brave alternative choice.
But my mother told me that her boyfriend would kill her and/or
her children if she left him. A very large number of people had
attended my mother's funeral. Apparently there wasn't anyone (family
member or friend) who had attended who could have helped her or who
she thought she could turn to.
There is a kind of open-mindedness and acceptance in the family that
is admirable, but at times this represents not questioning things
that by rights should be questioned, and at times it disguises the
underlying reality of judgment and prejudice, and a secret
The family code resulted in me spending many guilty and shameful
years trying to conceal the truth about my life, without me moving
forward or getting help. I was not questioned about my patterns. I
was mostly ignored, and for many years I spent a lot of time alone. I
was completely conscious. I did not use alcohol - I had no way of
getting it, and at that time food was my drug of choice.
The immediate family had an accepting attitude: my past academic
achievements weren't important - I could have a different path in
life. People judge things in ways they are brainwashed to judge. None
of this was verbalized - it was just accepted that there was
something 'off' with me and I could no longer be expected to live up
to normal standards. In a way, I wonder if it was a relief. There was
intense unconscious sibling rivalry, and if there was one less in the
competition for love and praise, the others could shine. Also, my
accomplishments may have been a lot to live up to, and when I failed,
it took some of the pressure off the others.
'good of the species' is really about each selfish individual within
a species trying to gain more benefit than it could alone, or if it
did not contribute to the group...
Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene
Maybe I eventually came to the conclusion that I could gain more
benefit alone than I could with the aid of my family, and that in
fact there were attitudes present within the family that diminished
I don't want to be homeless. I don't think that I will be; I have
changed my ideas about what is likely for me. But it does say
something that as much as I wouldn't want to be homeless, I'd find it
a lot more difficult to stay even temporarily with any member of my
biological family. The reason is that they don't really know me and
understand my situation. I would feel an incredible panic that would
be utterly unendurable to ever go back to a situation in which I
can't be myself because my self is not acceptable or because our
paths have diverged so extremely that I cannot fit their ideas of
what is appropriate or positive considering the
They did lots of things for which they deserve credit: they attended
family therapy once a month for almost a year, my father made efforts
to invite everyone to Sunday dinner and to provide (when we were
adults) a dinner for birthdays and holidays as well, for a while he
took me grocery shopping, one brother created an unusual homemade
gift to tell me he loved me, my sister offered a couple of times to
let me stay with her, and did make a few efforts to express her
feelings for me. When we were still all living together, the other
brother had one xmas gone out and bought Santa presents for all of
us, complete with handwritten individual notes.
When people observe us interact as a family, I think they notice
something different from any stereotype of a family. Or it used to be
this way. I think some people envied us, or thought us closer than
normal families. I think my siblings and I became closer through my
mother's death. We experienced a range of things that not all
families experience. There is a kind of humour and affection that is
noticeable, and not typical.
Many people comment about how isolating depression or various
disorders can be, but maybe it is compounded or even to some extent
caused by the actual situation - leaving behind old contacts and not
having activities that provide replacements. And as you accumulate
unusual experiences, it may be harder to find friends in new places
who can relate to you and vice versa. Normal relationships may feel
Mostly as I got older I saw my siblings only a few times a year,
although we lived in the same city. There were a couple of periods in
which we socialized more, but very often much drinking was involved.
When I stopped all that, the few invitations I got a year eventually
I made efforts to change the mistaken ideas they had about me, but
was always left with the feeling that I had overstepped or been
inappropriate - and I was sometimes told that I had been
I can only imagine the pressure my father was under when my mother
died. But I felt pressure too. I felt a massive emotional
responsibility for my siblings which may have had something to do
with being the oldest. I was most of the time the oldest person in
the house. Our father always had a social life during the many years
when I did not.
Over the years I learned that love encompassed a wide range of
emotions: our father could say he loved us, and it could be true that
he wanted us to be happy, but it could also be true that he himself
would be happier if he didn't have to support us, if we had never
been born. He could say that he never knew what he'd find when he
came home - he made me feel bad about his thinking I'd commit suicide -
but he had already in his mind accepted that I would kill myself
before I turned 21, and even seemed to want it, and then to be
disappointed when I did not kill myself. At other times he admitted
fantasies and delusions/hallucinations about having killed us all, he
told his second wife in front of all of us that he didn't really want
to marry her, he could call my sister 'stupid cunt' at Christmas with
no apology after the fact, and these contradictions were part of
human nature that a person who was truly human would understand did
not deny the validity of love.
His love was a heavy weight for me to carry, and I think it had
something to do with me making his worst nightmare seem likely - that
he would never get rid of me.
If from ages 16-23 I made a few efforts, two serious ones, to get
myself together, the fact is that the majority of those years I was
completely abandoned to my own devices. That is an extremely long
time not to notice the pattern of isolating myself, not to notice my
lack of resources in a practical sense, and to not care that I wasn't
doing anything with my potential. To think I was just not really
'there', not really aware or conscious. Am I supposed to say it had
no impact on my development and my future functioning?
I don't expect strangers to comment on my thoughts, or my life
experiences. I hope that they will, and I appreciate it when someone
makes the effort. The thing is that strangers can't be expected to
take an interest in my life or struggles. I would think, however,
that a 'family' would.
The words I write are a contrast and might be construed as out of
touch with reality by family members, who perpetuated the same myths
every time we got together, told the same stories, and kept alive
an image of the family that was far from complete.
Am I supposed to say that it doesn't matter that the family traumas
resulted in me not knowing what it's like not to live in panic, let
alone how to be happy? Am I supposed to say that all the years of
isolation, agony and guilt don't matter? The stigma, social rejection
and judgment others have shown me all my life? Using the family's
philosophy, that's exactly what I did. I took it all on myself, I
thought it was no one's fault but mine.
I was not from birth the most wimpish and complaining child of the
lot. I was an extremely responsible child. I was shy, but I faced my
fears. In all of the new schools I attended, I was faced with some
bullying, but I never processed it that way - I just accepted that I
had to stand up to it in every new school once again. I never
received help with my homework. During all the many moves (of both
parents), I stayed awake and helping until the end, capable of
lifting and moving things at a rate that was pretty phenomenal for a
kid my age. I had to put up with some pretty erratic behaviour on the
part of both parents, the tension of their violence toward each
other, as well as their spite and immaturity. I was often praised for
being more rational than the adults were able to be. I was never
allowed to feel sorry for myself for having ichthyosis (referred to
even by my father as 'alligator skin') - other people had much more
serious problems in life.
Even when I was 30 and my siblings were in their 20s, if we had gone
out dancing in a group, no one could have pointed to me in that group
and said I was the one who looked like I lacked spirit or energy. Why
was it so easy for them to believe that I had given up, that I didn't
try as hard as they did in life? That I had always been 'off' and
that it was no big deal that I didn't leave the house for years at a
time? Why would my 'spirit' be likely to apply to dancing
When I was 30, my brothers, their girlfriends, my boyfriend and I all
joined a coed baseball team. Out of all of us, I was the only one to
win awards voted by the team: I was voted Most Improved Player and
female MVP. I don't even like baseball, hadn't played it before and
never enjoyed playing it. But I applied myself as well as I knew how
to learn it, and I practised. I showed up to every practice and every
game. Initially, I had been told it was 'just for fun'. But when I
showed up for practice, initially some members of the team had
laughed out loud at me, and some had grumbled or expressed
...What is it that you contain? The dead. Time. Light patterns of
millennia opening in your gut. Every minute, in each of you, a few
million potassium atoms succumb to radioactive decay. The energy that
powers these tiny atomic events has been locked inside potassium
atoms ever since a star-sized bomb exploded nothing into being.
Potassium, like uranium and radium, is a long-lived radioactive
nuclear waste of the supernova bang that accounts for you. Your first
parent was a star...
Jeanette Winterson, Weight
I think a lot of parents have superstitious beliefs about having
children and how they will turn out. Without any evidence of
brilliance or exceptional talent in the family, the children are seen
as potentially very special, evidence of the latent talents of one or
both parents that have waited until now to manifest themselves in the
Although my father's success occurred as an adult, I think he was
under the impression that a child showed promise only if it could do
a thing immediately. I think this is part of my issue regarding
scrutiny. When it came to the things he did, I don't think he ever
had to practice anything long-term or learn all there was to know -
he was a 'natural' at the things he tried, and bursts of discipline
were sporadic and not sustained. I may have inherited this pattern,
without having as much talent in some areas, or the same areas.
However, when I think of things that are related to physical fitness,
I doubt he could have ever put in the efforts I have to achieve
considerably less impressive results.
...Moments of kindness and reconciliation are worth having, even if
the parting has to come sooner or later...
Alice Munro, The Progress of Love
I had contact with family members in late 2008. There had been a
legal obligation to contact me with regards to a will, and through
that something of a correspondence began.
The correspondences couldn't continue. We went through a speeded up
version of the past. There was no chance for anyone to really see or
accept who I am, for us to really get to know each other. The old
memes are still in effect. I have spent years questioning them and
making my escape from those memes. However, I can't fail to recognize
that my siblings are intelligent, unusual, and decent human beings.
I can see the gulf between us is one of extreme variation in
experience - and without complex communication, it can't be
I can't go back to old roles. I can't say the appropriate things at
birthdays and holidays. I can't ask the acceptable questions and
stick to the acceptable topics. I can't be a part of it. It is not
acceptable to me. A family should be about more than acceptability
and structure. If you can't turn to your family when you are in
desperate straits, if no one is truly interested in getting to know
anyone else except at arm's length, in appropriate terms and
measures, I can't see how that's a family. If people are so laidback
that they think it's natural that one member has lived in a state of
distress for more than 20 years, and wouldn't notice if that member
died, what's the point of a family vs absolute strangers?
My years of isolation and social stigma have not been spent in
blissful unconsciousness, nor a compensatory fantasy world. I have
been painfully conscious throughout, perceptive, thinking, and at
least early on judging myself by the same standards as my family and
the society in which I lived.
I am not seeking to place blame, as it is clear to me that there was
an unusual amount and extremeness of events for all concerned. What
is necessary to me is awareness. I want to be seen, I want my life
and experience to be seen and not brushed off or misinterpreted.
Years ago I could have returned, seeking validation and approval
through listing my marriage, my travel, etc. I wanted to avoid doing
that because I had changed, and wanted the focus to be on the real,
not the pretended. The way that things sound
, and the
of 'accomplishment' do not necessarily give an accurate
picture. It is not that I am incapable of appreciating the good
things in my life, it is that I don't want to share them in a false
way, and I don't want to give the false impression that in the
overall sense that I believe I have achieved self-realization when I
have not. I am still limping along. I can't participate in
communication that doesn't challenge the old familial or societal
beliefs. I can't remain silent, and if it seems that my stance is
unacceptable, inappropriate or out of touch with reality, I must
continue to seek a new family.
When it comes to my massive personal website, family members have
never commented on the majority of what has been expressed. Possums
seem to be 'acceptable' territory, but I do not want to be seen as a
Possum Lady in order to fit in. I do not see the rest of what I
express as nonsensical blather. I know it is a bad idea to assume
anything, but I can't help but wonder if the reason no one will
comment on the darker or more complex material is that I am seen as
out of touch with reality, someone who is overly negative, who blows
things out of proportion, or as someone who is pretending to be more
helpless than she is out of some character flaw.
Whether it's to question me further, point out mistakes in accuracy,
or offer some kind of sign that what I have said and who I am has
, no 'family' member has attempted to communicate
with me regarding what I have expressed. I don't know for sure if
this is related to stigma associated with what I have expressed, if
it is about anger toward or judgment of me, if it is about modern
passivity in communication or a traditional familial communication
style where it is an unspoken rule that things remain on the
surface/adhere to a certain level of 'appropriateness'.
I have done what I can to express myself. I cannot approach others
through their frameworks, as I am shut out in the early stages by
consideration of appropriateness; judgment; stigma; and lack of a
Positive Plan of Action For My Future. I am not OK, and maybe it is
not OK to say that and expect 'family' to care.
I think the main issue is that I spent so many years composed of
months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, seconds, in which I was existing
in isolation and agony. How can I expect others who have not gone
through it to know what that means or what the repercussions are?
That does not mean that I don't realize the others have also had to
face extreme and much higher than average stress over the years. But
the way I developed changed the way I processed every bit of
information coming in. I was not the same as when we were all
influenced by similar ideas and experiences. In any relationship, my
requirements had changed, and I could never go back. Even with an
acknowledgement that I am 'seen', I am not sure that there are
'authentic' ways of building relationships from where I
I don't think I know everything, and I don't think I have seen every
side to the story. However, my point is that increased communication
is essential for me to feel like a 'real' member of a family. I have
been flailing around trying to figure out how to get it for a long
time, and can only bend so far. I believe that the members of my
biological family are capable of understanding far more than they
appear to or are willing to articulate at present, although it may be
that there are evolutionary reasons for us to explore our individual
niches to the exclusion of the others.
See also: alternative