These are my grandparents! Aren’t they cute???! They are my father’s parents. I am their oldest grandchild. My cousin Shelly is about three weeks younger than I am (I think, maybe it is 3 months…?). Anyway, Shelly and I were doted on from the time of our birth. We had the same dresses. The same baby dolls. The same shoes. We were very, very loved and wanted. It was crazy.
My grandparents were killed in an automobile accident in 1983, when I was 13. They believe my grandfather had a heart attack that resulted in a head-on collision while he was driving my great-grandfather home from their Father’s Day activities. My great grandfather died on impact. My grandfather died at the scene. And my dear sweet grandmother was unresponsive in a coma for a month before her children made the decision to allow her to return home.
That Sunday I was preparing for girls’ camp the next day. I was so very excited! It was going to be my first one. I was living in Oklahoma the summer after I turned 12 so I didn’t go to camp that year. We had been home in Oregon for only two weeks when my grandparents had their accident. I remember being outside playing and my father running out the door, getting into his truck, and tearing off down the road. I don’t remember my parents telling me what happened. But I made the decision not to go to girls’ camp that year because if I did I would miss their funerals and I didn’t want to do that and I was hoping my grandmother would wake up. So I stayed home.
My father was only 32 when his parents passed away. He took it really hard. He really struggled and was pretty angry most of the time. I think that is really when he quit participating much in church. He was definitely mourning and struggling with grief, but I never saw or heard him cry. I have never even seen him weep. Actually, I have never seen my mother do it either. Somehow in my family, growing up, sadness was not an acceptable emotion.
I was recognizing that the other day. I was questioning why I do not feel that it is OK to be sad. (I will explain most of how and why I was contemplating that in another post.) But as a Family Scientist, I wondered, What was modeled at my house? Where did my philosophical underpinnings (deep seated beliefs) about sadness originate? As I was pondering about it, I recognized that I had never seen either of my parents cry…..never. I mean, I saw my mother shed a few testimony tears. But that deep, deep mourning, the ugly cry (as my friend Linzy would say)? I never saw either of my parents do that…….and believe me, there were plenty of reasons for sadness in my family—drug addiction, divorce, abuse, unemployment, debt, miscarriage at 6 months, not to mention the normal mortal life stuff. There were plenty of reasons to cry or to be sad. But I never saw either of them really shed tears of sadness and sorrow. Grief was not allowed at my house. That is unhealthy modeling.
I obviously did not have a lot of time to know my grandparents very well. But I wonder what was modeled for my father and my mother. On my dad’s side, his father was an alcoholic. He probably dealt with his sorrow with alcohol. My father was angry, just angry all the time, and distant. He probably masked his sorrow with anger. Anger is usually a secondary emotion. There are other emotions underneath it–emotions that are not acceptable (in a dysfunctional belief system) like sorrow, sadness, grief, hurt, and fear, among others.
I have come to recognize that I grew up in a very emotionally dysfunctional family. Mad or happy were the only acceptable emotions. Other emotions were not allowed. Now, I believe my parents would tell you otherwise. I do not think they did that intentionally. I think they probably believe that they have other emotions and would have allowed us to have other emotions. But no one ever talked about it. Emotions were not discussed or evaluated, or even really considered. They were dismissed and swept under the rug. There was no exploration.
I have emphasized the opposite direction in my family. We talk about emotions all the time. My children sometimes hate me for it as I make them sit and think about and talk about (that is what they hate the most) their feelings. We sometimes miss other events because I am making them talk about their feelings instead of sweeping them by the wayside to ‘deal with later’ because as we all know, later never comes. It is a lot of work and it takes a lot of time. But guess what? In most cases, we don’t have underlying emotional ‘sneaker waves’ that attack without warning. Unfortunately, even with all of their training, I am not sure my older boys have kept up with the emotional managing I have helped them to put into place. They are going to have to work those things out. And as I have been going through more of my own emotional baggage, I have had to put up some boundaries and ask them to manage some of their relationships without me. I have given them a great foundation, now they have to practice application of those principles. It is hard, hard work and it takes a lot of time.
But….that is part of why we are here on earth, to learn how to manage our emotions and still treat others properly, even when they don’t do that to us.
Anyway, just some food for thought…..what was modeled at your house? What are your beliefs about emotions and feelings? Do you live by those beliefs? What are you modeling for your children? Stuff to think about.