On the Complicated and Sad Nature of Complex Grief and Trauma


img_2494    What if an entire family is mired in grief, loss, traumas? Who helps whom?  I have siblings who don’t speak to each other due to some ineffable words and actions and they openly do not like each other. They do not talk to each other.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as a close family member, my sister, faces a terminal diagnosis.  I have three siblings, and all three are disabled.  One is dying rather quickly and one is on hold with his cancer and vascular diseases.  The eldest seems to have stopped his at a certain point by watching his health and not smoking.

But how do I offer support when I find myself wrapped in a blanket shaking, watching cat videos to distract me, make me avoid the fact that I don’t know how to offer support, I don’t want to face her death, and we always had a tough complex relationship, having been pitted against each other as we grew up?  I am in shock, and I feel I need a lot of support now since my sister is dying.  We had not been close growing up, and in fact actively disliked each other, much because we were set against each other by our father.  While we didn’t know what he was doing, I see it now but my siblings do not.

As to my sister? She needs help, practical real help with doctors and groceries and living as well as the help with her multiple cancers.  Who will give it to her?  I try, and without my husband I could not be doing as much as I do.  I am leaning on him hard for moral support.

As I think about it, there is so much damage when a parent is abusive.  With trauma and abuse, the abusers often try to pit siblings against each other, perhaps to keep them from being strong together.  I am not sure.  I know in my family, my father spread vicious and evil words about my siblings to them about all of us; we were designed to not like or trust or help each other.  As a result, things happened out of this acrimony, and no one is speaking to anyone.  He would threaten to beat X if Y stood up for him/ her. Anything to pit us apart so we could not join together, trade stories, find strength with each other.

When children don’t have their basic needs met such as medical care, adequate food and shelter, love from parents, it’s bad.  Add abuse and terror onto these lacks, and children can be in survival mode for a long time.

As adults, this survival mode continues with my disabled siblings. I am convinced that their trauma and abuse made them more prone to sickness and their stressors contributed to unhealthy habits such as smoking with lung and oral cancer.  Smoking is soothing to them, a comfort, but smoking remains a significant factor in their cancers and heart and vascular diseases, lung diseases.

As adults, this survival mode continues in a sort of competition: be the most damaged and you get some attention, the most abused, the sickest.  Be jealous of any sickness in the others, because it might somehow diminish your pain.

 Of course this isn’t true; there is enough pain and grief to go around for all of us.

I’ve never been the strong one, the brave one, and I am not now. Still somehow I figured out that it was cruel and untrue, most of the perniciously malignant tales told about each other.  Rather than sticking together and helping each other, my siblings don’t speak to one another.

I am the true middle child, a peace keeper when I can be one, but I’m not sure there is enough time to have my siblings make peace with each other before sister dies.
Nor am I sure it is my job nor the right thing to do.  I am HSP, and I ponder things for a long time, too long to be decisive .  I don’t know the right thing to do.  I have a hard time forgetting or forgiving some awful things done to me, things that made me terrified of life.  I consider myself in a constant state of recovery from trauma.   (To learn more about being an HSP, go here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201609/9-common-traits-highly-sensitive-people. And this site as well is very good, and saved me from much anguish once I realized: I am off the charts Highly Sensitive, having every single trait: https://hsperson.com/.)

And does one forget and forgive awful things done by a sibling who is very sick?  A nice person would do so, and I do like to consider myself a good nice person. But I don’t always, for these wounds and the damage goes deep.

What I would like is grace under pressure, but that’s not my strong suit.  I am an HSP and don’t do well under pressure.  I’ve learned to not stand out if possible, for that can bring abuse.  I’ve learned to not make waves, not speak up, run and hide.

Run and hide.  That is what I would like to do. Run and hide.  I don’t want to be in the middle. I don’t want to be the savior.  I want this not to be at all, but wanting does not make it so.

So I deal with my grief in silence, knowing death is imminent—months, a year?  I deal with my grief alongside anger and depression, despair and more anger.

It’s complicated.

Changes, End of Terms–a Teacher’s Heart

img_2340    As this Fall term winds down at the college, I admit to feeling sad. Such big-hearted students! But it’s time for the term to end and all of us to move on, and I know that.   Still, as Robert Frost asks in “Reluctance”

Ah, when to the heart of man 
Was it ever less than a treason 
To go with the drift of things, 
To yield with a grace to reason, 
And bow and accept the end 
Of a love or a season?


Still, I have never yielded changes with grace but rather with sadness. As someone who has experienced a lot of trauma and loss, I believe that is normal.  Yet I know moving on is good, and I will embrace having some time to do more writing, more exercising, etc. until the spring term starts.

It’s still hard for THESE students won’t be in my class anymore, and I truly like them.  I am blessed to be in a career I have long loved; I love literacy and people.

Thanks for reading, and may all your changes be graceful ones.






Publications, Updated

9 wordle  Some of my poems, short stories, and nonfiction articles are included online and in print books and magazines published in the UK, Greece, New Zealand, and the United States.

“The Night is Our First Language,” poem, published in The Poetic Bond VIII print issue, November-December 2018.

“Click” and “They Left the Bed,” poetry published in The Poetic Bond VIII print issue, November-December 2018.

*”Moving Gravel” a short story at Crack the Spine – Themed Anthology Submissions – -“Routine”, print edition, 2018.

*”Walk With Child” at https://www.snapdragonjournal.com/  September 2018 Issue, “Here and Gone.”

*Coffin Bell Journal,2018, “Herstory,” a poem, published October  2018,https://coffinbell.com/herstory-lesson/

*Spillwords Press, 2018, a poem, “Stopped” by Laura Lee at Spillwords Press.

*Tuck Magazine, June 2018, a poem at Tuck Magazine.

*Tuck Magazine,  May 2018, a poem at Tuck Magazine.

* Southernmost Point Guest House (UK), poetry.

* Journal of Modern Poetry 21 (Volume 21), “Hell, No,” a poem at JOMP Volume 21 Dear Mr. President.

* Journal of Modern Poetry 20 (Volume 20), JOMP Volume 20 Poetry Writer’s Guide to the Galaxy.

* Journal of Modern Poetry 17 (Volume 17), JOMP Volume 17. 

* Magazine (New Zealand) , Raewyn Alexander, Publisher
Raewyn Alexander NZ

* Fiction in: http://staxtes.com/2003/
“Between the Sunlight and the Skipping” in English Wednesdays

*Poetry in: https://poetsagainstthewar.org/ Archives

* Illinois English Bulletin, a publication of the National Council of Teachers of English, nonfiction article about teaching in an alternative education program.

* Poetry in Marginalia, Elmhurst, IL

Nature and Grief

(From my phone)  And I’m here, still.

...I’m trying hard to keep it together. My husband is pulling me off the ceiling sometimes, as I’m finding I’m having chest pains and horrible urges to sob loudly.

When I see her, I will be cheerful and not dwell on the fact that she is most likely dying and going to die an awful death. But in my alone moments, I don’t handle things so well.

Took a short nature walk today and it really helped. Saw a flying squirrel and an ornate box turtle. The poor turtle was stuck between a rock and a hard place, literally, but got free. The flying squirrel froze when it saw a human. I tried to be still, to disturb it as little as possible.

The walking paths were snow-covered, which is surprising since it is still autumn.

Sitting at home, done with grading, waiting for night to fall. Flashes of red from outside. Three male and three female cardinals picking seeds up from the bush in back of the house. Those brief flashes of red are so beautiful and so life affirming somehow.

I stand up to look outside, and they fly away. They must have been able to sense my presence, perhaps see my shadow.

And it helps. And the sunset helps. And the trees and the birds and friends and loved ones help.

But it is impossible to inoculate yourself from grief. At least I think so, if you are a loving person, the loss of a loved one will hurt greatly.

About 13 to 14 years ago, my family and I suffered the loss of many. Some died from a freak set of accidents, some from cancer, some from old age, etc. But it was so many in a short period of time that I was truly overwhelmed and didn’t get a chance to really mourn the loss of most of them individually.

Of these nine losses, the loss of my best friend, Susan, my godmother, and my mother hurt the most. The others I feel bad that I have not mourned them individually; it was like a collective grief.

So I know I’m going to face a lot of pain, and if you love someone, that’s to be expected.

But not something to be looked forward to.

It’s the price of loving people and getting older, surely.

The cardinals have returned, cautiously picking out seeds from the bush behind the house.


And I’m here, still.


Lest I Forget

Lest I forget. Find beauty even in the quiet of a gloomy day. It’s there. Especially if love is there; I do not take anyone for granted.

The Email that Vanished and Good Bye to a Best Man

About five months ago, I started this blog and got an email associated with the blog. At first, I added that email to my phone and my computer at home. However, since I only got spam- like email there, I removed that email many many months ago.

However, tonight I saw an email from the daughter of one of my husband’s dear childhood friends. She informed us that her father had passed away, and asked to contact her. My husband asked me to reply as soon as possible, so I went into the next room and logged onto the computer.

However, her email was gone. Completely gone. Absolutely completely gone. Not in spam. Not in deleted. Not in trashed. Not an archive. Simply nowhere.

Since two of us saw the email, I knew I was not crazy. I knew we had actually seen it. And I remembered enough about the writer to be able to find her by her career and institution where she works.

And then I added back the email to my phone for my blog, the blog here. And there was her original email, notifying us of father’s death.

Her father had been the best man at our wedding. Her father was a very dear dear dear friend to my husband, who is a quiet and gentle soul, and appreciated his friendship very much.

There is no way I should’ve seen the original email at all. It is not surprising that it disappeared; rather, it is surprising that I saw at all since it was not on my phone, that email, nor on my computer.

Sometimes glitches with technology can work out. I’m not going to make it anymore than that.

However, we had been wondering what happened to his dear friends since he didn’t reply anymore to our texts or emails.

And now we know. Now we can mourn him, and send our love out into the universe and to his family.

Sometimes glitches can actually help us.

Thanks for reading this, and I hope all the little glitches in your life help you.

Changing Seasons Type of Day

img_2303  Trying this blog entry from my cell phone–that’s risky! I am outside and just do not want to go INSIDE and log onto a computer… 

What an odd day, a day mixed with joy and sadness. 630 AM—still dark—road closed ten seconds before the intersection where I turn to get to work and a truck started pouring hot tar in two lanes. Semi ahead of me kept knocking down tree branches (too big for the small amount of the lane still open) and construction cones. I had to get out of the car in the dark to move the cones, but finally a construction worker let me through.

11 hours of work (part time !) Some middle school kids on the college campus today. So cute. So loud. Sipping their pumpkin spice sugared drinks waiting for the presentation they were here for.

Some students asked if I could teach them next term.

Drove home in the dark.

Sad loved one’s health news.

Two more poetry rejections.

Glad I’m part time. This won’t happen often. To work in the dark. Home in the dark.

Glad for modern medicine which may help family member.

And frogs! I’m sitting outside in the dark with my trusty tennis racquet (you know… in case of critters) and with a spotlight hearing LOUD FROGS. It’s that warm now!?!??!! Wind blowing off so many remaining leaves.

Love hearing those frogs. Thought I’d not hear them for months, until spring.

Truly a changing season type of day.

(Picture taken with my little camera phone while sitting in the dark, soft rain… back flashlight light on the bush. I’m such an adventurer.)

Thanks for reading; may your seasonal changing days change well, with kindness and hope.