I’m fascinated with the concept found in some Native American traditions that we have the ability to heal our entire lineage in both directions. It’s easy to see how the choices we make right now can affect our family’s future but the idea that we are connected by energy to the past and are therefore healing those who came before us as we heal ourselves…well, that’s just the coolest idea ever.
To be honest, I don’t know if it really works that way or not. Maybe our ability to heal our lineage isn’t literal. Perhaps healing comes when we change our perspective of the past.
I once showed up on my mother’s doorstep with the purpose of asking all the questions I had always been afraid to ask. I was determined to get answers but as I listened to her talk about our family, I came to a realization. In my post, The Big Answers, I wrote about it like this:
“My life began to look more like a tapestry where each individual thread had little significance on its own and where the beauty could only be seen by stepping back from it. Interestingly, it was the back side, with all its bumpy nubs and poking threads that was the most revealing of all.”
I’ve always thought of a family history as a linear recording of past events but one day I got an idea to deconstruct the timeline. What I found were hidden connections, common struggles, pivotal moments and everyday choices.
Here’s a glimpse into my family’s bumpy nubs and poking threads:
Larissa, age zero – Larissa never takes a breath outside of her mother’s body. In the days before ultrasounds and fetal monitoring, she is stillborn with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. Following the protocol of the day, the doctor insists that her mother remain in the hospital for 10 days, forcing her to miss Larissa’s funeral.
Salvatore, age 4 – Salvatore travels with his family from Sicily to America on a steamer ship. Their first home is a cold water flat in Little Italy, New York City. The steamer chest that carried their belongings is their dining room table. The sweatshops and factories of New York City provide their livelihood.
David, age 7 – Born as quickly as nature would allow after the death of his sister, David is the only one in his family without a middle name. His mother is afraid to name him until she knows he will survive. As a form of consolation she tells him, “You are the only one we had on purpose.”
Antonio, age 13 – Antonio and his 11-year-old sister, Elvira, travel alone from Sicily on a the Napolitan Prince to America with nothing but their dreams and each other. He finds out years later that his future wife came to America on the exact same ship the year before he did.
Sheryl, age 15 – She’s pregnant and marries her sweetheart. She gives birth to her first daughter and in many ways, they raise each other.
Paul, age 20 – After joining the Air Force and being stationed across the country, he meets and marries a beautiful woman, 5 years his senior and the mother of 4 young children. While their marriage is not destined to succeed, they bring a child into the world who has grit and determination (and likes to dabble in writing and family history).
Antoinette, age 21 – On her wedding day, she wears the dress that her soon-to-be mother-in-law stitches by hand, making magic out of the limited fabric that is available during wartime. As the years pass, she often tells her husband that she married him for his mother.
Alice, age 22 – Looking for an expedient way to find a husband, Alice answers an advertisement in the local newspaper. She begins to correspond with Roy and soon the two are married. They are married 63 years and raise 5 children.
Karen, age 24 – On her wedding day, she slips the handmade dress over her head. It’s a perfect fit. It is first worn 50 years earlier by her grandmother. It is a charmed dress, summoning forth 88 years of marriage and counting.
Dolores, age 29 – She is terrified of the voices telling her to hurt her children. She refuses to give in to the taunts and threats so she pushes her children into a closet and guards the door with her life. “I will not kill my children,” she declares. She wins this battle but ultimately surrenders custody of them because she knows the war will be long.
Matthew, age 37 – He is sure he never wants children until she convinces him otherwise. Now, as he stands in the hospital room with the tiny, bundled body of his son in his arms, he tells his wife, “I’m not sure how life is going to change, but I have no doubt that it’s going to.”
Cathy, age 54 – When her 2nd granddaughter is born, everyone comments on how the baby looks just like her. She beams with pride even though they don’t share an ounce of blood. She is her step-daughter’s bonus mom and she wears the title of Grandmother with honor and great joy.
Antoinette, age 61 – Her granddaughter gives her a “Grandmother Remembers” book to fill out as a way for her to record their family history. In the section titled The Future she writes:
“My wish for the future is seeing my family grow in love and harmony. I would love to see you grow into a young woman doing the thing you love best – whether it’s a career or marriage – why not both? Karen, always remember your family. We love you through the rough times (which we all have) and the good times (may you have many!). Always know that I am here for you. That’s what Grandmothers are for.”
Sheryl, age 72 – Her firstborn is gone. She has suffered many losses – a daughter during childbirth, the father of her children to suicide, her father, her mother, two brothers. But losing her daughter is like losing her baby, sister and best friend all at once.
Salvatore, age 89 – He lies in the hospital bed surrounded by his wife of 68 years, his children and his grandchildren. He takes his last breaths. He is a war hero and a successful businessman but his finest achievement is the love in this room.
Antoinette, age 91 – When told what day it is, she replies, “Yea, who the f*ck cares.”
Looking at our family history can be both painful and nostalgic. There are ordinary events intertwined with profound moments. History repeats itself and cycles fail to be broken. Miracles are threaded with mysteries and if we’re lucky, grace abounds. The tapestry endures.
I met Karen via Christy over a year ago. And, as Christy predicted, we became soul sisters almost immediately. She is the true epitome of a “heart teller” and she teaches me every day how to be a better mom, wife, friend, daughter, and person.
I have no doubt that Karen’s story stirred your soul like it did mine. Thank you to Karen from the bumpy nubbed bottom of my heart.
I’m Karen Perry and I live in sunny Arizona with my husband, two kids and two dogs. I write at MendedMusings.com about family, God, my recovery from sexual abuse and the desire that most of us have to be authentic in all aspects of our lives. You can visit me on my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter @MendedMusings. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Red Thread Diaries: An invisible thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but will never break. ~~Ancient Chinese Proverb
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