People who equate truth with fact are missing the point.


My parents, my sister, Jacob, Abbie, and I got on a plane in Albuquerque and went to Seattle for Christmas, 1997. We needed to say goodbye to my grandma, my mom’s mom.

The journey there was epic. I’ll have to remember to tell you that story. My family? Not the world’s best travelers.

We got to my grandparents’ huge house and the air there was heavy. With death, yes, but mostly with thousands of unspoken hurts, resentments, and unhealed wounds that had festered and grown rank.

And me? I was so grateful that I was removed from it all, that my little branch of this family, the one that moved away to Albuquerque way back in 1976, had broken the cycle. We were in recovery. We had moved past all that.

We just about broke our own damn arms, patting ourselves on the back.

I come by my self-congratulatory tendencies honestly, at least. Jorene always told me, “The minute you think that you’re humble? You aren’t anymore.”

That’s one thing in my favor: I don’t ever think that I’m humble.

So there we were, in that giant house, the air heavy with festering wounds and my grandpa never turned off Fox News’s coverage of the Clinton impeachment trial.

Most of my mom’s side of the family is conservative to the 10th degree while the rest of us are liberal to the 10th degree. We’re ahead of the times; we were deeply polarized even before W. took office.

Moderation? It’s just not something that any of us do.

See? Something else I come by honestly

My mom has long been the black sheep in her family, cast as the villain in many family stories. We arrived, and in the stark relief that imminent death creates, all of the family’s roles were on display.

Probably the vats of coffee we were all drinking didn’t help. In my family? Coffee is like a religion, or maybe a sickness, and everyone over the age of about 12 drinks it, and lots of it. Strong, black, cup after cup after cup, all day long. In that house, for the week we were there? My grandpa, two aunts, one uncle, both of my parents, my sister, me, and my two eldest cousins were drinking coffee. We kept three coffeemakers going all day, everyday.

My grandma was in her bedroom, dying of colon cancer. When a person who is the central figure in many people’s wounded psyches is dying? There are bound to be some strange and conflicted feelings.

And the whole time, my sister and my parents and I were congratulating ourselves about how great it was that we had all moved on, that our little part of the family would never be fractured like this. That the death watch for my parents would not be this awkward, this strained, with so many unspoken wounds in the air.

Not us. Never us.

The minute I think I’ve done something right, that I am in any way better than, superior to, or above anything or anyone, the universe pounds me into the ground like the insignificant, ordinary nail that I am.

When my family fractured, it was that much more painful because it was a surprise. Not us, we wailed, it can’t happen to us! We’re special! We broke the cycle! We moved past all that!

I found out how it feels to play the role of villain in the family stories.

Do you ever feel like the universe is teaching you the same lessons over and over and over again? And then you think you’ve learned the lesson for good, but oops! here we go again, because you continually act like an ass in all the same ways?

Yeah, me, too. I hate that.

My grandparents did the best they could. In some ways, their best was absolutely shitty. In some other ways, it was awesome. In most ways, it was completely ordinary.

The same goes for my parents.

The same goes for me.

When my grandma hugged me for what we both knew was the last time, she spoke into my ear, “You’ll have a wonderful life. I want you to have a wonderful life and be happy.”

And my only thought was, “Interesting. I had no idea you cared about me at all.”

I would love for my children to come sit at my deathbed unburdened by old wounds, but I know better than to expect that. I work, instead, to make sure that they come to my deathbed knowing that I love them, that I care about them beyond my ability to express that caring.

I am doing the best that I can, and I love them deeply.

And coffee. At my deathbed, there should be lots of coffee.

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20 comments to Burdened

  • you know, i am absolutely sick and tired of being given the opportunity to learn the same lesson over and over and over again. i am ready to GET.IT!

    let their be much love and healing and forgiveness (especially of ourselves!) for us all… cause this crap where we carry old wounds around inside of filling up with new joys has just got to end soon!

    • Oh, no kidding. Sometimes I think I must be the most hard-headed, stubborn woman on the face of planet earth!

      And yes, healing and forgiveness, because there really is only so much room and if it’s all crowded with guilt and regret and old wounds, where will we feel the joy?

  • what you write is so true, it hurts. My sister and I hang on to our thoughts of handling things differently than our parents. I can’t bear the thought of my children thinking the same way. I can’t help it if they will. I hope they will realize i do my best to be my best because I love them so very very much.
    I think on my deathbed, there should be wine….

  • Jo

    “You are lead through your lifetime by the inner learning creature, the playful spiritual being that is your real self. Don’t turn away from possible futures before you’re certain you don’t have anything to learn from them. You’re always free to change your mind and choose a different future, or a different past.”

    ~Richard Bach


  • Very interesting, insightful, and well written. Yes, the universe absolutely teaches us things over and over until we learn. Argh. 🙂

  • Jo

    OH, and this one!

    “The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of ther same family grow up under the same roof.” ~Richard Bach

    NO. LIE.

  • This is my first visit to your site … well, sort of (quickly lurked after some other blog linked to you). I love this post — the honesty, the pain, the acceptance. I sooooo know where you’re coming from, only myself, husband and three daughters are the ones to break from the crazies. Yet every single time we all gather together … which isn’t all that often anymore since everyone hates everyone else … the old me surfaces, the quiet and meek me I hate being and really am no longer but my six siblings and two parents don’t accept that. Even though I’m a friggin’ GRANDMA! :o) So anyway, long story made medium: I like your post, your writing, your blog! Oh, and I LOVE coffee!

    • Ugh, I know! How is it that I can be a reasonable adult in virtually all situations, but when I’m with my parents, I’m all busy groveling for approval? Yuck. I hate that.

      And thank you. Very, very much.

  • I walked away from my mother for the damage she was doing to me. I loved her like crazy. But…I walked away.

    And to this day I tell the universe how grateful I am that she found recovery and became my mom again.

    Some fractures mend. Not all, we both know too well, but some do.

    And I am the hopeful sort.

  • I hate how unbalanced the universe is. It’s one of the biggest things that drives my anxiety. Why i am forced to “learn” the same lessons and suffer the same pains over and over…and others? Not so much. Or it appears that way. appearances are not always true, I have learned. stupid universe and it’s teachings.

    • Stupid universe, yes. It’s big on insisting that I learn my lessons.

      And yeah, appearances are not always the truth underneath, but they feel like the truth. That’s a hard thing.

  • This . . .

    In some ways, their best was absolutely shitty. In some other ways, it was awesome. In most ways, it was completely ordinary.

    The same goes for my parents.

    The same goes for me . . .

    This sentiment goes to the heart of my experiences lately. I have so much anger for the failures of the past, but I see that most of those failures? Were not intentional hurts, but an attempt to do the best they could.

    As I try to do the best I can with my children.

    And as I sometimes . . . fail.

    All ordinary.


    • When my family first went to therapy and all that, it was easy to see all that my parents had done wrong. It was easy up until my kids were mid-elementary school age, when it became more difficult to be a good parent.

      Now? It’s all different. I’ve made very different mistakes from the ones my parents made, and I’ve certainly faced some challenges that they never did, but have I done better? I don’t know if there is such a thing as better. I’d like to think so. I hope so.

      I have always loved them, Every minute of every day, I have loved them.

  • why can the universe smack me upside the head and i still don’t get it?

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