Saturday, April 9, 2016

Being BRAVE:Reflections On Life, Grieving, Complicated Extended Family Relations, Boundaries and Belief Systems

Mom's funeral was yesterday. There was beauty and there was pain. There was constriction and there was freedom. The tributes given were heartfelt and the grandchildren were amazing on stage. So much beauty. In order to write about the beauty I first need to vent out the brutal. Thank you for travelling with me.

My husband and I realized the mom we knew the last few years was one that very few knew. My husband walked out of his own mother's funeral at one point. Some may have thought he was being "convicted or conflicted." Others may have thought he walked out because he was overwhelmed with sadness but he walked out because the other alternative for him was to walk up on stage, shake his brother and say, "Give me a memory of our mother- let me hear your grief but DO NOT take this time to spread your own message and politically minded faith." Even for conservative christians the message was strong. We had people coming up to us later expressing their sadness over how fundamentalist and self defeating his message was- and these people were born again christians. His brother talked about the scariness of hell, how many times he sins a day and how being good isn't enough...and went on and on for about fifteen minutes. My children asked to leave. My son, who is eleven, was visibly angry. My friend beside me, who has only ever been exposed to Catholic services marvelled later, "Wow that was something. Basically it reminded me of a terrorist manifesto without the blood shed. Very fundamentalist. I felt so sorry for him..."

The funny thing is- he was preaching to his own choir. He was validating his own beliefs with (some what) like minded people- most of which thought it was NOT the time. There is a time for everything. That is biblical too. And if he wanted to do an alter call then a quick three minute sermon with some memories of mom and offers to talk later would have been better received. We know grief can do weird things but it was a sad moment in a completely different way.

There were about twelve "non believers" in the church that we knew of. Most of whom came to support my husband...which says A LOT. My husband's manager laughed later saying, "On my left was an atheist, on my right a cult follower, next to me an agnostic and I am a different sort of believer who believes in God yet not like this...and here we all are sitting through this sermon that you could not even sit through- because we love you." Their thoughts on that particular part of the service comprised mostly of compassion. How ironic. They felt for the man who mentally self flagellates. Who self righteously believes he is so humble in his convictions yet is requiring others to fall into line with him. One person said, "It further reminded me of why I want no part with this God." Another mentioned, "The service was beautiful up till that point. While there were parts I tuned out or moments of belief that did not apply to me- I respected it because they came from a place of personal deep feeling but that all changed when he got up to speak. The mood in the room visibly shifted to one of mourning and celebration to one of conviction and personal witnessing. It was like going to a home expecting fellowship and finding out that they are trying to sell you something."

When I wasn't angry at that moment, I felt so so sad. I have had a lifetime of alter calls and sermons. I will admit I went up for many because I never thought I was enough and was always scared I was going to hell or I had sinned too much. I have attended MANY different denominations. I have wasted hours of my life in these services (*see note for disclaimer here)...and this sermon, I can honestly say, was one of the saddest, extremist levels of manipulation I have heard. At his mother's funeral. It took all my husband's strength not to punch him.

His church has the name 'grace' in it, but as my husband pointed out, the other pastor of the church the funeral was held in, came across as extremely grace filled in comparison. While there were mutterings of Amens, because many of the family do have some similar stances, we had at least twelve different people we barely knew, come up and tell us that it was inappropriate. These were well balanced christians.

We stood out. We didn't go up and sing, "Because he lives" with the family even though I know it word for word. It was quite obvious to many that we were a little different. My husband's message was reading, "I'll love you forever" with a special message to his mom that brought most of the house to tears with his genuine love without any religious message. After the service I spent two hours talking to strangers about how moved they were by my husband's emotion and story. There were five different people who told me that we have 'great courage' and 'authenticity'. These are people I had either never seen before or barely knew. A retired pastor who counselled us when we were married  came up to me separately and said, "I am so glad he has you. I didn't realize how much he would need you. You are strong and I can tell that serves him well. Thank you for being by his side today." That moved me because he saw what was happening. I almost dissolved into tears.

My eldest son mentioned later, “You and dad would not be good without the other…you are like his emotions and he is like your body. If dad went us kids would need to feed you and take care of you and if you went, he would need to find a way to stabilize his emotions and be his own therapist and stuff…and when you are upset dad is calm, and when dad is upset you are calm. You need each other.” I am emotional steel for my husband even when it takes all I have to hold it together and I am his buffer. I take the heat and the blame most of the time because his deep ENFP heart deserves to be protected and I can do that. I have known what it is like to be the outcast and I have a deep love for myself and my individuality so I am less affected. While I get hurt it is not the same. I hurt for other's hurt more than myself in typically INFJ fashion- so I WILL be his guard. He is my body. I was so sick after it was all done. He made sure I was tucked into bed, given food and drink, and massaged before he went to a man fire with his brothers of the heart. The ones who have allowed him to be himself without judgement.

Years ago (about 2004 it started) my husband mourned the loss of  (most of) his family. We set boundaries beginning in 2011 ish with them collectively. We stopped attending functions with a polite but firm, "sorry we are unable to attend." His mom started to notice. At first she was upset. She fought harder and with each statement she drove us farther away. After about two years she realized that she deeply wanted to be in her grand kids lives. She switched tactics and she mentioned she would do whatever it takes to be there. So we had a chat. My husband was honest and told her that while he doesn't mind her beliefs, the way they are pushed on us at every opportunity will not be tolerated. He told her he wanted a relationship and not a calculated conversation or relationship with a belief system. While faith statements and parts of faith that feel deeply personal are fine, he didn't want to have a relationship with only that aspect of her. She swallowed that. She started trying with both my husband and I. She started censoring herself but not in a way where she was totally lost either. We made sure to make her feel comfortable. When she was in our home before meals and we could tell she wanted to pray, we asked her to pray for us. We didn't want to do the same thing that was done to us and squelch her or misunderstand. However, we did want less religious talk over all and more authentic relationship. 

Some believers honestly do not know how to do that. She didn't at first but mom is a lot of fun... because her life was encompassed with this message it was hard to separate but she did a bit for us. Her beliefs changed her childhood for good and she wanted to spread that and we understood that aspect. As the years went by, we all got better at our little dance. Quite suddenly we became husband had a better relationship with her than he had ever had in his life, the last four years. She used to whisper to me that sometimes she felt constrained. Sometimes she wished she did not give up so much of herself or have to be so proper at times, but then she would feel guilty and add, "but I do love my faith and my God and I don't question that." I replied always with reassurance, "Of course mom...your faith is a deep part of you and as long as you allow others freedom of expression and allow yourself some growth it's fine to wish you could have been more of what you's fine to resent a bit about the organization of belief without recanting belief itself." She would look at me a bit funny and either laugh and say, "You're such a strange deep thinker." or, "Oh well. I have still loved my life." And mom had a bit of an outrageous streak that I adored.

The last two years we barely spoke of any sort of religion. When faith came up it was organic and respectful. We knew the mom who didn't push that side anymore. She valued us for us...and she began to apologize more and more for past assumptions, discrimination and judgments. I would also admit that I said some things that hurt her and quickly apologized for those. But my very essence seemed to hurt her for about the first decade of our marriage and that part I never apologized for. She knew I would not apologize for autism, depression, or differences but I did apologize for the words at times that hurt. Some actions of ours hurt too and while they are not regretted, we did offer up apologies for the pain that was caused. Life is pain and all actions have benefits and downsides. Ultimately, we must be considerate and kind but we also have to be brave and live out our lives authentically- how to love deeply those who are meant to be loved by us -is to first discover and love we have something healthy to come from. 

Mom occasionally witnessed to our children, but we would talk about it with her, and she would always reassure them that they are fine the way they are. She would say that she wished they did believe the same as her but at some moments she would question her version of hell because how could such beautiful loving children go there? (According to her beliefs.) It confused her. She started thinking more about the consequences of her belief system and while she still held on vastly to her beliefs she also grew with us.We also had quite a bit of fun when we were one on one with each other.

In one frank conversation we were speaking of the siblings. Mom asked if we would ever be in contact much with any of them again- especially altogether. My husband told her that it was unlikely collectively and that any connection at large family events was done FOR her. He explained that each time over the years his eldest siblings have called it has been to reprimand him for some behaviour or way of being. He was called a sensationalist by the eldest but if he actually took the time to know him they would realize he is an ENFP and that says it all. He was censored again and again. In a time of life we needed the most support we were beaten down. Most of them strongly disliked me and it was guised with little digs and condescending comments. Of course that was probably more apparent in a family of sensory people who feel in the here and now...and I am an intuitive who deals in abstracts and a feeling one to boot. Plus Autism and just being different was not generally a selling point for a group of people who were tightly knit in a way I would never relate to. But I was HIS choice and in that he also felt unseen. "Even when I was little I often felt I did not belong. I always felt like maybe I was adopted because it felt like I didn't fit- I was the most like mom yet not...and yet I looked like I belonged...and that was before I even met you and all the shit hit the fan. You enabled me my freedom. It would have come in another way because it was bound to happen but I am glad it came from someone who loved me unconditionally and through my most religious stage. And through that freedom I eventually began another stage of relationship with mom." My husband was very conservative the first few years of our marriage. The brother that gave the funeral message yesterday even found my husband a little strong in those years. Proof that everyone changes or grows one way or the other.

Last night we lingered because we both knew it was the last time, until one more funeral, that we will be seeing most of the family again. We mourned the loss of connection with them collectively years ago and mom was our last string to all of the connections. However, individually we are open to something depending on their efforts (see below.) While we will see dad and support him, we will not be coming together with the entire family collectively after this mourning period. There is a wall of religion that is in-between forever  (among other personality factors) when its a group function- for some reason it is easier individually. Dad is a very important factor in our children's lives. We lingered at the funeral (even though a large group setting is not our thing) because it was still a part of mom and out of regard for dad. We love dad and feel deeply for his grief. I have a relationship and have been what I am to him- FOR mom and my husband and also for feeling deeply for whom he is unguarded. I don't really know him well and he does not really know me but there is still something there. 

There was a little bit of freedom in the realization yesterday that we can now fully be ourselves. We kept the peace with the siblings for mom. We constrained some of our words back for mom. While we also believe in grace and kindness...we will not forgo boundaries and self respect either. Our essence has been trampled again and again and we know who we are. As my husband remarked, "And now they will know who I am without constraint. Now I can write my own thoughts less censored without worrying about mom. Now I can be who I am. I have my tribe. I have my brothers of the soul- the ones who showed up at my door last night- the night I lost my only family on that side other than a different relationship with dad but I lost the one who was genuine and tried to be and by doing so became so much more of my heart. I lost my mom and they showed up at my door. They are my support who may have different beliefs but value their relationships with me without condemnation or judgment." The siblings know where we live, they drive by... and one on one they are welcome in our home if they want to try to re-establish something...but we will no longer be going on their territory as we have so often done just to be isolated and feel completely alien as well as have been victims of hidden bully behaviour with a couple.

We were asked out of curiosity at the funeral how we believe. Another pastor followed my husband out of the door which is his duty I suppose. My husband was ready to tear a strip off of him if he started to proselytize. Anyone who deeply knows us, knows that while we will be authentic and we will get angry- we try to have compassion and give a chance first. My husband stopped himself and waited to see what was said. The pastor luckily sensed this and simply asked, "I was coming to see if you were ok? If you don't mind me asking- how do you justify death if you do not believe in heaven or hell? Or do you? I'm just not sure where you are at and I have always wondered what that is like." My husband thought it was kind of cute...the way he asked. My husband's heart softened. He replied, "I am ok if my mom is in heaven and I am ok if she is now simply part of the earth. No one knows exactly, even if they are absolutely sure of their convictions, because death is a great mystery to all." To which the pastor replied, "But what about hope?" My husband smiled sadly and said, "Hope can be a determent. Hope can be a false lie to live for. Hope is about living in the future. While hope can be an important factor there have been many horrible deeds in history done in the name of hope. Hitler hoped for a better world. Terrorists hope for rewards and cleansing. Hope is not all beauty. I would rather live my life in love, living each moment and being authentic while having moments of growth then live for some future moment that may or may not happen. I do not need to be concerned about an eternal destination to distract me from living in the present. I can only live my life in love."

We don't have all the answers. We have a lot of questions. We love to engage in philosophy, theology, psychology, and sociology. My husband, children and I are all intuitives. We enjoy debating, reading and becoming but more than anything we believe in dignity. We know what it is like for people, in the name of belief, to strip that dignity away. We try to give dignity. While that does not stop us from speaking out, we try to believe the best in people till proven otherwise. We also try to understand their perspective even when they don't try with ours. It's also easier for us because we have literally been in that perspective so in that we also have to give grace. 

But we are also messy. We make mistakes and we get angry too. We are human and have grace for our own humanness. In therapy the other week we were encouraged to be the bigger people and try to stay silent in the services and if we must, to leave for a breather. Our therapist is respectful of us and not only our therapist but a member of our family in a sense. We are so very thankful for him. So we showed up.  We showed up. We listened to the prayers and the versus and the songs and some of it was beautiful. While we did not sing at the graveside, we heard the harmonies of people and in that there was heaven in earth. There was a bit of unity and the joy of humanity in voice that was to be revered in the moment. However, it is sometimes hard, that the healthier perspective taking people often have to be the stronger perspective giving people. As our therapist said, "When you can see their perspectives and try to be kind- you can still be yourself with boundaries but understand their deep suffering." That is hard to do.

My husband was ready to slam the door altogether on a certain few the other day, but I told him to wait. While I would love to not engage with a select couple ever again, I also have deep feelings for a few and respect the rest. The children will also be in my heart. I have too much of a soul for hurting people, vulnerable children and struggling Beings to abandon them. I told each of the girl cousins that our door is always welcome to them as they age (I had a chance when they were at our home.) Not to be preached at or changed but to be accepted and safe...with open discussions welcome. I felt they needed to know that. 

In this time, there is deep grief. I feel for the family. I told my husband that the anger part of grief will most likely be directed at him or I in some circles. I told him to allow it. To give them six months of kindness and a partial door open before he begins to unleash whom he is and all of his boundaries. I feel that is fair.  Am I being unfair? At this point, the lines are marred. I will take what they direct at me but I will also KNOW who I am, what is untrue and what belongs in my story. I will allow a certain amount of grief venting but there are points I stand firm. Maybe they already sense the disconnect and will not try at all. Either way we will be what we are. At this point I believe we also need to grieve what was lost too...

Like mom did, each member of his family individually gets a chance with us if wanted, but never collectively again. It's too much and we did it for too many years and too many wasted minutes. And they will have to make the effort and step outside their own boxes so it is highly doubtful...but I feel that it's important to leave a partial window open to those who want to show up and try.

It is possible to have boundaries while also forgiving. We have experienced bitterness and unkindness, and passive aggressive behaviour that will not be welcomed, however, the essence of a person always deserves respect. There is so much beauty in life. So much to become. We need to surround our core with our family- who may not always be blood (and some of them will) and that is okay too. We can forgive but still not allow damaging behaviour. I don't regret any of our pasts and am looking forward to our future, however, I know I make mistakes too and in that there is grace. As I wrote about my tribute to mom before- she will forever be ingrained in our hearts for the accepting person she was to us- especially in the last few years. Our text feed was full of kindness and acceptance. Mom knew and finally understood...and we also knew and finally understood her perspectives. In that there was deep beauty.

Thank you for allowing me to process. In writing I become a gentler, kinder person by allowing all emotions at the feast of life. Thank you for joining at my messy, beautiful table.

P.S. So many beautiful people who are Christians supported us yesterday...even if they believed essentially the same things, their love, the way they weeped with us or gave us cards without platitudes or the way they came alongside and still admired our courage took us through the day. If you are reading this- THANK YOU. 
Quotes to help you set boundaries:

Song Choice: Brave - Sara Bareilles. You can be the outcast
Or be the backlash of somebody's lack of love
Or you can start speaking up

Nothing's gonna hurt you the way that words do
When they settle 'neath your skin
Kept on the inside and no sunlight
Sometimes a shadow wins
But I wonder what would happen if you

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

Everybody's been there,
Everybody's been stared down by the enemy
Fallen for the fear
And done some disappearing,
Bow down to the mighty
Don't run, just stop holding your tongue

Maybe there's a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me how big your brave is

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

And since your history of silence
Won't do you any good,
Did you think it would?
Let your words be anything but empty
Why don't you tell them the truth?

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

Song Choices- Brave - Sara Bareilles, My Life- Billy Joel
 Disclaimer *I do not believe that all of these sermons were a waste though most were direct rip offs of themes, cultural ways, and human behaviour that predate what is actually being spoken upon. I also believe that for some church really is the only support they will have and if it's a well balanced one- it can be a  great place to be, however, church is not the only way to garner support. Humans have needed community way before church was a thing. Safe places, hugs, conversations, support systems...they are not just found in churches....and doing such things is not just copying church establishments. The church concept as it is today is a fairly new institution in comparison to humanity coming together in groups to discuss and support. Since being out of church, we found the first couple years hard because of our brain washed states of thinking. Turns out, a decade later, that we look back and realized none of that was really the support we needed in the first place. While our support system now is comprised of christians too we also have a home with agnostics, humanists, atheists, and freethinkers. Because of this fact our support is varied, challenging, inspirational and fantastic. We will never go back.*


Anonymous said...

I believe you are being more than fair. So much more than fair. What you've had to put up with for your whole marriage is outrageous, and that you still have so much compassion and empathy for those who have treated you so badly, is a miracle. I hate that I now feel this deep connection to you guys, because it's from our terrible sudden losses and grief.
Anyways, I adore you and your big heart! Big hugs for you all.- S.A

Anonymous said...

This was deep, sad, good and lovely. d

FlutistPride said...

I am not ashamed of the Gospel. Without the Gospel, I would do nothing with spirituality 'cause I'm a sensor. There's no easy fix for losses and suffering. I'm sorry you had to go through all of this. Faith is a personal thing and not a social or political thing. I hate it when faith is made into a political thing with rules that make the Old Testament ceremonial laws look lenient. That is what I think turns a lot of people away from Christianity in the first place. I know people will hate me for being a Christian, but that's okay. People will hate me anyway. I just need to make sure they do it for all the right reasons.

I'm an ESFJ, not an ESTP. It explains why I've had so many mistypes (INTJ, ENTJ, INTP, ISTP, ENTP, and ESTP).

Kmarie A. said...

A flutist pride: I am glad you are not ashamed. You shouldn't be ashamed of what you are or believe. What people should be ashamed of is forcing that on others or making other people feel less, judged and alien or alone in the name of faith...which I am sure you would agree with probably.:) I have been where you are and I wasn't ashamed either. I am chagrined at some of the things I said or did not understand but at the same time we all grow in various ways and we can't hold it against ourselves what we were not ready to grow into yet.

You made beautiful points. Faith is a personal thing and not political. It would be just as wrong for people to hate you because you are a christian. That is ridiculous if they do. That is doing the exact same thing that some christians do to us for not being one. I think what some christians misunderstand ( and I did too once upon a time) is that others hate some of the judgement, haughty condescension and cruelty guised as self righteousness dealt out in the name of christianity. If you don't do that you have nothing to worry about. I think the problem lie more in relationships....ANd yes, everyone is hated in one way or another by somebody. You are in good company. Some of the greatest people in history that changed the world for good were the most hated.

Just out of curiosity - do you find more S people Christians? All my husband's family minus one are S's- we were wondering if christianity is more appealing for S types in general? Just a thought...I know N's who are Christian too but its lenient in the way it comes across at times in general...hmmmmm...Anyway, sorry tangent. That makes sense that you would be an ESFJ:)

Thank you for your condolences at this hard time.

Kmarie A. said...

S.A thank you. Obviously they probably see it the opposite way and i have to be ok with being the bad guy in their stories too:) I guess its one way I justify it anyway. Some of it has been awful horrid and isolating...taking away from my very essence and my husbands...but there have been some good times too...a few moments of beauty...a few connections worth it I suppose. Thank you. You are priceless.

D: Thanks for seeing.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing, beautiful hard stuff.
I think that you guys are doing the right thing.. if some of his family cannot love and accept you as you are and keep trying to change you into who you where not created to be, then they have no right, or honor to be a part of your life.. as sad as that is.
I love how you have an open invitation to the girl cousins to be a safe haven.

sending love - MLW

Kmarie A. said...

MLW: Writing is brave, takes guts and is hard...on the flip side its cathartic, healing and enables processing...thank you for taking notice.
Yes- keep trying to change us...after several years it felt like mental abuse in many ways in some is very sad...there were two years there when all we did basically is work through that pain in counselling and take responsibility for our part and create boundaries which was SUPER hard and we received a lot of flack...but the beauty about boundaries is if you stick to them long enough people back off and either respect or give its worth the initial pain...

Yes, it was so awkward and I did it while we were walking down our stairs so they didn't feel like it was scrutinizing and so it could be as casual as it could be. My daughter said she was embarrassed at first but then she came up to me later and said "While at first I was- I then realized I am glad I have a mom who is unafraid to be embarrassed in the name of welcoming my friends and cousins in our own way. I am so glad you do what you do mom and even if at first its uncomfortable to me - usually I end up being really happy at what you say." AWWWW heart melt.:)
Love you too

Philip CalledtoQuestion said...

Great thoughts my love. You and mom were a marvellous team.:) I am so happy to have you and mom was happy I had you as well. You are a wonderful daughter in-law.

Kmarie A. said...

@calledtoquestion Yes we were at times- yet none of the ones who also knew her will know much about that so its a tad isolating...but I thank you for knowing...and I know my grief is not even comparable to yours. I am so glad we live this life together. Its so beautiful and every day I wake up I am grateful...and she contributed to that beauty! xoxo.