It seems an appropriate time for emotional excavation: over the past two months I have been working with a therapist. The world slowdown, dearth of stimulation, and immersion in the science of avoiding the virus gave me time for reflection. Time to visit memories. Recreate stories. And acknowledge loose ends and raw edges in my emotional health. As the spring threatened the imminent return to “normal,” I felt time speed up. The window to prepare for the post-Covid launch was closing. I needed to air my unsettlings rather than bury them.
After completing several pages of history, mainly to do with physical health, I came upon the page asking about my habits and general mental health. I sleep well. I eat lots of fruit, greens and whole grains. I exercise regularly. My medication list is short. I am in a long-term marriage. We have agreed to grow old and wrinkly together. I have grown children who are connected to me and visit often. I dearly love my two ill-behaved, very hairy dogs. I have a community rich with friends and shared activities. And I have two chickens that lay turquoise eggs. I’m clearly wasting her time.
The first session began with more of the same. Completing the family of origin picture, I can’t help but tell her about my Nana — Mabel. I remember her as tiny in stature, other than huge breasts that in her elder years rested on the waistband of her trousers (her word). She had a shock of curly white hair, piercing blue eyes, and a love of beautiful high-heeled shoes. She was a single mother and a career woman. A trailblazer out of necessity. My grandfather died at the age of 28. My mother was four months old. Raised by her grandparents and aunts, my mother told me that she used to pray that one of my grandmother’s dates would become her husband. So she could have a father.
The story is told that Mabel buried her young husband and carried on. A model of stoicism. Sometime in her late 40s, Mabel’s landlords found her ripping the wallpaper from the walls in her duplex. There were gremlins behind the drywall that she needed to eradicate. Days before she had been on a date with a banking executive. Working as a teller in a local branch, she convinced him of fraudulent activities happening under his watch. Two days later a city-wide bank audit was initiated. No criminal activities were uncovered. Mabel was retired early, with a full pension. She always said the bank treated her well. In my late teens, I learned from my Aunt Lillian that Mabel’s husband didn’t die of a heart attack — the family story. He took his own life. His nickname was Happy.
Recounting this tale was a segue into my family. Into the emotional toil I had already endured to forgive my mother for doing the best that she could. Which wasn’t enough. On to my brothers. One is already gone. Too young, too much alcohol, too broken. The other, once a stalwart figure in my life, now not so much. My airforce father — on time, productive, hard-edged man. And me. So much later in arrival than my brothers that I was an only (lonely) child from the age of 10. Except when we were building the fireplace and shingling the roof at the cottage. We were all congregated for projects.
Our agenda now toggles between what’s going on in my mind and my life right now, and how the past might play a part. No name-calling, blame or victim. Just a deeper understanding. With the option to adopt a new version. Or try a different approach. A workaround. I’m to take care of myself as I do for other people. I’m to consider idle time as a healing gift. I’m to create gentle disciplines to fulfill my intentions. Our deepest conversations happen when I don’t, won’t, can’t do what she asks of me.
I fail at confronting my father’s booming voice in my head — we need to finish the deck painting, then we can take it easy. Rest and self-care had to be earned. Or I hear the sarcasm in my mother’s accusation “Who do you think you are? The queen of Sheba?” Envisioning a selfish, entitled damsel on a velvet cushion awaiting a peeled grape, I rush into the kitchen to make french toast for the awakening weekend visitors. A favourite of mine that is forbidden due to an allergy. The hard-wired messages about value measured in dollars, starving creatives, and frivolous pastimes play in my brain as I grapple with sheets that need folding beside my pen and notebook. We land in a discussion of my willingness to break old habits, to shut down the narratives of the past, to be courageous. To be free to engage in life on my terms.
At least, that is my experience.