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?

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/53085/reluctance

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

At First, I Walked by (essay from several years ago)

From several years ago, when I was an exhausted nearly broken full-time teacher at a large high school, I wrote this:

I WALKED BY…AT FIRST…

And I did walk by him, started to go to my car. I did not want to stop. It had been a rough, rough day…. and tomorrow I had a tough formal observation tomorrow, really tough observer.

But I had to go back. No, no, I thought. We are here for the kids. A moral duty. I KNOW something’s not right.

He had the look I’ve seen on kids who are homeless, waiting for the taxis to take them to their shelters.

Taxi companies don’t like these fares, for the suburban companies don’t get return trips from the shelters and they don’t get tips from the kids.

And yes, he’d been waiting for FIVE HOURS for a taxi. Soon, he would HAVE to leave the building , since it would be locked up.

Fortunately, I found the late security person, a wonderful SK I must thank more tomorrow. She and I found the taxi company, insisted they come soon as they had a contract with the school, then waited until the taxi came and RK got in the taxi. Don’t let him out of our sight, I told SK. I was afraid he’d be dumped on the corner.

And I cried. Ashamed I’d not wanted to stop. Annoyed I was so tired. Ashamed that I’d become one of those teachers, who put the stuff we teach above the kids.

As we are told, it’s our job to teach, not be social workers.

But who would look out for the RK’s of the school if not us? He had no other way home. He looked exhausted, dirty, and hungry.

As to the latter? Good thing I had treats in my car for the creative writing club that meets later this week.

RK took “home” brownies and protein bars.

He shook my hand as he left, made him write down my name and SK’s name, reminded him we wanted him in school and apologized for adults letting him down.

His eyes, his eyes, his eyes. The eyes of an old man who’d seen too much in a 15 year old boy.

 *  *  *

The next day, RK was not in school.  I never saw him again. Did I imagine this entire incident? No, I had called my boss for help, not knowing what to do. I wasn’t leaving a 15 year old alone.  My boss called her boss who offered to come sit with RK, and I said no, I’m already here, I am sitting with SK from security, and I will stay until he gets his ride.

I’m sorry, RK, I almost forgot why I’m a teacher. I’m ashamed of what I’ve become. What we have sometimes become as we stress over and with corporate “reforms” that put test scores and “growth” scores on the backs of teachers who need to support their families, too and sometimes pit student needs vs. teacher needs to survive.

It’s not right. It’s not good enough.  My reaction was not good enough.

I nearly kept on walking.

Please read this blog by an amazing writer. What she has to say is important, for our actions can have long-term ramifications, things we never even think about.

“Are you dreaming?” my life coach asks me every time I see her, pen poised above her yellow legal pad. I shake my head no, yet that isn’t quite truthful. I can’t find words to describe the flutter of wings against my face or the vision of joining a collective flock evading a net. [It’s […]

via Bird by Bird: Grant Writing Research for Chicago Audubon Society — Laura Jean Bailey

Publications, updated

9 wordle  Some of my poems, short stories, and nonfiction articles are included in 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 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