recommends that adults caring for children use “healthy forms of discipline” — such as positive reinforcement of appropriate behaviors, setting limits and setting expectations — and not use spanking, hitting, slapping, threatening, insulting, humiliating or shaming.
…”In the 20 years since that policy was first published, there’s been a great deal of additional research, and we’re now much stronger in saying that parents should never hit their child and never use verbal insults that would humiliate or shame the child,” said Dr. Robert Sege, first author of the policy statement and a pediatrician at the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center in Boston.
Gershoff hopes that the new statement will finally cause massive change in how parents discipline children, and notes changes that have already been made over the years.
There are practical reasons to stop spanking. The main one is that it does not work. Some parents may say, “But it does for my child.” A child may cry and stop what she is doing in the moment, but numerous studies involving hundreds of thousands of children show that spanking does not make children better behaved in the long run, and in fact makes their behavior worse.
It is hard for parents to see this in their day-to-day interactions, but the research is clear: We consistently find that the more a child is spanked, the more aggressive he or she will be in the future.
Spanking also teaches children that it is acceptable to use physical force to get what you want. It is thus no surprise that the more children are spanked, the more likely they are to be aggressive or to engage in delinquent behaviors like stealing.
…The majority of us who were spanked by our parents think we “turned out OK.” Perhaps we did. But maybe we were lucky that our parents did other things, like talking with us about what behaviors they wanted to see us do in the future, that helped us develop self-control and make good behavior choices.
Of course, I see so many people say “I was spanked and I turned out okay” that I doubt the change will happen so fast.
It’s especially ludicrous to hear, on one hand, “They don’t let you spank these days and the kids are out of control,” but on the other hand read studies that say MOST parents still spank their kids. Okay, so it’s more likely the kids who are out of control actually ARE spanked. I’ve seen this for myself, a family where the kids were spanked and shamed and slapped over the back of their heads, but the kids still were out of control.
And well, I don’t actually see kids being any worse now than they were when I was a child. Because yes, I still remember how we were. I think people of my generation and older often have rose-colored glasses of how we acted. But we were not angels, despite spanking at home and paddles in our principals’ desk drawers.
Just remember, back when harsh discipline was considered normal, what we had in the world: torture, Nazis, employers ordering troops to fire on their own striking Greek employees, burning or hanging people for being witches or heretics, racism, lynching, sexism, slavery, wars, military brutality (such as whipping for infractions), rape, murder, stealing, lying, piracy, etc. etc. etc.
Obviously, spanking children did not stop them from doing horrible things as adults. These things did not suddenly appear in a world where spanking was banished. And you can bet that the people performing these acts were spanked or otherwise hit as children.
Filmed in German and released as Das Weisse Band, Eine Deutsche Kindergeschichte, or The White Ribbon: A German Children’s Story, the film deals with a group of children who will become adults around the time of the rise of the Third Reich. This ‘children’s story’ seeks to discover what it was in German children’s background which may have caused them to support and assist the Nazi party when the time came – much the same questions, and conclusions, once offered by the late child psychologist Alice Miller, who drew a controversial connection between harsh child rearing methods and a tendency toward violence and the acceptance of tyranny. –Monica Reid, Twin Fascist Fables: The White Ribbon and The Childhood of a Leader
And also remember, today’s narcissists were probably spanked as children. I know several of them who certainly were. Sure didn’t drive the narcissism out of ’em.
And speaking of narcissists, more news on abusive ex Phil:
To recap, in the summer, I discovered that his own sister temporarily filed a restraining order against him. I’ve also learned that she and his mother were involved in a lawsuit with him last year, with him as the plaintiff, though the details are not online.
From his Facebook profile, I learned that he was engaged. His profile has been quiet ever since, and he did not respond to a question from me (simply “how are you”), though I know he saw it. But from hers I’ve learned all sorts of things:
She is around the same age as his controlling mother–whom, by the way, she writes that he finally broke free of about a year or two ago. (Makes me wonder if she was a kind of replacement for his mother.)
She identifies as an empath. (I don’t know if that’s a real thing or pseudoscience, but narc blogs commonly say that empaths attract narcissists.) She believes in Christ, but also in various New Age things like astral projection.
(I’ve noted that Phil tends to have girlfriends who believe in New Age: One ex channeled a spirit in the middle of a makeout session. I believed in Charismatic sign gifts and other psychic phenomena in those days. Persephone is a Wiccan who’s written spell books, though in those days she told everyone she was Methodist. Phil showed no sign of believing in such things himself, so I believe he looks for this in girlfriends as a sign of gullibility so they can be manipulated. He manipulated my psychic beliefs severely, weaving a web of deception that lasted for many months.)
The engagement ended over the summer when she learned that he was diagnosed with Bipolar II and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (though Disorder is more likely, because he’s neither deformed nor retarded).
It was a mutual decision, because he hadn’t been taking his medication so his brain was heavily damaged; and under the influence of the disorder, he had turned manipulative and probably worse. He has been in and out of a mental hospital on suicide watch for months.
She didn’t want to leave him, but neither did she want to be abused. She was still supposed to stay in his life and support him–but then he cut her off.
She has been in a terrible state since then, very familiar as I was once there myself. She has blamed it all on the diagnoses; sounds like there are several, though she only named two. She has said that the real him wouldn’t hurt a fly, and that the disorder causes the bad behavior.
But there’s been a change recently. She speaks of being blind, duped, used, of learning truths she didn’t know before he got sick. (She’s also been posting memes and videos about narcissists.) She talks as if she was more in love than he was, despite all the flowery words he told her once upon a time. Flowery words which, by the way, he said to me some 24 years ago. I can even tell you when, and what we were doing, because it’s in my memoir. And her, she has a Facebook post which he wrote saying all those things.
I’m sad and hurt for her. I’m angry at him. I see it all happening all over again. I remember my friends telling me what it was like seeing my relationship happen all over again with the girl he ended up legally marrying (1996-2007).
For a time, I thought he would change. I thought this woman could do it.
I wondered if everything he did could be pinned on the FAS, if the real him was truly not responsible for the abuse, if he was truly Dr. Jekyll while Mr. Hyde was an illness beyond his control–but that could be eradicated by doctors.
I thought that because of the diagnoses and care of the doctors, which none of Phil’s exes ever had (he was diagnosed in 2010), Phil would finally turn away from his abusive behaviors.
But no. Take this as a lesson to you: They simply don’t change. They aren’t “different” with the next girlfriend. She won’t “save” him.
And it isn’t your fault. The abuse is not your fault.
It’s all his.
This is a lesson I, too, have been learning, trying to take it into my head and abolish all the lingering doubts, put there back when Phil insisted I was to blame for it all.
This knowledge is helping me to heal. Hopefully it will help her as well. She’s a sweet person who deserves much better than this.
First, the local newspaper reported Richard’s summons on their website’s weekly court cases.
Every week (except for the week Richard was convicted, naturally), they post mug shots and details of selected court cases in the county.
The week of 3/4/11, there was his mug shot for all to see, and what he did, along with his confession. There was no mistaking that was Richard.
But the week of his plea/sentencing hearing, they posted nothing. So I had to get details from the state’s court website. Finally, today, 11/11/11, the newspaper printed in the “Day in Court” section:
Richard —-, [address], one year probation, [fine], battery.
It’s heartening to see that his sentence was actually worse than similar convictions in that section. The person below him got battery (domestic abuse, repeater) and disorderly conduct (domestic abuse), and two years probation, but a much smaller fine.
Another person was charged with battery and also paid a smaller fine, no probation or jail.
Another person got battery (domestic abuse), one year probation, and a much smaller fine.
Apparently, the local courts are trying to keep people out of jail, getting money from fees rather than paying money for their room and board in prison.
When I look at his mug shot, I try to identify his demeanor: Angry at his daughter for turning him in? Angry at the police? Sheepish? I just can’t figure it out.
I can pick up many body language cues these days, but nuances still can elude me. Sometimes I think he looks upset with himself for getting himself into this mess, and hope that means he’s willing to change.
But lately, when I look at it, I think he looks angry. My husband agrees.
And that disturbs me, because why should he be angry if he’s truly sorry for what he did? Why did he plead no contest instead of guilty, even though the newspaper website stated that he did confess after his daughter reported him? Is he or is he not taking responsibility for his actions?
My husband thinks he’s angry because he doesn’t think the government should be telling him how to raise his kids. I wonder why it took five months for the police to charge him, when his daughter reported him the next day.
But she was a brave little girl, doing what so many abused children do not do, whether because they’re brainwashed into thinking their parents are just disciplining them and they deserve it, or because they’re too scared to report their parents and enrage them further.
But there you go. The public knows thanks to the newspaper. (No, “Richard” is not his real name.) And because the public knows, he must know that Hubby and I know, and I hope the thought shames him.
I thought he was cool. I thought he was awesome. I thought he was gentle, godly and pious. I thought he was fun to be around, and would never hurt his own children, other than one time when they were little.
But now everybody knows the truth. How was I so fooled?
We are not to blame. His wife is most likely borderline personality disordered/malignant narcissist, making all her opinions of me worthless.
(Borderline is described by NAMI as a serious mental illness, her mother has it, and she was abused herself as a child, making her higher-risk for developing it.)
[Update 5/10/14: I have since learned of a borderline spectrum. She is more likely to be high-functioning borderline, which is more under control but less likely to recognize one’s own emotional instability–and also more likely to be narcissistic as well.]
Besides her behavior which matches everything I read about borderline, I witnessed her hanging half her body out of their van as Richard drove along the street, very dangerous behavior which I’m told is common with borderlines. One of the traits of BPD is impulsive and reckless behavior, and this may also be considered suicidal or self-harming behavior, another trait.
Richard, as well, could be personality disordered/narcissistic, especially from living with someone with BPD traits.
Nobody who was not disordered in some way, would betray and threaten friends who had been extremely kind to him, or choke a child within an inch of her life.
My mind is still reeling from the juxtaposition of what I thought he was and what he’s been proven to be.
I figured Social Services (or CPS) was involved, because they work together with law enforcement on child abuse cases.
But there on that page was proof that Social Services is indeed involved here, that they set rules which the court ordered to be obeyed as conditions for Richard’s bond:
Signature bond set
Follow rules of informal agreement of DSS. Fingerprints and photo.
[Update 2/2/15: DSS is an acronym for “Department of Social Services”: See here, where “DSS” is used in the address and e-mail address for the department, which includes protection of children.
The use of an “informal agreement” for a case that has been charged in court is confusing, because the description here is,
If the case is handled informally an Informal Agreement is signed outlining rules of supervision and appropriate services for the family. This signed contract means that the case does not go to court and is in effect for six months.
The family may or may not continue to work with the Dept. of Social Services beyond the initial six months depending on whether or not the informal agreement was satisfactorily met.
But the above does not fit the actual court case AT ALL. First of all, contrary to the above description, it DID go to court.
If the court has made following the agreement a condition of bail, and a criminal charge has now been made, it no longer fits the above description. It sounds more like Court-Ordered Supervision.
Since it took more than four months for the charges to be filed, I wonder if they made an informal agreement but broke it–then got charged and forced to follow it. I also suspect the rules of probation, which were not stipulated online, were to follow this agreement.
Also, the charges were formally made on the same day I sent a letter to Social Services describing Richard’s own abuses: He told me he put the kids in the closet and smacks them on the head. I often wonder if the results of the investigation into that letter, were used in the court case, which took seven months from initial appearance to conviction.]
So they’re working with the family, and Social Services also has a letter I wrote (completely separate from this case, which I did not know about at the time), so they know what I know.
So I do hope that in time, conditions will turn around in this family, that Richard and Tracy will learn how to control their anger and stop the abuse, and some sort of friendship will be possible between us again–though only if the past can be dropped and I can be allowed to be myself.
Because I want to be back in the lives of the precious little children whom I felt led to protect with that letter to Social Services.
Because I hate having enemies, especially ones who were once friends.
It helps that I have not used their real names, and that I did not publicly shame them. That Richard did it himself–and now his name is in the paper as convicted of battery, and on the newspaper’s website and the online database as a child abuser.
He screwed up his own life and dreams.
According to my priest, he’ll never be ordained now that he has this on his record.
Any political aspirations would be cut short as soon as the media dug it up, and any potential employers can Google his name and find his online case file on the very first page. [2/2/15: I’m told that employers are allowed to refuse to hire someone with abuse on their record, if it would affect the job.]
He has no one to blame for his public shame but himself.
(Update 11/15/11): Until October, I hadn’t cried over this for many, many months. But the depression is back. The sadness keeps weighing me down like a lead blanket.
Seeing his name in the newspaper court records on Friday, has put me into a funk again.
I can’t help crying at what he’s done, how many people he’s hurt: his former friend Todd, his little girl, Hubby, me, numerous people in his past.
The proof is there–I need no more evidence–that he has done a horrible thing, been convicted of it.
It’s no dream, no fantasy I dreamed up.
He did such a bad thing that Social Services was involved before they even got my letter, giving him rules that the court ordered him to follow.
This guy was my friend. I thought he was such a pious, gentle, harmless person, who loves his little children dearly and wants to protect them, who would never harm me, either.
I went to him with spiritual and religious questions, as a fellow searcher who had already found his path. He guided me every step of the way until I found my way into Orthodoxy, helped keep me there even when the fundamentalist converts on the Net made me waver.
He even offered to be my godfather if I decided to be chrismated (made Orthodox). (I said no because he was a man my age, so it would be too weird.)
He had a similar religious background to mine, so we both had dealt with many of the same things in our old churches. I saw him as my spiritual mentor.
Now I see someone I’m afraid of, whom I once loved as my best friend.
Someone who nearly killed his daughter, someone who went along with his wife’s abuse of me and began bullying me as well to save his own skin.
Someone whose circumstances I kept crying over and trying to help with, only to be tossed away like an annoyance for some petty thing.
Things like this don’t just go away overnight; you don’t just forget them.
Breakups with boyfriends in college and the funk they put me into, seem like nothing compared to the betrayal and loss of someone I considered my best friend forever, someone who had my back, only to turn around and stab me in it.
I still keep hoping that one day–especially if Social Services succeeds in helping him turn his life around, counsels him on anger management and parenting and such–that he will come to us and repent of what he’s done to us.
Because despite everything, despite my anger and disappointment with him, despite how I feel about his politics and his opinions on NVLD, a part of me still wants my friend back.
(Update 11/26/11): Another examination of the mug shot, along with some googling for how to identify facial expressions, reveals a more disturbing interpretation: not just anger, but also contempt.
The rest of his face looks angry, and one corner of his mouth curves down–but one corner of his mouth curves slightly upwards, causing just enough wrinkling to look like the beginning of a smile. In other words, a sneer.
The other basic emotions all have basic facial symmetry, but contempt shows on only one side of the face. And while both his eyebrows curve downward in the middle, one side of his face definitely looks different from the other, and he’s looking down.
Everything I read says this is a classic contempt expression.
Contempt? Contempt for whom? You’ve just been summoned to court for nearly killing your daughter, and your face shows both anger and contempt?
“Guilt, shame, and contempt are each based on meeting expectations: Guilt: I did not meet your moral standards and expectations, Shame: I did not meet my own standards of behavior, and Contempt: you did not meet my moral standards and expectations” —(http://www.emotionalcompetency.com/contempt.htm).
This is extremely disturbing! If he were angry at himself, his face would show shame, not contempt. Contempt means he’s angry at somebody else–but he’s the one who did the terrible deed! Who is he angry at? Who did not meet his moral standards and expectations?
Researching “contempt” also brings to mind Tracy’s claims of feeling snubbed. Well, if she felt snubbed or like I felt contempt because I was reacting to her many acts of abuse of Richard and/or the children while I was right there–well, it’s her own fault!
If you verbally or physically abuse somebody right in front of me, what other expression (other than surprise or fear or being appalled) could I rightfully assume, in all justice toward the victim of bullying and abuse?
(Update 12/4/11): It’s also baffling to see things turn out like this. In the beginning, Richard seemed like a good guy, a decent sort, gentle and god-fearing. He would get excited about theological points and articles just as I would, so we could talk about these and search out what Orthodoxy says about such topics as literal interpretation, End Times, original sin, and universalism. He was happy to read an article I lent him on what an Orthodox writer says about the salvation of all.
There is a part of him that desires the truth and could still lead to his salvation. But somewhere along the way, he got lost in all this violence.
I pray that he finds his way back Home again. Not just for his salvation, but because I miss the friend who once was.
Not what he turned into, which was a jerk, but the friend he was in 2005-2007, the one I told about my family crisis in 2007 even though I only knew him via phone and Internet, because we were that close and comfortable with each other.
But did that person ever really exist, or was it just the facet he showed me?
I pray for the social workers and probation officer, so that they can help this family stop the abuse and begin to heal. Otherwise the misery could continue for years, because these beautiful, sweet, innocent children will most likely carry it on into their own relationships and families.
(Update 12/20/11): In trying to find out what happened to a guy I went to school with, who still lives in my home state and is rumored to be in jail now, I discovered a multi-state inmate locator. So what the heck, I checked it for my state.
Two things I found out: The guy I mentioned a few posts back, who annoyed my SCA shire in 1999 and ended up getting charged with photographing teenage girls a couple years ago? His stayed sentence has been revoked, and he’s in jail now. He has to register as a sex offender for many years to come. LOL Guy’s a sociopath.
Also, I found that Richard took five updated pictures in November for the state, which were posted on this site. When he showed up at my church a week or two after the verdict, and showed some signs of repentance (for one, holding himself back from the Eucharist, which you do when you’ve committed some grave sin and need to do penance), I hoped he was sorry for what he did and working on it. These new pictures were taken after that.
I had hoped to see some evidence of repentance and change in his pictures; all I found was more contempt. More hatred being sent to the camera. More “you are scum” being sent to the camera.
More of it than before, because now he has his head up and cocked to one side (all the easier to look down his nose at the picture-taker), his mouth is curled upwards more clearly on one side, and he’s looking up instead of down, so the look in his eyes is much clearer to see. (Before, he was looking down, but his eyebrows were angry.)
Heck, I could swear it was my brother’s expression when he bullied me.
The old mug shot has more anger in the eyebrows; the new pictures have more raised eyebrows, making the contempt win out over the anger.
There are five pictures, not just one moment in time like the mug shot, so you can see it’s not just a posed half-smile; all three of the front-facing pictures have the same expression. It’s a scary look.
I spent so much time with him and got so comfortable with him that I could hold eye contact and pay far more attention than I normally do to people’s body language; I felt I could read him extremely well at times; I don’t recall ever seeing a look like this on his face.
I saw joy, sadness, religious devotion, humor, annoyance at his children, happiness to see good friends, playfulness, or anger with his wife, even anger at me once, but I never saw him look like this.
And I see it very clearly in these new pictures. I see that side of him that I never could quite believe in before, that violent side.
Hubby says he looks like the cat who swallowed the canary, like he got away with something.
I see that my suspicions of narcissism–as much as I hoped I was wrong about that–are confirmed.
I had hoped for better than that. I had thought he was better than that. What the heck has happened to him? Yuck.
Somehow I have to stop wishing he’d call me up and say he’s sorry, say he wants to make things right.
Lately, I’ve been missing him and wishing that would happen. Well, I don’t know if I can ever stop wishing for that; I’ve had bullies and exes do that, so why couldn’t it happen here, too? Even my abusive ex *Phil* apologized to me. I know Richard has made peace with people in his past before.
But to long for it, wish for things to be the way they were in October/November 2007–somehow I have to let go of that.
It does help to keep looking at these court records and pictures, because the contempt I see in them is disgusting. I do it again and again to try to drive the longing for reconciliation out of my heart.
What he did was disgusting. But still that part of me keeps hoping for change…..
But I am so frickin’ GLAD I sent that letter to Social Services in March.
I am so glad I told them he talked about putting the kids in the closet.
I’m glad I told them he might strike Tracy one of these days if she hits his face.
I’m glad I told them about the crap Tracy was pulling.
And I hope that the probation officer sees (or probably took) those pictures, sees the contempt in his face, and either makes him do the full sentence, or asks to have the stayed sentence revoked so he can go to jail for ten days. [Update 2/2/15: Richard served the full probation sentence.]
(Update 3/12/12:) After reading what the District Attorney said about my former boss, that he gave him a deferred prosecution agreement so he could have more control over my former boss than “if he had just pled to the felonies,” such as anger management, medication, etc.–I wonder if it was the same thing here.
Did the plea agreement result in probation so the District Attorney could have more control over Richard, get him into counseling and the like, make sure he followed the agreement with Social Services? I do hope so.
(My boss went ballistic when his wife wanted to leave him. It seems he’d been physically abusing her. He drove the red pickup truck I remembered, into the kitchen and did lots of damage to the side of the house; he resisted arrest; he caused damage when the police hauled him in.)
One of the most fascinating aspects of Zimmerman’s latest incident was that he himself called the police to counter his girlfriend’s call, and offered another dispatcher a separate set of facts. He said that the girlfriend had “gone crazy” and had broken a table in the apartment.
“I just want everyone to know the truth,” he tells the dispatcher. “She got mad that I told her I would be willing to leave.”
There’s no telling what exactly happened before their respective calls to police. But, if Zimmerman’s girlfriend is telling the truth, then his effort to turn the tables and make his girlfriend sound guilty is again a classic case of something domestic violence prevention advocates call “minimization, denial and blaming,” which is when abusers make the victim feel as though they are responsible for the abuse, or crazy for thinking any abuse occurred at all. –Annie-Rose Strasser, What George Zimmerman’s story can teach us about domestic abusers
My dad died last August. I was at his bedside. Then came the funeral, I went home, and it was back to my own life.
I had a lot to do: We had a cat in failing health peeing all over the basement, so every day I had to clean up after her multiple times. The tub/surround desperately needed replacing, and that required contractors, lots of $$$, and a loan. Hubby wanted me to deal with that, and it took some time. I’m working on a novel that requires extensive research. And of course, there’s typical life stuff: housework, kid’s school, church, club, etc.
In the midst of all that, a large group of obsessive trolls began stalking me on and off.
But now the tub is finally replaced, with beautiful new tiling. The trolls lost interest. The cat is, unfortunately, now passed, leaving me with much less work to do in a day.
And now my brain is starting to force the grief upon me. I didn’t try to push it away before: I just had stuff to do and had to focus. But for a long time, details of being by my dad’s bedside, and then losing my dad, were kept in a little spot in my brain, because they were too painful and disturbing. But now the grief’s been coming out, over and over again.
At night, I sometimes dream about death. Much of it is about my own mortality, the old fear arising yet again that death is truly the end, that the atheists are right and we go to nothingness. The fear of the end of Me.
Just the other night (this was written March 25), I dreamed of someone whose eyes were forced open after he died (yeah, I know it’s usually the other way, but this was a dream). Somebody said that brain waves continue after death unless your eyes are propped open: Then they stop. This made me wonder if forcing the eyes open meant that you truly went to nothing, while before you still were alive someplace. I wondered if forcing the eyes open meant interference, truly killing someone. It freaked me out, and I woke up.
I dream about life slipping away, aging, faster and faster all the time, looking back and longing for youth. I dream of my son’s life passing too fast.
Two months ago, I dreamed about my dad. I wrote it down, and decided to use it in my novel. I’m not sure if I want to write it here, or just let the world see the fictionalized version. Maybe I already did write it here, but forgot. But it was upsetting.
I constantly imagine the death of someone who has just died, whether in reality or fiction: not going to Heaven, but going to endless sleep. I remember myself in surgery a couple of years ago, going up onto the table, then suddenly nothing until I woke up later on. I imagine it being like that, but without waking up.
I remember details of my dad’s death. I begin to whimper. I remember he’s gone, that it’s all over. I wonder if I will ever see him again, or if the afterlife is all just a fanciful dream we fool ourselves with. (The atheists don’t seem to understand why we don’t find their version of death appealing or their message comforting.) I could swear it was only just, say, my college years and he was driving me home for Christmas Break. Or that I could still call him up on Father’s Day or his birthday.
I hear something or see something on TV that reminds me of my dad’s last hours, and it floods back.
Then I shake it off because I have to go on.
I recently told my husband something of this, because we just realized the cat was dying, and we were watching for the signs. After checking the Internet to find out what they were, I realized she was probably in pain as well, but hiding it. It reminded me of how my dad suffered, and watching for signs that he was about to leave us. My husband said I needed a vacation. Yet the house keeps needing to be cleaned, meals need to be cooked, bills need to be paid….While the grief and the mid-life crisis continue in the background….
The grief of a parent passing is not just my grief, but everyone’s. There are exceptions, of course–parents who terrorized their kids, kids dying before their parents–but it is universal.
Going through this myself, has given me new insights and maturity. It also has altered the novel I’m working on, the rewrite of Unwilling Time-Traveler. In the rewrite, Bismarck’s father dies, but it was just a note here and there, explaining that Bismarck had just inherited the family estate.
But now, I had some grief and trauma from the bedside experience, which I wanted to purge somehow. I wanted to write about it, but not as a blog post or in letters to friends. Some things are just too disturbing for that, especially when it’s about your own loved one.
But here was a chance to put it into words, not about my own dad, but about a fictional character. A way to portray those moments, but altered to fit a different family.
And in putting that into my book, I have also altered the plot again–now combining four characters into two, and turning things into a slightly different track and focus. Now Bismarck’s brothers, who before were just bit players off to the side, are taking on a larger role, absorbing them into two other characters who were more prominent. I’m excited to see how this will change the story.
Last fall sometime, I thought my story was done. Turns out that was just one possibility for how the story could go. At a recent writer’s club meeting, one of our published authors (traditional, not self!) noted that writers get stuck on a story having to go the way they’ve already written it. But until it’s published, you can alter it any way you want to. You can change scenes, cut scenes, alter characters, change the plot.
And my story–though the first version was fun to write–keeps changing as I come up with new ideas and focuses. Bismarck used to be evil, but over time he’s become a flawed but well-meaning character. Madge’s true love used to be Torsten, then became Scott–and now has become Bismarck himself.
I hold onto every version of my story, not just in case I change my mind and want to revert to an earlier one, but because those earlier versions were fun to write. I may want to read them over again years from now. But the one that ultimately gets sent to publishers–We won’t know how that’ll look until I finish it!
One thing I’ve noted about grief after the death of a parent from disease, is that it’s different from a romantic or friendship breakup: There was no rejection. It is acute, but in a different way. I wonder at the lack of tears.
But then, I cried quite a bit the day of his death. Not after, but before. I knew it was coming, I was by his bedside, his breathing had become rough, and he was now in a comatose state. His pain made me cry. I couldn’t bear it. Seeing my mom, his primary caregiver, worn out, made me cry.
I had hoped to spend all week spending time with him, watching TV with him since the lung cancer was taking his breath away. But it took him so quickly that he was barely verbal the first couple of days I was there. He’d been fighting two other forms of cancer but beating them. Then the third was discovered, and the nurse gave him only a month. He didn’t even last that long. Even my brothers could barely stand it.
The first day I arrived, a Sunday, he could speak a little, and responded when we all surrounded his bedside. He knew I was there. The second, he managed to say a few intelligible sentences, though you could tell his mind was going. The third, I don’t remember if he spoke at all. The fourth, late in the evening, he left us. As I told my mom, I didn’t have enough time.
Before he passed, I tried to still sort of spend time with him. His bed was in the living room, so I turned on our old favorite shows, as a way to watch them “with” him. He could barely attend to anything now, but Mom kept saying he could hear.
But the day he passed, as I heard his breathing, I began to break down. But after he passed, I didn’t cry anymore. Just once, on the way home after the funeral. Maybe a few tears come to my eyes once in a while.
Maybe it’s because the pain is finally over for him. Maybe it’s because we knew about this possibility for two years, as he battled the cancer. Maybe it’s because the anniversaries haven’t started coming.
Well, actually, they have. Remember how, after 9/11, we referred to it as “Tuesday,” before the first week passed? It took a while before we called it 9/11 or September 11, because it had only just happened. But we’d note it was Tuesday, or a week ago, or whatever.
Well, little things happen: I see it’s the same time of night that he passed. Or I see the date written someplace. Or I think, “It’s been a week.” This evening, it’ll be two weeks. Or I think, “The funeral was a week ago.”
I go about my day normally, attending to things normally, enjoying TV shows and such. But then late at night, or first thing in the morning, I’ll remember. Or a smell will bring it back. Or last night, watching the premiere of Queen Sugar on OWN network, as their father died.
I can understand why men in WWII came home and didn’t want to speak of what happened. You don’t want to remember the bad times. You want to remember the good times. You don’t want to remember the death, but the life.
And yes, I saw and heard things that were traumatizing. I’ve told my husband, I’ve told a friend, and my family saw them too, but I haven’t spoken about them elsewhere. I certainly haven’t written them here.
I just want to remember the good. I want to remember the things which I wrote in Dad’s eulogy.
Pop Evil’s “Torn to Pieces” was based on real-life loss of a father: