What is there about the human mind that causes us to carry around a load of unhappy memories? The mother who didn’t love you, the best friend who betrayed you, the wife who dumped you…..the list goes on and on. Often these negative periods of our lives have a more powerful impact on our future than the positive events that we all experience.
Sue’s beloved grandfather was the only father figure she had in her life. She spent a large portion of her childhood with her grandparents while her mother worked to support them. When her Grandpa died Sue was twenty years old, and she began a period of self-destructive behavior that goes on to this day, twenty years later. It seems all of her self-esteem went to the grave with her beloved grandfather.
Lyle’s story is similar. His father died when he was eleven years old. He reacted in a not uncommon way, by getting very angry. When he began to realize that his anger was so effective in controlling those around him, he began to use it as a tool, and continued that behavior for the rest of his life. His verbal abuse was frequent and powerful when he was married and raising his two daughters. He became so mean when he was angry that no one was willing to confront him with what this was doing to the family. His wife left him for a kinder man, and his daughters never formed powerful, loving relationships with the men in their lives. When he was an old man Lyle was confronted once, and, in his own words, destroyed the one thing that mattered most in his life, the wife he loved with all his heart. Unfortunately, that love was not enough to cause him to control his anger. Especially sad, Lyle was a kind, gentle man when he was not in one of his rages.
Cam’s family members were devout Jews. A grandfather was a respected Rabbi and their faith had been with them for many generations. In World War II, Cam’s brother died of polio while stationed in Burma. The loss was so traumatic that Cam’s parents abandoned their faith, feeling that a God that could permit that much pain could not be. Cam’s negativism toward religion of any kind lives with him to this day.
Alan’s father Mike was a highly respected engineer working on top secret government projects when he died on a business trip. It was 1944, and Alan had just celebrated his twenty first birthday the day before and happened to be home on leave from Officer’s Training. The family lived in Buffalo, New York, where many were still reeling from the effects of the great depression, and struggling to feed their families. When news of Mike’s death reached the city, hundreds of people lined up in front of the family home to pay their respects. Unknown to anyone in the family, Mike had been helping many of these families during those difficult years. Alan’s father’s body lay in state for five days, as thousands filed past his coffin. The family was upstairs all that time and they were devastated, knowing his body was there. Alan simply could not deal with funerals after that time. Death was something to be pushed away as quickly and simply as possible.
Ginny was raised in a stable but sterile environment. Her mother, having been raised by misguided parents, provided everything but love and attention. Ginny’s father, respecting his wife’s beliefs that a child was “to be seen and not heard,” kept his distance. The family sat down together every evening to a good dinner, went for Sunday drives, and did the same things most families did at that time. The parents gave their children everything except affection and approval. Ginny was an honor student, and a talented vocalist, but at no time in her young life was she ever praised for her achievements. Although she could likely have had a scholarship and gone on to study voice in college, her parents had no interest in her attending college. It was never discussed, and it wasn’t until Ginny was in her thirties and divorced that she returned to school and began her college education. She never heard either parent say “I love you,” and was never touched. A kiss or a hug, so taken for granted by most children, was never given. Ginny remembers, as a little girl, standing behind her father as he read the evening paper, combing his hair. Only years later did she realize it was a way of touching him.
Ginny’s story does have an upbeat side to it, though. She began to raise her own children in the same way she was raised, although she adored them. Several years after her divorce when the children were teenagers Ginny married Alan, and Alan was a hugger. It didn’t take long before Ginny and her children were kissing, hugging and telling one another “I love you.” They did manage to rise above Ginny’s upbringing. However, Ginny will always feel the need for approval, and still goes out of her way to do things that people will approve of. She loves to sing, and will forever feel a huge loss that she was never able to pursue her voice studies.
We all know people who carry personal baggage, some more well disguised than others. Many have analyzed and come to terms with the losses they’ve suffered because of that baggage, and some of the more fortunate have moved on to overcome those losses. Unfortunately for others, the memories of those painful experiences stay with us, and rear their ugly heads at the slightest opportunity.