It is the anniversary of “when my niece came to stay”, a whole year ago. Winter can be quite heart warming when you have experiences like this…..
July 9th 2015: I have just experienced the most gorgeous eight days with my niece from New Zealand. First grandchild to the family, therefore my first niece, and my brother’s first born (of four girls). Maybe this ‘first’ status gave her some rights of passage in life which held her in good stead, considering the circumstances she found herself in during her childhood. An unfortunate one as the result of her parent’s marriage breakdown. I am sure that she is not alone on that stage, with other children who endured the uncertainly of home, place, and belonging as a result of a broken home.
The older I get (or more mature I should say), the more I am drawn back to my family. In particular, my role within that structure. Having left home and country at seventeen, I have not had a lot of connect with my siblings, nor the wonderful nieces and nephews as a result, at fifty I found myself returning like a homing pigeon of sorts. I wanted to reconnect and make up for lost time. After the breakdown of my own marriage to an Italian man, I realised that there were indeed tribal differences between us, and the years I had spent developing relationships with his children and mother were buried soon after we parted. In Italian lore marriage is forever, no matter what. When you leave you are ‘officially’ dead. Till death do us part indeed, I had died to them upon the end of the marriage.
Two of my nieces from two different sisters had been to stay for extended periods during the time I had my Graphic Design business. So it was like work experience for them, as well as getting to know each other a little better, considering I had not had a lot of contact during their childhoods. The visits were from one to three months. The visit from Gina was only one week, and at my invitation. I cannot explain why there are better connects with some members of the family than others, but I guess it is no different to the people whom we simply encounter in life and form an instant bond with.
Gina had not been in the best of health of late, so I just wanted to wrap her up and give her a much needed rest. I knew that being in a new environment could be such an invigorating and sometimes in itself a healing experience, combined with some TLC, I felt I could offer some respite from her CFS condition. Gina had ‘burnt out’, her get up and go, got up and went, her MOJO was gone gone! CFS does not necessarily signal a call out to the Country Fire Service, because there simply is no fire to put out, and it is pretty hard to reignite the flame. Her resulting Chronic Fatigue Syndrome was possibly due to having put all her eggs into one basket, and when that basket broke the shattering effect is likened to that of a jigsaw puzzle needing to be put back together. There is your life, you can see it – the whole lot, from inception to present moment, the good, the bad and the bloody ugly. Her childhood had crept up on her and she found she was addressing the many aspects of her dysfunctional childhood. The fact that she had survived the multitudes of moves from town to town which robbed her of friendships and bonds with other girls. Endured her mother’s creepy boyfriends who had run her down with verbal, sexual and physical abuse and made her feel scared and insecure. Being farmed out as a child slave to another woman who was simply lonely, for two years, who practiced in the occult, performed séances, runes and other weird shit that no child should ever be exposed to. How her mother allowed this to happen is beyond my comprehension! Combined with a lack of any fatherly input, owing to her mother’s annihilation of his need of presence in the upbringing of his daughter’s life and geographical distance combined. It all came to a shattering head at age thirty-eight.
In the past three years Gina had suffered high-grade pre-cancerous cervical changes that needed surgical removal, but caused her to suffer a massive hemorrhage, which lead to Fibromyalgia, and on to chronic fatigue. In essence, she experienced at age thirty-eight a massive meltdown, which also resulted in her inability to work, and the effects that had on the family from both a financial perspective in this day and age where most parents both work to support a family and a psychological one which made her feel enormously guilty for letting the team down. Trying to piece together and make sense of a robbed childhood, what she really endured and had mentally blocked out for survival took its emotional toll. Combined with quite simply the pressures of running a family of her own and trying to make sure that her children had the childhood she did not. Was it any surprise that her life shattered and splintered the way it did and manifested in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
If we don’t address the wrongs done to us throughout our life passage, we carry them with us, until finally they catch up with us. They define us, as victims of our own making because we have not stood up for ourselves. Gina had however stood up for herself and at many junctures in her childhood, especially as she grew into adulthood. She finally said to her mother when the boyfriend’s abuse became too much “I cannot live with you any more”. She was only fourteen years old when she went into voluntary foster care. Stories of aiding her mother to keep from being strangled by the boyfriend, with a massive crack to his head with an ash tray, then being turned upon by him. Raking a gravel driveway as punishment for her ‘crime’ in this episode, then having him speed his vehicle over it, only for her to ‘do it all again’. She spent a brief period living in a friend’s caravan in the back yard for respite, even though she eventually went back to live with her mother, when it was safe. Gina enjoyed her time alone in the caravan because she had a sense of freedom. A safe space of her own.
Her life made mine look like a fairy tale in comparison. I could not blame my brother either, simply because he was not there. He was only twenty-one when he married, and Gina’s mother a mere eighteen years young, crazy when you think about it? It failed after only five years and two young children under three, he went on to another country so being there for her was a geographical barrier in many respects. He was shut out, but also didn’t put in a huge effort to retain the contact that was quite obviously needed for a good relationship to be retained.
Gina has her own family now, a son of fifteen and daughter eleven, and a husband who adores her. So why was Gina in the place she was? Over compensation perhaps for her own upbringing and its deficiencies. I could not judge her on that one as she only spoke of her children with the utmost love and her role as a mother with pure dedication. Yet I knew she was crying out for more, and it was quite possibly just this need to be mothered. We all know that our ‘motherly’ role can be quite depleted if it is not topped up with some reciprocation every now and then.
My own mother had always told me “be kind to each other”. I somehow wanted to help her heal from all the acts of injustice that had been inflicted upon her during her childhood years. I believed that conscious acts of random kindness go a long way in this world of selfishness and self indulgence. And charity starts at home right? A Virgo and therefore earth mother sign, giving back comes naturally to me. I hoped that a week in my care may come to help heal her shattered soul, mend her spirit and send her on her way again having had some nurturing from her aunt. Only time will tell on that front.
We made a pact to take a selfie together on every day and on each occasion, whether it was out and about or just at home. Sometimes I wrapped her in my favourite blanket and parked her in front of the tele to watch a brilliant eight part tele series called “The Honourable Woman” (BBC equivalent to Homeland). Stacked books in her room to read, of which she finished one and took another with her for inspiration. Cooked some of my all time favourite recipes in my brand new kitchen. We ate vegemite chocolate and cake whilst we told stories of our lives. The interchange of self, our rebellious youths, and the taming of our free spirits,….motherhood, sisterhood, womankind.
The final words she said to me when we parted, “I love you Barbara, you are the mother I never had”.
“And you Gina are the daughter I never had”.
There is was, it had passed, our brilliant week together. I had facilitated a remarkable experience for us both and it felt good, just as much as the parting felt wretched. I had wanted to help her, but I knew that I had also helped myself. The tears made me feel human, they made me feel connected. I put on the Sheryl Crow CD, turned it up loud, just as we had done on Sunday as we tore through the Barossa Valley in my fast little car. “I can’t cry any more” played first up. I cried all the way home,…and then some more.
I feel so despondent towards my brother (Gina’s father) and her mother also. But they are not my concern. I only acted on impulse and intuition, slight as that may have been and many of us tend to ignore as we go about our busy lives. To engage my niece for a week in Australia for some much needed time out was a simple act of kindness, but I know that it brought us so much collective joy and healing for both of our souls.