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Compassion, Family, Grief, Guest Posts

I Didn’t Love Her Until The Day She Died

November 24, 2019

By Marie Prichard

Maura Anton, age 90, died September 6, 2009. Survivors include six children, 18 grandchildren, and 24 great-grandchildren. Maura Anton was my grandma for over thirty years, but I wasn’t her granddaughter until the day she died.

I was eight years old when my father took my sister and me to meet his newest girlfriend, Rita. There had been so many girlfriends since my parents had divorced. But this one was different. She didn’t have any children; she was younger than him––fifteen years younger––and she was still in college.

I remember spending weekends with my dad and Rita in her tiny, college apartment. It felt like a dollhouse to me, and I pretended like everyone was playing house. Looking back, it was just like a teenager’s room, complete with stuffed animals, pink frilly things, and posters of her favorite bands.

I assumed Rita wouldn’t be around for very long, so I didn’t think much about their relationship, or about the fact that we hadn’t yet met her family. Girlfriends coming and going were a common theme with my dad. However, things changed, and I can still picture the specific visit when they sat my sister and me down and told us they were going to get married right after she graduated from college.

Our first introduction to the Anton family was at Rita’s college graduation. My sister and I stood there shyly in our––too small––Christmas dresses, and our tennis shoes because my dad hadn’t thought ahead about what we were going to wear. He never bothered to think about those kinds of things, and I believe that Rita was too young and self-absorbed to take our clothing into consideration. My mom didn’t have the money to buy us new dresses, nor was it her responsibility, so we wore those same outfits when they got married.

I can only imagine what they thought. My father, a Mexican man almost fifteen years older than their daughter, was standing there with his two young children, introduced as her fiancé and her soon-to-be daughters. Let’s just say; it wasn’t the warmest of welcomes to the family.

Rita came from a strict Catholic family. She was the youngest of 6 siblings who were all raised in the church. They had all graduated from Catholic schools, gone on to marry their high school sweethearts, and were doing what good Catholic families do: get married and quickly start a family. No one in Rita’s family had ever married a person outside their race or religion, and divorce? Well, that was a sin and was unacceptable. Rita had broken the unwritten rules, and they weren’t happy, especially her mother.

I remember many tears and angry voices before the actual wedding. Rita was not allowed to have a white wedding dress or a large church wedding. Her wedding was a quick, hushed affair in the retirement park in which her parents lived. I didn’t understand that marrying someone who had been divorced and had children from a previous marriage would be the cause of so much upset. I was just excited that I got to be a flower girl. It wasn’t until later that I realized Rita’s mother did not approve of her marrying my dad, nor did she want to add two little dark-skinned Mexican girls to their family. We were an embarrassment to her.

After my dad married Rita, we didn’t spend much time with his family because we were always at her parents’ house. When we were with them, we were expected to go to church and have Sunday dinner with her parents, siblings, and their children. In my eight-year-old mind, I thought once my dad and Rita were married, that meant I had a new grandma, grandpa, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

I was wrong. During family dinners, my sister and I were always seated away from the rest of the family with our backs to the dinner table. Our newly acquired grandma would always make “tskking” noises when we referred to her as grandma, and she never––not once––said, “I love you.”

She didn’t want to introduce us to her friends, and when pressed, she would say, “Oh, these are my step-grandchildren. You know Rita married that man who was divorced. These are his children.”

Christmas was the worst. All the “real” grandchildren would be there, and there were so many presents for them. As we sat and watched them unwrapping all the gifts, my sister and I would each receive just one neatly wrapped gift. When we were younger, it was usually a knock-off Barbie doll. When we got older, the Barbie doll was replaced with a card signed, “Merry Christmas, the Antons” and enclosed would be a ten dollar bill.

As I got older, it became apparent that Maura Anton was incapable of loving us. I still called her grandma, and she still referred to me as her step-granddaughter, but I had stopped trying to love her. When I was made to go to their house, I would stay in the bedroom and read. I was tired of always feeling unloved by someone I desperately wanted to be loved by, so when I was old enough to have a say, I stopped going altogether.

The marriage between my dad and Rita ended when I was an adult. By this time, divorce wasn’t quite as taboo in Rita’s family. The Antons had already experienced other family members’ divorces, remarriages, and blended families. My sister and I still kept in contact with Rita and her family, but I always felt like I was still that little girl who was sat with her back to the family dinner table and introduced as “the step-granddaughter.”

Rita’s father passed away, and her mom moved in with her. She had suffered several small strokes and became mostly bed-ridden. I would stop by periodically to see how she was doing. She loved to have her fingernails painted, so I would always paint them her favorite color––light pink.

She had softened with age, but she still never referred to me as her granddaughter or said I love you. It was so hard to love this woman I called grandma, and I often wondered why I even bothered to try.

One day I received a call from Rita. She said, “Please come; my mom had another stroke and isn’t expected to make it.” So I went.

Most of the family was there: aunts, uncles, spouses, and grandchildren. She was lying in a hospital bed in the living room surrounded by her “real” family, yet no one was sitting next to her, holding her hand. They were all seated or standing along the walls or in the kitchen. She looked so alone in that bed in a roomful of people, so I sat next to her and picked up her hand.

Her breathing was labored, and she looked like she was in pain. I’m not sure if she was cognizant, but the moment I took her hand into mine, she appeared to relax. So I just sat there, holding her hand, speaking quietly to her. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but my voice kept her calm.

I sat there for hours; I kept asking if anyone wanted to sit next to her, but everyone said no. They knew she was dying, and they didn’t know how to handle it. I didn’t sit there because I loved her. I sat there because I didn’t want to watch her die alone in a room full of people who should have been there holding her hand.

I thought back on all those years of feeling unloved by this woman. I was just a little girl who wanted to be loved. How hard would it have been for her to have given me the same love she had given her grandchildren? All the pain I felt over the years came rushing through me: the hurt, confusion, sadness, and anger. I sat there with this woman, who was dying and felt nothing but an overwhelming sadness.

Her breathing began to become shallow and slow. The hospice nurse listened to her heart and said it wouldn’t be much longer. The sun had gone down, and almost everyone had gone home, and yet, I stayed. I couldn’t leave without someone else sitting next to her to help guide her from this life to the next.

I looked into the face of this woman who did not love me, and I realized it was the face of a woman who only knew how to live one kind of life; A life that did not include two little, Mexican girls calling her grandma. It was beyond her ability to move past the vision she held for herself and her family.

In…out…in…out. Her breath came slower and slower. With each exhalation, my anger dissipated. With each inhalation, the pain receded. I gained comfort knowing when she died so, too would my pain.

As she took her last breath in the wee hours of the morning, I felt an intense surge of vertigo and a vibrating upward pull; I had to close my eyes to keep from falling over. It was as though a part of me had joined with her spirit as she passed, and just as quickly as it happened, it ended. I opened my eyes, and a quiet calm came over me.

I sat there for a moment looking at her light pink polished fingernails trying to digest what had happened. I sensed that I had traveled a short distance with her spirit as she departed from this world. It was a surreal experience, and a rush of love coursed through my body. I had received a gift.

I gazed down at Maura Anton, this woman I had called grandma for over thirty years and whispered the words, “She’s gone,” but no one heard me. So I repeated it louder as I slowly stood up to walk away. But before I did, I leaned in and whispered in her ear, “Grandma, I love you.”

I like to think that maybe––this time––she would have said, “I love you too.”

 

Marie Prichard is a longtime writer and educator. She lives on an island in the Pacific Northwest with her wife, their two wiener dogs, and a Munchkin cat. She loves reading, writing, walking the beach, and filling her wife’s pockets with heart rocks.

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Binders, Guest Posts, Meditation, motherhood

Medea: A Mother’s Day Meditation

May 7, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Lily MacKenzie

When I realize that many parts of myself haven’t reached consciousness or been fully realized, it’s like saying goodbye to aborted children. The tragedy? There aren’t enough years ahead of me where I can accomplish what I haven’t done so far, making me a kind of Medea.

***

She visited me recently. Her two dead sons were not trailing behind, seeking revenge. And Jason was nowhere to be seen.

Medea herself seemed redeemed, her face unlined, a calm serenity in her manner. She wore a stylish red dress trimmed with floral piping. Her shapely body reminded me of full-bodied Italian women. She seemed built not just to give life but also to enjoy it. Her black hair coiled around her neck, a mysterious river that beckoned.

If I were to take off on that river, what would I find at the end? A heart of stone? A pyramid of possibilities? A woman who had used her power in the only way she could?

***

When I saw Euripides’ play “Medea” many years ago, I was already in her spell. Her myth resonated for me as it still does for many women. She is our Medea, our savior. A woman unafraid of accepting her power and acting on it as necessary. One of Lilith’s symbolic daughters.

***

According to legend,

Adam tried to make Lilith lie beneath him during sexual intercourse. Lilith would not meet this demand of male dominance. She cursed Adam and hurried to her home by the Red Sea. Adam complained to God, who then sent three angels, Sanvi, Sansanvi and Semangelaf, to bring Lilith back to Eden. Lilith rebuffed the angels by cursing them. While by the Red Sea, Lilith became a lover to demons and produced 100 babies a day. The angels said that God would take these demon children away from her unless she returned to Adam. When she did not return, she was punished accordingly. And God also gave Adam the docile Eve. (Encyclopedia Mythica)

I talked to my sister this morning, and we reminisced about our mother who died when she was 101, trying to focus on her positive attributes: the insatiable zest for life; the curiosity and willingness to travel well into her 90s; the compassion for those in need; the ability to somehow communicate her love while also abandoning us at times.

We mothers are all Medeas in some way, wounding and even killing parts of our children. Sometimes we destroy the whole child, forced into this behavior by our own limited lives, constrained either by the culture we grew up in, by our families, or by all of the above.

My grandmother was one of those women. She left Portree, Isle of Skye, after WWI ended to join her husband, a Scottish schoolmaster, in Canada. He fled to the new world before the war to find a better life for all of them. Seven years later, she and the children joined him, arriving in Calgary during a snowstorm.

To go from the warmth of the family womb in Portree (uncles, aunts, cousins, friends), a charming village, to this frigid climate on the barren prairies, must have been a jolt. Was it revenge at being forced to leave her home that encouraged her to abandon husband and kids after a year and find work for herself with a family in the Mount Royal district? She must have been furious with my grandfather for making her join him. He also was a difficult man, his tongue stinging as much as his slaps. She refused to tolerate his abuse any longer.

In the 1920s, it took guts and daring for a woman to desert her husband and kids. It took even greater nerve to travel to Mexico City with her lover—her employer. Some might claim she had a psychotic break, but I think this interpretation is too clinical. Menopause madness? More plausible. But why do we need to assert a woman is mad or unbalanced if she chooses to leave her kids and an inattentive, abusive husband? Some children drive their parents to drink. Some aren’t lovable. What if she just got fed up with the whole mess and wanted a life for herself before it was too late?

Or did she have a premonition she would die young (four years after she arrived in Mexico) and decided to do as much living as she could in the meantime?

***

And what of the Nigerian girls that have been abducted from their school? What kind of life had they imagined for themselves after books opened doors to them that had previously not existed? Their minds and imaginations no longer could be confined to the rigors of rural life and the demands of women in those societies. They might speak back to the men in their lives and refuse to follow the traditional path. They might find in their hearts a desire to be independent—full human beings.

***

“Why are fanatics so terrified of girls’ education? Because there’s no force more powerful to transform a society. The greatest threat to extremism isn’t drones firing missiles, but girls reading books.” Nicholas Kristoff, New York Times, 5/11/14

***

The day I dropped out, there was no eclipse of the sun or moon. The color didn’t drain from the expansive prairie sky. No one rushed up to me and shouted, “You’re making a serious mistake you’ll later regret.” At the beginning of Grade Eleven, during mid-November snow flurries, I fled Calgary’s Crescent Heights High School. No more three-mile treks each way in sub-zero temps. No more rising at dawn and shivering through the morning rituals of dressing, eating, and fighting with my two younger brothers before leaving the house.

It was 1955, and I had my first taste of freedom.

Okay. Stepfathers are easy targets. Mine was no exception. But he earned my spleen. He had made it clear for some time that women didn’t need an education. He pointed out that he only completed the eighth grade, claiming an education was wasted on a girl who would just get married and have kids. I believed him. Heaven forbid that kids might have mothers who could read, write, and converse beyond a few grunts at the dinner table.

I was too young and naïve to realize that his lack of higher education locked him into a laborer’s life, first as a farmer and then as a rock crusher at the local rock-crushing plant. On some nights, he came home so exhausted he couldn’t eat dinner. He crashed on the floor, later arousing himself long enough to crawl into bed and do it again the next day. That should have set off rockets in my mind, signaling his life lacked something.

It didn’t.

Not then.

It seemed normal to live a proscribed life.

And Mother’s response to me dropping out of school? She had dropped out herself, though not from school. A few weeks earlier, she had fled to the Coast—Vancouver—to join her lover. Would she have wanted me to continue school? Theoretically, yes. She believed in girls being educated, though she didn’t go beyond high school herself. So did her father, my grandfather, a schoolmaster before he left Scotland for Canada in the early 1900s. But neither was around then to cause me to reconsider.

After Mum left, I had the crazy idea that my two younger brothers needed me at home to cook and clean and iron. I had some noble Florence Nightingale image of myself caring for the needy, not realizing I also was deprived. I would devote myself to my brothers and stepfather, using them as an excuse for dropping out. Stepping into the caretaker role assuaged my guilt for letting myself down and pre-empting a future.

My sister, six years older than I, may have tried to dissuade me from jumping off the deep end. But there was a wide gulf between us at that point. We had shared a bedroom until she married when I was thirteen. I not only stole money out of her hope chest, but I also borrowed her clothes without asking and returned them to the closet soiled. This behavior didn’t endear me to her. She wanted me out of her hair. She also was deeply involved in her own life by then, working as a secretary for an oil company while her husband articled as an accountant through a correspondence course.

For all of my good intentions, I wasn’t ready to become an instant mother, another example of letting myself down—and others. I struggled each morning to drag myself out of bed. Actually, it was a struggle just to wake up. My immediate impulse was to silence the alarm, plant the pillow over my head, and go back to sleep.

Sometimes I did just that, not wanting the responsibility for waking my brothers, making their breakfast, packing a lunch for each, and sending them off to school. Quickly my justification for quitting school was dissolving. So was the notion I had of rescuing my stepfather and brothers. I failed yet again. Continue Reading…

Beating Fear with a Stick, Eating Disorders/Healing, Guest Posts, healing

To Heal the World We Must Heal Ourselves. By Bryant McGill

February 12, 2014

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By Bryant McGill.

I was born in the deep south, in Mobile, Alabama, also known as the Azalea City because of the vibrant landscapes colored by these beautiful flowers. I had been adopted away from an abusive family situation, and had almost died twice as a toddler. I grew up on a small, dirt road in the country, and my family had few resources, so college was seemingly not an option. I had no connections, no education, few positive role models, and making matters worse, my self-esteem had been crushed through years of secreted childhood bullying and abuses, which would take me decades to overcome. What I remember the most about my childhood is constant fear — and “good food.”

I was raised in a culture of quietly “polite” judgments; a pressure-cooker of seething hatred, prejudice, violence and ignorance. But hey, the catfish and fried chicken were amazing! I was never really taught about healthy eating. To the contrary, my cultural inheritance was learning to “treat yourself” at “special occasions” by gorging on every horribly delicious food you can imagine. I don’t want to get into the greasy, buttery, deep-fried, fatty, sugary, meaty, barbecued details here, but let’s just say if gluttony really is the second deadly sin, then I knew a lot of people on their way to hell. With no knowledge of positive psychology, real foods or healthy lifestyles, time took its toll on me, and the invincibility of my youth diminished as my gut and waist-line expanded.

Much later in life, I found myself living (dying) in a suburban basement, like a hunchback shut-in, not leaving for months at a time because of embarrassment and chronic pain. It was really bad, and sad. I had no one to help me with my plight. I cried out for help to those closest to me, but my pleading was met with cold detachment and uncaring. There was a time when I was really worried and afraid that I was going to die, because I was so unhealthy. I could not even walk up a flight of stairs without being out of breath. I was truly and frighteningly, unwell. I was on my own and I was debilitated. I felt old and tired, and I could see the grave rapidly approaching. My body had become an entombment of fat covering the pain and loneliness of a broken heart and spirit. Hope and life seemed very distant.

But there was something still in me; a dream I had always dreamt of living a beautiful life. I had a calling in my heart; a great calling for a great work. But, to carry out my calling I would need strength and vitality, both things that seemed so far away. I longed to be free of the bodily pain, stiffness and decrepitude. I remember when I was just a little boy running around bare-foot on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere Alabama. I may have been a hick, but I could run! At dusk, often on my way home, I would run bare-foot through a five acre field of dew-covered grass. I was running wildly on the tips of my toes with such speed, that all I could hear was the loud winds blowing in my ears. I felt like Mercury, or an Indian brave, and my energy seemed inexhaustible. I could run like the wind; feeling my power rushing through me. I wanted that joyous, youthful vigor and spring back.

One of the first steps to achieving wellness for me, was learning humility. To abuse the gift of life and one’s own precious body is a form of extreme arrogance and self-hatred. So one of the keys for me was reacquainting myself with the beautiful gifts that exist, for those who have respect, gratitude and appreciation for all that is available to heal and sustain our bodies. I also made a very deliberate decision that I wanted to live life with health and vigor. I decided I wanted the energy and vitality to do and experience all of the wondrous things in life that are available to all people. I wanted the strength and stamina to lead a life of activity, exploration and true excellence. Ultimately it came down to me deciding whether I wanted to advance toward the grave in a state of decrepit stupor, or rise and advance in life as a fresh, vital being, full of youthful energy and joy.

In my quest for understanding, I realized something very important one day. That the human body is an unfathomable and miraculous microcosm of divine order. The intelligence, complexity and order of even a single cell rivals that of a large modern city. Our bodies love us! Just think about it. The universe within–your trillions of cells all cooperate in a grand orchestration to serve and heal you. Your cells work around the clock in total unison and harmony cleaning, repairing, restoring and nourishing your entire physical being. Every person’s body wants nothing more than to cooperate with them in achieving optimal health. But I realized that I was at WAR with my OWN body. I was waging a terrible war of violence against my body by bombarding it with stress, toxic environments, lack of sleep, and the most terrible and dreadful toxic foods known to man, otherwise known as, the modern American diet and lifestyle. When you are obese, you are chronically diseased and you are moving toward the grave at a rapid pace. My body had become completely addicted to heavy greases, oils, animal fats, highly refined carbohydrates, sugars, salts and an endless array of toxic chemicals. All of these self-inflicted bodily assaults kept my body’s own rescue and repair mechanisms overloaded and unable to keep up with my deteriorating state.

Even through my pain I worked toward my heart’s highest calling to be an instrument of healing for the world, but little did I know, that those whispers were really calling for my own healing. As destiny would have it, I found myself catapulted onto the world stage, and was given a rare opportunity to be a voice of reason and peace for the voiceless. However, with the opportunity came a humbling lesson. I was advocating for world peace, but I was waging a violent war against my own body. I was speaking about poverty and starvation, but I was eating more than my fair share. I was a hypocrite. This epiphany laid open my pride to the providence of self-love as I invoked the sage wisdom of Gandhi to become the change that I wanted to see in the world.

I discovered that simply by getting out of my own body’s way, and letting it do its job, and cooperating with my body, IT would heal itself from the dreadfully debilitating sickness of obesity. To lose weight I did very little outside of gentle and peaceful cooperation with the inherent wisdom and intelligence of my own body. Through meditation and gentle cooperation, the body will heal itself with little or no effort. When we are at peace with ourselves the total expression of that true peace includes our outer being; our body. Losing weight and being healthy is so simple and easy. Your goal should never be weight-loss, but rather to have true health and respect for the gift of life.

I know intimately the deep struggles and perseverance it takes to reclaim your health, because I have been there. This is not theoretical for me. I have personally lost over 100 pounds and shrank my waist from a size 48/50″ to 30″. I freed myself from all medications and healed all of my dis-eases: extreme obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, borderline diabetes, bad cholesterol, extreme acid reflux, candida, stiffness, glaucoma, arthritis, bursitis, knee and joint pain, gout, angina, insomnia, breathlessness, fatigue, chronic back problems, post nasal drip and sleep apnea. I believe I have extended my life by decades, reversing my heart condition, and clearing my arteries. I healed myself with totally natural methods, and I now have the energy, vitality, stamina and flexibility of a healthy twenty-year old.

What one person can do, another can do. You can reclaim your life and get back on track to becoming your full potential. It is never too late to love yourself again. Don’t give up. You can accomplish almost anything, if you really want it. Let me be your proof that it is possible. Start educating yourself and learn how to take proper care of yourself through self-love. I will be here to support you with the best information I can provide, to help you on your journey. The unification of the mind, spirit and body is the triad of focus that gives one the clarity and resolve to deliver. I have used these, and many other techniques to completely transform my body and my life. My strength, vitality and health are important parts of my secret to how I live a life of activity, exploration and creative excellence. And now, it’s your turn!

“The only hope of transforming the world from the ‘tsunami of violence’ is for each of us to Become the Change We Wish To See in the World. Bryant McGill shows us the way.”

— Dr. Arun M. Gandhi, Grandson of Mahatma Gandhi

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Bryant McGill is a Best-Selling Author, Speaker and Activist,
In the Fields of Self-Development, Personal Freedom and Human Rights. More at www.bryantmcgill.com.

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click to order Simplereminders new book.

click to order Simplereminders new book.

Join Jen Pastiloff, the founder of The Manifest-Station, in The Berkshires of Western Massachusetts in Feb of 2015 for a weekend on being human.

Join Jen Pastiloff, the founder of The Manifest-Station, in The Berkshires of Western Massachusetts in Feb of 2015 for a weekend on being human.

Contact Rachel Pastiloff for health coaching, weight loss, strategies, recipes, detoxes, cleanses or help getting off sugar. Click here or email rachyrachp@gmail.com.

Contact Rachel Pastiloff for health coaching, weight loss, strategies, recipes, detoxes, cleanses or help getting off sugar. Click here or email rachyrachp@gmail.com.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being.