Parenting

My Most Firmly Held Belief

In the past few weeks both my boys have asked me questions about ‘God’.

I’m not surprised by their curiosity, whereas they have friends who attend church and are at an age for ‘Confirmations’ and such to be discussed amongst their peers.

One of the boys has asked me if I think there are people on other planets, and if God put them there.

The other boy has asked me what ‘religion’ he is.

When we were being interviewed for approval to adopt a child, we were asked our views on religion, and how we would ‘introduce it’ to a child should we be approved for adoption. I am not sure there is a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer to this question, so I answered according to my feelings at the time. I’d wait until the child was old enough to have some grasp on religion, ‘expose’ them to it in some form, and then let them make up their own mind as to what they believe and what they wish to practice.

I still feel this way.

That said, I have to stay true to what I believe and try to present both sides of the coin to them. I consider myself to be more ‘spiritual’ than religious.

The second edition of ‘Spirituality For Dummies’ (By Sharon Janis) defines spirituality as follows:

“Spirituality says that even if you think you’re limited and small, it simply isn’t so. You’re greater and more powerful than you have ever imagined. A great and divine light exists inside of you. This same light is also in everyone you know and in everyone you will ever know in the future. You may think you’re limited to just your physical body and state of affairs — including your gender, race, family, job, and status in life — but spirituality comes in and says “there is more than this.”

I have also heard it quoted (and used this quote myself) as being ‘Religion is for people who are afraid of going to Hell…Spirituality is for those who have already been there.’ (Vine Deloria, Sioux)

I think that faith and spirituality are both very personal things. I don’t think that any one person should tell you what to believe just as they should not tell you what faith to follow. I think that’s up to the individual. I know, personally, people who have given up their faith and begun to follow another. I know people that seemingly have no faith at all, but don’t define themselves as spiritual either. I firmly believe that people should choose what feels right for them….be that faith, spirituality, something else, or nothing at all.

Spirituality calls upon people to find greater meaning and purpose in their own self and their own existence. It promotes the belief that you should have respect for everyone, not just God or the others who believe what you believe. Spirituality is about transformation and evolving…psychological awareness and growth. It says, to me, that we are not just what we have done, but what we can do…what we are capable of doing and being, exhibited and influenced by all that we have learned along the way in our lives. It says to me that we are on a constant journey of experiences and interactions, and what matters is not just the stops along the way, but the destination we arrive at at the end of that journey.

In answer to the question about life on other planets, I explained that ‘it all depends on what you believe’ – religion tells us that God created us in His own image…that He created the Heavens and the Earth and populated the Earth with people. Science would indicate that just as our planet revolves around the sun at a distance sufficient but not greater than to sustain human life, and therefore there must be other planets in the universe where the same is true. Either you accept that the view of religion is true, or…you wait and see if science is correct.

In answer to the ‘what religion am I’ question, I said, ‘I know that you’ve not been exposed to much religion thus far in your life. If you’d like to learn more about certain religions, we can explore those together, and then after some time you can decide for yourself what you’d like to believe. No one, not even I, can tell you what religion you are or ought to be. That’s up to you. Whatever you decide is up to you, and fine with me. Even if you decide that no religion is for you. I want you to feel and believe what you think is right for you.

As a parent, I always hope to have answers for my kids, or at least be able to point them in the right direction. When it comes to ‘what makes the sky blue’ and ‘why is the dog’s nose wet?’…I’m aces on that one. The subject of religion shows me two things…it shows me that my little boys aren’t so little any longer, and the questions are going to get tougher as they grow.

It also shows me that I need to hold firm to my beliefs in order to show them what a sense of conviction looks like and model ‘belief’ in something – and at the same time ‘let go’ of their beliefs. They will form their own opinions and views. They will develop their own moral code. They will decide what’s right for them. I can’t make those choices for them. That isn’t my job.

I have to simply hold on to my firmest belief of all – that the boys need to be whoever they are meant to be, and I just need to always love them no matter who that is.

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Confessions

Corpses – Confessions Of A Rotten Little Bastard, Part 7

I have, over the past few days, been cleaning out Mom’s house – she has resided there for nearly fifty years before moving to the town I live in in Massachusetts.

This task, emptying out the house, has laid out before me for several months now. Until Mom got her life alert necklace I didn’t yet dare leave overnight in case she had an accident. Mom has been in Florida since last Tuesday visiting my brother, which was timed to coincide with my cleaning out the house. When last we spoke of it, Mom asked me, once again, what I was going to do with everything there. I gave her my standard response of ‘I’ll have to figure that out when I decide what stays and what goes.’ It’s been my standard response as I just didn’t have the heart to tell her that as far as I could see, at least 90% of it was not really salvageable nor worth keeping.

Mom is a child of the Depression. She grew up, as she puts it, extremely poor. She has, many times, told me stories of how many of her meals were a choice of ‘potato and with it, or with it and potato’…meaning they had potatoes, and nothing else. I’ve also heard, from a relative a bit older than me, about some questionable things my grandmother did to put food on the table for her six children…she had an older child from her first marriage and two children that died shortly after birth, but six survived and were raised together with little to no means. They had, Mom says, nothing.

I have long been of the opinion that this has been the motivation for her to ‘hoard’ over the years. I didn’t reflect much upon it as a child, it was just a matter of ‘this is our house and these are the things in it’. Over time those things didn’t disappear, they simply were added to. Items no longer in use were not discarded of, they were put aside in storage spaces and the basement, and when more was added to that, they were just pushed further and further back into the dark recesses of the house.

In the past few days I’ve come across five old record players and pairs of speakers (all broken), eight phones (that may or may not still work), four typewriters, three computers (again that may or may not work), date books from 1992, grocery receipts from the 1980’s, financial records from my dad’s garage and parts store, and so many other items that have simply been shoved aside year upon year until the house would have burst if it had a loose seam anywhere.

The common areas of the house didn’t betray this ‘habit’ of Mom’s. Sure, there were some boxes in corners that she kept her mail (every last piece of it) in, and one of the downstairs bedrooms was growing more and more void of floor space, but other than that the living room, dining area, kitchen and bathroom all seemed relatively clear. This was just a facade. The closets were full. The storage areas were over-full. Part of the basement is a dark, sad pile of long out of use items that my sister moved back into the house during one of her relocations and never picked up again, as well as two very old very large very heavy desks that have sat moldering down there for decades now.

In the past three days I’ve been filling a dumpster out in the driveway, heaving up box after box after box of ‘stuff’ from the storage areas into it until it grew full. After those three days, when I went back to the house this morning, I looked around at what is still left after going through all boxes and stored items, and decided that I’d reached the point of diminishing returns and decided that I’d store what is to be kept in one room, closed off, and hire someone to come in and remove the rest of what remains. My back is aching. My legs are worn and jelly-like after so many trips up and down the stairs. My arms feel like blocks of cement resting at my sides. I can’t imagine any more hauling and lugging and pushing and grunting is in me at this point. I’ve done what I could. The rest of the effort will be someone else’s, and I’ll lift my arms again simply to write out and hand them a check for their services.

I don’t look forward to the conversation with Mom about this, after someone hauls out the rest of what remains. I know that she feels like the sale of the house leaves her with ‘nothing’ and I don’t wish to enhance that by revealing that the contents of the house were just not worth salvaging. For her it represents a lifetime of effort and struggle to have ‘more’ than her parents had and more than she had in her childhood. For her it represents some type of security, no matter if it was boxes of clothes she hasn’t worn in two decades or curtains and bedspreads long past their usefulness and caked over with dust and insulation from being in the storage areas under the eaves of the house.

For me all these things, and many more that I found in the past few days represent something else. It’s not something as comforting nor at all fulfilling as it is for her.

For me, these things represent death.

I have to admit that since I moved out of the house at age 18, I’ve never once set foot back in that house and felt any kind of peace about it. I felt something very contrary to that. I know people who return to their childhood homes and feel safe and warm and filled with serenity and euphoria. I don’t feel that. I wish I could. I wish I could have spent the past few days feeling anything like that in that house. There were, certainly, some things I came across that brought a smile to my face – old photographs, some VERY poor attempts at writing poetry on my part from the 1980’s…but while I moved from room to room and closet to closet and drawer to drawer, emptying out the contents of each, I was haunted by the presence of what I found.

In those spaces I found corpses.

There are things in that house that represent nothing but death to me. The death of a marriage, in the box of divorce paperwork and letters from lawyers that have been kept since 1977 until the divorce was finalized. The death of a family, as there were angrily scribbled notes about Dad’s refusal to pay child support because he felt like Mom was simply ‘enjoying herself’ on his money, and long untouched sheets of notebook paper where I was called ‘faggot’ and the notes were left for me to find, written by someone I’d worshipped as a child…someone who’d been my hero for the first several years of my life, but then saw fit to constantly belittle and demean me. The death of Dad’s dream to own his own business, evidenced by copies of a letter sent out to customers informing them that Dad’s businesses were closing. The death of any childhood security I ever had by reading through an essay I wrote in high school about, in part, how I felt as though Mom was always too busy with the troubles of my sister to ever see how her younger son, the ‘one she didn’t worry about’ who sat in corners reading, or built ‘sanctuaries’ in small, confined spaces to escape from everyone and everything, was slowly dying inside. The death of my few attempts to be ‘good’ at anything, whereas I had no ability for sports, and even photographs of my high school choir performances bring back memories of how when I got home, no matter how much I’d enjoyed myself and how much the audience might have enjoyed it, someone was always there to ridicule me and do everything they could to crush any enjoyment of it or pride I might take in it.

I don’t have good memories of that childhood and of that home where it was spent. And to pick through the corpses of those memories for the past three days has taken a huge emotional toll on me, even greater than the physical one. On the third day of this effort one of my Facebook acquaintances joked about ‘dropping a match on my way out’. That would have put an end to the physical effort, most certainly.

That day I stood in the hallway upstairs looking at what was left to be done, and the thought occurred to me for a brief moment about how much more ‘dropping a match’ would have done. Not only would it have eliminated the rest of the clean out effort….I could have killed the house itself. I could have decimated everything in that house that was stirring up my emotions like a volcano on the verge of erupting. I could have cremated those corpses and watched them reduced to nothing but ash on the ground.

I have to admit the thought was tempting. I have to admit I picked up a box of matches I found in the kitchen and considered it. I know that if the place were simply mine to do with as I wished, I know the impulse to burn it down would have felt even more tempting. As it is, were it mine to just get rid of, I would simply put the keys in the hands of a new owner, free of charge, and say ‘I have 46 years of bad memories of this place…now the place is yours…please make some good memories in it.’

Instead I carried many of these corpses out to the dumpster and tossed them in. I’ve saved some things…photographs and some of the remaining furniture and many books…but the rest of it, the rest that I carried out to the dumpster…is now ‘gone’. I, irrespective of what Mom will feel about it, have no regrets.

I have never, and never will, express to her what that house represents to me. I’ll never tell her that each and every time I’ve been there after moving out has felt like visiting a graveyard full of demons that still prowl around in my head and that no matter how much I like to believe I have ‘moved on’ in life will, I know, continue to haunt me for as long as I live.

For Mom’s sake, I hope that she has forgotten most of what was in that house as a natural byproduct of her dementia, which has, over the past few months, gotten a little worse. I hope that she doesn’t dwell upon the ‘things’ that have been disposed of. I hope that, despite the sadness associated with it, part of the fog invading her mind slips a cloak over those things she spent 50 years ‘stashing away just in case she needed it’. If there’s any ‘upside’ to dementia, she won’t miss what she doesn’t remember.

As for me, I still remember it. I probably will for many more years to come. I do wonder now, whereas both my parents have dementia, if I will experience it myself in years to come. I hope I can remember faces, and those I care about and love. But as far as the house I’ve cleaned out, and all the corpses I took out of it, I hope one day I forget them and instead of feeling what I feel now…pain, melancholy, regret, and anguish…I hope I forget them all and feel nothing.

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Miscellaneous

The Lion Of March

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My grandmother, Gertrude, passed away just two years ago, shortly before her 89th birthday. Today she would have been 91.

I’ve written about my other grandmother, my Nana, on a couple of separate occasions. Neither death was easy. Neither wound has healed. Neither death seems real, at least not yet. I don’t know that they ever will.

There’s an old saying that “March comes in like a lion”….Gram, born on March 14th, was ‘The Lion Of March’ to me. She was strong, feisty, independent….fiercely loyal…fiercely protective…and fiercely loving.  She was sheltering and nurturing and yet never smothering. She always, in my memory, encouraged me to simply be ‘me’. I shared secrets with her, things very few people know; and instead of shock, or disappointment, no matter what it was I revealed to her, I always saw something in her eyes that told me how much she loved me…I saw hurt…hurt that I was disappointed or upset…hurt that mirrored my own at times…hurt that I was relieved to share with someone that I knew loved me unconditionally.

The last several months of Gram’s life the impenetrable fog of dementia settled into her mind and she no longer knew who I was. Nothing about me was familiar to her any longer. I was a stranger visiting her for the first time each time. I had seen this coming on. There were days when she thought I was her step-son (my dad) and her husband as well as her grandson. I suppose that’s just the familial traits and appearance I carry that reminded her of others in the same bloodline. I never corrected her when she thought I was someone else. I just enjoyed that no matter who she thought I was, she liked my company and trusted me to be with.

When she made the choice to stop eating and drinking and depart this life, I visited her in the nursing home and she lay there in a bed, in and out of awareness of where she was and why, and who all those surrounding her were. Her sons and her daughter were there, as well as grandchildren and even a great grandchild, all gathered there to spend the final moments of her life with her. I, living two hours away, was not able to stay more than a few days, and eventually had to leave to come home and await the terrible news that I knew was imminent.

Before she passed, I sat next to her and laid my head on her chest and told her how sorry I was she was hurting. I told her that I loved her. She awoke, and one of her arms started to move. She kept saying ‘ow…..ow…..and yet still worked to lift her arm from the bed. She managed to raise it enough to slip it over my shoulder and said, with great effort, the last words I ever heard from her.

‘It’s okay…I love you too’

Within a few days she was gone.

I try not to dwell too much on her not being here, as I suppose most of us are taught to do. We are told to remember the good times shared and the good things about the person who has left us. As difficult as that is to do when the grief is new and the pain is raw and you want so badly to stanch the emotional bloodletting that seems like it will never abate – in the long run it is the road to travel.

Fortunately I have many things I loved about my Gram to reflect upon, and we shared nothing but good times together for my entire adult life. When my grandfather passed, she leaned on me for emotional support and cried on my shoulder. When my relationship with my dad went south for many years, she supported and loved me. When my Nana died, despite this being Grampa’s first wife, the one who came before Gram and the mother of four of his seven children, she comforted me, putting aside any lingering feelings she herself had about Nana. When we took in my sister’s son as an infant, she encouraged and praised us for how well two men were equipped to care for an infant, and said we were more prepared and engaged in the process than many heterosexual parents she knew, despite any ‘misgivings’ she might have ever had about two men parenting a child.

This was the essence of her, in my memory, the essence of who Gram was. She cared, she loved, and she did so in a selfless way.  My feelings and my well-being were never secondary to her or her own feelings.

As I left her room at the nursing home the final day I saw her alive, I asked for some time alone with her which my uncles and aunt readily agreed to without question. I sat next to Gram, put my hand on hers, crying openly, and told her that if I ever hurt or disappointed her in my lifetime, I was truly sorry, and I never intentionally set out to harm her. I told her I hoped that she was even one fraction as proud of me as I had always been of her. I told her I loved her with all my heart.

And then I told her goodbye.

Today is a day I always remember her a little stronger, a little longer than any other day, although she’s never far from my mind. She was my friend as well as my grandmother, and I miss my friend so very much now that she’s no longer here for me to talk with. I miss her selfishly, as her time had come, and she’d been apart from Grampa for so long that it hardly seemed fair to ask her to stay any longer.

Happy Birthday Gram. When I allow myself to feel as well as think about you, I still cry. But as I said at your funeral, and still maintain, I believe that there is no shame in tears when we cry for someone we’ve loved and lost. Those tears are not a sign of weakness, they are the product of the strength of your love for the person who is no longer there. They are proof that you loved that person deeply, without limits, and that you are hurting that they are no longer there. I believe that no matter how strong you believe yourself to be, there are losses great enough and sorrows deep enough that they cannot stem the flow of tears forever, and eventually we must succumb.

I cried on the day that you died, and I cried on the day of your funeral. I cry now as I write this. And like all those days, and so many more that I’m sure will come, I am not, nor will I ever be, ashamed of the tears.

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