Love Yourself: Don’t Be Fearful of Telling Your Story

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything. Not because I haven’t had anything to say but because I’ve been allowing myself to operate from a place of Fear rather than a place of Love.

Both the great energies of Fear and Love are equally crucial. Our free will gives us the option to choose at any time which to tap into. It has been my experience the best use of Fear is as an instrument of survival but nothing grows there. Love is the energy from which all things flourish but you need to make yourself vulnerable first. I don’t like that…but the alternative is no better.

I choose to be better.

Memorial Day and My Father’s Legacy

My father died of a bullet wound to the head when he was 31 years old.  It had nothing to do with his military service but everything to do with the personal war he waged during his entire brief existence on this earth.

When I was seven years old, I was told of my father’s tragic death by his mother.  Grandma Dottie was less of a stranger to me at that point than my father was but she was still not someone I knew well.  I remember thinking that I was sad because she looked so sad while telling me this news.  At seven, I had only just started to have a concept of what death actually was.  It was also just about when I started to understand my unconventional family dynamics; that the man who was raising me, the man I called “Daddy” was instead my grandfather and the last time I saw my biological father I was just two years old so no direct memories existed.  This news Grandma Dottie brought me ensured that we would never have the opportunity form new memories.

After my father’s death, I started to see Grandma Dottie more frequently.  We rarely spoke about him, even when I asked.  She told me that he was mischievous, getting into a good degree of trouble.  He loved cars and their speed.  He frequented the old drag strips of Long Island with cars he worked on and owned…and some that he “borrowed.”  He liked to take things apart and rebuild them.  His dream was to be a pilot, fast and far away from everything that held him down.  He enlisted in the US Air Force as soon as he was able.  He was almost legally blind but the Vietnam War was raging on at the time so they welcomed any volunteers they could get.  He never did become a pilot.  In fact, he was discharged early.  (The reason for his discharge was one of the greatest mysteries of my father that haunted me.   I only found out for sure what the circumstances of his release were a few months ago.)  Talking about him made Grandma Dottie sad.  Even as a child I was in tune with that so eventually, I stopped asking her questions.

But my questions never stopped.  As I got older, more and more kept coming.  Terrible things were all my mother had to say about him, on the rare occasions that she said anything about him…but she rarely said anything to me at all about anything.  Despite all that, I always had a burning desire to find out more about him.  There was no Internet then.  I had no idea where to even begin searching.  All I did was lament over it for years with whomever would listen.

When I was 31, a private investigator was hired to find me.  Grandma Dottie, with whom I became estranged decades before, and her ex-husband, Peter F. Dajnowski, Sr., my paternal grandfather, had both died.  They had a horrific marriage that ended in an even more horrific divorce before I was even born so the irony of the timing of their deaths was not lost on me.  Their estates needed to be settled so next of kin needed to be located.  Settling an estate for regular people is not the grandiose moment the movies portray it to be.  For me, it was just an overweight, balding man who smelled like cheetos and cigarettes coming to my house asking me several questions about things I didn’t have answers for. Each of us had a lot of the same questions and I asked him to share those answers with me once he obtained them.  He said he couldn’t do that but the people who hired him to find me might be able to help.

Just as the private investigator said, the attorney that hired him to find me reached out to me.  It turns out that my father’s brother was still alive and communicating with the attorneys.  But my father’s untimely death and prior estrangement from me and his other two daughters complicated this process.  I got excited.  I thought that after all these years, I had the chance to have my questions answered.  This was not the case.  After hearing my story, the paralegal was sympathetic but said that they couldn’t disclose the personal information for my uncle or half sisters.  What I could do was write them letters that they would collect from me then extend to them.  This way the ball would be in their court to reach out to me.  That’s what I did.

When I didn’t hear from any of these family members for a while, I followed up with the paralegal to see if she sent my letters.  She said she did.  Sadly, she told me that my father’s brother flat out told her that he was never going to reach out to me.  He wanted nothing to do with me.  I was just a sad reminder of his big brother.  I told her I understood, which I did.  When we hung up the phone, I cried anyway.

A few days later, I got a call.  It was my father’s brother, Joseph.  He told me what the paralegal relayed to me already.  He was unapologetic then…surprised me.  We made arrangements to meet at a diner in Fresh Meadows.  I had only ever seen a few photos of him over the years.  I didn’t know if I would recognize him.  I knew for sure that he wouldn’t recognize me.  Once again, I was filled with excitement at the thought of finally having some answers.  AND I would be getting those answers from someone who loved him so I figured my chances of hearing something positive were pretty high.  When we found eachother at the diner (wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be), my Uncle Joseph told me that a year or two before he had a stroke.  Physically, he made a 100% recovery.  Mentally, he did not fare as well.  The part of the brain that was effected was where his long term memory is stored.  The good news is that he is completely able to form new memories.  The bad news is that the majority of his existing memories prior to the stroke were erased.  You can’t make this shit up.

Over our meal, we talked and laughed.  Uncle Joseph told me that he was glad that  he changed his mind about meeting me.  He said there were a couple of things he remembered that he wished were among the things erased.  He told me about the night my father died.  He told me about when my father came home early from the US Air Force.  The Incident that brought about his (honorable) discharge is an amusing anecdote involving profanity, an M16, USAF M15s and nudity but the aftermath carries with it the underlying sadness of my father’s brief existence.  Because of the damage my uncle sustained with the stroke, I questioned the accuracy of these stories…but at least they were tales told by someone who actually knew and loved him.  It was a start.

 

This photo of my father's grave at Cochise Memory Gardens Cemetery was taken by a couple I've never met.  These sweet people travel the USA in their Winnebago, stop at cemeteries and visit the graves of folks they believe haven't been visited in a while.  They say a prayer then take a picture of the tombstone and post it to a website in the hopes that some long lost family member might see it.  In this case, one did.  I reached out to these people and extended my gratitude.  This is one of only two photos I have of my father and it is an important piece of the puzzle I've been trying to solve my whole life.
This photo of my father’s grave at Cochise Memory Gardens Cemetery was taken by a couple I’ve never met. These sweet people travel the USA in their Winnebago, stop at cemeteries and visit the graves of folks they believe haven’t been visited in a while. They say a prayer then take a picture of the tombstone and post it to a website in the hopes that some long lost family member might see it. In this case, one did. I reached out to these people and extended my gratitude. This is one of only two photos I have of my father and it is an important piece of the puzzle I’ve been trying to solve my whole life.

 

Fast forward to the power of The Internet.  I would periodically Google my father’s name to see if anyone added any information about him anywhere — HS yearbook pictures, his name in conjunction with Islip Speedway, anything.  One day, some thing came up.  His name and a photo on Cochise Memory Gardens website.  It was a photo of my father’s grave marker bearing his name, USAF rank, birth date and date of death.  Son-of-a-bitch…my uncle was right.  Despite that crazy story about what happened on base, my father was honorably discharged from the US Air Force and laid to rest in a military cemetery.

Fast forward again a few more years to me one day passing American Legion Rusy Bohm Post 411 and taking note of the sign saying that the Ladies Auxiliary has an ongoing membership drive.  A friend of mine from the neighborhood was a member of the Ladies Auxiliary so I asked what I had to do to become a member.  I had to be the relative (daughter, granddaughter, wife) of a serviceman who was in active duty during an international conflict and that serviceman had to have been discharged honorably.  To prove this, I needed to produce a copy of my father’s DD-214s (official discharge paperwork).  When I explained my family situation, my friend directed me to a website.  As next-of-kin, I am entitled to this paperwork.  To my surprise and delight, the website gave me the option of requesting only a copy of my father’s DD-214s or his entire service record.  My father’s entire service record.  Wow.  This is something in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d be able to see.  I checked the box but didn’t get too excited.  I was tired of being Charlie Brown to football toting Lucy.

After what seemed like an eternity, a large, scary manila envelope addressed to me appeared in my mailbox.  There it was.  My father’s DD-214s officially confirming that my father was honorably discharged from the US Air Force along with his entire military service record.  Nineteen pieces of paper looked like pure gold to me.  I hit the jackpot.  I had my father’s old addresses, a copy of his fingerprints and his signature. I had the details of his medical record.  I learned that his eyesight was every bit as bad as I was told it was.  I learned that the illness that caused The Incident that gained his honorable discharge was something he arrived at Lackland with and something he carried with him until his passing.  I learned that his upbringing was every bit as horrific as I heard it was and was a major factor in his illness.

For the first time, I had pieces of the puzzle in my hands.  Not all the pieces…but a lot of them.  I would never be able to obtain all of them…but now it’s okay.  My father liked to take things apart and build things.  So do I.  He did it with auto parts.  I do it with ideas and words.  Same thing.  We take inventory of what we’ve got and make something better than what we started with…sometimes we need to get creative in order to fill in the blanks and make it work.  The demons are as dead as we allow them to be.  Each of us spent a lot of time being haunted.  Each of us longed to be part of something good.  I took my father’s DD-214s, applied for my membership to the Ladies Auxiliary and began to turn a tragic tale into something hopeful.

 

Here is some of what I will be donning proudly in the Memorial Day Parade, marching down Islip's Main Street with the Ladies Auxiliary of American Legion Rusy Bohm Post 411.  I will be in great company.
Here is some of what I will be donning proudly in the Memorial Day Parade, marching down Islip’s Main Street with the Ladies Auxiliary of American Legion Rusy Bohm Post 411. I will be in great company.

I get to create your legacy, Dad.  My third of it anyway.  This is a gift.  I get to carry on what you started.  I get to honor the flag that people like you helped to preserve and the freedom it symbolizes.  I get to do good because of the life you gave me and the choice you made to enlist while others were literally running from the war.  Maybe the opportunity to create new memories with you didn’t die on September 16, 1977 when that bullet landed in your brain.  Maybe on Monday, I won’t only be marching with the Ladies Auxiliary of Rusy Bohm Post 411 in the Memorial Day Parade…but I will also be marching with you.

A Different Message to the Other Motherless Children on Mother’s Day

There is a well-written blog entry that is making its way around Facebook called “A Letter to the Motherless Daughters on Mother’s Day.”  I read it because I consider myself a motherless daughter.  The blog struck me on two levels.  First the level on which it was intended to; I miss Mama, my maternal grandmother who was my mother in every sense but biology, since she passed away 10 years ago.  Jenna, the author of the blog, says, “Remember the sorrow, remember the love, remember everything. Talk to her, she’s always listening.”  I do.  And I believe that.  It is an important reminder, though, and I am glad Jenna took the time out to remind all of us who have had this type of significant loss.  On days like this, it is easy to succumb to that profound sadness instead of focusing on the joys of the life they gave us, as all good mothers want their babies to do.  What a blessing it was that my Mama loved me, cared for me, believed in me and did her best to protect me when it was not her responsibility to do so.  I do not know what would have become of me if she hadn’t.  That is something to celebrate today.

The happiest I ever saw my Mama was with my baby girl.  I am so happy that they got to share eachother's joy before my Mama left this world for the next.  This photo was taken not long before that.
The happiest I ever saw my Mama was with my baby girl. I am so happy that they got to share eachother’s joy before my Mama left this world for the next. This photo was taken not long before that.

 

Then on the other level…profound loneliness because of the abuse and abandonment of my biological mother.  Truth be told, I was hoping that Jenna’s open letter was addressed to people like me…the ones whose mothers defied instinct and harmed their babies rather than nurture them.  Each year I would be filled with a sense of dread as I entered the Hallmark store.  All the cards spoke to the unconditional mother’s love that’s been expressed through the years or boo-boo kissing or creating enduring memories.  Hallmark didn’t have a card celebrating the enduring memories my mother bestowed upon me.  I felt like a freak.  I felt like a hypocrite when I did buy one, knowing that this is nowhere near the relationship I ever had.  I felt like I was the only one who couldn’t get passed the things my mother said and did or didn’t do.  I would try to tell people about my dilemma and get responses like “Wow…that’s horrible…but she’s your mom and it’s Mother’s Day.”  It’s not their fault.  Most people don’t understand…and that is a blessing in and of itself.  But for those of us Other Motherless Children, it is indescribably lonely on a daily basis, amplified to a nearly unbearable degree on this day each year.  But we are not alone.  Sadly, there are a lot of us out there.  I wished that Jenna’s blog spoke to that because it’s something that nobody ever writes about.  Today, I am writing about it.

There is a particular shame attached to being the kid that even a mother couldn’t love.  Through decades of therapy and being blessed with people who love me-for-me, I learned on a rational level that the rejection I experienced had little-to-nothing to do with me and everything to do with my mother and her own baggage and frailties…but the feeling of being unlovable never fully goes away.  You just pick up tools and the skills to use them to cope with the pain effectively.  It does get better if you let it.

Becoming a mother myself was terrifying.  My greatest fear was that no matter what I did, my baby’s fate would be to have a mother like mine.  I believed the things she said about me.  I believed my defects were the most dominating parts of who I was and that it was all I had to offer.  She was wrong about me.  I was wrong about me.  I am my own person and because of that, I became my own brand of Mommy…who was far from perfect.  Let’s be honest here.  I am still “me” and I prove daily that I am human…some days more human than others.   I am heavily flawed.  I have numerous issues.  But I am greater than the sum of my parts.  I am a survivor.  I love my baby girl unconditionally, the way that every mother should.  These are the greatest gifts I can give her.  The love that my little girl and I share is what I celebrate today.

This is one of my favorite photos of my baby girl with me.  For some reason, I've always felt like this sums US up...loving but silly and sarcastic, too.
This is one of my favorite photos of my baby girl with me. For some reason, I’ve always felt like this sums US up…loving but silly and sarcastic, too.

I believe there are two sides of every coin. Even in the darkest situation, if you look really hard for it, you will find that it brought light to you as well.  While light may never outshine the darkness of that particular situation, I’ve gotten comfort from a single candle’s light during a blackout, helping me to manage through it…so long as I made sure it didn’t blow out.

Because of my life’s negative experiences, I possess positive qualities and skills that I don’t believe I would’ve otherwise obtained, at least not to the degree that I achieved them.  I am the calm during the storm; I am able to remain rational amid chaos, formulating a focused plan to make it to the other side of it.  I am deeply compassionate because I realize that there is usually a reason behind why people are the way they are and behave the way that they behave; hurt people hurt people…often times others, more often themselves.  I listen keenly to words spoken and unspoken because I know the pain of being ignored.  I can find the humor in anything and use the power of laughter (often peppered with sarcasm) to help myself and others out of the darkness.  I have not reached the state of enlightenment in my recovery where I am thankful for receiving the negative experiences of my upbringing.  I don’t know if I will ever reach that state.  But I have gratitude for the lessons it taught me, the gifts I received because of it and the unique way I can help others get through it all.

So to all the Other Motherless Children out there today…Mom was wrong.  However you got here, you have a right to be here.  You are deserving of real love.  You are not alone.  YOU are the candle that shines through the darkness.  Break the cycle.  I did.  You can, too.

Veterans Day Remembrance: My Grandpa Sam, WWI and WWII Veteran

I have been fortunate to know personally many people who proudly served in our nation’s military.  I give my humble gratitude to them all.  If not for these relatives and friends, I wouldn’t be able to sit here and freely share my thoughts with anyone and everyone who cares to read them on this blog.  Our freedom is something lifelong civilians like me often take for granted, but our military is willing to die for.  That is not something to be taken lightly.  Each and every one of the men, women and even canines who served should be honored today and every day.

The person I want to pay particular homage to today is my Grandpa Sam, my maternal grandmother’s father. He died the year I was born. I am glad that I had the opportunity to be held in his arms during my first three months of life. My grandmother told me it gave him great joy. I am sorry that I have no direct memory of him because through the stories I heard from my grandmother about him, he was someone special and someone that I feel I know through these stories.

Samuel Weisneivetsky (Grandpa Sam) was born in Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine, some time around the turn of the 19th to 20th century. Birth records stunk then, especially in Eastern Europe where it was extremely tumultuous. It was a hard life there. You could count on being covered with snow from November to March. But the physical climate was not the source of greatest adversity.

The Weisneivetsky family was Jewish. Jews were not well-liked throughout Europe. The rampant anti-semetism and acts of genocide by far predated the Third Reich and Hitler, which is what facilitated the Third Reich’s rise. But that is a history lesson for another time. For now, we are in Kiev, Ukraine in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. Jews were relegated to living in ghettos and worshipping God in secret and in fear. There was no Hitler or Nazis or SS. There were Cossacks. They were the military presence in Grandpa Sam’s world. There weren’t concentration camps yet. There were Pogroms — planned riots directed against Jews characterized by killings and destruction of their homes, businesses and temples.

The military in Grandpa Sam’s world growing up were not there to preserve his and his family’s freedoms. The Cossacks came to town and destroyed. The Weisneivetsky family were furriers. They were also Orthodox Jews. One day during one of the Pogroms, Cossacks came into the family shop, robbed it of the furs, took the Weisneivetsky men and cut off their beards, which was a sacrilege. There was nobody to report this to for justice. The military was in charge and they were the ones perpetrating the acts. Similar stories were all over Europe. Grandpa Sam knew that there was a better life than this and heard that it could be found in America.

 

When Samuel Weisneivetsky arrived at Ellis Island, he became Samuel Weiss. It was easier to spell and pronounce and he thought it was more American. He was anxious to put Kiev behind him and start a brand new life. Immigrant life was difficult. There weren’t many jobs. None for him in the family’s furrier trade. But there were also no Pogroms here so he felt it was a good life doing odd jobs and having a modest apartment in Brooklyn. He was allowed to be a Jew and live anywhere he could afford. There were temples within blocks of churches. He could worship freely without worrying about a price to pay later if anyone saw him. The police were there for the good of all the members of the community. America was exactly what Grandpa Sam hoped it would be. Even though he was dirt poor, he was proud to be part of his new homeland.

Then came World War I. Grandpa Sam enlisted in the army. He would see Europe again but this was no longer his home. He was fighting with his new country for its ideals. America gave him a life he never could have had in Europe. He was free here. It was important that he be part of the preservation of this way of life. His children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and on will never know the oppression he knew. Grandpa Sam was proud to wear the American Army uniform. The military stood for something so different in America than it did in Kiev. Wearing that uniform also gave him the opportunity to help liberate those who were like him in Europe and who did not have the good fortune to make it to America. He considered it an honor to serve and was proud that he could be an active part of the victory in The Great War.

When Grandpa Sam came home, he had a trade he learned in the Army; lithography. No more odd jobs. As it turned out, Grandpa Sam was a gifted lithographer. This was his profession until the Great Depression. Then the shops closed up. There were no jobs for a skilled laborer such as himself so it was back to doing odd jobs to support his family. These were difficult times indeed. But Grandpa Sam’s love of America never wavered. We were all in this together and the government was working on programs to get everyone back on their feet.

 

In 1941, the United States entered World War II. The Third Reich had risen and there were rumors too horrible for people to believe about what was happening to the Jews and other minority groups in Europe. Having lived through the Pogroms, Grandpa Sam found these rumors less difficult to believe. He wanted so much to go back and fight with the American Army as he did in World War I. If ever there was a just war, this was it. However, by 1941, Grandpa Sam was in his 40’s. Hardly ideal for a soldier. He resigned himself to supporting the war in other ways. But then a strange thing happened…Grandpa Sam got a draft notice.

My Grandpa Sam in his WWII service photo. The thing I always focus on in this photo is his hands. How meaty they are with labor. How stained they are with ink from lithographing. To me, they say a lot about the man he was, the great-grandpa I never got the chance to know.
My Grandpa Sam in his WWII service photo. The thing I always focus on in this photo is his hands. How meaty they are with labor. How stained they are with ink from lithographing. To me, they say a lot about the man he was, the great-grandpa I never got the chance to know.

The Army had a record of Grandpa Sam’s lithography training. They also realized how skilled he was at it. They needed someone of his skills and experience to print the maps the generals and soldiers would use to guide them through their battles. They had to be perfect. Lives were at stake. Winning these battles and eventually the war put our very freedom at stake.

Grandpa Sam said that it was his proudest moment to put on his uniform once again after being sought out by his country. This time he did not go to Europe. He served on Governor’s Island, jut off of New York City. My grandmother told me about the times she went to visit her daddy there, how much fun it was to shop at the PX and that they even had a movie theater there. She said that during her visits to Governor’s Island was the happiest she had ever seen her father. He stood tall and proud. And even though he was older than anyone else there, he was a soldier, fighting the good fight like everyone else.

Thank you Grandpa Sam for following your heart to a better life, for standing up and fighting for it and showing us that you can help battles to be won without picking up a gun. I am honored that you are part of me and my family.

Have an Attitude of Gratitude

 

A picture of me...an absolute rarity.
 
 
I got an e-mail this morning from a friend of mine. Many of the e-mails she forwards me have to do with humility, thankfulness and God. This morning’s e-mail wasn’t any different. Some of them are hokey, most of them are reminders of perspective and some, like this morning’s, give me cause for introspection.
 

My friend’s faith was established in her from the time she was a child. Throughout her life, it was a constant and when she faced difficulty; her faith was there to help her through. Those of you who know me long enough or well enough know that I was not raised that way. For a long time, I pooh-poohed people like my friend, dismissing them as somehow weaker for having a Higher Power, like “God,” guide them. As I got older and wiser, outgrowing the “angry young (wo)man” identity, I realized that I was jealous of these people. I wanted the unconditional love and acceptance that they had. As I grew wiser still, I realized that I had it all along within me. Since coming to this realization, my life has not been perfect. Last year was the toughest of my life, in fact. But I did not fall apart (at least not for too long).

 

I am not ashamed to tell you that I live each day with Gratitude for each day the Universe has given me; not just the happy days or prosperous days or easy days but for the days that come with pain and loss and adversity. I have been given a life filled with people who care for me, the capacity to love them back, a sense of humor that has helped me and others around me enjoy good times to their fullest and carry me and others around me through some of our toughest times. I am strong. That is no accident. It is a gift. For that and so much more, I am grateful.

 

What’s on your gratitude list?

Namaste
 

PS:    Here is the e-mail I got that prompted this morning meditation:

TIME FOR GOD
When I received this e-mail I thought…
I don’t have time for this.
Then, I realized that this kind of thinking is exactly what has caused lot of the problems in our world today.
We try to keep God in church on Sunday morning…
Maybe, Sunday night…
The unlikely event of a midweek service…
Or even no church service at all.
We do like to have Him around
during sickness….
and, of course, at funerals.
However,
We don’t have time or room
for Him during work or play…
Because that’s the part of our lives we think we can — and should — handle on our own.
Why is it so easy to delete a Godly e-mail,
yet we forward all of the nasty ones?

Isn’t it funny how simple it is for people to trash God,
then wonder why the world is going to Hell.

Isn’t it funny how you can send a thousand jokes through e-mail and they spread like wildfire,
but when you start sending messages regarding the Lord, people think twice about sharing?

Isn’t it funny how when you forward this message, you will not send it to many on your address list
because you’re not sure what they believe
or what they will think of you for sending it to them.

Isn’t it funny how I can be more worried about what other people think of me
than what God thinks of me.

Jesus said, “If you are ashamed of me, I will be ashamed of you before my Father.”

Of all the free gifts we may receive, Prayer is the very best one

He keeps me functioning each and every day. Without Him, I will be nothing. But with Him, HE strengthens me. (Philistines 4:13)