A few days ago, I was thinking about something from my early childhood, the incident of a neighborhood kid drowning in the Ohio Canal that was across the street from our house. The only concrete information I had was that his name was “Dougie.” Parents repeated this information to their kids for years. It became an urban legend – “Dougie, The Kid Who Drowned In The Canal.” I wondered if it happened as I remember it being told to me. Who was Dougie? Where did he live? I was told I played with him, but I don’t remember that.
I have an inquisitive mind and the internet has provided me with endless hours of discovery (and the wasting of time.) I belong to an Akron Ohio (my hometown) Facebook group, and questions and debate come up all the time about what former businesses were where on such-and-such a street. I have learned how to use the Historic Akron City Directories which can be accessed online through the Akron Public Library. There are two parts to each year’s directory: the first part has all the streets listed alphabetically and who lived at each address, and the second part has the people and businesses listed alphabetically and where they were located.
I turned to my Akron City Directory for 1958 and found out who all my neighbors were back then. For some reason, I thought Dougie lived across the street. I took the last names of my neighbors and went to my account on Ancestry. I plugged in Douglas and the last name. No hits on Boulevard St. down at my end of the street.
I entered my home address on Boulevard St. into Google Maps, zeroed in on the Ohio Canal across the street, and figured out what was the nearest street to the Canal that was still in my immediate neighborhood but NOT on Boulevard St. I came up with West Thornton St., a street that is at least still there after Opportunity Park razed that end of neighborhood in the 1970s. I got the range of addresses for that area of W. Thornton St. and went back to the Akron City Directory. For both sides of the street, I wrote down all the last names for a block in either direction from the point closest to the canal.
Going back to Ancestry and plugging in those last names and Douglas as the first name, I got a hit on Douglas Ferrebee who was born in 1953 and died in 1960. He died in Akron. Did he live with that Ferrebee family at 262 W. Thornton St.? The name in the directory said that “Ferrebee, JA” lived there. That’s all I had, and there were a number of Ferrebee families that lived in Akron. I found Douglas Ferrebee’s brief birth information on Ancestry. In the space for Other, it listed Carmichael. From experience, I know that the name listed there is the mother’s maiden name. So… Ferrebee/Carmichael. Would that lead me anywhere?
Through all the meandering I did on Ancestry, I found the marriage license for J. B. Ferrebee and Mildred Carmichael. Well, J.B. didn’t match up with J.A. living on Thornton St., but I’ve seen worse mistakes in printing — way worse! All three — J.B., Mildred, and Douglas — are buried in a cemetery in Pennsboro, West Virginia. (Small world. My father moved to West Virginia after his retirement and lived in the tiny town of Pullman, right nextdoor to Pennsboro.)
I still hadn’t proved that Douglas lived on Thornton St. I was thinking, thinking, thinking, and just pulling up stuff on Ancestry, my brain trying to figure out how I was going to take circumstantial information and turn it into a concrete link. I do not take circumstantial data and turn it into fact, not without having proof. This is particularly true when I’m working on family tree data.
Somewhere during all this pondering and trying to find obituaries and such, I happened upon a link that I’ve seen before on the Ancestry site. It asked me if I wanted a subscription to newspaper articles found in thousands of newspapers for decades. Seven-day free trial? I have nothing to lose! I signed up. My hometown newspaper, The Akron Beacon Journal, was available and I search for Douglas Ferrebee, hoping to at least find his obituary from 1960. Here was the article:
The “urban legend” was real. What I remember being told about the incident as a kid in kindergarten was real. The only two things that I had incorrect was that Dougie did not live “across the street” (not on Boulevard St., anyway), and he was not four-years-old when he died, which is what I had recollected from the story. However, there it was, in black-and-white and available on the internet 56 years later.
The truth is out there! You just need to know how and where to look! (If I had had that newspaper archive subscription at the outset, I could have saved myself a lot of searching once I had the link between Douglas and Ferrebee, but the route that leads to discovery is not always a straight line!)
Ore Docks Two Harbors MN, June 2016
For a dozen years now, my husband and I have talked about where we’re going to live upon retirement. Duluth has figured prominently in the discussion. We went as far as buying a five-acre parcel of land in Two Harbors, 22 miles up the Lake Superior shoreline from Duluth. It was a decision based on keeping our options open. That land is ours, and we can build on it if we choose. If we don’t choose to do that, we can hang onto it or sell it.
Over the last year or two, I’ve become quite vocal about not wanting to live in Two Harbors. It’s a town of about 3,700 people. There are some shops and a few restaurants, a grocery store, a hardware store of the “general store” variety. There is a very small hospital. It’s within a half-hour’s drive of Duluth, which was my firm requirement when considering a healthcare emergency involving two people of retirement age. Two major medical centers are in downtown Duluth. However, I can see the writing on the wall that I would be spending a fair amount of time in Duluth: shopping, participating in activities with the Unitarian Universalist congregation, volunteering with wildlife rescue and humane societies, taking advantage of the many festivals and other entertainment opportunities. I don’t want to spend my time driving back and forth from Two Harbors to Duluth. I want to be there.
We’ve begun to explore that option now. I’ve found an area of Duluth that I really like, the Woodland neighborhood, which is near to the University of Minnesota-Duluth and the College of Saint Scholastica. If one gets out on the edge of that neighborhood, he’s in a less developed, rural-like setting but still only a few miles from the hub of the activity. It’s got a good feel to it, combining the natural setting I love, the peace and quiet, and the close association with wildlife while still being very convenient to all the small city amenities. (Duluth is a city of 86,000. That’s the same as the population of the largest Twin Cities’ suburb of Bloomington where the Mall of America is located. The total population of the Twin Cities metro area is approaching four million people.)
Change is hard for me, though. Moving in particular is very hard. We don’t do it very often! We spent sixteen-and-a-half years in our home in South Minneapolis. We now have been in our current first-ring suburban home for twenty-one years. The move from South Minneapolis to Maplewood was very difficult on me emotionally and I struggled with depression. I’m not looking forward to going through that again.
My husband recently turned the reins of this proposed move over to me with my emotional well-being in mind. He said, “You’re driving this decision. I want you to be happy.” I’m grateful for this. Truth of the matter is that there is part of me that doesn’t want to leave the metro area. This has been my home for 40 years now, and a fine home it’s been.
We ARE moving from this home only six miles from downtown St. Paul, even though my husband said that staying here is certainly an option on the table. I’m good with the option of moving. We’re going to let some other family live in this bedroom community of people who work for 3M, Ecolab, the State of Minnesota, Wells Fargo, and other corporations nearby. We’d also like to build a home, our dream home. It would be a single-level home built with ADA-assessible doorways and bathrooms so that we can stay there as long as possible into our geriatric years. If we stayed in the Twin Cities area, though, where do we go from here?
Several of my biggest losses if we moved are my healthcare team (my primary care doc and
Downtown St. Paul MN on the Mississippi River
my behavioral health provider), my cat-specialty veterinary clinic with vets and staff I really like, and my professional cat sitter who is top notch. We’ve got a couple of close friends here that I’d hate to move away from. With those factors in mind, I’ve been exploring the east side of the Mississippi River around Cottage Grove, Newport, Saint Paul Park, Afton, outlying areas of Woodbury. Of course, if we get too far out to avoid being in the middle of a current or proposed surburban development, then we’re talking driving a half-hour to get anywhere! We’ve lost the convenience of having things close by and easily assessible.
This past week, I’ve been back to liking the sound of Duluth. It’s a calmer, quieter environment. The suburbs aren’t encroaching on the available land at the edges of the city. If we buy a secluded property, it’s going to stay a secluded location. Everything we need is there on a smaller scale, and the reality is, who needs a hundred choices when five is more than adequate? It keeps life simple. Simple is good. It’s sounding better all the time. As much as I hate to leave Dr. Stiffman’s care, I could find an adequate primary care physician in Duluth. I could even keep my behavioral health team here in the Twin Cities because I’m low maintenance most of the time and could schedule some trips here periodically to check in. I would need to replace my vet clinic and my cat sitter, but there has got to be some suitable options there, although no one can really replace Parkview Cat Clinic, the notorious “Dr. Grant” Gugisberg, and “Auntie Lisa,” the cat nanny. Replacing friends? No, that can’t be done, but we can visit. Our one close friend in particular was born and raised in northern Minnesota (as my husband was), lived in Duluth years ago, and loves it there. There would be some driving back and forth, but we could all manage it.
This decision is nudging towards the forefront now, no longer something that may occur five or ten years from now. My husband retired after thirty years of service with his company. He’s enjoyed the retired life for four months now. I’m still working for the State of Minnesota but not for much longer. He seemed to be enjoying retirement so much that upon his encouragement, I told my supervisor two months ago that my last day would be October 4. Three months from now I’ll join the ranks of the retired folk. Next month, around the time of my 61st birthday, I’ll collect all my documents and get my application for retirement benefits turned in to Human Resources. After forty years in the workforce, that phase of my life is coming to an end. It feel strange. (I’ll get used to it!)
I’m restless and impatient right now. I’d like to know where I’m ultimately going to land with this decision. It’s going to need to simmer for now, though. Rushing it is not a good plan.
First world decisions. So many people don’t have these choices. How fortunate I am!
Sea turtle having straw extracted with pliers
I saw the unabridged version of this video yesterday (click on highlighted phrase to see the video I’m talking about), watching while they tugged on this sea turtle’s nose with a pair of pliers for eight minutes. The turtle was clearly in agony and bleeding with each tug over these many long minutes. It was terrible to watch in its entirety.
The “surgeons” are marine biologists, both students and graduates in the field, out on an expedition. They are in Costa Rica. They are part of a larger organization, and there are other sponsors and professionals involved. By their own report, they were hours from shore.
Even given all that, I have very mixed emotions about the course of action they pursued. The eight-minute version of the video gave no indication that they stopped and had any kind of discussion about what to do when they realized they were dealing with a plastic object and not a worm as they had originally thought. They got a couple different pliers from the toolbox and just kept pulling and twisting until the thing finally popped out, all four or five inches of it.
My objection to this impulsive extraction is that this foreign body could have been there for months or years. The fact that it didn’t pull out easily indicated that it had been there long enough to have caused scar tissue formation. Take a look at the right end of this object and notice that it doesn’t even resemble a plastic straw anymore. There were adhesions and calcifications as the body tried to encapsulate it. It may have been stuck to bone or the lining of a sinus. There may have been chronic infection. The object of unknown length could have extended far enough into the reptile’s sinus cavity to have punctured it. It could have even extended into the brain. Leaving a foreign body in place and undisturbed can actually be the preferred course of treatment in these cases so as not to cause further damage, bleeding, and systemic infection. They had no idea of the shape, consistency, position or length of this object when they started attempting to pull it out.
Getting professional help would have required a long boat ride to a marine veterinarian or a call for assistance to get one to come to them and evaluate the situation. Considering that they were sea turtle researchers, making this their life work, it seems to be logical to assume that they had marine veterinarians in their cell phone contact information. There had to have been other professionals involved with this research venture who could have lent some advice and discussion of the options. No such contact was made. One of the researchers, Chris Figgener, mentions fines and penalties associated with moving a sea turtle, and I just have to think that seeking professional assistance for an endangered injured animal would waive such penalties. They tossed that consideration aside.
I would have preferred to see this magnificent reptile appropriately transported to a professional setting. Surely, sea turtle researchers should be aware of how to transport a sick or injured turtle. Turtles can be out of the water. They don’t breathe through gills. I would have liked to see this creature evaluated with x-ray or ultrasound to determine the size, shape and position of this foreign object and assess any potential complications associated with it’s removal. Pain management would have been appropriate. In spite of a number of Facebook commenters saying that turtles can’t be anesthetized, my research indicates that they can and should be if they’re in pain.
I can’t call these people heros for what they impulsively did. They may have caused more harm than good in spite of their good intentions. They returned the sea turtle to the ocean once it appeared to be breathing okay and the bleeding had stopped. I hope that it survived the pain and trauma of the ordeal and no complications claimed its life later.
So many commenters on this Facebook posting criticized lazy humans for littering and tossing their rubbish in the ocean. These folks do not realize that a single person dropping a straw on the beach most likely did not cause this problem. The problem is much larger than this. The problem is the tons and tons of trash we generate globally on a daily basis. We can put it into waste receptacles without fail, but where does it go once the trash management companies pick it up? It doesn’t just disappear then. It may be out of sight and out of our minds, but it’s dumped somewhere. Sometimes those places are in landfills near bodies of water. Sometimes the oceans themselves have been used as dumping grounds. It’s just one more way that we’re destroying this planet.
No turtle should have to endure what this one did because of a man-made object. I hope that he survives our human meddling in his environment and our crude, and perhaps misguided, attempts to help him out of a bad situation. Godspeed, Lepidochelys olivacea.
Sad week, not only because of the news that a wealthy Minnesota dentist took the life of a collared, beloved male lion in Zimbabwe so that he could mount the head on a wall, but also because of the controversy this publicity has incited. There are many condemning this publicity, and indeed, even being insulting and nasty to those who have found themselves caring deeply about what happened. Nasty to the point of saying, “You need to get a life if you care that much about a lion. Get yourself to therapy asap.” I’m sure that many of you have seen the “but” posts. “But what about the lives lost in Chatanooga? Don’t they matter?” “What about all the black lives lost due to shootings?” “But what about the xxxx number of babies killed this year in abortion clinics? They’re more important than a lion.”
I’ve heard in many variations, “Human lives matter more than a lion’s life. Enough about the damn lion already.”
I have my own “but” statement.
But that’s where humans have gone off the rails.
We’ve lost that sense of interconnectedness to this world. We live in a vacuum, convinced that we as humans control the world and all that’s in it. We’re entitled to plunder and pillage, raping the land for all its riches, polluting the rivers and oceans, graying the sky with exhaust and emissions from our industry and machines. We kill the animals for food, a largely justifiable reason, but also to satisfy our rich tastes and need for superiority and “sport.” We treat wild animals and birds as commodities. Why? Because we can. Because their lives don’t mean anything compared to our desire to dominate and control. Worry about extinction because the animals are losing their habitat? More important things to worry about! Entire species facing extermination due to abuse and sport? Bigger things to concern ourselves with. They’re just animals after all!
Some religions speak of kindness and care for all animals and living things. I know that Buddhists feel that way. The American Indian people live in harmony with nature, particularly before industrialization took over. I’m sure that most of my congregation in the Unitarian Universalist free-faith tradition support a oneness with nature and contemplate the effects we have on all aspects of our planet.
There is no such thing as “just a lion.” There is no such thing as “just a hive of bees.” There isn’t any “just” in losing a species due to our abuse and neglect and attitude that we’re above all that.
We all live on this planet. What one does affects another…and another….and another. We either live in harmony, appreciating what we have, or we destroy what we have, and it’s gone for all. We are not above it. We dwell with it.
May we be humbled by what we have and recognize our place in this Universe.
Let it be so.
I would like to wish a long-ago friend of mine a happy 60th birthday today, even though she will never see this. She and I became friends in 7th grade when she became a student at St. Mary Grade School, a school that taught grades 1-8. At that time, public schools ended their elementary edcation at grade 6, and students went to “junior high” for grades 7 through 9. Typical of that era in the 1960s, students went to the public schools in their district. There was no crossing of district lines then as there is now. Depending on the socioeconomic status of the district, some schools were safer and better than others. St. Mary Grade School acquired a number of new students at the beginning of 7th grade, all of them female and all of them African-American. Their parents didn’t want them attending the public junior highs in their neighborhoods.
Kim and I became very good friends, and as the friendship blossomed, we wanted to do things that were typical of young teenagers. We wanted to hang out at each other’s houses, have an occasional sleep-over, that kind of innocent stuff. I thought nothing of bringing up the suggestion to my mom for her okay, not even entertaining the thought that she would deny the request.
She said no. I was shocked. I didn’t understand what the problem was. Kim was a quiet girl and got very good grades in school. She wasn’t a troublemaker. There was nothing about her not to like! I wanted an explanation. The explanation I received was that she was “colored.” It wasn’t appropriate to have close relationship with “colored people.” I could be friends with her, but it was not right that she spend time in our home, have meals with us, spend the night.
I was incredulous. I had no idea how a situation like this could possibly exist! I was living in a home with two bigots, and I was angry about it.
I thought it might resolve with some time and patience, but it didn’t. Kim said to me one day that her grandparents felt we were getting too close and needed to back off from our friendship. (She and her mother, a divorced woman for many years, lived with her mother’s parents.) They felt that she was becoming too “white.” I was as dismayed and shocked with their attitude as I was with that of my own parents.
Kim and I remained friends for several more years, but the friendship never really grew much after the initial obstacles. I could never forget the hurt and disillusionment of finding out how harsh and unfair the world could be to two teens who went into a friendship colorblind to what lay ahead.
I try to understand what my parents and her grandparents were feeling. Desegregation of the public schools had only occurred in 1954, the year before Kim and I were born. The incident of Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat in the colored section of the bus to a white person after the white section was filled occurred in December 1955. Even though the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, granting African American men the right to vote by declaring that the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” was ratified on February 3, 1870, blacks were still excluded from voting. Through the use of poll taxes, literacy tests and other means, Southern states were able to effectively disenfranchise African Americans. It would take the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 before the majority of African Americans in the South were registered to vote. 1965, people! I was ten-years-old before our government said loudly and clearly enough that that shit has got to stop! Racial tensions and civil rights demonstrations were frequent in the 1960s, and the March on Washington in 1963 was huge, involving 250,000 people.
My parents were born in 1916 and 1919. Kim’s grandparents were born earlier in the century. Black people and white people did not mingle socially. It was the way it was. In the 1960s when Kim and I met, the concept of close relationships between the races was still very foreign and unsettling to many. We were caught in those turbulent times.
I know where Kim lives and where she has her pediatric practice. I’ve sent holiday cards. We exchanged a couple of brief sentences on Classmates.com some years back. I came away from those encounters feeling that she was too busy to pick up a relationship from decades ago. The time had passed, at least for her, to follow that path. I felt sorrow over that. I think we would have had a lot to learn from each other, a lot to share.
Happy birthday, KIm, and many, many more!
Forty-one years ago, Dale and I were married at the Douglas County courthouse in Superior, Wisconsin. Interesting story, this. Neither one of us were from Wisconsin. We were both living in Akron, Ohio at the time, my hometown, and he was from Hibbing, Minnesota. How did we end up on the first day of summer in a Superior, Wisconsin courtroom, getting married in 1973?
We were of the “hippie generation,” rather anti-establishment and questioning the need for a lot of rules and regulations in our lives. We were living together without the benefit of the license, but had every intention of making it legal when the time was right. For me, the time was right when I could get married without parental consent. I was young — five years younger than my fiance. We got engaged two months before my 17th birthday. I was engaged my entire senior year of high school. The legal age to get married in Ohio without parental consent was 21. However, it was possible to cross state lines and get married in a neighboring state where the age to get married without consent was lower. Maryland was such a state, and our plan was to take a couple of close friends with us to act as our witnesses sometime after my 18th birthday, date to be determined. We both agreed that Mike Willett and Margaret Myers (now also married for 40 years!) filled that bill very well. Those were the plans, such as they were.
Dale’s mom heard of these plans in the spring before his college graduation and my high school graduation. She had a meltdown. They were planning to come to Akron, Ohio for their son’s college graduation from the University of Akron in June. Finances were tight. She felt that they couldn’t make a second trip anytime soon, and by golly, her son wasn’t getting married without her being there. Our plans began to change.
Dale and I were going to return to Minnesota after his college graduation so that he could spend a couple of weeks at home before he started his first post-college engineering job at General Tire & Rubber in Akron on July 1. Dale’s mom suggested that we get married in Hibbing during those weeks that we were there in June. Okay, fine. Only problem was that Dale’s mother discovered that Minnesota wouldn’t marry us because I was an out-of-state minor. Even with parental consent, Minnesota wouldn’t marry us. On to the next idea….
Wisconsin, however, has been known to do things that Minnesota won’t do. Wisconsin would marry us, and it’s only an hour’s drive to Wisconsin from Hibbing. All I needed was the parental consent. I didn’t want to get married with parental consent — it was a pride thing for me — but I agreed that we’d get married in Wisconsin in June. Dale’s parents picked up the consent form in Superior on their way to Ohio for Dale’s graduation, and then we spent a frantic evening trying to get the damn thing notarized. My dad had a very limited window of availability to sign this form in front of a notary. He was a long-distance trucker and had to get on the road. From the time that Dale’s parents arrived with the form from Wisconsin, we had a few hours to accomplish this, and it was already late into the afternoon “supper hour.” It was a hassle. I found myself wishing I had stuck to my guns and said “no parental consent, Maryland in the fall.” But we got ‘er done.
Once in Minnesota a couple of days after Dale’s graduation, we made the drive to Superior, Wisconsin and applied for our marriage license. When the white-haired lady at the application desk rolled the form into the typewriter and asked Dale was his occupation was, he replied, “Engineer.” She wanted to know what railroad he worked for! We still laugh at that. We got tested for syphilis and told to come back after the five-day waiting period. We made an appointment at the courthouse for a judge to do the deed on the afternoon of Thursday, June 21.
On that day, Dale’s parents, his sister and brother-in-law, Sharon and Roy (our witnesses) and his younger sister, Joan, all took off for the Twin Ports. We had lunch at an interesting place called Somebody’s House, a restaurant in Duluth that served about 50 kinds of hamburgers. We then crossed the border over into Superior (the other half of the “Twin Ports”) and congregated at the courthouse. In ten minutes, it was done. Dale’s mother didn’t even have time to drag her tissues out of her purse and have a good cry. It was a cool rainy afternoon as we left the courthouse and climbed into our 1966 VW Beetle. We headed north towards Canada for a wedding night away from Hibbing, spending the night in Thunder Bay, Ontario at The Fort Motel, which we found was right on the railroad tracks. I was watching a train go by at 3:00 that morning. The VW Beetle broke down on the way back to Hibbing. Broken throttle cable which Dale “fixed” using wire from a hardware store.
Here we are, 41 years later, a happily married couple from some very humble beginnings.
Originally written on November 27, 2007
Yesterday was an eventful day. I went to work yesterday morning, even though it had been previously scheduled as a day off, because of the E. coli outbreak we’ve had going on. I went in to work over the Thanksgiving weekend to analyze some samples and see if there were any associations between the sick patients and some dried parsley we got in Wednesday afternoon to test. This ended up to be a negative association – a “dead end” – but I wanted to be there Monday morning to communicate any information in person as to what my findings had been and to answer any questions. I worked until 12:45 when I had to take off for a dentist appointment.
The dentist appointment was to replace a broken crown that has been broken for 10 years now. I just got tired of jamming food up in the larger-than-normal crevice that the broken crown was allowing between my molars and wanted it fixed while I have decent insurance coverage. The discussion before the procedure led to me wonder if I was opening a can of worms. (Dr. Lozne, a middle-aged woman of Rumanian descent, found this expression amusing!) The molar has had a root canal in it since 1978, and I was informed that the root canal technology in use then in now “antiquated.” (Of course, so am I, I suppose!) She said that once an old crown is removed, the aging root canal pins tend to come loose and then it requires a new root canal procedure. Great. Well, I was already in the chair, and the crown wasn’t going to get any less fractured with time, so we proceeded.
She drilled and drilled to get the old crown bisected and in a condition to come off. Then it didn’t want to come off. It was cemented on there for good! She pried and chipped and pulled and drilled some more. At one point, during a slight break in the action, I quipped, “Gee, this is a lot like a home remodeling project! The old tile doesn’t want to come off the floor, and when it does, you’re dismayed to find all the black crap that’s on the floor you wanted to finish!” She came close to letting loose with a belly laugh, which is quite unusual for Dr. L. She’s a very pleasant woman, but quite serious and business-like. I was impressed that I gave the old girl a good laugh!
Eventually, the crown did come off in a number of pieces, and no old root canal pieces went flying. In fact, she said that things looked good. I was quite relieved at that, and we proceeded with a straightforward crown prep. The rest of the “home improvement project” went without a hitch, although the gum retraction part was uncomfortable and I took three Advil tablets as soon as I got home.
I came home for a couple of hours, during which time I fed the cats and downed a can of “low carb meal equivalent.” Then I went off to Century College from 6:00 to 9:00 for a 3-contact hour seminar on “Narcissism: What It Is and What It Is Not.” I’m an RN and I need 24 contact hours every two years to renew my nursing license. This topic obviously has nothing to do with my current career path, which is public health and infectious disease surveillance. However, behavioral health issues are an area of personal interest, and I take advantage of opportunities to learn more about various topics in that field when I’m able.
The speaker, a Twin Cities social worker with his own practice (www.toddmulliken.com), was an articulate, sensitive, knowledgeable practitioner whose gentle and compassionate nature came across as he spoke. He was an engaging speaker and I found myself very attentive, as was the rest of the class at the community college last night.
This is the hard part to talk about and probably why I spent so much time droning on about E. coli and crowns and such at the beginning.
Todd spoke about what some of the root causes of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) may be. Some of them may be lack of attachment (bonding) between parents and the child (the child then developing the NPD), outright neglect by the parents or caregivers towards the child, shaming the child, traumatic events such as divorce, domestic violence, sexual abuse. Of course, it is not only folks with NPD who create such chaotic homes for their children. People with other major behavioral and emotional illnesses do so as well, and I had a mother who fit the diagnosis of some major personality disorder, although it will forever remain undiagnosed. I found myself thinking of my own childhood as he was discussing these points. Many of those key elements were there: the sporadic, inconsistent parenting, the instances of neglect, the blaming of a child for the mother’s problems with alcohol and the family’s dysfunction, the name-calling, verbal battering, and shaming instead of nurturing and guidance, the witnessing of violence between husband and wife. That atmosphere was wildly dysfunctional and in no way conducive to the psychological and emotional wellbeing of a child.
I sat there as Todd spoke and wondered about my own emotional and psychological balance and wellbeing. All in all, I appear to be pretty normal! I married, have been in a caring, stable marriage for 34 years now, have no major substance abuse issues (just minor ones!), no particular obsessions or compulsions. I earned two college degrees which I funded myself and have held down stable, long-term professional employment. I get along fairly well in most social circumstances, have friends, interests, reasonable expectations and goals.
Is this “normalcy” just an illusion? Where did it come from? Where did I learn it? It certainly wasn’t from the growing-up years in my nuclear family! If I do display some occasional traits of this-or-that – and I know I do! – it’s no freaking wonder!
Or are things not as “normal” as I’d like to think they are?
In discussing treatment strategies for a person with NPD and his/her family, the point was strongly made that the only way a person with NPD can live within the framework of a family system is by the enabling codependency of the family members. A person may always be a narcissist (or insert a handful of other diagnoses: borderline personality disorder, sociopathic personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder; they’re all applicable here), but they’re not going to be a married narcissist or a narcissist with a relationship with his/her children unless those participants play by the narcissist’s rules, in other words maintain the codependency. An emotionally healthy person with appropriate boundaries is going to eventually divorce an untreated, unchanging narcissist and probably take the children with her. (The majority of diagnosed people with NPD are male.) If the children have a relationship with the narcissistic parent until adolescence or adulthood, it may come to pass that eventually the child says, “No more! It’s not good for me to be around you when you’re like this, and it’s not good for my kids to be around you when you’re like this. If this is how it is, then I’m staying away.” And the healthy line is drawn. Usually that “healthy line” – the NPD person finding his stuff out on the front lawn, the locks changed, the divorce papers filed, the grown children getting an unlisted phone number – is the only thing that may incite some efforts at change, if indeed any changes ever occur.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard a therapist talk about adult children drawing boundaries with their dysfunctional parents, including the extreme boundary of no contact, and saying, “Sometimes this is exactly what you need to do because you care about yourself and your wellbeing.”
I felt something twist up inside me. This is, of course, what I did with my mother. I said, “No more!” and didn’t see her for 12 years, not until I saw her again when she was terminally ill with lung cancer. Did anyone ever say to me, “This is an okay thing for you to do. Not only an ‘okay’ thing, but a GOOD thing for you to do.” My husband was supportive, yes, and completely understood my reasons for doing this; he had had an introduction to the hell-hole that compromised my home life when I was in my teens. However, our society teaches us that we are to love, honor, and respect our parents, virtually no matter what. We are to love them unconditionally because – as I heard so often from family, friends, and virtual strangers – “She’s still your mother!” If I let an inkling of this slip out to someone, that I had no contact with my mother, I’d get this look, like, “What kind of amoral asshole are you?” The unspoken words were always there: she’s still your mother! And often they were spoken. Even when my mother was being her nastiest to me, drunk, calling me a filthy liar, a two-bit bitch (I was 15 at the time), she’d still turn around and say, “I’m still your mother, no matter what you think of me!”
I realized the full weight last night of the tremendous guilt and shame I lived with because of the stance I had taken for my own protection. Other than my husband (and my father – my mother’s EX-husband — who died when I was 23), I had no support for that action, no validation. I was a pariah. At least, that’s how I felt deep inside. I was a shameful person. Worthless. Couldn’t even love and take care of my own poor mother.
When I did reconnect with my mentally incapacitated, terminally ill mother in 1993, she assumed that I was there to take her home with me. When I said I couldn’t, she said, “How can you stand to see your mother in an insane asylum?” Big tears were rolling down her cheeks. “How can you just leave me like this, Bon?” I know where the suicidal feelings came from that afternoon as I left the care facility where she had been a long-term resident. It was the shame and the guilt hacking me up inside, the powerlessness in my life to ever effect any change in hers, the inability to have a relationship with her the way she was. (I almost wrote, “…the inability to love her the way she was…” but that’s not true! The real pain in this is that I always loved her and desperately wanted a good relationship with my mother!)
During this phase of seeing my mother while she had cancer and coming face-to-face with the harsh reality that was her life and my life, I could have used all the support that I could get. There was precious little of it, and I was acutely sensitive to this. My remarking on this caused the wife of one of my half-brothers (my father’s son) to say, “I’m going to write her a nasty letter!” Huh.
This was the start of a profound depression, I’m sure of it. I’ve never been the same since. I didn’t “bounce back” to my former self, although my former self was hardly the picture of “happy go lucky.” Eventually, I sought help and was put on medication for clinical depression. I am now under control and well-maintained on the antidepressant, Lexapro, but pills can’t heal that huge hole, that deep well of pain, inside me.
I had moments last night towards the end of the seminar of feeling like I was dangerously close to “losing it.” I just wanted to find a corner and sob until the guts were leaking out of my ears, until all the agony was purged from my being. I was afraid that there wouldn’t be anything left if I did that!
So, instead, I went to Perkin’s at 9:20 last night and ate some eggs and toast, drank a few cups of decaf coffee, and read my latest Dean Koontz novel. I didn’t cry. No guts leaked out. I slept well, my Katie-cat curled up beside me, my husband thousands of miles away in the U.K.
I woke up this morning, though, thinking about what all was said last night and what my feelings had been.
Todd talked about the concept of “re-parenting.” For those of us with “holes in our souls” due to parental abandonment, neglect, indifference, shaming and blaming, we need to find a way to give ourselves that unconditional love, nurturing, affirmation, and reassurance, that soothing, that we missed out on as children. That can’t come from the outside; it’s got to come from the inside. A spouse can’t fill that hole; a lover can’t fill that hole. Affairs can’t fill that hole. Obsessions can’t fill that hole. Money and possessions can’t fill that hole.
But I don’t know how this “re-parenting” happens. I know that some folks – most folks, I suppose – find this unconditional love and affirmation in the form of a Higher Power. That hasn’t worked for me. Because of this need for unconditional love and affirmation, I wish there were something that some church or spiritual group could offer me, but I’m not sure it’s out there.
So, where do I go? What do I do? Maybe I should make an appointment to see Todd Mulliken since he’s the one who stirred these feelings so profoundly last night. I’m reasonably certain that my insurance through HealthPartners won’t pay for it, but perhaps they might pay a part for an “out of network” provider. I don’t know. Perhaps that’s not the biggest consideration. I’ll check, I think.
Maybe Dr. Kavaney, my shrink at HealthPartners, would have some suggestions, although I know that he isn’t allotted much time during my 20-minute annual visit to have any ideas! Maybe he’ll get a copy of this and can find time to mull it over.
Well, enough for now. It’s a “school night,” and it’s after 9:00. Time to wind it up.