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Archive for June 12th, 2009

I’ve had the oddest convergence of circumstances lately – reconnecting with friends from high school on facebook, the loss of my aunt this week, the bullying incidents reported recently on several local blogs, and involvement in a suicide prevention initiative at GASD…

it’s kicked up some “stuff“.

I write a lot about faith and survival.
I write a lot about what I know.

When I was seventeen, I lived in a large, fairly upper-class house in a well-tended suburban neighborhood. We lived across from a spacious park with wooded areas, green fields and a picturesque stream. There were 27 children between my Catholic home and the three that surrounded it (made for great kick-ball games.) My parents were vibrant, attractive professionals of the Camelot generation. Mom was the beautiful, intelligent homecoming queen in college and my father was decidedly handsome, funny and very smart. They went from Nat King Cole, to Supremes, to Neil Diamond, to Sargent Pepper Beatles and beyond. It was a heady time. They both worked very hard to provide for their five children, entertained regularly and spared no kindness to their friends.

I had an amply happy childhood.

That said, every fairytale has its tragedy and this one hit us all quite unexpectedly in November of 1974. That was the year my 42-year old father gave into the demons of this story, hereditary alcoholism and depression, and took his life.

Really, the demons took him.

Anyway, shattered only glancingly touches on what this does to a family. My mother, suddenly left with five mouths to feed, a mortgage, a business, employees, and crushing grief, tried to prepare for the holidays. Both Thanksgiving and Christmas were horrid that year. One of the few memories I have of that time is of sitting in the darkened living room, no light but what emanated weakly from the tree… no light, barely breath, and so much quiet weeping. Thankfully, we cannot remember what is too painful to retain. I have only snippets of black, falling leaves, stone, and dreadful remorse.

The family was splintered into shards. I, reeling and naive, embraced teenage rebellion and dove into anesthetizing myself. The older of my brothers left home at sixteen and found work on a fishing boat in Maryland. My middle sister became independent and somewhat remote, retreating to spend time with her closest friends. My youngest brother and sister were too young to fully understand the magnitude of their loss then, but both have discovered the extent of that empty place over the years. We all struggled for many, many years…

but time is a healer too.

Time began to fill each of us with gifts. I learned that I am a survivor. I came to this understanding as surely and soundly as the earth we all stand on. We all came to know how much we had loved our father, and now looked upon each other with new eyes. Several of us overcame a common Northern-European fear of openly admitting that we actually love each other. We have gone on to marriage, children, careers and homes of our own. My mother is successful, active in business and philanthropy, and is still beautiful. We are all of us happy to a great degree, though some of us have been threatened by the various “family maladies”.

We are well.

Ann 1114

The greatest gift of this experience has been our discovery of faith, and not through the tradition of the generations that had preceded us. My brother and I are Quaker, my youngest sister is Unitarian, and my middle sister devoutly believes in a higher power of her understanding. My youngest brother is still searching, and I know that he will find that which he actively seeks. Each one of us has undergone tremendous difficulties since our common loss and have weathered it all with some grace and, blessedly, extraordinary humor. In fact, I will always appreciate how much every member of my family loves to laugh. I feel sorry for those that haven’t had the pleasure of this particular treasure in their own lives.

So, when I harp on here about survival, revitalization, rebirth and faith, it’s because of my certainty in these things.

I have my father to thank for this.

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