Second Chances–the New Edition of my Memoir Don’t Call Me Mother

Don't Call Me Mother--new edition

 

Today I’m celebrating the official release of the new edition of my memoir Don’t Call Me Mother! There are few second chances in life, but in the world of artistic creation, you can rebirth a book, revisioning it as artists do when they paint. That’s what I have done with the new edition of Don’t Call Me Mother—A Daughter’s Journey from Abandonment to Forgiveness.

My first step in the process of re-visioning, based on all the comments, feedback and reviews from the last few years, was to ask myself: what is this book really about? What is the message of the book, the arc of meaning and how does it appear to others? What is the beating heart of this book, and how does it reach beyond me and my story?

 Yes, it’s my story, but according to the feedback I’ve received, the book connects emotionally with others–and not just women who have been literally abandoned by their mothers. Women and men who have suffered loss of family connection, those who know the loneliness of being a foster child, or people who have yearned for the kind eyes and soft touch of a parent, only to get a slap or criticism can relate to the themes in my memoir.

Yet Don’t Call Me Mother is not a bleak story. It’s a story about hope and forgiveness, and it celebrates music, wheat fields in spring, and the idea that change is possible. It’s a story about finding the best in people, perhaps to my own detriment, and being stubborn enough to pursue my mother all the way to her death bed to try to understand why for decades she denied I was her daughter—and to try to get her to change.

Even after I completed the first edition, appeared as a guest on radio interviews, posted on blogs, gave book events, I was still living with the issues I raised in the book—the lost girl who was trying to be a full woman, a mother who had her own regrets about raising my children, and irrational though it was, at times I feared becoming a grandmother—that’s how deeply my grandmother’s depression and rage had etched me. As the years passed after completing the book, I realized that the ghosts of the past were no longer whistling around me the way they did before I finished the book. I saw that capturing the story and setting it down—had allowed me to in effect and in real life, to put the past behind me.

 Miles and Zoe

 

Two more grandchildren were born, and I saw that I was not and never would be my judgmental grandmother. For a while, I continued to connect with what was left of my Iowa family, only to find that the past grudges, judgments and gritty jealousies trumped the healing I needed to do—in order to get along with them, I’d have to lie, pretend, and put up with abuse that I could no longer do. The only thing possible then was to let them go—they were really more of an illusion of family that had filled some of the emptiness of not having my mother or father in my life. I write about what happened in the afterword of the new edition.

The best part of spending several years with the first edition of my memoir was that new sparks began to light about what I’d learned in the intervening years. I’ve discussed in my two books on memoir writing Becoming Whole and The Power of Memoir how powerful writing memoir is to heal the issues of the past—for myself and for those with whom I work. In my work with people during these years, I have seen amazing transformations. Writing a long memoir is a journey that takes years of work and research—both inner and outer; it takes skill to sort through all the threads, and courage to face up to the stories that sometimes break our hearts.

Through the writing and the living during the last seven years since this book was published, I’m stronger and clearer about the roles of everyone in the story. I’ve experienced the power of memoir to offer new hope, new patterns, and entirely new moments that allow the old histories to fly away like a feather in the wind. My daughter and I are blessed with an honest, fresh, and real relationship—which continues to be a miracle to me, having seen decades of destruction between mothers and daughters. My six year old grand-daughter, Zoe Joy, shows me in her strength and innocence, that the pattern of lost daughters and tragic mothers has indeed been broken. This I celebrate in the last story in the new edition, “Flowering.”

Through reading my memoir, it’s my hope that mothers and daughters, and all families who struggle with the wounds of the past can see that though it may take decades, change is possible. Forgiveness comes when it is time, leaving us free to love as we should love, leaving us closer to each other, as it should be.

Are there Secrets in your Family?

 

 

My beautiful grandmother in her 30's

 

 

 

No one ever saw how my grandmother looked when she was upset—hair frizzed, lips caked with coffee stained lipstick, rage pouring from her eyes as she ranted and raved. Sometimes I would stand in front of her for two hours, afraid to move. I wondered if the neighbors heard her ranting, I found out years later that they had heard the shouting and the crying, but in the fifties what went on behind closed doors was considered no one’s business.

 

Besides, when people act irrationally, we feel ashamed. Maybe we feel responsible—could we have prevented the outburst? I worried about what I did or could do differently to keep her from getting angry again, but some of the time it was not about me—since we lived alone together, there was no one else to scream at but me.

Forty years later I realized that my grandmother must have had something wrong with her, and it would be on my mother’s deathbed that a diagnosis came forward—for her and my mother, who ranted and behaved irrationally too—“Bi-Polar.” Naming this monster that made these beautiful women in my life so angry and sad, that made them ugly and distorted was a huge relief. It helped me to forgive them and to have compassion for them—this naming. I wondered if they had been diagnosed earlier and had some medical help, if our lives could have been different.

 

My mother Josephine--mid-1950s

 

Many of you know about the research by Dr. James Pennebaker that carrying secrets puts a huge burden on the mind and the body.  We can release this burden and come to greater health through writing. I write about this in my book The Power of Memoir, and Victoria Costello, author of A Lethal Inheritance, is going to talk about it this Friday at our National Association of Memoir Writer’s member teleseminar.

Victoria combines her research and her own family experiences with mental illness in her book, and shares the stories with us—a very brave thing to do!

Here’s a link to the book review I wrote where you can read more about her book and her story. We are going to talk about the value of finding out about your family history as you write your memoir. I have done a lot of genealogical research both in dusty courthouses and at Ancestry.com to try to unearth layers of secrets, chipping away at the burden I used to carry.

Do you have secrets that scare you? Have you tried writing them down—just for you?

How about family history research—have you done it, and has it helped you with your story?

Join me and Victoria:

March 16, 2012
11AM PDT; 12 MDT; 1 PM CDT; 2 PM EDT

Memoir Writing: Finding Your Way through Your Family History

Victoria Costello, Author of A Lethal Inheritance