All the Women in My Family, and Me

All the Women in My Family, and Me

The women in my family had it tough. As did and do most other women elsewhere. My female relatives led meagre lives during which they helped few and pleased none, least of all themselves. Generous people seek in their lives to be helpful, crooked people seek to be happy and ambitious people seek to leave something behind. I suspect my female family members fell outside these categories because they didn’t seem to seek anything. To compensate, and to fulfil my generously crooked ambitious self, I seek to help some, make most of all myself happy and leave much behind.

My maternal grandmother’s name was Rose, and this was the single most romantic thing about her life. Her life started and stopped when she was drafted in a labour camp in Nazi Germany during the war. She didn’t learn any German, besides the commands for lights off and take shelter used during air raids. After the war she had a brief glamorous stint of living and working in the country’s capital. When her sister died of pneumonia in her early twenties, leaving a widower and two small children behind, Rose was summoned home. She married the widower to supply a mother for the half-orphans, though neither of the new partners was overjoyed. The husband went on to hang himself, and the widow remarried.

My mother, Mary, was eighteen when the Soviet tanks came to Czechoslovakia in 1968. Hazardously, she went out in the fields to watch the occupants, not anticipating that they were to stay. Stay they did. Mother married the first man she met because there was no reason not to. So said my father’s family. Old photographs suggest that my father was not always bald, fat and bent; yet neither was he the tall handsome blue-eyed blonde as he liked to depict his young self. The couple first moved in with my father’s parents, who got however soon fed up with father’s budding alcoholism. The next stop was my mother’s parents. This was the terminal. My brother was born into a disrupted family, I was born into a broken one eleven years later. I was a lucky accident.

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This photo shows granny Rose and me; the header photo my brother, mother and the infant me.

My paternal grandmother, Dana, remains for me in the haze of the Alzheimer’s. Nobody bothered to tell me that her first only occasionally erratic behaviour was caused by a disease. It was my paternal grand-grandmother, Benedicta, who left a singularly deep trace in my memory. She was a miner’s widow and as tough as the black coal that was providing her living. She saw the death of her husband in a mining accident, the death of her grandson at thirty-two in military action and the decline and death of her only daughter. She lived on with wistful sadness. She broke her leg in her late seventies and lay on the floor in her flat for a day before help came. She walked again. She died at eighty-four, a little shrunk figure with yellowish face framed by a chequered headscarf lying in the coffin.

Out of these women, only my mother stills lives. She has a record of being an abused wife, a loving but failing mother and now a lonely divorcee with little to hope for. Interestingly, she appears to blame herself more for the death of her mother rather than the harm she unwittingly caused to her children. She left her job when grandmother Rose stopped being self-sufficient in order to attend to her. She could hardly stop her from dying though. I saw no gratefulness in my grandmother for her daughter’s care and no peace in my mother even after she has done her best. I view the lives of the women in my family as cautionary tales, if anything. If I could pray, I would pray that I do good to others only by doing good to myself first.

58 thoughts on “All the Women in My Family, and Me

  1. Oh, Mara, what a heart breaking tale, and one told with courage and an open heart. I applaud you for telling this story, and for the courage it takes to overcome the harm done, witting and unwitting, by those who should be the ones we trust the most.

    And yes, taking care of yourself is the only way to take care of those you love. Selfless selfishness.

    I have skirted around my life in my blog.

    Having read this, I might even follow your lead and tell my story, it may even begin with a letter to my son.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Not as much a heartbreaking story as a heartbreaking comment by you. I have mixed feelings about this post, my most personal so far, but if it inspired you to tell something to your son, then it’s incredibly rewarding. Do write the letter; it might just as well turn out the best idea ever. Sorry if it sounds cliche, it’s not meant as one.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Ellen, I’m amazed by your positive response — I actually expected harsh critique for what are probably heretic views on my part. You got my point exactly — I was wondering what use it is to sacrifice oneself for someone who doesn’t even marginally appreciate. This seems to be a repeated pattern in my family and it doesn’t make me too happy.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Powerful and moving tribute to the women in your family. I was very touched by your words. They did accomplish one very great thing indeed: you. What you wrote about your great grand-mother Benedicta was especially lugubrious and affecting for me. So sad shrunken there in her checkered headscarf. Hugs. It takes great courage and insight to survey one’s familial history and to extract the lessons from previous suffering. You inspire me dear friend. I love your outlook, insight and positivity. There is nothing so life squelching than no passion or hope. I feel so sad for all that hollow pain. And yes, it is so VITAL that we take care of ourselves, first, or we shan’t be healthy enough ever to help another or to follow the passions within that may change the world. Beautiful and potent writing. Inspiring post. Exultant cheers!

    -Smiling Toad

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooh, thank you very much for your comment. I’m deeply humbled by your praise, and I’m actually shocked that you should agree with my point of view. I’ve been discovering the necessity of being selfish recently, and I feel it can’t be a too popular view.

      Theoretically, selflessness and sacrifice look like noble concepts, but from what I’ve seen in my family it might not be worth it. I did try to communicate the hopelessness and flatness that I perceived in my female family members — and some male members too, but that’s a different topic.

      I’m glad that my description of my great-grandmother worked; she was my most favourite relative ever, even more than my mother. I remember her alive, but I remember her also dead, and morbid though it sounds, she actually looked very much at peace in the coffin… Not a scary sight at all.

      Thank you again for your lovely response, and cheers!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m not sure what you’re talking about really qualifies as selfishness, which I (at least) would define as “I’m taking care of myself and to hell with everybody else.” I get the sense that you’re talking more about the idea that we have to take care of ourselves as well as others. Because let’s face it, if we don’t we’re likely to end up without much to give.

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        1. Actually, yes, I was thinking of caring for oneself as well as the others, but I was putting myself at the first place. Which might be disputable. But it seems to me necessary now, whatever someone else might think of it… Thank you so much for your thoughts.

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      2. Your shock surprises me! 😉

        Yes, I loved the words you used to describe your dear great grandmother Benedicta, indeed. They were words that were potent with tangible feeling. I could picture her so vividly. I am so glad she looked at such peace in the end. I have had exposure to a few human corpses, none of which looked at peace. Such power of mind for her to depart in such calm tranquility, when so many others depart in great pain and anguish and fear. She must have had such a strong tenacity of spirit, indeed.

        P.S. Nothing you could write could ever sound “morbid” to me har har. I don’t understand the meaning of this silly word “morbid”- clearly there is no such thing!

        No need to feel humbled. Your writing is far more deserving than my meager praise. You are a superb writer, indeed. That is the truth.

        As for selflessness and selfishness, the way I see it- we are born with a “self” in which to tend to. We are not born enmeshed and entangled with others- we ARE separate. If we are to be whole people, there is a Self to mend, attend to, and nurture, like a garden. That is where passion and genius thrive, and if we neglect that we deprive the world of our own unique gifts. I also do not see the good it does to completely “selflessly” give, as a martyr, as I just see how it tears a person up and wears them away with misery, bitterness and resentment- no matter how buried those feelings are, they fester there, deep and eat the person up, and poison the atmosphere. They often end up becoming abusive and inspire feelings like shame and guilt in those they so “selflessly” help. I just think that when we help others, it should come from a true sense of compassion, kindness and love- feelings we are most capable of when emotionally healthy. Help should not be given as a sense of “duty” I do not think. Really this act of self-care is not at all “selfishness” as we are so much more capable of wonderful things like love, kindness, and empathy when we are healthy within. Perception becomes warped and shriveled when we neglect that inner self and I think we tend to inflict more hurt, pain and suffering, in that state, than acts of compassion and love.

        Hugs and Happy 2015 to you!

        Smiling Toad

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        1. Hugs to you too and have a good new year! Thank you for your, as always, very thoughtful comment. Your insights are a great pleasure for me (and surely for others too) to read. And I’m honoured that we share so many opinions. Here’s to humanity, compassion and love…

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Such a sad tale. I can only hope that as the world more and more excepts women into larger, more important roles that such stories will belong to the past and not the present.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello, Trent, and thank you so much for reading! As I said before, I’m amazed by the positive feedback; I expected for sure that I would be criticised and rightly so. I’m not too sure myself what to make out of my family history, but I think I should make out something of it.

      Maybe next time I should focus on the men in my family too, though of course as a woman, other women are more of role models to me than men. Surely gender is not the only factor in play, but it looks like it doesn’t help too much being the “other”, the female sex. I’m grateful that things have been changing and that at least I don’t have to fear a forced marriage and the like.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Normally when something touches me and I’m unable to find the right words to leave in the comment box , I take the easy way out and hit the like button. Hitting the like button does not feel appropriate in this case. It’s difficult for me to find words because your family history is so very different from mine. Saying anything about this post, would make me feel like “that jerk” who tries to console or pretend to relate with someone by saying, “I can imagine what that’s like for you” when that person has no clue what it’s like. It was a beautifully told story, Mara.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Amy, for expressing yourself so well and so openly. I appreciate your response very much. You don’t even need to look for any words of sympathy or comfort, that was just me trying to make some sense of my experience and not being really sure what lessons to draw. The post isn’t my favourite, but I’m extremely glad that I published it because of your unexpected and life-affirming responses. So, you and other readers are the heroes here, and thank you for it!

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      1. I enjoy reading posts like this. Okay, maybe “enjoy” isn’t choice of words. I don’t think anyone can ever truly understand someone else’s experiences, but when someone allows themselves to be vulnerable and share a story like this, it can either help others with similar experiences feel less alone, or it can give “ignorant” people a peak at life through another person’s lens. Both are wonderfully positive things.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. I can feel your frustration! I have some words too that I seem to be unable to learn and always look them up and then confuse them anyway! But I get you.

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        1. I must admit that I usually don’t like too serious posts and try to write in a humorous manner. Some situations however cannot be treated humorously, and writing this serious post already did much more than what I expected! Yes, I also don’t think that anyone can truly understand another person’s experience, but it’s not necessary. As long as they are willing to listen to it, it’s more than enough.

          Liked by 2 people

  5. I agree with what all of the above commenters said. Very poignant … very moving. I would think it felt good once you were finished writing it up. Hats off to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Rebekah, for stopping by and commenting. It felt actually frustrating when I finished the post: I did find some answers, but I wasn’t happy with them. Now, with some time lapse and after reading your wonderful responses, I am much more sure and positive about my life. Thank you for this!

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      1. I thought it would have felt somewhat cathartic … in any event, at least you know a great deal about them, which is more than I can say…

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        1. It did feel cathartic, but it didn’t feel like I’ve written a good post, hence my frustration. Yes, I know a bit here and bit there about my family, but I have a very fragmented picture. So sorry to hear that you know even less than I!

          Liked by 1 person

  6. Like others before me, I’m going to echo their comment that this was a brave and deeply personal story … it sounded like an emotional scab that you find yourself picking at because it’s itchy. I’m glad you found the confidence to write about it.

    Your last line is my favourite – “If I could pray, I would pray that I do good to others only by doing good to myself first”. It’s like the oxygen mask on an airplane and the need to put your own on first before you can help anyone else … or the belief that it’s difficult to really love someone if you can’t love yourself. It’s not selfish at all … it’s deeply giving.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Joanne, for your incredibly supportive comment! I’m so surprised by your and everyone’s positive responses, I can’t get over it… Your comparison to the oxygen mask situation in a plane emergency is brilliant. Precisely what I had on mind, but of course, you put it in better words. I can’t thank you enough for your support, it is very affirming and encouraging!

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        1. Yes. Precisely as you say. I’m still congratulating myself on the decision to start blogging 😉 It turned out more valuable than what I first thought.

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  7. Technically, no one can ever know how happy another person is. We can watch, we can listen, but we still don’t know what it feels like to BE them.

    I must say . . . if I had to marry my SIL, I would hang myself too!😝😲

    Peace.

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    1. You are very right. We don’t know about other people, but I have deeply rooted suspicions that the people I described weren’t too happy with their lives. And yes, it looks practical to marry one’s sister/brother-in-law, but it strikes me almost as incest… Not a pleasant thought.

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  8. Mara: What a somber tale. First and foremost — HUGS to you. Life is and can be a cruel enterprise which, of no accord of our own, we are thrown into whether we like it or not. It is why I, like you (I suspect), have evolved over the years with regard to my religious views. Feel free to reach out if ever you need to talk or vent or wish to share your feelings or concerns.

    I am sorry for the hardships you have endured. You strike me as someone who is strong and firm in your self-views and it is my steadfast wish that this remains to be so.

    I love this line: To compensate, and to fulfil my generously crooked ambitious self, I seek to help some, make most of all myself happy and leave much behind. You know who you are and it is enough.

    We are all, your readers, fortunate that you had the courage and generosity to share this with us. Sometimes we have only to rely on ourselves through difficult times and I suspect this has been the story of your life. We never truly know what burdens others have or continue still to carry with them.

    I hope much peace, contentment, happiness and joy for your despite the ‘meagre lives’ of those who came before you.

    Julie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Awe, Julie, I don’t know how to express my thanks properly for your wonderful and supportive comment! I’m in awe that your response is so positive. I didn’t mean to upset anyone by the post or to present myself as a sufferer, I’m about as ok as the next person, no big deal.

      Though I grew now increasingly confident about what I’d like to do with my life, I take it that my position is rather controversial. It is expected of a person to fulfil social expectations and to be be ready for sacrifices for others rather than to pursue personal goals. So I can’t be more surprised that you and other readers concur with my point.

      Thank you for reading, commenting and thank you for your well wishes; I value this very much! And same to you, of course. Have a peaceful holiday in particular and life in general.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Now I see what you meant about the women.
    Thanks, Mara. It’s such a beautiful post. I’m always in awe with your writing style because it’s no fake; you don’t try to be nice, accepted, conforming, sparing the reader from the inconvenience of life truths; you give it to us in full colors, tastes, and show an enticing emotion in every single word.
    These women had it tough and yet they stayed, they didn’t hang themselves. Generous, crooked, ambitious minds, all intertwined, may have given strength to hang on.
    You make a not subtle point which is at the core of most women’s mindsets – even in modern days – which is to mix up generosity with giving away their power. And that’s when they meet lack of gratitude, as people expect and take for granted, the ‘sacrifices’ women make when dedicating thenselves to care fir others; kids, husbands, sick or elderly family members.
    Giving up all – a career, a dream, even a simple plan, is no small action. But it should never mean, giving up our voice, giving up ourselves.
    Yes, you are right, only when you can make yourself happy, you will genuinely make others happy too.
    Great piece!
    Xx

    Liked by 2 people

    1. What Mara wrote was beautiful, brave and powerful. Made all the more so by the supportive reaction that she has received and this one in particular.

      Isn’t it surprising when one finds caring friends and support in the most unexpected places.

      Bravo to both of you!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Ah, Lucile, thank you so much for your lovely comment! You’re always so encouraging, and I’m very grateful to you, for everything. You worded it actually so well that you put my meagre post in shame, obviously, and you said everything that there was to say. I’m very happy to have met you 😉

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    3. Some become so focused on making themselves happy they soon forget any obligation to others. No man is an island; no man lives alone.

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      1. That is right. But then, some become so focused on making others happy that they forget any obligation to themselves. It’s probably about finding the balance.

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        1. Mara, I have always appreciated your desire to rise above the defeatist attitudes, the lack of joy and sunshine in the lives around you. I appreciate your viewpoint on your territory–really upbeat. However I wonder if you seeking happiness or purpose and goals in your life? A drunk may be happy (even if temporarily), but is he valuable? Isn’t it value you crave? There is satisfaction in being valuable to yourself, your family and your community. I think it was Christian Mai who said that life will scroll by our eyes one day and we should like what we see. If we have not been valuable to anyone, can we like what we see?

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          1. This is certainly a valid point. I’m not in favour of leading an invaluable life, however, I’d prefer to set my values myself rather than have the society or my environment determine the values for me. Thank you for contributing to this interesting discussion! There is value in exchanging ideas already 😉

            Liked by 1 person

      2. Agree with that. Anyone who sees only his/her truth do just like that.
        We live in a chain of synchronicity and failing to see that and play a role in that, leads to dysfunctional experiences.
        I consider that sharing personal stories is both difficult and risky and one needs courage to do so. Most of the times people judge what is only to be respected.
        Thanks again Mara. My utmost respect!

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  10. Under the circumstances, the women in your life did the best they could with what they were given. Perhaps there were some bad choices and poor decisions, but they stand out as strong when compared to other women (and men) of that time period.

    I am pretty sure, after reading where they were at that time in history, they were stronger than you give them credit for. Your mother bore two beautiful children. You are proof that she did something good. Think of yourself and them as stalwart in spite of their handicaps.

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    1. Thank you for your insightful comment, Beth! Yes, it might be that those women I described did the best they could, but I can’t help thinking that some of them could have done better. I’m particularly uncomfortable with my mother’s choices, as is probably clear from the post. But you are right that they were not weak, I don’t dispute that. If they were, they would have hanged themselves. I probably would. Thank you for joining this discussion, it’s always great to exchange thoughts!

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  11. I think I can relate much more than you can imagine.

    My situation could be even worse! I grew up watching my parents arguing every time,always causing scenes everywhere;my mother would sulk at the supermarket,or would scream like a freaking hysteric,or my father would go on and on about things,unleashing his inner monster – he too drinks a lot.(Maybe the only consolation is that he never raised his hands on my mother)Having gifts or happy new years has seldom happened to me.

    When I look at the two individuals who happen to be my mother and father,I feel nothing.Even when I came from UK after 3 months,I felt nothing.There is a sentiment of disgust that comes to me whenever I think I’m their son.To be honest I don’t feel like their son; I became who I wanted to be,and I did so by reading books and watching other stuffs.

    I hope one day I’ll be able to go very,very far from them.Why didn’t you ever do the same when,being a European,you could easily have moved elsewhere?

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    1. I am very sorry to hear that. Very. Your situation is difficult in a different way from mine; however, I’m pleased to share that I’m making changes in my life now and leaving people whose values I don’t share. I’ll be blogging about it 😉 What kept me from moving to a more favourable place was my then-boyfriend, now-husband, whom I didn’t wish to leave. I do believe that you’re now making a huge step in getting education and will be able to live a future you imagine for yourself, not one that has been enforced on you. Thank you for reading, and all the best!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh,I’m pretty good.I don’t feel like this every time I’m around them; it’s only when I look at them and start thinking – putting things in perspective etc…

        I know people who’re faring much worse,so I don’t always complain.I simply look forward and try to figure out how to get away from my present situation. 🙂

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        1. Good, I’m relieved that it’s just your momentary state of mind — I have something similar too. Sure, there are people who are worse off, I try to use this fact to comfort myself; on the other hand, it turned out I could do more for myself than I thought, and now I’m doing it, and I’m obviously very full of it 😉 It will be fun to blog about the transitions, for me and hopefully for you to blog about yours too!

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