Archive for June, 2008

Survivor’s Guilt

I am traveling right now, visiting my family of origin out of state, far, far away from where I currently live.

My family is incredibly loving–love is something we have lots of and it can always be counted on. But the women in my family have a pervasive history of unhealthy relationships. My father was abusive to me & my mother until he died. My mother, to whom I’m extraordinarily close, has since remarried to a man who loves her, but is very controlling. The rest of my family is similarly dysfunctional and includes histories of emotional abuse, alcoholism, destructive patterns, risky behavior, women married to & victimized by horrible men.

When I was 17 I had an instinct to move far away from home, and I did so at the first opportunity, getting a scholarship to a college clear across the country. It was a difficult experience, but I now realize it was the first attempt to get away from patterns that I knew could destroy the life I wanted.

Many years later, I’ve made a home for myself, and it’s a place with friendships and relationships that are happy and healthy. My semi-annual family visits are jarring; it takes a great deal of effort not to sink back into patterns I’ve worked hard to undo.

My extended family views me as the “mysterious visiting daughter” and talks about me with a mixture of pride and resentment. In perhaps the last remnant of exposure to abuse, I feel guilty for getting away and making a life for myself, even as I know it was the best thing to do. Surely I can’t be the only person who feels this way. Maybe there’s a whole network of refugees from destructive family patterns.


Too Much Grief, Then Too Little

Jack Schafer’s post in today’s Slate Magazine bemoans the coverage of Tim Russert’s recent and sudden death, complaining of the “televised wake” that has pre-empted news coverage on all the major networks for the past several days.

After listing the litany of tributes and whining about all the attention paid to the late Mr. Russert, Mr. Schafer brags about having reluctantly written an article for a friend of his who is now dearly departed. “And the piece,” he sneers, “was only 1200 words.”

Of course, I’m no journalist, but I’m a viewer, and the tributes on television are helpful to me, surely much more heartfelt and honest journalism than the crap news reporting we are usually subject to.

Obviously, some of the excess is due to the shock of Mr. Russert’s death. It’s well known among grief specialists that sudden deaths are more immediately traumatic than deaths following long illnesses. Even the funerals are different; a very long illness might cause one’s friends to slowly fall away; less people may be present at the funeral of someone who “finally died.” But sudden deaths provoke an outpouring of shock and grief. We idealize the lost person, and we are openly (and some say, more justifiably) devastated.

In America, we don’t have a culture of grief. We don’t wear black dresses or armbands here. Wailing and weeping is not encouraged, as it is in other places. People suppress their feelings and are then described as “so strong” and commended on how “well” they are dealing with the loss. I have been reminded of this repeatedly, as I have lost several friends & relatives.

It seems to me that this coverage is therapeutic–not just to those who knew Mr. Russert, but for all of us. Maybe celebrity deaths, and the accompanying journalistic coverage, is the American way of dealing with loss. It’s not an armband, but it certainly helps to contrast with all that Law & Order, Grand Theft Auto style pretend-death we are surrounded with.

Even if we didn’t know Mr. Russert or even watch his shows, the suddenness of his death brings mortality home for all of us. Following the coverage gives us a chance to honor this, to take comfort in the family we have right now and appreciate the fragility of life.

Unfortunately Mr. Schafer’s article reveals more about himself than about the “overdone grief.” He and other journalists who complain are missing the point, wondering what all the fuss is for when Tim Russert is already gone.

But funerals, as even Mr. Schafer must surely realize, are for the living.

Surprise, Surprise: Being Gay Doesn’t Make Marriage Any Easier

Photo copyright 2008 Fred R. Conrad for NYT.Today’s NYT features an article on the state of gay marriage, 4 years after it was first available in Massachusetts.

The couples interviewed sound completely normal. Some people got married because they could, others thought it would solve problems in the relationship, some got divorced, and there’s the typical “one partner wants marriage, the other doesn’t” situation. And there are one or two couples who are committed to making marriage work for them and are relatively happy.

What did people think would happen? Are straight people so out-of-the-loop on gay life that it takes an article to remind us that gay marriage and straight marriage are basically the same, with the same issues? Marriage is hard for everyone–a nightmare when it doesn’t work, a blessed miracle when it does.

Hillary Clinton Reminds me…

…of a desperate woman after a breakup.

You know the kind, the ones that refuse to believe it’s over and keeps calling and calling?

I mean after a breakup, everybody’s sad and desperate, but anyway… you know what I mean.


Good Grief: Exploiting Bereavement in the ’08 Campaign

Could you imagine?

I just read this Slate Magazine article about the elderly couple, Dorothy & “Bob,” who had the audacity to fall in love & have sex. What a tragic story! How awful it must be to have dementia, and then have your family & friends tear you away from the only person truly familiar to you. Despite her dementia, Dorothy experienced all the classic signs of heartbreak:

“..Dorothy stopped eating. She lost 21 pounds, was treated for depression, and was hospitalized for dehydration. When Bob was finally moved out of the facility in January, she sat in the window for weeks waiting for him. She doesn’t do that anymore, though: ‘Her Alzheimer’s is protecting her at this point,’ says her doctor, who thinks the loss might have killed her if its memory hadn’t faded so mercifully fast.”

I am having difficulty recovering from a breakup at age 28; can you imagine having to deal with this at 82, and so unnecessarily?

What SATC Taught Me About My Breakup

After its release, I waited a whole week before seeing the SATC movie, a choice which made me one of the last women on the planet to have seen the film.

Sex & The City MovieThere are many reviews of the film that basically tell you everything you need to know, so I will just assume you are familiar with the show’s history, the film’s basic plot, and don’t need to be warned of SPOILERS.

As this post’s title suggests, I’m currently grieving a relationship (details to be revealed later), so I think the best parts of the movie were breakup scenes. They were cathartic for me, as big crying scenes are a part of my life these days. I loved the way Carrie’s friends took wonderful care of her. Mr. Big’s abandoning Carrie at the altar made PERFECT sense and was right in line with the type of person he was.

But I was infuriated with two aspects of Carrie’s behavior, and both of them taught me important lessons. When Big proposes marriage, Carrie mealy-mouths her way to an acceptance. She was so afraid of losing the relationship that what should have been a resounding, “YES! I’ll marry you!” turned into, “Well, okay, maybe, if you say so…” From this I learned to not be so afraid of losing a relationship not to say exactly what I want.

And the second of course, is Carrie’s acceptance of Big’s lousy apology and Manolo-shoe proposal. Who would marry someone who continually treated her with disrespect for so long and selfishly subjected her to such humiliation?

Bloggers & movie reviewers alike condemn the film as “unrealistic” and abhor the filmmakers’ choice of ending. But strip away the designers and fantasy income levels, and what you have here are four very real women and four very real stories.

In Samantha’s case, there are absolutely women like this and one is inclined to feel sorry for her boyfriend, Smith. Sometimes, breakups really do happen for no good reason. Smith’s only crime here is choosing to spend five years with a woman so completely unavailable. Miranda’s storyline is similarly realistic.

And then there’s dear Charlotte. Reviewers seem bored by her relentless happiness, but let’s not forget her repeated and devastating heartbreaks: several terrible breakups, a miscarriage & the ongoing grief of extended infertility; a devastating divorce. That she ends up with “everything she always wanted” is even more authentic in light of her earlier life; those of us who are unfailingly optimistic can eventually get everything we dream of. If there’s anyone to emulate in this film, it would be her.

Carrie’s on/off relationship and consistently stupid relationship choices clearly demonstrate what can happen when a woman has a too-low opinion of herself. The filmmakers’ only crime is in presenting Carrie’s ending as a romantic ideal, when in real life Carrie would be harshly questioned by everyone in her life and would most likely lose credibility with her public audience.

For all of us that are grieving, mourning relationships, let Carrie be an example to us. The bravery of enduring a painful breakup and reaching for something better is infinitely better than a fate like hers.

Getting Past Your Past: SATC Cultural Impact Discussion
Love is Dope: SATC Review

She’s HOW Old??

Isn’t it weird that a new show that purportedly celebrates “older” women does nothing more than value them based on how young they look? My mom, for one, isn’t all that thrilled when people say, “You look great for your age!” So I always tell her, “You look great!”

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