Putting a Period on 70 Dufferin Street

It’s been 106 days since my father, Hector Jourdain, died and 62 days since his funeral. In the 44 days between his death and his funeral, my brother Robert and I did almost nothing to his house at 70 Dufferin Street. His shoes stayed by the door, his cane hung from the radiator, his clothes stayed in his closets, his cupboards and fridge stayed full.

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Putting a period on 70 Dufferin Street.

It was a transition time, an adjustment period for us, the house and dad’s spirit as we planned what to do. Forty-five years of life in that house. Forty-five years of accumulation by a man who never threw anything out because it might be useful. Forty-five years of filling a wood workshop in the basement and a metal workshop in the garage. Forty-five years of life and all it throws at us.

We gave dad a good send off. His house was full of people, stories, laughter, food and drinks. I spoke about him before the funeral began and we included communion in the service. The priest did a great job capturing the essence of dad, describing him as steadfast. Our cousin Raymond did one of the readings in French. Afterwards we had a feast at the reception.

And then we got to work. The plan was to pull up the old carpets in the house, revealing the old hardwood on the main floor and a mishmash of tile and linoleum upstairs, find homes for some of the furniture and get the house ready for market. That is when Divine Guidance literally walked in the door.

As the carpets were being pulled up, a stranger arrived at the house. He had heard through the owner of the company pulling up the carpets that we might be selling the house. He was interested. We walked around the house. I shared stories about dad. We talked about our intentions for the house, that Robert and I knew it needed to go to someone who would give it the tender loving care it needed for its next transformation. The house is solid, was well looked after and a bit dated in décor. It was why we were pulling up the carpets. So what needed to be done would be clear to whoever bought the house.

He came back several times and with family. It felt like he and his family were connecting to the house. They understood it and they understood a man like my father. He made a private offer on the house, Hector’s House, including keeping some of the furniture and equipment.

The rest of the furniture found good homes. Sofas, chairs, a cupboard and kitchen things went to a recent immigrant. Dad’s chair went to a young woman whose physiotherapist recommended she try sleeping in a Lazy Boy to deal with a pain issue. One chair went to a woman who wanted it as an upholstery project. The final glass coffee table was claimed yesterday, my last day at the house, as a truckload of unusable stuff was taken from the basement of the house – the third such load. And, of course, Robert and I and my children chose a few precious items for our homes.

In some ways, the hardest part was dad’s workshops. They were his identity; signifying who he was and what he most loved to do. Most of the woodworking equipment and tools went to my two older sons. A few things are staying with the house. Dad’s neighbour, who of late I’ve been calling my neighbour, came over one day and sorted the woodworking tools and equipment. I told him how things were to be divided for my sons, with more allocated to the son who has a house and a room for a workshop.

A few before and after pictures of the basement.

When he was done with that he organized everything else into categories. I couldn’t have done it so well. He came over another day and helped organize the odds and sods that were left in the house. He and his wife had become good friends of my dad and of me. They also have a few precious mementos of their friendship. They were watching over the house for us. They had listed their house for sale last summer. For a variety of reasons, it took several months to sell. Their close date is May 7 – my mother’s birthday. The close date on dad’s house is today – May 1. Divine timing.

We advertised the metalworking equipment and the response was surprisingly swift. Among the equipment, dad had two lathes: a smaller one and a big solid one. There were lots of inquiries about the smaller lathe and none about the bigger one, probably due to price and size. One of the days I was in Lunenburg, people showed up for the equipment. One man showed up early with one of his sons. He was interested in the smaller lathe but there had been earlier inquiries about it.

While he waited, he helped two other men get the drill mill out of the garage and into their truck. He and I chatted. The more we talked, the more it became clear that the larger lathe would suit his purposes better but it was priced at almost twice that of the smaller lathe. I called Robert and we talked about the price and the man.

We offered him a much reduced price from what we had advertised. Because he is the kind of man who will take care of the equipment in the same spirit as dad. Because he will make great use of it. When I told him the price, his eyes grew wide. He told me he would never sell it. When he was done with it, it would go to his sons.

He had to come back to get it as it was too big for his truck. So, a few days later he showed up with a flat bed truck and his two young sons who clearly show an aptitude for mechanics. Polite, friendly, curious, talkative, endearing. It was clear the new owner of the lathe knew exactly what he was doing and that this was meant for this man and his family.

Dad’s garage was covered from end to end with tools, scrap metal and other bits and parts. While people who came for the equipment looked around and also bought a few other things, it was still a significant task to clear it out. I was told about a colleague of dad’s and called him. He came, looked around, thought about it and then came back with an offer for everything in the garage. Not only did he take away that which was useful to him, he cleared out everything. I’m pretty sure there were at least eight big garbage bags that came out of that garage that he also took away. The house wouldn’t have been ready without his work. He is a gentleman I will always remember kindly.

Before and after shots of the garage.

It is a strange thing to watch your father’s lifetime of equipment, furniture and life gradually and quickly disappear from the rooms, walls and the shelves. That it goes to places and people where it is useful and/or will be loved means a lot. Old blankets went to a friend to be used in building sweat lodges. Food in the pantry (that which wasn’t years beyond the best before date) went to a community food pantry to feed people who need it. There were enough dishes, pots and pans and kitchen stuff to fill the cupboards of three homes. My mother’s teacups went to friends who will treasure them. My kids each have some things that are meaningful to them. My daughter-in-law is taking mom and dad’s wedding clothes and will make memory bears out of them.

My house right now is a maze as I hang onto things for me and my brother, who couldn’t travel here because of the pandemic. We still have lots of things to sort through, especially pictures. And there are a dozen or more boxes of things to give away as soon as charities are accepting again.

Borrowing a phrase from one of my teachers, we have put a period on 70 Dufferin Street. On our life there. On a regular in-person connection to our hometown, even with all the family friends still there. Our family no longer has a presence there.

The house is ready and waiting for the new owners. I celebrate that it is not a transaction with unknown buyers, but a caring transition to people I know dad would have liked, done without the fanfare of a for sale sign. A quiet transition, like dad would have wanted. There is no question in my mind dad has had a divine hand in what has transpired in the last 62 days – and I just noticed January would have been mom and dad’s 62nd wedding anniversary.

Robert and I will be able to go visit and see the new lease on life that emerges in the next chapter of 70 Dufferin, after this period that marks the end of an era.

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What Futures are You Mourning?

Easter morning 2020. This already would have been a different Easter since my dad died in January of this year. Like most, we typically would have gathered as a family, my kids and grandchild – here at my home or, as has been the case more recently, we would have taken Easter to my dad in Lunenburg.

March 1-2020

March 1, 2020 – the last time most of us gathered as a family just after my father’s funeral.

Not only is my dad gone, so too, for many of us is any sense of traditional celebration or family gathering for this year. Day by day the assessment of how long we will have to self isolate and physically distance seems to extend. It started with two weeks, expanded to two months and now there are ruminations that it could be as much as two years.

This means an indeterminate unknowing about what the future holds. Groundlessness continued for an indefinite amount of time. Will we reach a breaking point or a breakthrough point? Probably both. Probably more than once.

I am mourning my family celebrations. I grieve that my family and I cannot come together in person and reminisce about my father, among other things. I get this is for the greater good and the longer-term future but that doesn’t mean I can’t grieve this current moment or that I can’t grieve the future as I imagined it to be. As we all imagined it to be. We all get to acknowledge our emotional reactions and the rollercoaster global moment we are in. It is healthy to do so.

I grieve the uncertainty of knowing when I will be able to be with my beloved again. The time of reunion keeps getting pushed off. First it was maybe the end of May, then June, then the summer and now who knows when. We have a long distance relationship nurtured in mutual love and respect and the ability to travel to be together frequently. Now complicated by the fact it is an international relationship – me in Canada, him in the US. I feel despair in this, even as I know our relationship is strong enough to weather this.

What will be the impact on our business? Our livelihood? I get this is a moment of great opportunity in the midst of uncertainty. But what will that look like?

In the middle of all of this, I am clearing out my father’s house, getting it ready to hand over to new owners. It is a lonely task thanks to social distancing. I drive from one empty house to another, bringing back contents from one to the other, waiting for the opportunity to give away that which my brother and I have decided to let go of. Holding onto other things until such a time as he can travel back to NS from PEI safely and my kids and I and my partner can gather.

It is not just this moment that is unsettling. It is the loss of futures we dreamed of that are not available to us right now. The weddings that are cancelled, postponed or happening in a different form. The funerals that can’t be held right now. Being with loved ones in the time of death or the time of birth. Birthday, anniversary celebrations and so much more. We each have our own lost futures and it is okay to grieve them. Give yourself permission with compassion, forgiveness and care.

Hector Jourdain: A Modest Man, Life and Legacy

Today would have been dad’s 87th birthday. He wanted to live until he was 90. He also wanted to live out his days in his house, which he did. He was a walking miracle over the last few decades of his life. He was sustained by a strong will to live and a deep faith.

Over the years and various health crises he kept adjusting his ideas of what good quality of life meant for him until he reached the point where he could not see beyond sitting and sleeping in his chair and making his way into and through the kitchen to the back door or the bathroom. He knew he could no longer find his way downstairs to the “magnet” in the basement that was the Bluefin model he was working on.

71 - 32087394_10155921192792740_8555127562852892672_nDad was partly defined by the patterns of his generation. He craved relationship with family and friends, with my children and their partners. Although everyone valued their relationship with him, he wished it could be more. The pattern of his generation is that it was the younger ones who minded the older ones. My mother always used to say, “Age before beauty.” It was another way of voicing respect for your elders.

My father taught me the importance of nurturing relationship. Our relationship grew over the last decade of his life. I learned a good pattern of checking in with him by phone or by visit. I used to leave him a list of my travel plans so he knew where I was when. If I called too often, he would get irritable. If I didn’t call often enough, he got irritable. I know he was lonely and he missed my mother and he wished my brother and I would visit more often and for longer.

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My mother had been in long term care for awhile when this picture was taken on some special occasion. In this picture, you can see the love my father had for my mother radiating out in his gaze.

His desire for relationship stays present with me as I reflect on what is the relationship I want with my children and grandchildren? How do I make sure I nurture and sustain them, individually and collectively? This applies to my partner, my siblings and other close relationships too. It is easy to lose track of people, even people who have been close and for far too much time to go by without reaching out.

My brother and I are now charged with the dismantling of dad’s house, which is akin to the dismantling of the physical aspects of his life. Some things are easy. There are books that are decades old that nobody has read in forever, papers that were important to dad but of no value to anyone else, things that have accumulated over the years that were part of dad’s day to day existence but, again, of no value to anyone else.

There are other things that have value and that are harder to deal with. My father was careful with his money. He often worried about whether he would have enough money to live out his days. He did. Robert and I were reflecting on how dad never threw out any furniture and some of it is from when mom and dad got married 62 years ago.

Very little expense was spared for the Bluefin, for his machining workshop where he repaired engines or his woodworking workshop where he built rowboats, repaired a canoe and worked on the model of the Bluefin. But there was not a penny spent without careful consideration and a lot of thought about whether it was the right choice. He has boxes and boxes of screws, nails, washers, fittings and so much more, because he could see potential in them. He often said he should probably get rid of some things but as soon as he did he would need it. Now Robert and I need to figure out what to do with it all.

My father’s parents had been millionaires in their lifetimes. My mother’s parents hadn’t been millionaires to my knowledge, but they lived well enough. My grandmothers each outlived my grandfathers by 2 or 3 decades. In the end, when they all left this world, there was no inheritance left for my parents for a variety of valid reasons.

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Summer 2019. Painting the porch had been on his mind. I finally took charge and did what I could for him.

My father was a self made man. I’m sure he is satisfied that he managed his affairs well and well enough that there is a legacy left for me and my brother. It certainly isn’t millions. It is a modest amount that reflects the modest lifestyle of a modest man.

Happy birthday dad. Know you are remembered well and will always be loved by so many of us still walking on this side of the veil.

My Father Was a Complex Man

My father, Hector Jourdain, was a complex man. He grew up in challenging circumstances, the full extent of which I will never know. He was the youngest of six children of entrepreneurial and demanding parents. He grew up in Cap Chat on the Gaspe coast in the 1930s and 40s. He worked hard but never quite felt like he measured up to the expectations laid out for him. It shaped him, like we are all shaped by our upbringing.

For people who knew my dad, they know he was not always the easiest person to get along with. He was very particular, which is likely why he was known as Hector the Corrector as I wrote in my last post about him.

He lacked some social sensitivity, particularly for today’s age. He didn’t always listen well. Perhaps because he couldn’t hear well. Perhaps because his mind was going a mile a minute all the time. He was known to express his frustration to friends he hadn’t seen in awhile, “You drive right past my house but you don’t stop in to see me.”

Dad and my brother Robert in Perce, Quebec

And, he had a quirky sense of humour and an impish grin. He could as easily light up a room as darken it. He drew people to him in unexpected ways. New neighbours, others he met along the way, who became good friends, some of whom saw the charming side of him and some of whom learned how to put up with the ornery side and show up for him anyway. And many people could see the multi-dimensionality of who he was.

Looking like a celebrity at Jacob and Nellie’s wedding in 2017

He had trouble understanding the fluctuating nature of friendship or what we might now refer to as the “reason, season, lifetime” that explains why someone is in your life. He wanted all his friends to be lifetime. He wanted the camaraderie of the Bluefin days to exist in perpetuity. That people’s lives changed and families expanded from children to grandchildren and different interests, even as his own did, challenged him and his memories. My brother Robert reminded me the other day that when and where my dad grew up, people lived in the same houses for lifetimes and families lived within walking distance of each other much of the time.

Our memories are fuelled by the stories we tell of our past and our experiences. My father loved my mother. A love that was enduring up until the day he died. There was never anyone else for my father, not even the entertainment of the idea of someone else, even though he outlived mom by 8 years – 12 if you count when she went to live at Harbourview Haven.

I didn’t always see or understand that love because not all the days of their marriage were calm – to put it mildly. So, in his latter years when he described my mother as his best friend, saying they never went to bed angry any night during their marriage, I only raised my eyebrows but never commented. It is not quite how I remember things. But, he was entitled to the stories that were true for him. Especially because it was his love for my mother that guided his care for her as she was overtaken by dementia. He went above and beyond for years. Even after she went into long-term care, he visited almost every day and, with my brother and me, was there with her when she passed in 2012.

Dad defied medical odds. He tiptoed up to the edge of death on many occasions, looked over and said, “No, not yet.” Doctors would look for the medical reasons why my dad recovered – from being in a wheelchair because he had no strength in his legs to walking again, from being diagnosed with chronic lung disease to having his home oxygen removed because his lungs improved to other inexplicable recoveries. There were no medical reasons. There was a strong will to live.

One such time of defying medical odds was during his second open-heart surgery in 2006. His first open-heart surgery was in the 1970s. This time, he was on the wait list for the surgery – waiting for the call. Instead, I got the call in the middle of the night that he was in the hospital. He had driven himself to emergency with my mother who later drove the car home – which was all she could talk about since getting out of the parking lot was perplexing to her. Dad was being sent to Halifax via ambulance. I had to drive to Lunenburg to pick up my mother. Driving down the 103 at dawn, as I got near to Mahone Bay, there is a stretch of road where you can see a long distance ahead. There came the ambulance as the sun was rising, lights flashing. Driving past that ambulance, knowing my father was in it and I was going in the opposite direction, was one of the most surreal moments of my life.

Dad was exhausted because his heart was in bad shape, because he had been taking care of my mother and who knows why else. He was afraid they would send him home too soon. He fixed that. He didn’t wake up from the surgery for 10 days. When he did wake up he was, naturally, disoriented. It took him a long time to understand how many days he had been out. He chastised me for keeping him on life support when I knew his wishes. I told him, there was never any question about his recovery.

Years later, he shared a story with me. He said, during that time when he was not fully conscious, he went “up above”. He was in a corridor with a lot of doors. He was knocking on the doors and trying to open them but was not successful. Finally, one of the doors opened. It was Arch-Angel Michael and he said to dad, “It is not your time, you need to go back.” My dad believed he had not yet atoned for his sins. He told me he knew what it was he needed to do. Apparently he has either completed that mission or come to terms with it.

Dad had confided that story in someone who told him that it could not be true because “once you go there you do not come back.” It took him years to share the story with me. “Do you think I’m crazy?” he asked me. I told him, “You’ve read my memoir – several times. Of course I don’t think you are crazy.”

I made my peace with my father a long time ago, as part of my own journey. I was his patient advocate and his chauffeur. I will miss our jaunts to Busy Bee, Princess Auto and other spots where he would pick up tools and other supplies. I won’t miss the numerous doctors’ appointments so much. I will miss our lunches – just the two of us usually but sometimes with a guest or two – my children or my friends. His favourite joke to the wait staff was, “She’s not my girlfriend. She’s my daughter.” I will miss our trips to Quebec of which we were fortunate to have a few in the last few years. We had plans to go again this summer. Life is quiet without him in it.

Surrounded by nieces and nephews in Rimouski at his sister-in-law’s funeral

On the board walk at St. Luce – summer 2019

We often say it takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a village to care for our elders. And my dad, grumpy as he could be, as difficult as he could be, had a village of love and support beyond which he fully knew or always appreciated. My brother and I are grateful for the enduring friends and the more recent friends without whom life – and care for my dad – would have been a lot harder.

“Hector the Corrector”

So, my dad, Raoul Hector Jourdain, died recently at the age of 86 and 3/4, as he liked to say. His goal was 90 and another more important goal was to live out his days in his own home. I had the good fortune and grace to be there when he passed on January 16, 2020.

He went into the hospital – again – just after Christmas – for an issue with his bladder, which was going to be a forever reoccurring issue due to damage from prostate cancer and radiation therapy a decade ago. He also had congestive heart failure and diseased lungs. He was on home oxygen, had a permanent catheter and walked with a cane. Managing a cane, oxygen tank and urine bag all at the same time when your mobility is increasingly limited is not for the feint of heart.

He had already walked up to the edge of death many times in his life, looked over and said, “Nah, not yet.” More of those stories to come. Three years ago when I was sure he was not going to live after two stints in hospital for bleeding, I started a blog post about him. A couple of days ago, I took it out and brushed it off, because, well, this time he decided to fly over the edge.

I had a good laugh when I read about boiling eggs. He had been in the hospital just before Christmas and I sprung him loose in time for the holidays. The first morning home, he wanted boiled eggs. So, he instructed me on how to boil them. Then he instructed me on how to peel them after he tried but didn’t have the strength to stand and do it himself. I did what he asked and at some point he shook his head and acknowledged that I probably did know how to boil eggs and had probably done it many times. Yup. And, he had also instructed me in this task just three years before. He was particular in his ways and his approach.

When we drove around Lunenburg, he often gave me directions. For those who don’t know, Lunenburg is a small town, emphasis on small. I grew up there. Pretty easy to find your way around. But it made him happy to give directions.

My dad had his ways of doing things. He had two workshops – one for woodworking and one for metal working or machining. Each workshop had a place for everything and everything was in its place. He was a gifted diesel mechanic and machinist. When he left National Sea Products in the early 1990s he set up shop in his garage, calling his company Lunenburg Marine Diesel. He was in demand because his skill in engine repair and rebuilding was unsurpassed. If he couldn’t find a part or didn’t want to pay the price for it, he made it.

Dad with an engine

Raoul Hector Jourdain doing what he was extraordinarily gifted at.

It is only very recently that I became aware that my dad had a nickname: Hector the Corrector. I think he was kind of proud of that. I totally get where it comes from although I hadn’t heard it before. Dad’s specificity of instruction made me believe he was not such a good teacher or coach. He never taught me how to Captain the Bluefin for instance, but that could be as much about my own desire to just be a passenger as his to have it done in a certain way.

Receiving this story from dad’s friend and one time neighbour, John Pollack, expanded my own worldview about my dad in a beautiful and generous way.

“When word got out that we were planning to spend a year on our boat (1996) and to sail towards the Caribbean, your dad became worried about our safety and ability to look after ourselves.  He didn’t say anything, but I guess he gave it some thought.  One day there was knock on our back door.  It was Hector.  He had a plan.  I was to attend his garage every morning at 9:00am for the foreseeable future to watch and learn as he rebuilt one of many diesel engines.

“Hector’s ‘College of Diesel Knowledge” was born.

“We had a pretty good time.  He teased me about having “school-teacher” fingers.  (His thumbs looked like spatulas!)  He taught me how to take engines apart and mostly put them back together — I usually wound up with a few extra bits.  He was patient and funny.  I suspect we made a pretty odd pair to anyone observing, but we became good friends.

“When we were finally ready to leave for the boat trip, Hector delivered a few small boxes of parts and spares he knew we’d need.  This was all stuff he had made.  Everything was machined and custom ready for our needs. He had made spare zinc anodes for all the places he knew I’d need replacement parts.”

I knew the friendship between John and Cathy Pollack and my dad had been enduring and this story gave me insight into why as well as making me smile. Maybe he was Hector the Corrector. But he wanted things done right and he cared deeply for quality and for friends. Sometimes it just wasn’t worth arguing with him.

Holding Yourself Responsible for Someone Else’s Anger is a Fool’s Errand

Holding yourself responsible for someone else’s anger is a fool’s errand. While this is true of many emotional experiences, it is particularly true of anger. Has anyone tried to hold you responsible for their anger? “Your actions made me mad,” is a prime example of projecting responsibility for their emotional state and lack of control onto someone else.

Anger is a perfectly legitimate emotion, although there are good reasons why we assign negative attributes to it. Everyone experiences anger at some point – even people who say they don’t. I used to believe I never got angry as I wrote about in this post on Emotions Are Your Guidance System. I grew up in a household where a lot of anger was expressed in unhealthy ways. Avoidance – internally and externally – was my strategy. It took me years to discover my own experiences of anger and to learn how to work with it in healthy ways.

However, there are many unhealthy and even dangerous ways that anger is expressed. If you have ever found yourself modifying your regular day-to-day actions or behaviours, self censoring, being guarded or strategizing how to bring up an unavoidable topic no matter how simple it would be under ordinary circumstances, to try to not make someone else angry – or to try to reduce their anger – you are likely bearing a burden that is not yours to carry.

Bearing the burden of someone else’s anger is a fool’s errand. It does not work. You are not and cannot be responsible for someone else’s anger – or their enduring emotional experience. Yet people who are perpetually angry are remarkably good at having the people around them bear that burden. And the people around them are remarkably good at assuming that burden, without even realizing that is what is happening.

emotional_burden__by_athalai_haust_d8ymuyg-preEven when you know logically that you are not responsible for someone else’s anger, the fear that ensues as someone repeatedly projects their anger at you is palpable and sometimes breathtaking. The desire to mitigate the fear to stop being a target of the anger, generates a protective response that, surprisingly for most of us, doesn’t often or soon enough include removing ourselves from the situation.

Someone who is unpredictable about where, when or what will trigger their anger causes uncertainty in the people around them. This uncertainty inevitably turns to fear. It is this fear that directs and influences your own desire to mitigate the situation, for yourself or for people around you, like children. And it is through fear of the other person’s anger that you take on the burden of responsibility for their emotional experience. They will have you jumping in hoops over and over again but there is nothing you can do that will make that experience any better or more satisfactory for them.

People who use anger regularly also use disgust and contempt. They express how they are offended, hurt or dismayed by your actions. They tell you that you are being so unfair to them. A person who lives with anger or rage feels powerful in the outburst of the moment. But that feeling of power also doesn’t last so more fuel is needed. That fuel comes from the next spark of anger, rage or outrage.

You are held hostage to the unpredictability of this person’s rage until you find a way to release that burden.

I carried such a burden for almost two decades. I tried to mediate the anger. I tried to protect other people from the anger. I failed. Over and over and over again. And yet, still I tried. I took on the responsibility, the other person tried to make me responsible and others around us also tried to make me or other people responsible. The only place responsibility and accountability did not fall was on the person who was generating all of the chaos and dysfunction to begin with.

If you have tried to bear this emotional burden for someone else, you may have noticed a few things about yourself, the situation or the angry antagonist.

  • What sets them off is unpredictable. It can even be a perfectly innocent comment or observation that gets picked up and spun out of context and out of control. The effect is that you start to watch everything you say even though it is impossible to predict what will set them off. You second guess yourself and your confidence suffers. And perpetually angry people can take one incident or wrong word and spin it for days, increasing the intensity of their anger even to the point of rage.
  • The angry person does not take responsibility for their anger or their own circumstances – it is someone else’s actions or behaviours that are at fault, that caused the anger. In this way, in their logic and rationale, it is someone else’s responsibility.
  • They use scorn, condemnation and disgust regularly. It is hard not to take that on when you are the recipient of it. They cannot believe that you did or said whatever you did or said –as if you are the person acting inappropriately. But it stops mattering when their opinion of you stops mattering.
  • Everyone around the angry person tries in one way or another to appease them – modifying behaviour, apologizing or finding a way to get out of the way. There may be short-term improvement, but until the person who exhibits this anger takes responsibility for their own emotional experience, there will be no long term solution. And addressing this requires insight, courage and the willingness to truly engage healing that they often are not ready or able to embrace.
  • Anger is projected not just in words but in the entire non-verbal, kinaesthetic and energetic field of the person – even when they say they are not angry, even when they truly think they aren’t, everything else about them says they are. And you get blasted with an invisible wave that knocks you off your own center.
  • People around the angry person get upset or angry with each other because no one has successfully deflected the anger or scorn. In this way, not only do they disrupt the field between them and you, the wreak havoc on the entire relational field. And the angry person takes up a disproportionate amount of time, thought, discussion and preparedness – individually and collectively – as we try to strategize how to deal with them.
  • If you are a target of the angry person, it is emotional and/or psychological abuse and it is traumatizing. Over time, you will be aware that your anxiety is increasing, you may have panic attacks, you are constantly on edge and you are a different version of yourself, which can be saddening and depressing. You may experience a physical “hit” with a rush of adrenaline or amygdala hijack even in the anticipation of that person’s anger or actions. It is destabilizing and demoralizing and feels like ever present danger.

There is an interesting discernment between running away and standing up for yourself by developing strong, healthy boundaries for your own health and wellbeing. The angry person will accuse you of running away as they seek confrontation as fuel. You will know you have done everything within your power to evoke a change in that person that was never yours to make and, when you are ready, you will release that burden by refusing to engage. When you truly make the shift, everything changes. You heal something inside of you and have new insight, strength and wisdom as you disengage from that energetic vortex and fuel your boundaries, deepening your own authentic journey. In my experience, this can seem to happen overnight, but that overnight shift is likely the result of years of journey to make it possible. It is possible. And you can do it. Be patient and gentle with yourself in the midst of the journey.

 

Does Your Family Have a Collective Trauma Worth Healing?

Doesn’t every family have some degree of trauma in it; that perhaps ranges from somewhat mild to severe? This is a question I’ve been reflecting on these last few weeks for a variety of reasons, including wondering how a family experiences trauma individually and collectively and how, when it makes sense, a family can engage healing in its system?

When a family experiences the same trauma circumstances – an event or a long-standing relationship where trauma has been inflicted – each member of that family experiences the trauma differently. When removed from the trauma, the trauma lives on in each of us, in our cellular memory, in our minds and imaginations, continuing to affect each of us, each in our own way and collectively too. There is some shared aspect of the trauma, but the way we each remember our experience will have its own flavour, its own story, its own influence. What this looks and feels like can depend on your role in the family, in and with the trauma, your age and other factors too.

The family system that is interested in healing can explore the impact of trauma as they collectively experienced some element of it. That part can feel easy because it seems like everyone is in agreement. However, it becomes more challenging for family members to completely coalesce around the impact on any one individual because the experiences differ. Each family member needs healing for the full family system to heal; but the validation, acknowledgement or healing they each need is likely different.

We each have different assumptions and expectations of what we need to heal and what we think others need to heal. We may think we need certain things – acknowledgements, validations – from other members of the family. And whether or not they arrive – or when – might not be according to our own sense of timing.

Individually, it can be hard to identify and hard to express our hopes, expectations and experiences. What, in your own mind, feels like a straightforward ask, can seem less so when it is said out loud. The support and validation you are looking for might not arrive if your own experience contradicts someone else’s interpretation because of their own experience, their own story or their own trauma or if they remember your role differently.

What can we do when this happens? Notice your responses or your impulses. For me, when I encounter this, it makes me want to retreat – which is a reflex to “safety”, which is not necessarily safe or helpful for healing. In the noticing, I can make an intentional decision about what I want to do next and I can choose to communicate this with my family members.

Relationships are hard. And, to be clear, not all family relationships need to be or should be maintained. Sometimes the best healing opportunity is to cut off some family ties, as there is no hope for real healing in them. Having said that, for family relationships that are worth maintaining, even they have moments when they are harder than we expect, harder than we want them to be, harder than we hope. They are not all just sunshine, connection and laughs around the dinner table. They are also hard truths we may not want to hear.

Many, if not most, families are not skilled enough to know how to navigate family healing well. Most of us didn’t learn it growing up. There were no role models to look to. There are always some families who seem to know how to love and support each other no matter what. And there are some families so full of challenges and damage that no one seems to know how to navigate the individual and collective hurts. These families are more likely to fall apart, to stop talking to each other, to embody the pain and perhaps pass it on through intergenerational trauma.

intergenerational picture

What holds a family together in its healing? A few key things we have been learning:

  • Valuing self and valuing others too, so one is not meant to always be subservient to the other.
  • Valuing the family relationships enough to do the work required. Being willing to prioritize the relationships but not to the point of not addressing the trauma or other family challenges that show up. Avoidance only drives the emotions underground and, when they surface in their own ways, they tend to be even more destructive.
  • Give precedence to listening even as you want to be heard. Listen for understanding with compassion and curiosity, not for how to debate someone else’s experience or even your own. Be willing to listen, really listen, even when it’s hard.
  • Discern when to lean in and when to lean back. Learn to discern what needs to happen, be explored or discussed in the presence of others and what can be done on your own.
  • Be willing to drop a point of discussion with someone once you have heard it so you can digest it later if need be or take it to your own healing space.
  • Be willing to step back from being right, from insisting on being heard if that will not help in the moment. Be able to give space without backing away.
  • Find the language to stay focused on what is most important without lashing out in attack when you don’t like what you hear or can’t figure out how to make sense of it or are simply frustrated. Let it go rather than rehash it over and over again when it no longer serves. Come to terms and to peace with it.
  • Then, learn how to stay in relationship when the conversation is over. Learn how to apologize when it is deserved and even occasionally when you don’t think it is deserved. It might be the very thing that breaks an impasse and allows you all to get to a new level of healing with each other.
  • Hold space with and for each other, when you are together and apart.
  • Learn you can hang together through the tough stuff because it all matters.

These conversations hurt my heart. They also heal my heart. Without them, we would lose some of the core soul in our family constellation and it helps us love each other and be together better, if we focus on the love and healing, if we allow it.

And, bonus, if we pause to dig into the healing now, we heal back and forth along the lineages and that is worth it too. It’s powerful work. What are the family relationships and what family trauma is worth healing enough for you to stay in, stick with it and work it through?


Note: I am not a therapist. This is written from my heart, my experiences and my observations and reflections in my own families and in conversations with many others about this topic.