Airing Our Dirty Laundry (breaking the silence that isn’t golden)

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“Writing is a struggle against silence.” Carlos Fuentes  (Image from iStock)

“Writing is a struggle against silence.” Carlos Fuentes
(Image from iStock)

Until I recently posted about it on my blog, I’ve been ashamed to admit estrangement from my mom. I blamed myself for the lack of relationship and struggled with thoughts that no one would like me since it seemed I wasn’t liked by Mom.

I’ve been unable to pinpoint the exact cause of our missing bond, but the best I can figure is Mom liked quiet and thought it best to ignore anything unpleasant, to pretend it didn’t happen in hopes it’d go away if we didn’t mention it.

I, on the other hand, am a talker. I believe it’s wise to converse about whatever is going on as a way to get to the other side of an issue.

It was sad hearing about Mom’s death on July 11th. The news put an end to any possibility that we’d talk our way through this one. However, in the midst of a tearful conversation with my daughter, she made an amusing observation that perfectly characterized my mom.

“Granny wasn’t hanging around if you were going to start talking about her on your blog,” she said.

Mom was not online, so she had no way of knowing about my blog posts. Still, the timing of her death seemed uncanny. I thought, “Maybe there is something to her leaving now.”

I wondered how her physical absence would affect my willingness to tell our story. Not that I’m wanting to air our family’s dirty laundry – I don’t see any need for others to know much of what happened. After all, all of us have been hurt and our stories are more similar than not.

Also similar is that many of us have been told, “Don’t talk about what happened.”

Oh, maybe no one voiced these words, but we got the message to sit in silence with our pain. Mom’s way was to cry for three days (according to my dad, the length of time was always the same) each time I brought up a memory she thought better left unspoken. An elderly friend confirmed what I suspected when she told me she also cried at her daughter and the tears were more about control than sadness.

Whatever Mom’s reason, I stopped talking.

Silencing my feelings led to the worst depression I’ve experienced. I knew better than to shut up, but I hoped to wrangle my emotions to the ground and get over the ones I was told I shouldn’t talk about, then we could restore our relationship.

Instead of overcoming my feelings, I ended up the one on the ground. There I stayed for years, beaten and bruised and sort of pathetic because I wouldn’t speak up.

I did what I hated seeing Mom do; I blamed her (and anyone like her) for my silence, for my depression, and for not being able to get past my past.

Turns out, Mom wasn’t the problem. My silence was the problem.

I could keep blaming her because she encouraged the silence or I could get up off the ground, show up at my laptop, and share posts like the most difficult I’ve written to date, one about my daughter and granddaughter-to-be, Girls Aren’t Safe Here.

Is there something you need to say? Maybe the time is now.

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – I want our family to live out loud for the sake of healing and happiness and helping others to do the same, and I’m willing to go first. Here’s to speaking up (respectfully, of course).

On the side: Our family’s relationship with Mom was complicated and painful, but we never stopped loving and I’m guessing she didn’t either. In light of this quote, I’m hoping Mom’s death reunites us, “Death doesn’t end a relationship – it changes it.”

Thank you to family and friends who encouraged us throughout this season and who expressly showed up the past week with flowers, messages, sympathy cards, phone calls, visits and much love.

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22 responses »

  1. I’m learning that relationships are complicated — such an understatement. And that choosing to speak up may reveal that what I thought I had with someone was merely a figment of my imagination — my longing for something that wasn’t there, no matter how much I wanted it to be.

  2. Once again, going to take some time before I comment but in the meantime, know you are loved and cherished, not only by the One who can do it best, but by many of us readers, and, in particular, this little Aussie over the ocean xoxo

    • Susannah, you’re my Aussie beacon! Your love shines through every one of your comments. I’m not sure how we found each other, but so happy we did. I cherish (I love that word, so thanks for using it) our friendship. 🙂

  3. Hi Kim…first of all, my condolences on the loss of your Mom. By reading your post, I know that you have mourned the loss of her many times over the years, even before she passed. Those missed intimate moments that only a mother & daughter can share. We must be two peas in a pod…as I also figured out that “silence” or more like “suffering in silence” was the cause of my depression as well. It is not easy nor is it healthy to keep everything inside. Just like you, I discovered it the hard way to the point of hospitalization many years ago. In looking back at the cause…all I ever wanted was to understand why…not to criticize or to blame. I sense the same from you…it’s how we best heal. 🙂

    • Dolores, your comment is why it’s healing to write. I find others like you who understand and say it better than I can. “In looking back at the cause…all I ever wanted was to understand why…not to criticize or to blame.” This is exactly what I wanted. Thanks for putting it into words.

      I’m sorry our journeys to speaking up have been so difficult, but delighted we’ve connected along the way. I can’t adequately express how much your words mean to me. Thank you.

  4. I’m sorry about the death of your mother, and the end that it brings to any possibility of reconciliation in this life. Truly.

    It is wonderful that you can say that there was love – perhaps on both sides. I envy you. I hope that it’s ok for me to share something of my life, and the truths that arose.

    I went through something similar, and can say this – that keeping silence is usually an implicit (or explicit) demand or threat by the person who wants to retain control. It can take many forms, from “you’ll hurt me” and “you’ll damage the family’s reputation” to “go ahead, no one will believe you anyway” and “if you talk we’ll kill your puppy”. Hell of a thing, for a child to hear. And to see.

    Yes, the puppy was murdered, and silence repurchased with horror. The coin of childhood, I suppose.

    The other reason we keep silence is the feeling that if we can somehow preserve the facade, it’ll be real. Rather like Beth’s comment above – that we wish for something that doesn’t exist, but we believe it can exist if we can but preserve something of its appearance.

    Have I kept silent? For many years I did. When I confronted the person in question, in the hope that some resolution was possible, I realized that I was talking to someone I had truly never met – someone who could justify every action on the basis of self-interest, and whose only aim was to gain an advantage.

    It was a chilling experience, and one I shall never forget.

    There are monsters roaming the gentle green land, and some of them have kids.

    • Andrew, I am so sorry about your experience. A child and a puppy – that’s so sad to hear. The amazing part is you don’t sound bitter, but wise. I also tried for reconciliation to no avail with Mom and others in the family who took sides. I’m not sure there was love on both our parts, but I’m going with that thought and hopefully finding closure and peace.

      I so appreciate you feeling safe to share here and I love your reference to “the gentle green land.” I like thinking we’re in a safe place even if everyone here isn’t safe to be around. Thank you for that thought.

  5. Dear Kim,
    I am so sorry to hear about your mom’s death and experience your beautiful post on this difficult relationship. Thank you for your honesty, healing and inspiration.
    Hugs and love, Cindy

  6. “I hoped to wrangle my emotions to the ground and get over the ones I was told I shouldn’t talk about, then we could restore our relationship…Instead of overcoming my feelings, I ended up the one on the ground.”
    You have said so many things well in this post that the best way I can think to reply is to simply quote some of your own words back to you.
    I am so sorry about the passing of your mother. I’m just going to be quiet now, and let you do the talking. It’s a privilege to listen.

    • Your comments are as touching as your posts, Dave. Thanks for showing up in my life at just the right time. God is so smart and very good at orchestrating support for us when we need it. Thanks to you and Beth for everything!

  7. Kym, I can’t imagine your loss, not just the physical loss of your mother but the loss of true relationship that you not only longed for but what should rightfully have been yours.

    When my husband’s father died the relationship improved, which was such a strange thing to happen but it’s true. It wasn’t a terribly bad relationship but it wasn’t terribly good either. Death kind of drew a line in the sand…no more hurt could be caused and time dimmed the hurt of the past, leaving a much better relationship in it’s wake.

    And it’s amazing what age and more life experience can do – now, we have a greater understanding of who he was and why he did and said some of the things he did. And he was very much of the opinion that silence was indeed golden, which resulted in so much left unsaid and unheard on both sides, like you and your mum.

    I pray that with her passing, some good memories can float to the surface and that the awful ones do indeed dim with time and you are able to find some peace in your relationship with your mother.

    You’re in my thoughts and I’m so very glad you are choosing your voice over your silence. You are helping more people than you can imagine. God smiles when he see you, you know 🙂

    • Susannah, your comment is very comforting. I’ve already noticed a shift in how I feel (freer in spirit this week) and how I feel about Mom. I said something similar to this just recently, ” … no more hurt could be caused and time dimmed the hurt of the past, leaving a much better relationship in it’s wake.” I love this sentiment and believe it will be true for our family as well.

      Thank you for your friendship.

      Much love ~

  8. From Facebook –

    Carol Anne Wright Swett G+’ed and tweeted. Pinning on my boards and Jo Ann Fore’s boards!
    Monday at 11:21pm · Unlike · 1

    Jo Ann Fore You know I this Carol Anne Wright Swett. #WhenAWomanFindsHerVoice Great post, Kim.
    Monday at 11:30pm · Unlike · 2

    Mildred Gunter That was a really good one, girlfriend. Thank you for sharing.
    Monday at 11:41pm · Unlike · 1

    Diane Klebanow can relate on several levels. thanks for posting.
    Tuesday at 5:28am · Unlike · 1

    Sherrie Glensky Very moving, Kim. It take courage to write about something so personal. I am sorry for your loss.
    Tuesday at 6:24am · Unlike · 1

    Kathryn Attonito Hairston Sorry to hear of your loss…thanks for your courage in sharing.
    Tuesday at 8:50am · Unlike · 1

    Diana Hurwitz Secrets and silence, they are the shadows in which dysfunction festers. If you dare speak out, you become the enemy.
    Tuesday at 9:04am · Unlike · 1

    Christi McGuire It wouldn’t let me post on your site–but wanted to say … How brave and courageous you are for writing this–and how amazing that you are changing your family, changing future generations. God bless through your loss and redeem what has been taken and silenced!
    Tuesday at 9:09am · Unlike · 1

    Roslyn Tanner Evans You are an extraordinary blogger. I struggled with my relationship with my mom & she would say- you’ll get yours. I did & my daughter can’t stand my talking. Thanks for saying what we tend to hide.
    Tuesday at 9:30am · Unlike · 1

    Kim Henson Thank you so much, Carol Anne Wright Swett. You’re the best.
    Tuesday at 11:13pm · Like

    Kim Henson Thanks you for your kind comment and for sharing the post, Jo Ann Fore.
    Tuesday at 11:14pm · Like

    Kim Henson Thank you, Mildred Gunter. I practiced my story on y’all first.
    Tuesday at 11:14pm · Like

    Kim Henson Thank you for relating, Diane Klebanow. I’m in good company.
    Tuesday at 11:14pm · Like · 1

    Kim Henson Thanks so much, Sherrie Glensky. I appreciate your kind words and your friendship. Wish we saw each other more.
    Tuesday at 11:16pm · Like

    Kim Henson Thanks so much, Kathryn Attonito Hairston. You know where I learned about courage, at least some of it.
    Tuesday at 11:16pm · Like

    Kim Henson Powerful comment, Diana Hurwitz. That’s exactly what happened. I dared mainly because I felt I had no choice … I was silently dying. Thank you for putting into words what I wanted to say.
    Tuesday at 11:18pm · Like

    Kim Henson Christi McGuire, I so hope you’re right. I hope we’re changing future generations, especially with a granddaughter due any day now. She’s not even here yet, but has been the catalyst for much forward motion. I’m encouraged by your comment. Thank you.
    Tuesday at 11:20pm · Like · 1

    Kim Henson Roslyn Tanner Evans, thank you for your kind words. I appreciate you speaking up as well. Your daughter may learn to appreciate your talking. My daughter didn’t like mine either, but she’s learned it’s the way to healing and wholeness in relationships. She’s now speaking up more than I am.
    Tuesday at 11:24pm · Like

    Christi McGuire Kim, your granddaughter will be the breath of heaven! You’ve already impacted her life and future for the good before she’s even born!
    17 hours ago · Unlike · 1

    Kim Henson Christi McGuire,
    17 hours ago · Like · 1

  9. I am truly sorry to read about your mom’s passing, Kim. To say mom/daughter relationships are complex is a gross understatement. I know mine with my mom is still a work in progress. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on such a personal topic that no doubt resonates with many women of all ages.

    • Thanks so much for your kind comment, Natine. I just returned home this evening from spending the week with my daughter who just had our first grandchild/granddaughter. So grateful to have a relationship with my daughter that is very different and much more living than the one I had with Mom. I can’t wait to watch her do the same with her own daughter.

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