“It is not distance that keeps people apart, but lack of communication.” Unknown
Here’s the post I didn’t write last week, but meant to. It’s the one about our communication that hasn’t taken place … for three years. I started not to write it this week either, except a friend commented on last week’s post, “Sometimes, even when you say it, it’s not understood.”
I understood all too well. I also knew I needed to tell the story I’d avoided telling.
Three years of communication that hasn’t taken place in our family, even during joyous occasions, convinced me to make the same daunting decision I made as a child, “I can’t keep loving my family like this. It hurts too much.”
I was eight years old when I decided the first time around to stop loving my family. Mom cried all afternoon like she did many afternoons, probably because of communication that hadn’t taken place with Dad. I was too young to figure her out, so I decided she cried because of me. I worried and asked questions, which made me a likely scapegoat. They reprimanded me instead of talking to each other.
That evening I left a dime and two nickels on their bedroom dresser. Underneath the money, I put a note with a heart in red crayon and words in blue that said, “I’m sorry. I love you.”
They never mentioned it and neither did I. I figured it’d be easier to stop feeling than try to talk.
After our grandson’s recent first birthday party, our granddaughter, Claire, tried on a dress I bought her. She slid her hands down the silk material and ran off. She came back with 32 cents, stared at me for a few seconds, and said, “This is for you, Mammy.”
I cried telling my husband and daughter the story. It was different from my story, but somehow healing.
What’s happened the last three years with our daughter?
Claire will be three in July. I wrote a blog post three years ago about being afraid to have a granddaughter, “Girls Aren’t Safe Here.”
Emotions flooded Kelly’s and my relationship with the news we were adding a girl to our family, emotions that neither of us expected or knew how to handle. Craft days intermingle with cry days. We dress up and melt down. We hug, tear up watching Claire love us, laugh hard, but don’t talk for days because something hurt. Something scared us. We talked some during the three years, but stopped when it got too complicated.
Kelly announced at Claire’s first birthday party she was pregnant with our second grandchild. Our grandson, Wyatt, arrived into a calmer world than Claire, but still too much communication hasn’t taken place.
What’s happened the last three years with our son?
Not too long after Kelly’s announcement, our son announced he’d proposed to the love of his life. They married one year ago in May. He moved her to Oklahoma (I sobbed when they pulled out of their driveway in a U-Haul truck) and then to New York. Courting, proposing, working, moving twice, and marrying took up their time.
Distance and distractions, dislike of talking on the phone, and determining how to talk these days as opposed to how he and I used to talk has built up to communication that hasn’t taken place.
What’s happened the last three years with us?
Hannah, our basset hound/terrier mix, joined our family a couple of months before Kelly found out she was pregnant with Claire. The day after we adopted Hannah, our vet told us she needed surgery to repair two fractured hips or we could return her to the shelter.
While at our daughter’s house the day after finding out we were going to be grandparents, Hannah peed on one of their dog pillows. John spanked her. He didn’t hurt her, but I panicked because it hadn’t been long since her surgery. “I hope you don’t react the same way with our grandchildren,” I said.
I apologized and tried to explain. It’d been an emotional few weeks with Hannah and, although exciting, an equally emotional weekend finding out baby news. It wasn’t my accusation, but our five-hour argument on the way home from our daughter’s that caused a three-year rift. Our disagreement escalated the more I tried to explain why I got afraid when John reacted like he did that evening with our dog.
“I’m so disappointed we fought like that,” he said.
“I am too, but it’s evidence of how much we need to talk and be heard,” I said.
“Why’d we have to fight for five hours?” he said.
“At least we know what we need to work on, our communication,” I said.
“It’s been so long since we’ve gone at it and for that long,” he said.
Our cyclical banter went on for six months until it was evident he couldn’t hear me, so I quit talking. I set out to stay in our marriage without being part of it. For the first time, I positioned “getting my own life” above my family and not because I wanted to write more than anything, but because I hurt more than ever. All of the change, loss, and loneliness felt too big to fix, especially since no one was communicating.
It was the second time I decided, “I can’t keep loving my family like this. It hurts too much.”
Our daughter asked if everything was okay. She wanted our family healed by Claire’s arrival. We put a band-aid on the problem, but communication still hadn’t taken place.
Fifty Years Later …
It’s been fifty years since I tried to stop loving Dad and Mom; three since I tried the same with John and our kids. I’m happy neither one took.
I mentioned in the last post, it’s the person in the most pain who has to change. It took three years, but I’m finally speaking up and with firmness instead of an attitude of “fight or flight,” which makes me easier to hear and I believe more deserving to be heard. Since I can’t afford to not be heard anymore, I don’t stop talking until the knot in my stomach untangles.
Even though John figured I’d been heard about “the dog argument” since I brought it up 1,001 times (over the course of three years, mind you), I brought it up one and two and three more times because no matter what he thought, I didn’t feel heard. John said, “Then talk about it one more time. I’ll be quiet and listen.”
He did. I went through half a box of Kleenex in an hour.
I told him how I’d had trouble sleeping for at least two years because at night I’d lay in bed and try to figure out how I could get over needing to talk so I could stay with him. I told him about my fear of God who didn’t intercede no matter how much I prayed, journaled, and begged. But I also told him why I believed God left me alone, “I think God knew if I could get a little relief from my pain, I’d never get out of the way and let y’all figure out your own lives, but it seems he could have come up with a gentler plan.”
I told John I shut down because the kids were living their lives, but he and I weren’t living ours. I told him I felt alone because they were gone and he wasn’t showing up. He asked, “What does showing up look like to you?”
“Showing up means you let me talk and you listen. It looks like you holding me and hearing me even when I say things you don’t like and things you don’t want to hear,” I said.
He held me and he listened. Interactions like these let us know communication is taking place. It happens more often when we’re willing to stop fighting, stop “flighting” (flying out of rooms and slamming doors), and begin talking about how we feel.
Our hope is this blog post encourages you toward talking and hearing. We’d love to hear from you.
In This Together,
Thank you for permission to use your artwork (the woman), Kelly Rae Roberts. Beautiful, as always. Thanks to Pixabay.com for the spiral stairs.
Side note: Readers have asked if John minds my blog posts. We’re grateful for your concern and I probably should have already mentioned this. I never publish a blog post that John hasn’t first read and edited. He even adds things about himself when he thinks it may be relatable and helpful. We’re wholeheartedly “in this together.”