An Open Letter To Anyone Wondering WTF

July 22, 2014 | 46 Comments

daughter smiling behind happy mom

Two days ago, an essay I wrote about my experience with family estrangement was published on xoJane.

Writing it was uncomfortable and brilliant. It’s received 462 comments in less than 36 hours. Marianne, the weekend editor who published my piece, wrote in a Facebook group we both occupy where people yell and talk about waffles and exude awesome:

“I JUST WANT EVERYONE TO KNOW PEOPLE ARE STILL READING THIS AND SO MANY PEOPLE ARE EXPRESSING HOW MUCH IT RESONATES FOR THEM. I AM SO PROUD OF SHANNON FOR WRITING THIS AND GIVING PEOPLE WHO HAVE THIS EXPERIENCE THE RELIEF OF RECOGNITION.”

So that’s ten thousand kinds of fantastic.

But it’s been less fantastic for those who don’t understand my desire to parade this story publicly. My cousin shared her discomfort on my Facebook wall today. I suspect there are others who share her outlook, so I’ve decided to respond here.

Here’s what Cousin said:

“Okay Shannon here is my comment and if you wish to delete me after that is okay. I want you to know that I do not say anything to her as this is your relationship with her and no one else’s.

I firmly believe that you have a right to your feelings and that you need to do what you need to do. That is not my or anyone s business. However let you mom be if you want her out of your life quit smearing her name all over the internet and hurting her more because that is what you are doing. And it is cruel it is really no different than what she did. Yes she was the adult and yes things should have been better but not one of us is perfect and we all make mistakes.

I am sorry you have to hurt this way and I wish I could make it better but I and no one can.”

1. Thank you for being brave and honest.

No deleting. There are only a handful of people in my life who’ve openly voiced support or expressed concern. I understand why most remain silent, but it doesn’t make it easy. It means gobs of good that you care enough and trusted me enough to believe I can handle your feedback.

2. If you believe it’s my right to do what I need to do, trust that writing about it is one of those things.

Maybe you would deal with the same situation differently. That doesn’t mean your way will  be right for everyone experiencing estrangement. An artist might paint about it. A teacher might love her classroom full of little shits a little more fiercely. A doctor might gravitate towards healing broken families. A writer might write about it.

3. I’m not smearing my mom’s name all over the internet.

I wrote this post and have alluded to the situation in a few others. I write about so many things that have nothing to do with my mom. And “smearing” would involve false statements.

4. I have no intention to hurt my mom more or at all.

But the truth is, sometimes when we hurt people, the actions those people take to heal, end up hurting us. Someone named Nanette Saucy (which made me love her instantly because Saucy) wrote: “”Doing what one has to do to feel safe, healthy and human again should never be a source of shame.”

5. I don’t blame my mom for all that’s bad in my life.

(Which you alluded to in a section I didn’t paste from your Facebook message.) I don’t blame my mom for anything bad in my life. My essay isn’t a revenge piece. My essay is about offering people with similar stories the “relief of recognition.” And to compel compassion, even in the absence of understanding or agreement.

6. I am moving on with my life.

(You suggested I might not be in another unpasted section.) I don’t think moving on means pretending, being silent, or sweeping ugly history under that basket of laundry you’ll probably never get around to folding. I believe it means speaking of it loudly and often to lessen its chances of tricking you into forgetting the awful place it leads.

7. Maybe you can’t make my hurt better, but I don’t believe that means no one can.

Another wise-shouty-waffle-type friend said:

“WE CAN ALL MAKE THINGS BETTER FOR OTHER PEOPLE EVEN THOUGH IT’S NOT OUR RESPONSIBILITY. IT’S OUR RIGHT IF WE SO CHOOSE AND YOU CAN CERTAINLY GIVE YOUR PAIN MEANING AND AND MAKE YOUR OWN LIFE BETTER.” 

My very public essay has given my pain meaning. I’ve had more people I imagined possible reach out to say that my essay is healing, comforting, affirming and a few heart’s worth more of the best kinds of a verbs a writer could ever hope to hear.

Reading this essay will no doubt be painful for my mom and I have deep compassion for her pain. But I’m not sorry because there’s too much courage, vulnerability, and shame-smashing to celebrate.

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