My Irish Roots Revealed

After my fabulous weekend in mid-September, I began reading Sharon O’Brien’s memoir, The Family Silver. To my surprise, she shed light on my Irish relative’s puzzling behavior. 

the-family-silver

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On page 34, O’Brien writes: “I come from a people for whom abrupt and often unexplained severings of contact were the way to deal with conflict, hurt, loss, and separation. The Irish are great talkers and storytellers, but they prefer silence to speech when it comes to the realm of emotions. Simply cutting off a family member by not speaking or writing is a common pattern in Irish and Irish American families. Sometimes the black sheep may live only a few blocks away, and yet the silence may endure not just for weeks, but for months or years or decades.

“The Irish-born writer Frank McCourt attributes this form of punishment to the importance talk and conversation hold in Irish society. To shun someone, placing her in a circle of silence, is to cut her off from the family’s and the culture’s lifeblood. It is the cruelest thing you can do.”

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Knowing about that Irish cultural pattern explained so many things about the Brady clan.

Celebrating my parents' 50th wedding anniversary in 1991

The Brady clan: Me, Dad, Aunt Mary Ann, Mom, Aunt Vicki, Aunt Earline, Uncle Wayne, and my brother, Phil celebrating Mom & Dad’s 50th wedding anniversary in 1991

Everyone in this picture is now deceased except for Aunt Vicki, Uncle Wayne, and me.

As a deeply-feeling child, when I witnessed silence and shunning among my mother and her siblings, it created a longing in me for a happy, harmonious family. My wish seemed always out of reach. As I grew older, they directed this behavior toward me.

At first, I took it personally. I couldn’t understand what it was about me that was so bad as to warrant this withdrawal of love. As I matured emotionally and studied family dynamics, even though the withdrawal hurt, I came to know that it wasn’t all about me. Still, I had difficulty letting go of the feeling I had done something wrong or I was bad and wrong. I had no idea until reading O’Brien’s memoir that silence and shunning are part of an Irish cultural pattern.

O’Brien helped me understand why negative feedback is easier for me to handle than silence. It explains why I needed for Alice to give me honest feedback about her thoughts and feelings about my blog posts (see September 28 post).

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For as long as I can remember, my brother and I idolized Uncle Wayne.

Below is my earliest picture of us with him and our grandmother. I was about three and Uncle Wayne about twelve.

Grandma Brady, Uncle Wayne, Linda, and my brother, Phil.

I turned ten when my parents, brother, and I moved to New Bremen, Ohio, my mother’s hometown. Uncle Wayne was nineteen and often had dinner at our house, especially when Mom fixed apple dumplings…one of his favorites. I developed a crush on him. When he married Aunt Rosie, they asked me to serve as their junior bridesmaid. That’s me on the right in blue. My brother and I spent a lot of time visiting our newly-wed uncle and aunt in the apartment they rented in the upstairs of a big, old house.

wayne-rosie-wedding

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Now I understand my ambivalent feelings.

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My childhood friend, Amy, called me a few weeks ago to tell me it was time for a visit. She had seen my Aunt Rosie and noticed she has lost a lot of weight and looked frail. Aunt Rosie indicated that Uncle Wayne wasn’t doing well either and is usually grumpy.

I am always the one who reaches out to them. Since my immediate family members save my daughter are all gone, I wish we were closer. Their only contact with me is a Christmas card. I don’t think they are shunning me. But I can’t help but wonder whether the distance the Brady’s maintain with each other is part of this cultural pattern. While I wouldn’t avoid a visit, especially with the two of them in declining health, I noticed my ambivalent feelings. O’Brien’s memoir helped me make sense of them. With every contact, I risk silent disapproval and shunning–an even worse kind of distance.

Amy and I made plans for me to visit the weekend of September 16-17. I called to let Uncle Wayne know I was coming to town and made arrangements for a visit on Saturday morning. He told me that since he turned 80 three years ago, his health problems have increased. I hadn’t seen him in a couple of years and wasn’t sure what to expect.

It turned out to be one of my most meaningful visits.

When he hobbled to open the front door to let Amy and me in, I was shocked by how much he has aged.

uncle-wayne

Even though he seems much frailer in his body, his mind is as sharp as ever. I was pleased to notice a softening.

I spared him the discomfort he seems to experience when I tell him I love him, but I did reach out to greet him with a hug. In the past, he stiffened. This time he relaxed into my arms. Soon we were in a spirited discussion. He expressed admiration for strong women, a softening of attitudes toward women that are common for men of his age.

None of the Brady’s like to talk about their painful growing up years, so I no longer ask. I did risk telling him about my interest in genealogy and the research I’ve done. I even asked if he would be willing to let me swab his cheek so I can get a read out of our DNA ancestry–to see if there is something more there than Irish and German. He agreed! Then, he expressed interest in seeing my research.

Best of all, he asked if I was finished writing my book. I didn’t think he even remembered I was writing one.

That he remembered and asked touched me deeply.

Then he accepted a departing hug and thanked me for coming. He seemed genuinely pleased that I did. He also seemed happy about my returning soon to collect his DNA sample and share my genealogy research.

Uncle Wayne is my only remaining uncle, my mother’s youngest sibling. To share these significant moments with him before he is gone means more to me than I have words to express.

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After our visit, I started out on the next leg of my trip with a heart filled with gratitude for the meaningful connections I had made with Amy, Alice, Uncle Wayne, and Aunt Rosie.

That was only the beginning of what turned out to be a fabulous weekend from beginning to end. I’ll tell you about the mind-blowing experience I had in Port Clinton in my next blog post.

A Fabulous Start to My Weekend

On Friday evening, September 16, I enjoyed dinner with Alice, a very special influence in my life, her husband, Duane, and my childhood friend, Amy. Alice is the parish worker who recommended I go to college when I was an insecure high school student who didn’t think I was smart enough to take that step. (See my July 1 post).

Alice Hegemier

Alice Hegemier & Linda

A few weeks prior to this, we reconnected through a wonderful hour-long phone conversation. I called her after receiving a Facebook message from a former classmate who had talked with her. Evelyn said Alice wanted to know if my my memoir had been published because she wanted to buy it.

Alice doesn’t do computers, so she is unable to keep track of the progress I post on my website and doesn’t have access to my blog. Because she expressed so much interest in my writing, I told her I would make copies of some of my blog posts and send them to her via snail mail.

As I was addressing the envelope, fear of disapproval raised its ugly little head. Since much of my writing is about my spiritual journey, I wondered if she would think less of me for my contemplative bent. Some refer to us as “navel gazers.”

contemplative-quote

Since silence is the response that distresses me the most, I asked Alice to be honest about her thoughts and feelings after reading my writing, especially if she didn’t like what she read. I explained that I find it easier to deal with negative feedback than with silence, which I most often interpret as disapproval for who I am.

I need not have feared. When she heard I was visiting my hometown, she called to arrange for us to have dinner and told me, “I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog posts. Thank you for sending them to me.”

Whew! Alice’s opinion matters to me and I felt grateful our relationship hadn’t been damaged.

Before I left for New Bremen, I made a copy of the pages in my memoir where I honor Alice’s influence in my life. I decided not to make her wait for its publication to read what I have written about her.

pages

After dinner, we gathered back at Alice and Duane’s home for desert and more visiting. I heard more about her journey. Her parents also thought girls would just get married and have children and didn’t need a college education for that. She, however, believed in herself and had the confidence and determination to pursue her dream. Whenever she spotted a young person in New Bremen who she thought had some special quality, she encouraged them to actualize it.

How blessed I am she saw something in me that she encouraged. Her recommendation that I go to college opened doors for me that has enriched my life beyond measure. My college education made it possible for me to make a difference in the lives of many others in a way I wouldn’t have been able without that degree. In addition, college was part of what prepared me to meet more effectively the life challenges that lay ahead for me.

When I handed Alice the memoir pages I had copied for her to read later, she said, “I’m amazed at the depth of your writing.”

music-notes

Her words were music to my ears. I felt a little like that shy insecure high school kid all over again…receiving encouragement to be all I can be in the world. I fell asleep that night with a big smile on my face and a heart filled with gratitude–aware and in awe at the threads of influence in all our lives.

And that was just the beginning of what turned out to be a fabulous weekend.

Being True to Me

After I posted my last blog entry, “Bearing My Cross,” Cindi, my friend and one of my biggest cheerleaders, called. She, too, is serving as a caregiver for a family member. She overflowed with enthusiasm for what I had written. She said, “You write at a level of depth that is so real. Most people don’t want to go there.”

I said, “I can’t stand skimming the surface.”

skim-surface

Since then I have been pondering her words and the force behind my response.

I grew up with disapproval for being “so serious.” As a result, I found it safer to write about sorrow and anguish than to talk about it. My writing became a spiritual practice. Throughout my life, I’ve written letters to the Divine in my journal, pouring out my struggles until some deeper wisdom flowed from my pen.

writing-in-journal

Being a witness to this deeper wisdom emerging from somewhere deep inside continues to awe me. It is what helps me grow spiritually and not just survive the vicissitudes of life. That is the spirit I bring to my blog posts and my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace.

I experience this sharing of my struggle with personal foibles in my process of growing spiritually as a calling. Still, every time I reveal what is “real” for me, I risk receiving the same censure I received as a young person.

“Most people don’t want to go there.” 

I struggled with the truth of Cindi’s words in the light of the reality in today’s publishing industry. Authors are expected to do 98 per cent of the marketing for our writing. Like most writers, I am an introvert who hates the whole idea of selling myself and my work. Yet, every writers’ workshop is replete with tips for “finding your tribe,” those readers who resonate with your writing. Some people make a living advising writers on how to successfully find readers. I wondered if I needed to change myself in order to appeal to a wider audience. But …

“I can’t stand skimming the surface.”

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you;”  ~Jeremiah 1:5

Then, last evening, I watched a recording of Oprah’s interview with Glennon Doyle Melton on Super Soul Sunday. And I received just the glorious validation I needed that finally inspired me to get this blog post beyond the pondering stage into writing. Glennon validated what I had already concluded: What is most important is being true to who I am. This is how I came into the world. This is who I am meant to be.

Glennon Doyle Melton

Glennon Doyle Melton

love-warrior200nyt

Glennon is new to me and I have not read her memoir, “Love Warrior” or her “very popular blog, Momastery. But these words in her interview with Oprah resonated deeply with me:

“I no longer think I am broken. I think I am a deeply feeling person in a messy world.”  ~Glennon Doyle Melton

“Pain is like a travelling professor. The smartest people I know are the ones who say, ‘Come in and don’t leave until you’ve taught me everything I need to know.'”  ~Glennon Doyle Melton

“Suffering is when we try to skip over the pain and get to the resurrection before the crucifixion…trying to rise before we fall.”  ~Glennon Doyle Melton

Glennon recounted several stories of disapproval she has received for her “truth telling.” Revealing what is “real” is risky. I am grateful to have found this kindred spirit and to witness her success. There are people out there who thrive in the presence of authentic revelation.

I remind myself that despite our flaws and sometimes because of them, we can be powerful channels of the Divine. I relax in this awareness because I find nothing more gratifying than hearing that someone, like Cindi, has found my writing to be validating and inspiring in all its realness…to know that what I have written has made a difference to someone. That makes the journey worthwhile.