19 Comments
Jan 11Liked by Courtney Martin

I feel strongly everything you wrote and have been working hard on this for many, many years.

What I will say for my father, who had great trauma in his life beginning with losing his own mother when he was 4 to the Spanish flu and then surviving the Holocaust, is that he found, in a sense, a love story he could live in. He loved me and my sister to the ends of the Earth.

The poet John O'Donohue writes that 'Love casts a widening pool of light.'

Does it solve all problems? Not even close. But it is an anchor as one is tossed in the waves.

I feel that, rely on it, in my own life.

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Speaking of generational trauma, which you partly were, makes me think of my mother, and by extension, my own mothering. My mom grew up with a dad who was an alcoholic and a gambler, but also with a mom who exemplified the expectation of women to deny and keep it moving. My grandmother famously told me once that my grandfather wasn't an alcoholic because he "never drank in the house." And my mother has finally reflected in more recent years that growing up in that environment taught her that there was no use wasting emotional energy on things you can't fix (like your dad being a drunk), so you just stuffed down whatever complicated feelings you might have about it and "took care of business."

This made my mom someone who had no patience at all for excessive emotion, or "drama" as it is so often named. Our family was, to put it mildly, heartbreaking. Generational addiction and unresolved anger everywhere. But we were never allowed to talk about it because that wasn't "taking care of business."

With my own children I have, as a result, endeavored to create a different expectation, for them and for me. They are allowed to have all their feelings, as am I. When my feelings make me behave in ways that are sub-optimal I have always been quick to take responsibility and apologize and talk with them about the reality of big feelings and how we have to behave in the wake of our emotions getting away from us. My children have extended me tremendous grace over the years of us growing up together and I will never not be grateful, as humbling as it has been sometimes to need it. I have also tried my best to extend constant grace to them as they feel all their feelings, which isn't easy. Sometimes I can feel my mother rise up in me-- that sense of overwhelm in the face of all of it, the desire to just make them stop so they won't trigger my own big feelings by shutting them down and insisting they simply do what needs doing (silently, preferably). I have to take deep breaths and remind myself why I committed to making things different for them. They are 15 and 19 now and I am still working on it.

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Jan 11Liked by Courtney Martin

What an inspiring read. I am overwhelmed with the monumental heartbreak in this country from inside our families to the country’s larger issues. I am a therapist in practice for 30 years. I have 3 children and this past month , experienced one of my most challenging parental moments. My daughter confronted a serious medical issue. I wanted to take it all away, stop the physical and emotional pain for my baby but I couldn’t so I did what parents need to do. I sat beside her, pretty constantly, holding space for her pain. Reassuring her we would manage this and we would learn and grow. And we have and we allowed the most precious beautiful GRACE into our lives. Thank you for this story.

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This was so beautifully written and heartfelt. Thank you.

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Jan 12Liked by Courtney Martin

Thank you for what you wrote. I don't have a magic wand for heartbreak, but I do want to share a word on receiving grace. For decades my ego derided that it needed such a thing. When I eventually had enough pain, had lost enough psychic blood, my brain actually took in some of what my ears heard. Especially Richard Rohr's work. When I finally accepted - not "intellectually knew", not "admitted" - accepted that I was merely human, and being human was all that I was ever going to be able to be, not only did a great weight lift but I could feel grace all around me. Like air you breathe in. No work required.

You will have your own path. Whatever the route, "May The Force be with You".

Ben Nelson

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Jan 11Liked by Courtney Martin

My college roommate and closest friend died in March 1960 at age 20. She was hospitalized briefly with what her doctor thought was flu, but turned out to be hepatitis (a disease I had never heard of at that time.)

My mother, whose own mother had died of pneumonia before penicillin or even sulfa drugs were available, encouraged me to "get over it" a few weeks later when I came home for Spring Break.

My father had died less than a year before, so I was just beginning to learn about grief at a young age. Now, at age 83, I know my mother meant well, but all those years ago I felt only the pain of loss.

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Love this! Especially as the world gets scarier, I definitely feel that urge to try and make things “easier” for kids as much as I can, but I want to make towards better equipping them for the world and affirming them that they can handle whatever comes their way ❤️ Loved this!

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Jan 11Liked by Courtney Martin

Well now I'm crying over this exchange because it inevitably recalls the loss of my younger (by 7 yrs.) brother. He died of early onset Alzheimer's at age 72 but the excruciating advance of this horrific disease took him much earlier. How I wish that after all of this time since his death I could offer healing advice. What's helped me most is sharing the ordeal with "significant others" (as wide a group as possible), plenty of therapy from an astute therapist (I found the best only after intense searching), and a realization that we must remember the good times as long as memory allows. Courtney's searing honesty and unfailing eloquence, together with this wonderful photo of grandfather and daughter, brings added consolation. But I regret that I can't provide more. DD

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Jan 11Liked by Courtney Martin

My mother lost her mother to a swift cancer when I was a small child. She raised us knowing stories about our grandma. I have a clear memory of when I was in middle school, watching You've Got Mail with my mom, and turning to see her quietly weeping at the scene when the bookseller is remembering dancing with her late mom as a small girl. It turns out it was my grandma's birthday, and maybe my mom chose that movie for us to watch because of the date. That was one moment when I think I learned to notice and hold space for my mother's grief, even years after the loss. More recently, my parents stayed home from a planned weekend away to spend time with me after a recent breakup. My mom has been bearing witness to many tears about that lost love. Thanks for this essay and the question, it gave me a chance to reflect.

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I was watching From Scratch on Netflix recently and there’s a conversation where a social worker says something along the lines of “children can handle anything if their told the truth.” and I suspect that’s been an unofficial mantra in our home over the years. It’s not a blanket tell them everything and every detail because that’s not fair to them, but also being honest about things that are going on and being patient with answering the questions as they come. I think that’s how we handle heartbreak in our family. And it’s messy.

The idea about receiving grace though oomph. Turning it around that way was so different for me. I’ll tell you though, my partner and I started 2023 with covid, and I very quickly told him that we would accept any and all help offered. And that was both hard (the worry of putting people out) but also truly amazing to witness how my community showed up for us.

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My family did not handle heartbreak well. We didn't talk about what had happened at all and there was probably a lot of drinking involved.

I'm thinking about your book and how your kids teachers handled talking about difficult parts of our shared history. That is totally different than when I was in school and seems good and healthy to me. When I was teaching music I found it (music) to be a fantastic container to talk through what was difficult about what we were feeling, or what was difficult about our history, or what was difficult about current events (see Michael Franti "Same As It Ever Was." Actually I used Michael Franti a lot).

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