Summit for family estrangement

The word “estrangement” came into my orbit about five years ago on a much to intimate level. For the first two years of my estrangement from family I was constantly sad, triggered and felt hopeless. I began to read everything I could get my hands on about the subject. Learning about it, talking to others who are experiencing it, has taken me out of crisis mode and into an acceptance mode.
Coming from a tight knit, yes dysfunctional Southern family, yes down there, family is everything, it was devastating when I learned of a trip my sisters were taking with my daughter, niece, and grandchildren and I was not invited. My sisters and I were still speaking at that time. Now it has been several years since we have talked. When I say devastating, I wanted to kill myself and I did attempt to.
What I have sadly learned is, suicidal thoughts are a common reaction with those who have been cut off from loved ones. Estrangements occur for a variety of reason, but also have many commonalites. Each situation is unique and has its own set of complexities.
Yesterday was the beginning of a three day summit, Moving Beyond Family Struggles put on by Family Support Resources. Yasmin Kerkez has done an amazing job, bringing many expert voices to the summit. I’ve enjoyed and learned a lot just from one day. Hearing the perspective of those who chose to estrange is enlightening.
I still hope and think repair in many situations would be the most peace giving for all involved.
If you are interested, as someone going through estrangement or you are counselor who could benefit from learning more on the subject or you are just interested, click on the link to register for free, Family Summit registration
Meantime, I will share a talk from yesterday with David Lewis, a therapist who has experienced estrangement from his adult children. He describes the shock and aftermath most accurately. 2022 MBFS Summit Conversation with David Lewis He also discusses the power of our mind and what we can change for the good, using that power. It’s worth a listen.
Thanks for reading.
Love to all,
Frances

Link from a conversation today with <a href="http://<iframe title="vimeo-player" src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/670855449?h=0fd6e4d8f1&quot; width="640" height="360" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>Tina Gilbertson

Unexpected pet comes with unexpected family

Not long after I moved into the hotel, a year and a half ago, the aloof black “house” kitty tip toed into my room, began hanging out and sleeping with me at night. The story is; she wandered in about 13 years ago during a party and never left. Doug took on feeding and caring for her but she belongs to the house and everyone in it. Most folks call her black kitty, some call her Brenda. I prefer Brenda.
She is another blessing of living here. As a pet sitter, I have often thought of getting a pet of my own, always deciding against it. It would have to be the perfect little dog that could accompany me for pet sitting. Having a pet would work with most of my clients, but for some it wouldn’t, such as the all cat households. Also, I do enjoy my freedom to travel some when I am not pet sitting.
Now that Brenda and I have bonded, I feel like a pet owner. Whenever, I am home she is in my room. I have treats and food for her. She’s not cuddly, sleeping in a chair or the very end of my bed. But every now and then she surprises me and gives me some love.
Just yesterday morning, as I laid around waiting to be picked up for meniscus surgery, she found her way to my tummy and stayed there. Same this morning, purring away, sending healing energy throughout my body.
My friend, Katie, drove me to surgery, giving me the inside scoop on what to expect. She had this surgery earlier in the year. She was my inspiration for going forward. After I had two cortisone shots with lots of pain as the shots wore off, it was clear surgery was the best choice. I trust Dr. Willstein, my orthopedic. He did my ACL surgery a few years back. He knows my knee.
My house mate, Jennifer, picked me up. Her smiling face was there, soon after I woke up. She found me chatting away with the nicest nurse. He moved out here a few years ago from Nashville. The comfort of his southern accent, story telling and kindness along with Jennifer next to me gave me the feeling all is right with the world. The pain meds didn’t hurt either. It’s been a weary few years, so a few hours of artificially induced happiness was appreciated.
So far not too much pain. Keeping knee iced and elevated with a kitty taking good care of me, recovery is going well. Housemates are checking in on me.
Robert comes up to my room to get his eye drops and a visit in. He and I drove to Lolo Hot Springs last Sunday. We both needed it. He likes to take his car, but I drove (really he shouldn’t be driving at all, that’s another subject.) Boy, is he a bossy backseat driver. Reminded me of my mother, the way she would tell me which way to turn, what the best route was. I learned it’s best to take directions with grace.
I want to share one more sweet hotel story. Night before last was Chinese New Year. Our housemate, Anne is Chinese. She is quiet and keeps to herself. The day of Chinese New Year, she wrote on the community board that she was cooking a feast to celebrate. All day she labored over dumplings, noodles and soup. What a delightful treat as she served up a beautiful spread, educated us about the dishes and shared a little more of herself. She left China when she was two and is adopted. She is just beginning to embrace her heritage. You could see the pride on her face from learning more about her self. The night ended with a send off of a red lantern to bring good fortune for the year of the tiger.
May the year bring you good fortune.
Thanks for reading.

Now we have another year

Now we have a year until the hoopla begins again. The commercials that tell us what we need, what would be the perfect gift. The carols will begin as soon as the turkey has been gobbled up. Some will delight in it. Some will feel the stress of creating the perfect holiday. Some will miss their loved ones. I have experienced all of those. As a child I delighted in it. As a mother, I wanted to create that magic for my child and experienced the stress. Now, I miss my loved ones.

Certainly, Covid has more missing loved ones who have died or staying away from family in order to stay safe. Some are estranged from family for a variety of reasons. I feel for all of the above, but can related first hand to those estranged. I follow some of the helpful tips for taking care of oneself during the holidays when you are estranged. I find it’s best for me to try and act like it is just another day. Otherwise, I fantasize that someone in my family might reach out. I fantasize that this will be the year we try to listen to each other, to heal our wounds.

I did spend part of the day on Christmas with my unexpected family at the hotel. A resident got a roast from his employer. I roasted it in a crock pot, it came out pretty good. Then I headed up the mountain where I am cat sitting. My car didn’t make it up the steep hill. Fortunately, my clients left their car for me at a neighbors down the hill. I was able to swap cars in time to feed the cats and snuggle in.

As I settled in for the night, I couldn’t help but wonder if my daughter had a peaceful holiday, what my grandkids got as gifts, did they feel the magic?Truthfully, they were on my mind and in my heart when I woke up on Christmas morning, as I roasted the chuck roast and shared it with housemates and as I laid my head down for the night. I felt a sadness as my housemate thanked me for my efforts, sad my child and grandchildren are unable to receive the love and care I have to give.

I dreamt last night of my family gathering for the holidays, laughing and hugging. But I was not in the dream, only an onlooker.

Today, I count my blessings for the many supportive and loving friends in my life, for the parents who continue to trust me with the care of their children, the pet owners who leave the care of their pets and homes in my hands, for my house mates who make a point of thanking me for the cooking and cleaning I do at the hotel, for Robert, who owns the hotel and makes a point of thanking me for all I do. They are a large part of my strength.

I am thankful.

Thanks as always for reading.

Stories Help Us to Understand

Robert came to Missoula in 1979, and shortly after bought the hotel. I mentioned in an earlier blog, that recently I have had the opportunity to get to know him, learn his habits and some of the reasons behind them.
At the end of this summer, he was walking downtown and was hit be a car. We learned about it when he was brought back home after a visit to the emergency room, showing us stitches along one calf.
As several of us circled around him, checking for other injuries, he insisted he was fine. In fact, after he was hit, he told the policeman he would just walk home. Thankfully, the policeman insisted that ambulance take him to the hospital.
They gave him a strong pain killer and I believe he was full of adrenaline. He insisted on climbing up the ladder to his loft bed in spite of our conclave presenting our best arguments. I in turn, insisted on sleeping in the room across the hall from him as it is kept as a guest room. One of the guys brought him something to pee into. As Robert raised a hammer, he reminded us that he and John who lives in the room directly above him, have a system. If Robert has an emergency, needs help in the middle of the night, he bangs on the radiator with the hammer. That was the signal for John to come running.
Sure’nuf around four in the morning, the banging started. John and I flew into his room. Robert, blurry eyed, stared down at us asking for help in getting down from the loft.
After he came back from the restroom, John and I stepped into the hall as Robert changed his clothes. But he hollered for help. He fell as he was changing pants and couldn’t get up. “That’s it.” I said, “you are sleeping in the room across the hall from now on.” It has a twin bed that is not a loft. He didn’t argue this time.
Thankfully, I had a break in my house/pet sitting jobs for a few weeks and could give Robert the attention he needed. I mean it’s something for anyone to be hit by a car, but even more so when you are 82 years old.
During the first week, the ankle on the leg that didn’t have stitches continued to swell up and it was painful for him to walk. After carefully nudging, I took him back to the ER. Yep, he had a fracture and needed to wear an orthopedic boot.
We spent quiet mornings visiting, drinking coffee and getting some food in him. Robert is a very independent person and has his routine. He is used to getting out everyday for a walk and his card game with friends. He appreciated my company.
I got to hear stories of his childhood in Holland during World War II. How his father buried a car, I suppose to keep the enemy from confiscating it, then unearthing it after the war. How they went without water. “That’s why I have bottles of water stored up, it’s terrible to not have water” he told me. Now, I understood, why his empty juice bottles were filled with water and tucked away.

I love that stories, listening help us to understand each other and our ways. Stories bring us closer, they open our hearts.

Robert is well on the mend. He and a fellow house mate took off yesterday for a trip to Spokane. I miss our quiet story telling mornings. However, we do go out for lunch, take a walk and I still make him oatmeal in the morning every now and then.

Thanks for reading.

Meet Some of My Unexpected Family

My new room with a silver ceiling had a loft bed that I decided to use for storage, not wanting to go up and down the ladder each time I had to use the bathroom.  I bought a twin bed, hung twinkle lights and my star light from the ceiling, arranged books on the shelves, set up a writing desk, put my half & half in the frig and I was home.

Winter was coming in Montana, and I couldn’t wait. Eugene held my dear friends, but it didn’t hold my heart, Montana has since I came to visit my brother in the 80’s. 

My cocoon of a room had all I needed. Covid times have not been social times. But for me, social times began to slip away in 2017 as I began to grieve the loss of my relationship with my daughter and grandchildren. Now that the rest of the world had joined me in isolation, I felt a comfort that felt unfair because the rest of the world was now grieving. 

Slowly but surely, I meet the other residents of this historic hotel. With Covid protocol, residents mainly kept to themselves in their rooms, a twist from its history.  Back when Robert acquired the building some forty years ago, bohemians inhabited the rooms, art was created, and parties thrown. Friends who are long time Missoula residents have said to me with a laugh, “oh yea, I remember the parties at the hotel.” Surprisingly, I didn’t attend parties at the hotel during the 80’s but I was certainly at other parties, after waiting tables then out dancing. 

Completed in 1902, it was bustling with a restaurant, and saloon on the main floor. Rooms were rented for 75 cents by railroad passengers and workers. It’s been said it was a brothel at one time. With travelers and a saloon downstairs makes sense. 

The extend of socializing when I moved in was meeting in the kitchen while preparing a meal. Jennifer, lived in the room next to me. We’d chat as hot water ran through the cone for morning coffee. Sleepy eyed, she told me about her work at a peach orchard, her love for plants and her boyfriend. Eventually, she shared about her conflictual relationship with her mother, but how she was committed to loving her. Of course, I commended her for this commitment. On her 30th birthday, Jennifer, proudly showed me the presents her boyfriend had given her; a plant and an apron he had sewn himself. 

John, lives at the far end of the hall in the biggest room at the hotel. It even has its own bathroom. He’s around 30 years old, works for the forest service Bless his heart, he tries to keep everyone in line, leaving notes on the white board, reminding everyone to lock the doors, shared stats on daily Covid deaths. He’s a sweetheart but I wish for his sake he didn’t worry so much. 

Sam, what a sweetie. He’s early twenties, in school and works for the forest service. He’s from Virginia. His room is small, and he is a growing boy, so we’d end up together in the kitchen mornings and evenings. We talk food, the South, it’s history, the why of it all and how can we bring justice to this world. As I cooked pancakes for the two of us, he said, “man you remind me of my grandmother” Well shit, he had won my heart! 

The common areas weren’t and aren’t as clean as I care for. It doesn’t seem to bother the others too much. They are young, in school, working, and keeping a social life such as it is. After a few weeks, I was able to rally Jennifer, John and Sam to deep clean the 3rd floor kitchen. Jennifer tackled the refrigerator, pine soled the ceiling light fixtures that had years of dirt of them, Sam scrubbed the oven, John and I threw out items in the cupboard that were, yes, years expired, plastic lids with no bottoms. Counters were scrubbed and the floor swept and mopped it. It felt good and I got to know my fellow roomies a little more. I learned that Jennifer and John had never heard of Walt Whitman nor Leaves of Grass. I remedied that at my next visit to the 2nd hand bookstore. 

 Charles, who doesn’t leave his room much, stopped me in hall one day, “hey, would you roast us a turkey for Thanksgiving? My work is giving me a free turkey.” “Sure” I replied. I started my internet search for how to roast a turkey, it had been a few years. I asked Robert what he would like to have served at our Thanksgiving meal? He put in his request and meal planning began. 

Why Are white People so Angry

A friend of mine, actually he kinda feels like a son, his wife a daughter in-law and his kids feel like grandkids, called me a few days ago. They moved from Montana to South Carolina this summer. They like it, a little home sick for Montana too. The kids are thriving in school.
“Frances, you know what I notice down here, all the white people are angry. People of color, people from other cultures are all happy and friendly. At work the other day some black guys said something about white rage. I jumped in and said yea, I noticed that. What’s that all about. They said, I don’t know we’ve been trying figure that out for years.”
He also mentioned the large population of white Christians who seem to walk around judging and deciding what is right or wrong so they feel right.
My friend is a white guy who was raised and lived all of his life in Montana until now. What he is liking about his new home is being around diversity and getting to know people from other cultures.
Our conversation struck me. Today this popped up on a newsfeed. It’s all in the same vein.
https://www.tiktok.com/@canadianchesthair/video/7024545339612925190?lang=en&is_copy_url=1&is_from_webapp=v1

Happy Sunday and thanks for reading.

Unexpected Family, how it came to be

It’s been a year since I moved in with my unexpected family. The end of summer 2020, I was back in Missoula to get more of my things and live in Eugene. But at an outside concert in my friend’s yard, I met Chris Sand, aka Sandman, the Rappin Cowboy. He mentioned there was room in the “hotel” he lived at in downtown Missoula. As Chris shared more with me about where he lived, I became more and more interested, almost certain I wanted to live there. He offered to show the place to me, introduce me to the man who owns the building and lives there. 

Coming through the front door, a fairly large plastic spider moved up as the door swung open, back down as it shut. The carpeted stairway leaned to the left a bit and a sculptured gnome like being meet me at the top. I felt the adrenaline of being in a fun house. Chris and I walked past the community kitchen with an artful colorful titled floor, gas stove/oven from probably the forties. Across the way, the wooden floored dining area held a round table and chairs, an old couch (that needed to go in my opinion) shelves with a turntable, album collection, books and plants that reached from floor to ceiling. 

We walked past three of four rooms, and a fish aquarium before coming to Robert’s room at the end. The globe outside his room was not lit up, meaning he probably wasn’t around. We knocked anyway. Chris letting me know Robert can’t hear well so it’s best to speak loud and clear. We yelled his name a few times but got no answer.

As we walked back down the hall, Chris pointed out the twinkle lights above. The high ceiling had concrete with circular clear glass sections that supposedly came from the old Missoula underground. (I started to research Missoula underground, there is much to read, and I will eventually).

He pointed out the two bathrooms on the 2nd floor before we made our way up the next very slanted set of stairs. (the 1stfloor houses a store) The 3rd floor’s full bath was a full mural of fish, octopus and other ocean creatures on all walls, giving me the feeling, I was swimming in the ocean. The smaller bath was fully collaged with pictures and sayings from magazines, so you are never bored in this bathroom.

The kitchen is stocked with dishware, silverware, microwave, stove and all the necessities with a sitting area across from it with more floor to ceiling plants. The twinkle lights from below shone through the glass in the concrete. The 3rd floor also had a fish aquarium. At the front end of the 3rd floor is the “yoga” room that has become the tv room with an extensive library of VCR tapes and dvds. Above is a large loft with several beds. Before Covid times, Chris mentioned that a traveling band may stay in the loft. For payment, they would buy the house a large box of toilet paper from Costco or find some way to make a contribution. I was liking this place more and more. 

The 3rd floor has 9 rooms, each is furnished with a bed, desk, chest of drawers and a mini frig. Some are larger with a sleeping area as well as a sitting area and sink. He showed me the available room, small but with a loft bed and built-in bookshelf across one wall. Looking up at the silver painted ceiling, I knew this place was my silver lining. The affordability made it a no brainer. Once my house/pet sitting picked up, I wouldn’t be paying an arm and a leg for a place I was not at very much. 

I left a note for Robert to let him know I would like to rent the room. A day later I came by early in the morning as Chris said that was the best time to catch him. He was happy to meet me, laughing, he had assumed I was a male because he has a male friend by the name of Francis. Many people don’t realize that males spell it with a “i” and the female version is Frances. He likes to have an equal mix of males and females living at the hotel. 

As we spoke loudly to each so he could hear me, he asked if I had any crazy boyfriends or a large dog. My answer was no. 

Chris phoned later to say I got the room! On a handshake and $100 deposit, I told Robert I would be back in a few weeks with my things from Oregon. 

*The fist of my writings on my unexpected family. More to come. Some names have and will be changed. Real names will be used when permission is granted. Chris Sand has granted permission. Be sure to check out his music at the above link.

Chris Sand

Choices

I change the subject hastily when she asked, “Where’s you daughter? How is your daughter?”

“Good”, I reply, “How’s your son? What have you been up to?”

I choose to focus on how good it is to see this lovely woman I haven’t seen in such a long time.

This is how it goes when you haven’t seen someone who knew you 20 years ago and it’s been that long since you’ve seen them. I don’t really know how my daughter is, it’s been five years since I’ve spoken with her. 

I’m surrounded by people who love me. A dear friend is hosting a gathering in her backyard to celebrate me on my day of birth and that’s what I choose to focus on. 

My brother calls to wish me a happy birthday while mentioning my sister was there visiting not too long ago. He and my two older sisters were all together. I haven’t seen or heard from either sister in a couple of years.

I choose to focus on the fact that he called to wish me a happy birthday. 

I run into another woman I haven’t seen in twenty years. She is proud to be a grandmother now and I am happy for you. She asks how many grandkids I have. She knows my daughter had children. “Two, they are twins” and quickly change the subject. I cared for this woman’s daughter when I had a childcare. We used to gather, with our husbands and our daughters. Where would I begin to tell her I don’t see my daughter anymore, that I miss her and my grandchildren everyday?

I choose to focus on the fact that I am recognized as a mother and a grandmother and this is someone I created good memories with. 

This morning, I choose to honor my sadness. I will give it what it asks of me, to allow the tears, to trust it will pass as all feelings do. 

Then I will choose to go visit a friend.

I don’t wear jewelry anymore

I don’t wear jewelry anymore

Did I beg mama to give me the cluster of pearls ring that was my grandmother’s
Or did she just give it to me willy nilly and send me on my way
all I remember is I was around nine. 
Memory is sometimes vague, often it only comes with a certain feeling. 
I remember being in the back yard searching for it, just me. 
Did she know I lost it, I don’t know but I hate that I don’t still have it.

My high school/college boyfriend, yes he was the love of my life really in truly, brought me a necklace of an etched whale’s tooth from his family trip to Hawaii. I still have the Bulova watch he gifted me. Wish I still had him, ha. He is dead though, he died from ALS. His wife invited me to come visit several times before he died. It was precious. 

Mama wouldn’t let me pierce my ears. I took care of that with an ice cube and a sewing needle. I don’t think I got in trouble. She usually didn’t have the energy to punish or guide me. My pierced ears created a tradition, my daughter would always get me a new pair of earrings for my birthday. I kept some of those earrings even though I don’t wear them anymore. 

A few years ago, my ears began to turn red every time I put an earring in. They would itch and burn. The best solution was to no longer wear them. I gave away most of my earrings, kept the ones that hold a special memory in my heart. 

In 9th grade, Mama took me and my older sister, on a ten day tour to Europe. In ten days we went to London, Stratford on Avon, Paris, Lucerne, Rome, (day trip to Assisi), Florence and Venice. My memories are fairly vivid from this trip. We were blessed by the Pope at the Vatican. In Lucerne, Mama announced we could get a special piece of jewelry to commemorate our trip. My sister chose a watch. I chose a sapphire diamond ring. Eventually I passed it down to my daughter. I hope she still has it.

The one last piece of jewelry I possessed from my grandmother, a stunning, unusual turquoise and diamond ring was stolen a few years ago. Traveling through Portland. I went out to my car after a night’s stay at a boutique hotel in the northeast neighborhood. Not only was one window busted out, but two. I had the ring in the car because I was taking it to be repaired. It is gone. I searched craiglist ads, placed an ad. I still think some weird miracle could happen, shopping in Portland and spotting it. Who knows, none of us know. 

Worthless or just misunderstood

One of the gifts of isolation time during Covid has been time, time to write, time for online writing classes and time to read. Reading other memoir is a great teacher while writing my own memoir. The latest memoir I picked up, What We Carry by Maya Shanbhag Lang is about mothers and daughters, family secrets and how we cannot grow up until we fully understand the people who raised us. I can’t put it down only stopping to re read and underline phrases.
Maya’s mother was a psychiatrist, her father had a temper and did not hold women in high regard.


“Against this backdrop, my mom’s stories provided a glimpse of an alternative universe where people aren’t worthless; they were simply misunderstood.”

This week, I was fortunate enough to have a small piece of writing published by Visible Magazine. A boost in the arm, knowing my writing is worthy of publishing. Maya’s quote worthless vs. being misunderstood struck a cord. I’d like to believe that if some understanding came to be, my family could heal. If grace ever presents itself for the opportunity to understand, I will surely welcome it. Meantime, I’ll accept what is and keep writing.