Introduction to the new edition

Don’t Call Me Mother—A Daughter’s Journey from Abandonment to Forgiveness

Linda Joy Myers      

Linda Joy promo

                                                                                                                               

Introduction to the new edition

     It’s been seven years since the first edition of Don’t Call Me Mother was published. I’ve had time to reflect on the path I took writing it, and to gather the welcome responses from readers who would write to me about how their story was similar to mine, in some cases sharing the poignant stories of the points of connection between us.

     During the fifteen years it took me to write Don’t Call Me Mother, I journeyed from someone who had a mother but felt like an orphan to someone without a mother who finally felt normal.

 

     The title comes from a vignette in the book that happened when I was twenty years old, when my mother disclosed how she had kept me a secret from her friends in Chicago, where she’d made a new life. It had to be that way, she told me, and I shouldn’t object or complain. From then until her death thirty years later, I tried to make her accept and love me and my children. I wanted her to admit us past her gate of denial. I wanted more than just acknowledgment of us as a family—as her family. I wanted an open-armed embrace. I wanted an apology. I wanted her to tell me she was wrong to have denied me that long. I wanted acceptance. This was a fantasy I harbored as long as she lived, but as with many fantasies, none of this happened. As I see it now, the hope that she might one day accept me probably helped to keep me from drowning in the darkness of her rejection and cruelty.

     Over the course of my adult life, I worked through therapy and writing to heal myself and find ways to understand my mother and my maternal grandmother.  I spent hours doing research in dusty courthouses, local libraries, and in photo archives and newspapers to find clues about the breach in the mother-daughter line. I learned how to tap the story archives each year when I visited my extended Iowa family to see what morsels of truth might rise to the surface. I cobbled together my origins, and the clues I unearthed helped me to have compassion for all the mothers I knew and all the mothers that came before.

     The thing about the dead is that though they can’t speak directly, they whisper to us in dreams, visit in moments of quiet. They never really leave us. I wrote my book believing that if I could come to terms with my confusing and painful multigenerational story that it might heal not just me, but us—all of us, even the dead. I’d read that if we shift our consciousness, if we dig into the depths of our hearts, we can find the light of something better than our own legacy. We can’t change the past, but we can change our relationship to it.

Writing as Healing

     Many of you know my other books about writing as a healing path—Becoming Whole and The Power of Memoir. In these books I share research by Dr. James Pennebaker about how writing helps to heal trauma, and how it positively affects the immune system. In my “Writing as Healing” workshops, which I’ve been leading for thirteen years, I’ve witnessed how writing the truth without censorship and being received without judgment offers moments of insight, healing, and forgiveness. With my participants I’ve shared joys and sorrows, successes and failures, and watched as the room so often echoed with ahas as stories revealed their wisdom.

     My own story certainly revealed its wisdom to me, something I discovered as I wrote my book. The struggles that were my life had turned into a “story,” which became objective once it lived in the pages of a book.  I had tinkered with the manuscript far too long, and when it became a book, I was finally able to leave it behind and look forward. I started a new chapter of my life when the book was published. I felt less shame, and more confident, and felt I’d banished the dark shadows that had always been part of me because of my silence and shame.  This was my story, yet, and I’m more than my story. After the book was published, I got to know other women who shared similar stories of struggling to rise toward the light of resolution and forgiveness. I’m grateful for all the letters about our parallel paths of healing and forgiveness.

     In this new edition, I have included an Afterword—the shifts in my life that happened as a result of writing the book. Our stories go on, as do we. When we courageously pursue our healing path, we can be blessed with unforeseen riches. We can also find ourselves living with uncomfortable realities, as I discovered with my Iowa family after my book came out. Not all families are forgiving, and it seems that holding grudges and keeping secrets were part of the heritage of the extended family I’d been a part of.

MIssissippi River

The Mississippi River

 

     There came the day when standing behind my truths meant that my illusions about that family, and my hopes to one day be a part of it, had to be left behind. The secret truths I’d left out of the book became larger than the confessions within. I stood by the Mississippi River one day in August three years after the book came out, symbolically bidding the town and the family goodbye. I visited my mother’s grave for the last time and whispered to the corn fields a final farewell. You can read about how this came about in the section of the Afterword called “Truth, Secrets, Denial: After the Memoir.”

     Through writing my memoir, I finally had the courage to confront the town and the family where I’d lived when I was five, returning to a place of nightmares, only to find that ordinary people live there—with their own scars.

     But the best gift from the memoir—writing it and living it and afterward—was growing a relationship with my daughter, and making us ordinary—two women who love each other and can show it. A mother and a daughter, getting on with life. I’m a grandmother who loves and is loved in return—a first in generations for my family. My goal early in my life was to change the patterns that had wrapped us in darkness for too long. As I hug my grandchildren, I know that I have done that.

     Thus I come full circle—through writing, living, and writing some more. The layers of story are deep, they take us into the labyrinth of our hearts, where we can become free of the past. Free to BE.

Don't Call Me MOther--new

 

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