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Many immigrants do not talk about what they endured back home. They were fleeing that world, and when they left they didn’t want to talk about it because there had been pain and heartbreak. ~ Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns

Altar To My Ancestors

Zayde means grandfather in Yiddish. The few stories I’ve been able to collect of my grandfathers’ fathers are scant, but tender, and the stories about the women in my family are even more limited. The photograph above is Zayde Rosenthal who became a widower and married a second wife.

I always felt strangely drawn to this photograph. Perhaps it was because my Aunt Paulie, Zayde’s eldest daughter sat at her antique Singer sewing machine and told me stories of the old country and their desire to come to America. Aunt Paulie came first and worked in sweatshops in lower Manhattan to bring her siblings to America. Although I felt riveted by the stories, I never detected any grief or had any idea about the trauma they carried, that is, until it all began to unfold for me last week.

During the White Awake: Before We Were White workshop (link in Part One), we were encouraged to create an altar to our ancestors. The purpose was to reestablish a connection that had likely been broken. Each individual’s journey during this process was unique, many perilous, requiring much courage to face the trauma that caused the disconnection, but all were deeply meaningful, filling in the dots of our ancestral stories that would have been lost forever. I was surprised how satisfying it felt to construct my altar and feel a yearning to learn more about my ancestors’ history.

Upon noticing my newly arranged altar, someone told me that I looked like my maternal great grandfather! Until then, I had never considered there might be a resemblance or even a direct bloodline between the strangers in the odd photograph that graced my grandparents’ central room in their meager Bronx apartment during the late 1950s. I was told that they had never left Eastern Europe – that they never made it on the boat. To have a photograph taken during that time period in Lithuania, they had to stand for a long exposure requiring a brace to hold their heads still. As I look at it now, almost 60 years later, I imagine the photograph being rolled up and carefully tucked under someone’s arm on a crowded boat traveling across the Atlantic seas. It was then framed in the Bronx, not far from Ellis Island, the port where my grandfather immigrated alone, at seven years of age!

All my grandparents traveled on the boat when they were very young. Three were immigrants from small villages (shtetls) in Lithuania. (Fiddler on the Roof, based on the stories by Shalom Aleichem, was an authentic representation of the villages in Eastern Europe.) My father’s generation was not allowed to talk about the old country, We are Americans, they were quickly corrected. They fled pogroms, the draft, and growing malignant anti-Semitism.

As I researched the villages where my grandparents’ were born, I knew that thirty years later 95% of the Jews would be exterminated in Lithuania. When I imagined what could possibly motivate a mother to put her 7-10 year old child, a mere baby, on a boat never to be seen again… it was just unimaginable to me. What horror did they predict, and why?

From what I read, it wasn’t just the Nazis that murdered Jews around World War II, but many Lithuanian collaborators joined in. It could be one’s barber, dentist, or middle school crush. Could these parents in the late 1800s possibly have predicted what would happen to their children thirty years later? What level of hatred must they have endured to anticipate this? And what did they imagine if they did not let them go? Were my grandparents actually protecting us by trying to erase their past and only look forward to their new American identity?

The workshop led us through ancestral recovery, a necessary step for the collective shift in consciousness mentioned in Part One. If we go back far enough into our family histories, we can find our own indigenous roots. When I began to scrape together the few stories of my family from the old country, I uncovered lumberers and herbalists. I also uncovered the roots of social activism born out of religious and cultural persecution that I would label as heroism. With courage and perseverance, we can restore the disconnection caused by ancestral trauma, and begin to restore wholeness to our family lineage.

I don’t mean to make this sound easy. I became so physically ill during this process that I wondered if I would survive the grief that was nearly more than this frail body could process. I did survive this life-changing process and will describe more in the Aftermath and Integration in my final essay of this series.

Here is a gift to begin the integration process. I must express a disclaimer that jumping into forgiveness before processing all of the grief, in whatever form it needs to be expressed, only leads to more suffering. With Heart and Help I trust I will eventually be able to lighten my heaviness. But, hey, there are no guarantees, are there? In my essays, I like to be on the other side of the Great Grief and speak from there. Not true this time.

For now, I will grieve and rage and sick it out, as I have done with all unimaginable catastrophes I’ve experienced through life. And I will await the shift that is ultimately sure to come and turn my worldview inside out, as most multigenerational or family constellation work does. And if I and my helpers have what it takes, healing will happen seven generations backward and forward.

Kuan Yin’s Prayer for the Abuser

To those who withhold refuge,
I cradle you in safety at the core of my Being.
To those that cause a child to cry out,
I grant you the freedom to express your own choked agony.
To those that inflict terror,
I remind you that you shine with the purity of a thousand suns.
To those who would confine, suppress, or deny,
I offer the limitless expanse of the sky.
To those who need to cut, slash, or burn,
I remind you of the invincibility of Spring.
To those who cling and grasp,
I promise more abundance than you could ever hold onto.
To those who vent their rage on small children,
I return to you your deepest innocence.
To those who must frighten into submission,
I hold you in the bosom of your original mother.
To those who cause agony to others,
I give the gift of free flowing tears.
To those that deny another’s right to be,
I remind you that the angels sang
in celebration of you on the day of your birth.
To those who see only division and separateness,
I remind you that a part is born only by bisecting a whole.
For those who have forgotten
the tender mercy of a mother’s embrace,
I send a gentle breeze to caress your brow.
To those who still feel somehow incomplete,
I offer the perfect sanctity of this very moment.

~Vera de Chalambert

 

 

 

These bonds with our children as we are their mothers in this lifetime – like Joni Mitchell sings,’permanent tattoos’ that transmit all kinds of emotional knowing and intuitions about their states-of-being into our bodies. Indelible. Love’s burning mark. – Kathryn Brady

When I was 26, I had an explosion of love like none I’d experienced in my life thus far – the birth of my first baby. It was in that moment, feeling that degree of love, that I realized just how much more vulnerable I was in life. I never really had very much to lose, that is, before now.

It’s a girl. I had always been a tomboy, didn’t really know much about girlie things. The men in my family and the men in my mother’s family had been the nurturers. My mother was the matriarch and wielded much power, impetuously. I think she missed the nurturance gene.

I never wore pink. Intuitively, I knew that Casey was a pink baby. She was completely uninterested in the trucks, farm animals, and backhoes I bought her. Casey loved to wear pink and always had a baby doll in her arms. Early on she made it clear that she was an Artist, drawing hearts and balloons on everything she created. As a conscientious mother, it was always a mad dash to provide blank pages on her two-sided easel so her creativity could flow endlessly. Entering her room, I never knew what creations I was going to encounter. A happy being, Casey woke up  every morning singing in her crib until I heard, “Ma!” and my day began.

She was around two years old when I became a single mom and it was Casey and me for the next few years. I rode her to pre-school on my bicycle down St. Charles Avenue and sometimes we rode the streetcar. When I took a few classes in premed, she watched me study, enjoyed my wonder, and was curious about the dead frog in the refrigerator that was my homework.

Casey was strong-willed and she came by it honestly, if you know me. She is a third-generation fiercely strong woman and, also, just the medicine my mother needed to open her heart. There was a special bond between them that I was not a part of, but for which I am deeply grateful.

At four, my creative daughter built a clay Madonna that her art teacher found exceptional. Unfortunately, it exploded in the kiln. Nevertheless, my daughter was to be an artist no matter what else she did with her life.

Any program, class, or experience I could find to enrich her life, we participated in. I loved to watch her blossom and blossom she did. Aside from being creative, Casey was very grounded and sure of herself. In preschool she asked for the telephone list of her Montessori school and began calling each student and telling them to bring a particular fruit to school the next day. Casey was planning a fruit salad! During these moments, I watched her in awe and happily became her assistant.

Another quality noticeable at a young age was Casey’s selfless generosity, an attribute she shared with my mother. When Casey was three, she grabbed a plastic bag and started putting her stuffed animals into it. When I asked her what she was doing her reply was, “I’m giving these to the ‘crooked childs.’ ”  This quality has been consistent throughout her life.

We used to draw letters on each other’s back at bedtime and excitedly guess what each other drew. It was a sweet, simple time. There was strong connection and love between us that has surrounded us throughout our lives.

Conflict arose in her fourth year when my second husband joined our family. Casey is fiercely loyal and I suspect this quality was triggered, perhaps including Sid felt like a breach of trust on some level. Also, Casey had to share me for the first time which made for a bumpy transition.

We eventually found a new equilibrium, that is, until a few years later when I dropped into a sense of unworthiness and self-loathing almost too painful to contain. I later recognized this as a replay of the postpartum depression I’d experienced for a few hours after her birth.

Dense feelings have a cumulative effect throughout our lives and once they become unbearable, the earlier triggers may have been long forgotten. They often become lumped into general malaise and even medicated. Our culture doesn’t value vulnerability and the trauma that contributes to it. Postpartum depression is usually minimized to just hormonal when it is more like a lantern illuminating, or bookmarking, an issue to be explored at a later date. Embracing a greater vision of the cumulative, multigenerational nature of trauma is essential if we are to heal the depression and fear so prevalent in our culture. As we are learning with epigenetics, trauma can skip one or two generations and really wreak havoc making it more difficult to connect the dots. The mother/daughter dyad can provide a mirroring aspect that is often unconscious and evocative. Understanding our ancestry can be a helpful part of the tremendous healing process that is possible with same gender dyads. Some useful tools are Holotropic Breathwork and Family Constellation Therapy.

Being a psychotherapist and open to different healing modalities, I was able to bring much of my angst to consciousness which became grist for the mill for myself and my children. Fortunately, I raised children who are self-aware and communicative. My parents, having been first generation American born with parents who immigrated from the traumas of Eastern Europe and grew up in the Great Depression, made physical survival a possibility for our lineage. I try to make it a practice with my children to give gratitude to their grandparents. Our ancestors’ lives were not easy.

Considering this, my mother was likely struggling with similar feelings I had, but she struggled silently and with fewer internal resources.

Aside from family issues, Casey and I share something unseen. There is an energy between us that is beyond our limited, concrete understanding. For example, when Casey was very young she, her father, and I swam with the manatees in Florida. We had not spoken of manatees for decades. When she was in France, twenty years later, she was walking into their rental telling Kumar about the manatees when she checked her mail and I sent her a Valentine’s Day card with the name of a manatee I had adopted in her name!

After the disability became physically apparent, Casey agreed to go to Brazil with me for a couple of weeks to see John of God. I wrote more specifically about this profound journey in my book and in a previous blog essay, click here. After two weeks in Abadiania, Brazil sharing one of the most profound experiences of my life, I saw more of how Casey and I were similar, than different. I experienced the deep soul connection between us and how it had profoundly affected the community of others seeking healing and their loved ones. The collective grief was palpable as we left on the bus.

It’s as if something was activated during that trip that I had not been aware of previously. When I was preparing my book for publication, Casey told me she wanted to go to the river in Louisiana where they grew up and do an art project with photography and that’s where she would speak to me after I left my body. I titled my book Meet Me By the River – A Woman’s Healing Journey after asking her permission. For the book, click here.

I could have written a full-length novel about my relationship with my daughter. When she feels joy, I feel joy; when she feels pain, I feel pain, like permanent tattoos. I can also feel my mother’s compassion and joy at watching Casey grow and learn, after all, that’s what we are here for. It is not an easy curriculum here in human bodies. It is the PhD level of evolution and my mother, now in Spirit, knows that. As I can now feel my mother’s unbridled love, I hope my children will feel mine and when we are together again, we will all have a celebration.

VISIT THE BLOG FOR MY NEW BOOK – MEET ME BY THE RIVER!

Go to - http://www.meetmebytheriver.net -- And you can find it on Amazon!
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. more...

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