“We carry the dead with us only until we die too, and then it is we who are borne along [in the memory of others] for a little while, and then our bearers in their turn drop, and so on into the unimaginable generations.”
Widower Max Morden, in John Banville’s novel The Sea, likens grief to a gene passed down.
Similarly, Family Constellations, a therapeutic method theoretically founded in what psychologists call The Ancestor Syndrome, recognizes that a psycho-emotional dynamic can span multiple generations. That is, present-day problems may be influenced by a trauma suffered by an ancestor, even if the living are unaware of the original event.
At 35, my mother’s maternal grandmother, Maria, lost her husband, Salvatore Luciano, to Spanish influenza in the 1918 pandemic, and wore black every day until her own death at 96. She sent her two oldest children—Henry (8) and Lucy (6)—to school dressed in black until a teacher informed her that their classmates were making fun of them. My mother recalls that Lucy, my grandmother, loathed the color black, which explains why she’d regularly chide, “Why do you always wear black?” during my urban-chic fashion phase.
Have I been carrying the legacy of grief in my immediate family—and for them? My mother and my twin sister are cheerful, lighter-hearted than I. I’ve obsessed about death in my mind and on the page (http://mmminc.org/mmm_online/texts/poetrywinners/hahne_death.htm); I mourn the slightest personal hurt or disappointment.
I’ve been wondering about grief as my family story—and anticipating a long-overdue release from it—as I prepare for this month’s Guac & Chips interview (Aug. 1) and Ripen Your Writing teleseminar (Aug. 15) with Jerrie Hurd, author of the forthcoming Pay Attention to the Fairy Godmother: How Family Stories (Mis)Shape Us.
What family story has (mis)shaped you—and your writing? Share in the comment box below.
*Photo thanksacado to Angelina: www.flickr.com/photos/angelinawb/