March 31, 2017

my irishness

even before i reached double-digits, i understood february was my own personal "hell month."

last year, with the death of my grandma and the domino effect that followed, hell month melted into a chaotic hell year rollercoaster.

the devastation i experienced went deeper than the loss of her life.
it went so much deeper.

you see, my grandma and i had a strained relationship.

my grandma and me

...i suppose i harbored too many hurts, and they ran too deep.

frankly, i didn't want to deal with the depth of those wounds, as it would've taken painful cauterizing to get them fully healed.

so, i did what i do too often when faced with fear:
i avoided.
denial... always a good idea, right?

for one of my classes, i had to do research on my family tree -
i have irish roots on both sides of my family tree
{which is why i lucked out with my irish-red hair}
so i did some reading in the irish-american section of my "ethnicity and family therapy" textbook. these were the parts that stung (pgs 595-598):

  • while having a tremendous flair for bravado, [the irish] inwardly assume that anything that goes wrong is the result of their sins.
  • they are good-humored, charming, hospitable, and gregarious, but often avoid intimacy.
  • although always joking, they seem to struggle continuously against loneliness, depression, and silence, believing intensely that life will break your heart one day.
  • their history is full of rebels and fighters.
  • they often feel profound shame about, and responsibility for, what goes wrong, yet they characteristically deny or project blame outwards.
  • [their] way with words has always been their greatest natural resource, yet, paradoxically, they are often unable to express their inner emotions.

well then.
just point out all my character flaws, why don't you...

thank goodness for therapy - it works wonders.
and with all the things i was learning in my masters of social work program, i was experiencing a lot of personal growth.

i had just started to learn how to face my fears and brave the venture into painful places just as my grandma prepared to leave this earth.
with the loss of her life, i felt the added loss of any chance i had to repair our complicated and fragile relationship - at least in this life.

...i also felt huge amounts of guilt over never finding the time to interview my grandma about some unhealthy relationship patterns that persisted through several generations like we had agreed. with the social work skills i was learning, i wanted to record important details about her past and key relationships she'd had throughout her life.

and ... i hadn't even said a real goodbye to her!
i just thought we had so much more time.
then she was gone.

my grandmother's death and funeral forced many of my old wounds and hidden fears to resurface. feelings of inadequacy and loneliness were overwhelming!

kind of like picking at a torn piece of thread, once i allowed myself to feel the slightest bit of sadness, pain from unresolved issues instantly unraveled into my conscious mind.

the wound was far from healing, though, as i heard my siblings and cousins constantly stating:
"grandma made each one of her grandkids feel like they were her favorite."

my already breaking heart would singe as i thought:
"but that wasn't my experience!"

i was sad, hurt, and angry that i didn't have the relationship with my grandma that everyone else seemed to have!
i was bitter that i no longer had a chance.

the unique thing about becoming a therapist is the necessity of working through my own complex emotions in order to understand how to help others work through theirs.

as i grappled with my floods of emotion, i came to a realization that - for at least the adult years of my life - i was the one preventing a closer relationship with my grandma. contrary to my belief, it was not the other way around.

i am a fierce redhead with irish roots, and i can be a porcupine - preventing love from sinking into my heart.
i carried with me a long-harbored grudge of hurt as a barrier around my heart and refused to allow entrance to this woman who was willing to offer all the love and support she knew how to give...

did my grandma love me?
yes, i am sure she did.

did she know i loved her?
yes, i am sure she did.

these acknowledgements weren't the same as feeling like i was a favorite grandchild.

but i was the one who couldn't forgive.
and i was the one who couldn't love herself.

my visit to utah for my grandma's funeral was the gateway leading to deep wounds that i may discuss another time.

however, as i thought about my irish stubbornness throughout this past month, i wanted to share this experience with others.
the irish are far from being the only people with emotional complexity - i believe the whole of mankind fits into that category.

i want it to be a social norm to walk inside our personal stories and own it.
i've done enough standing on the outside, hustling for my worthiness.

and, if we own our stories, we may even find that the "negatives" can also be positives!

one example:
another quote from the textbook i referenced above --
"[the irish have] a remarkable adaptive ability to transform pain through humor, a fierce rebellious spirit, and the courage to survive."

i am a mixture of positives and negatives - but it's that mixture that makes me the beautiful, imperfect, courageous individual i am.