Family Pictures and 63 Years of Unexpressed Grief!
This was the only family picture I can ever remember taking. My parents divorced when I was 8. As a child my life consisted of hopping from different sides of the family for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. The reason for the divorce was obvious to me. My dad had been in mental hospitals on and off since I was born. They said he was paranoid, schizophrenic and had violent tendencies. I had witnessed his rage, anger, paranoia and was saddened by it. At times, I was frustrated and angry that I didn’t have a normal family or a normal father. As I grew up I just accepted Dad’s mental illness and frequent stays in the mental hospital for numerous shock treatments as something they do to ‘crazy people.’
He sang like an angel!
He wrote poetry and read poetry!
He was tender and would tear up at witnessing something sweet from his girls…
He made me feel safe when he was free from demons…
He was fun and funny!
I loved him dearly …
50 years have passed since that first family picture. My mother remarried after I left the house as the youngest daughter. My Dad settled into work then retirement on his own. He lived in his hometown blocks away from the place where he married my mom and within miles of where the source of his ‘insanity’ was buried.
This past weekend we came together for the second and last family photos. My mother has Alzheimers. My step father has passed away. There are grandchildren and great grandchildren. This weekend it was Mom, Dad, and their 4 girls. My Mom and Dad came together with peace, grace, love and smiles as a gift to their girls. This family picture was all that I’ve been longing for my whole life. Resolution! Acceptance! Forgiveness! Healing…with one click of our iPhone Camera.
And another thing happened. For me it was finding major understanding as to the source of my Dad’s diagnosis. Missing from this picture is my older brother Dennis (Denny) who died at the age of 10 weeks. My parents were about 23 yo when it happened. Those who knew my Dad say that things changed in my Dad (the poet and singer) when his son died in 1953. They called it paranoia and multiple personality disorder. His outbursts of rage and violence had to be restrained by handcuffs and straightjackets. He had to be locked up.
It is true, he was never the same after that. Who would be?
I had a personal breakthrough this weekend when the veil was taken off of my eyes and it is clear now that the divorce, violence, insecurity, anxiety, depression and feelings of inadequacy in my own life was a result of unacknowledged, unexpressed and buried tears. Grief was hugely instrumental in destroying my family and was at the root of my Dad’s so called ‘mental issues.’ I have left this past weekend with many cathartic tears over this. My sweet Daddy with the voice of an angel singing lullabye’s to us has always been a tender man with a deep love for his babies. The effects of unexpressed grief seeped into the babies born years after the death of my sweet older brother. The dark monster energy with no name that has made me feel lost at times, anxious, fearful and angry that my family was so messed up now has been clearly and obviously identified. I now am so relieved. The weight of the world is off of me as I have witnessed healing and peace in my family in the form of a picture.
I wish they had known how to help a couple in their early 20’s in 1953 to navigate through the messiness of this deep loss. Unexpressed, buried tears and feelings can wreak havoc on a family and destroy it.
In the past two years, I have witnessed one of my best friends (cousin) grieve the loss of their baby (check out their blog). The grieving process has seemed intense, long, arduous and heavy. There have been times that I have wanted to shout out “WHEN WILL THE SEASON OF GRIEF BE OVER?” as my friends get surges of happiness and joy only to dive back into the pit of sadness in their family (and the cycle repeats and repeats). I have different eyes now for them and a bigger heart. The alternative to expressing and opening up those feelings can mean destruction. My suggestion for families walking through grief is to cry, sing, write poems, laugh, bring flowers, paint pictures, celebrate birthdays and anniversaries and take lots of family pictures every year to document the different seasons of your lives. Do not forget the baby, the son, the daughter but celebrate your family even in the brokenness.
To my Mom and Dad: I am so sorry! If I would have been alive and old enough to help I would have given you my shoulder to cry on and I would have let you sleep in on the days that you had to rush out to tend to the farm. We would have built a team of people and experts who had been there to navigate this with you. I would have explained to your future children that Mommy and Daddy weren’t crazy or angry, just sad. I would remind everyone that it wasn’t their fault.
I’m so grateful for reconciliation, forgiveness and understanding. This picture will have a special place in my living room and will remain a reminder that a broken family can come together into a beautiful masterpiece even if the pieces were once shattered. I’m crying more cathartic tears but I needed to grieve too. I am at peace and so grateful for my beautiful family. What a miraculous picture!