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My Family Compassa journey through family secrets and dysfunction
By Ann Stone
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2012 Ann Stone
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDeath of a Family
Poems about Family
Our family is the proverbial egg that we were hatched from. Everything about who we are, both our nature and nurture comes from our family. Often in western society, we stray far from our family and may not talk to them for years at a time. We may feel that we have nothing in common with them. We may choose to run away from our roots because they are too painful to face. Ultimately however, our past holds the key to our future. If we do not face where we come from, we will have difficulty understanding our present and future.
—From Family Friend Poems
As the dictionary defines, "a family is a group of individuals living under one roof, a group of persons of common ancestry, and a group of people united by certain convictions or common affiliations among many other descriptions."
I don't know about any of you, but that does not describe my family. Perhaps at one point in time, this description fit. But then I was a little girl, simply following the compass (boundary, circumference within a defined space) of our home and looking at everything through the eyes of a child. Little did I know that over the course of many years, my family, my heritage would take on a whole new meaning, with secrets, repeated generational and learned behavior, all taking on a life of its own, a force to be reckoned with. We all have a built-in compass, so to speak. But are we listening to our own course or the family compass imposed upon us as children? After all, everything has a position and place such as the moon, sun, and stars that are perfectly aligned. Then why can't we, as people, take a look at altering our charts and alignments?
Oftentimes, when there is a family breakup or fracture, we feel a death has occurred with no service or funeral to attend. You are not alone. Today can be the first day of the rest of your life.
The death of a family does not have to be the end of you.
If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.
—George Bernard Shaw, American author
A Broken Family Tree
I am one of many
Small branches of a broken tree
Always looking to the ones above
For guidance, strength and security.
One little branch trying
To keep the others from breaking away
Who will fall?
And who will stay?
Now I stand alone
Looking at the earth through the rain
And I see the broken branches I knew
Scattered about me in pain.
There are those who have taken an axe
To the root of our very foundation
And who have passed this destruction
Down to every new generation.
If I could take that axe
I would toss it deep into the sea
Never to return again
To harm the generations that follow me.
I am one of many
But alone I will go
And plant the new seeds
Where a beautiful tree will grow.
—Lori A. Cain, Family Friend Poems
When I was a little girl riding in my grandpa's 1950s Buick, I was amazed by his built-in compass on the dashboard of his car, which wobbled all around, that is, until he got on course. I always knew that the compass would become stable and that we would arrive at our destination, and all because of this compass. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we had a family compass to guide and direct every member, always pulling us back on course and avoiding differences, misunderstandings, lies, and loss?
There was a time when families were only separated by war, illness, and death. But as people moved further away from one another, geographically, the family unit began to change, fragmenting away from what used to be a commonality of convictions, beliefs, communications, and shared love.
A family breakup can be caused by so many factors and can run the gambit from the sublime to the ridiculous. It can be very painful experiencing a break with one or more of your family members, often resulting in silence and alienation. It is especially sad when all efforts have been made to mend the situation, and to no avail.
Do you have a fractured and shattered family? If so, this can feel as though a death has occurred and can be a devastating loss. If you have encountered such a loss, may I stand in silence for you? You are not alone. You have a voice. There are those who will listen and find solace in hearing what you have to say. Oh, the ties that bind do keep us connected, do they not? But if those ties are painful, we need to cut the cord. Such is necessary before beginning "that first day of you're the rest of your life."
As we continue to evolve, maybe we can discover that our differences, which often create family feuds, is what makes us fabulous and unique to begin with. But when there is a continued and ongoing lack of a "meeting of the minds" in an effort to negotiate peace and harmony, sometimes we have to move forward on our own, away from the family, as we knew it.
We cannot change the past, but we can change our attitude toward it.
Uproot guilt and plant forgiveness. Tear out arrogance and seed humility.
Exchange love for hate, thereby, making the present comfortable and the future promising.
—Maya Angelou, American author and poet
Something old, Something new. Something borrowed. Something blue ...
We often hear this in preparation for a wedding, a celebration of two individuals starting their life together. But how does one prepare for the loss of a loved one?
Many struggle to write a eulogy in remembrance of a loved one, let alone stand at the podium to speak through tears, and in some cases anger resulting in unresolved issues with that person. Personally, I believe that those who have hidden wounds and never got or took the chance to heal can become the most grief stricken and suffer the greatest of all. We all deserve the chance to speak and to heal, regardless of what happened, both real and perceived. There are those who look at life through a lens of black and white, which, although beautiful, can be distorted and missing detail. It is all that gray matter in between that either enriches or confuses our lives, would you not agree?
When my father passed away in 1999, little did my siblings and I know that his death would be an enormous turning point in our lives. It was a wake-up call. Our family, as we knew it, would never be the same. But that story will unfold, all in good time.
Have you been alienated from or lost a loved one and missed that precious small window of opportunity to say so many unspoken words, be it love, sadness, regret, or anger? I highly recommend a beautiful site found by my younger sister. This offers yet another platform to write your letter and breathe ... We all need to find a way to unload the burden we needlessly carry and finally exhale. You might be surprised at the lightening of your load, for things you would have said and can say now.
It's simple: When you haven't forgiven those who've hurt you, you turn your back against your future. When you do forgive, you start walking forward.
—Tyler Perry, Actor, producer, and director
Chosen Life Symphony
To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable; and wealthy, not rich; to study hard, think quietly, talk gently, act frankly ... to listen to stars and buds, to babes and sages, with open heart; await occasions, hurry never ... this is my symphony.
—William Henry Channing
This would be my chosen life symphony, at least one that I strive for, yearn for and hope to achieve. But first, I had to make many changes ...
There are outside forces, oftentimes within our own family, that challenge the changes we make to break from the familiar mold, behavior patterns and generational beliefs. Change is difficult for the majority and is feared when it should be embraced. Are we hard wired by our birth genes to live, think, and act a certain way, or is it a strictly a "learned" behavior? Either way, can we make alterations and change our internal hard drive? I believe that we can. But such a change comes with letting go of our fears and embracing unknown and uncharted behavioral territory. I did a great deal of introspection, self-analysis, therapy, and naturally making my own mistakes along my life path. There is more to my family "that meets the eye" as I would learn many years later, throwing my personal compass off course, way off course.
An unknown author wrote, "Sometimes God calms the storm. At other times, he calms the sailor. And sometimes, he makes us swim." Start swimming, even if you find yourself against the family tide and create the life you want.
"For everyone of us that succeeds, it's because there's somebody there to show you the way out. The light doesn't always necessarily have to be in your family; for me it was teachers and school."
—Oprah Winfrey, TV host
Something highly intricate or convoluted in character, composition, or construction: a labyrinth of rules and regulations, a maze referring to a complex branching puzzle with choices of path and direction; while a single-path labyrinth has only a single, nonbranching path, which leads to the center. A labyrinth in this sense has an unambiguous route to the center and back.
Do you find yourself repeating the same learned and familiar (family) path over and over again, only to find that it keeps leading you to the same place? Each family has a labyrinth of learned and chosen directions and paths, a family labyrinth, if you will.
You may not have looked closely enough to recognize your family paths, but they are there on some level and varying degrees. If one wishes a different destination, then an alternative act, path, or action is in order. A walk along a labyrinth is a wonderful tool for meditation and seeking solace, even answers to questions. Sometimes a personal inventory is in order. Make a list of what you want and do not want, what works for you, and what does not. We often find ourselves in a crisis mode, when all we need to do is shift our thinking and strategy, altering the level of the crisis and reducing it, if not eliminating it altogether. But this takes practice, patience, and conviction to change, thus propelling us to a better place.
CRISIS = Crisis Requiring Immediate Shift In Strategy.
For those of you who would like to explore the world of labyrinth walks, I would recommend as one of many facilities the Duncan Conference Center, which has indoor granite and outdoor brick labyrinths. I recently purchased a brick to be set in place along the ever growing outdoor labyrinth, in memory of my darling brother, who passed away in July 2009.
Enjoy the journey.
Ring around the Rosie, A pocket full of Posies, Ashes! Ashes! We all fall down!
—A children's nursery rhyme
As a little girl growing up singing Ring Around The Rosie, little did I know, that this would become our family ballad.
My maternal grandpa used to say, "One day this family will destroy itself!" How could I possibly understand what that meant? But I remember him saying it all the same. Grandpa's prediction now rings true, as our family did destroy itself and fell to the ashes with the final act of our mother's passing. My mother died in August 2010 leaving a carefully woven "Gordian Knot" through deceptive means in her death wake of such vast proportion and complexity, that it may never unravel.
The death and passing of a loved one is difficult, even under the best of circumstances. But if the "ties that bind" left behind unaddressed confusion, misunderstandings and/or deceit, the pain can run deep and leave a lasting "nonnegotiable" imprint, limited not to just one member, but the entire family for generations to come.
I would like to commence with my family story by beginning at the end of my mother's life, and reading my eulogy spoken at her funeral service:
When I'm Gone
When I come to the end of my journey
And I travel my last weary mile
Just forget if you can, that I ever frowned
And remember only my smile
Forget unkind words I have spoken
Remember some good I have done
Forget that I ever had heartache
And remember I've had loads of fun
Forget that I've stumbled and blundered
And sometimes fell by the way
Remember I have fought some hard battles
And won, ere the close of the day
Then forget to grieve for my going
I would not have you sad for a day
But in summer just gather some flowers
And remember the place where I lay
And come in the shade of evening
When the sun paints the sky in the west
Stand for a few moments beside me
And remember only my best
Yes, my beloved brother and siblings saw our mother at her very best. She had a playful giggle that suggested something naughty and loved a good debate. She also craved adventure and travel, even if it was only through her books and poetry.
Mom loved to walk in the rain and have picnics on a blanket with candles on the living room floor during thunderstorms. There was that adventurous streak emerging again, even during times others may have considered an ordinary moment. Not with our mom. She was unique and liked to have fun. I have fond memories of Mom rocking us, the scent of her hand softly smoothing our hair behind our ears while singing lullabies, Edelweiss and Hush, Little Baby.
Mom had a creative passion as shown in her early childhood artwork with drawings and later in sculptures that were donated to a public library for display and drew emotion, compassion, and controversy.
A true trendsetter was our mother with a capital "T." She was wearing ties, derby hats, and men's sweaters, long before it was considered fashionable. She was Vogue long before many knew there was a Vogue, getting dressed to the nines for those Saturday night dinners and dancing parties. She was beautiful with a great sense of style and grace.
I remember Mom sitting at the dining room typewriter for what seemed like hours on end, while Dad circled the table dictating a speech. Mom would interject here and there, "I think it would sound better this way or that." It was exciting to watch them work like a fine tuned team articulating and enforcing their love of communication and writing skills. I had no way of knowing that this exercise would instill the same love of writing within myself and for my younger sister as well.
It is said to look to the women of all great and/or accomplished men, as it is truly the woman behind the man that is the driving force, giving strength, support, and the courage to take steps where others may fear to tread. And so it was with our mother, who gave love, encouragement and support to Dad during difficult times.
Let this be a loving tribute to a woman who brought back the "pioneer" approach to life. May our mother be at peace and embraced by the family that passed before her. I love you, Mother.
Now with that being said and heartfelt, having meant every word spoken, my mother also had a dark side, creating havoc filled with envy, manipulation, paranoia, and jealousy throughout her life. As I look back now as a grown woman, I have come to realize that my mother had an illness, albeit learned or in the genes. But what comes first, the chicken or the egg?
I distinctly remember standing in front of a mirror at age thirty-two, looking at my reflection and seeing my mother and maternal grandmother as shadowy images from behind. I spoke out loud to myself and said, "I do not want to repeat this behavior. It stops here." But this would take a tremendous amount of soul searching and self-introspection, often leading to an isolated place from my mother. It was her way or the highway, black or white. And I was all about the gray matter in between. It would be many years later that I would be told the family secrets, an unveiling of the truth.
Forgiveness does not mean condoning what has been done. Forgiving means abandoning your right to pay back the perpetrator in his own coin, but it is a loss that liberates the victim.
—Desmond Tutu, 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner, former archbishop of the South African Anglican Church and social activist
Excerpted from My Family Compass by Ann Stone Copyright © 2012 by Ann Stone. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsDeath of a Family....................1
Chosen Life Symphony....................8
Strength and Courage....................34
There Is a Better Way....................52
Life's a Funny Proposition....................55
Celebrate Your Darkest Hour....................64
When Family Members Stop Talking....................68
Holiday Grieving and Celebration....................74
They Shoot Horses, Don't They?....................77
Deception and Death Mask....................82
You Are Not Alone....................87
Where's the Love? Part I....................91
Where's the Love? Part II....................97
Where's the Love? Part III....................103
Finding the Beautiful Love....................109
Be True to Yourself....................113
Heaven Can Wait....................123
Ring of Fire....................127
Things I Would Have Said....................139
Your Partner's Compass....................149
Compass Falling Home Again....................156
My Family Compass- A journey through family deception and secrets by Ann Stone is a self-help memoir that details the family trials that Ann Stone faced throughout her life. Ann Stone engages the reader instantly through her use of interrogation, definitions, cliff hangers, metaphors, and memorable quotes and poems. The structure of My Family Compass is unique, stable, and rather organized by the way the chapters were named and embedded into the story, and Ann uses a conversational approach to draw the reader in. The book starts off quite optimistic, but as the story unfolds, we encounter a path of dysfunction, chaos, and drama that challenges Ann Stone’s emotional well-being. Ann wants to give the reader enlightenment and tips on ways to break generational curses and bad generational behaviors. She does it by embarking on harsh realities in her own life and by speaking on ways she prospered or could have prospered past her family’s troubles. Stone entails how if the curse is not broken, the family suffers, and may, eventually, be destroyed. My Family Compass is similar to the fascinating memoir by Anna Quindlen called Lots of Candles- Plenty of Cake. Both wrote these memoirs while in their sixties, a time where wisdom peaks. Furthermore, both stories unfold the problems many of us face in life, but Ann Stone’s My Family Compass is much more fulfilling, because the depths of her problems seem more significant, and her colloquial delivery and friendly tone helps the reader identify with her emotions and empathize with her a little more. I encountered an array of emotions while reading this memoir- relief, sadness, empathy, and thrill. Some of the family dysfunctions were relatable for me and my family; others were situations that I have heard of happening in other families. The message I gained while reading this book is that you can use your family traditions and cultures to help mold your path, but you don’t have to let your family’s setbacks hold you back; instead, you can learn from them and end a dangerous, repeating cycle. The whole point here is to be aware of the problems in your family and do not allow them to be replicated. My favorite parts of the book were when we are introduced to Ann’s mother, which is in a chapter called “The Family Ballad.” This part kind of disguises the true feelings of the author and grabs the reader through optimism. Then, once the real drama unfolds, the reader is quite surprised. I enjoy the suspenseful delivery Ann uses. It is rather engaging. I also appreciated the part where Ann Stone writes a letter to her mother because the letter enlightened the reader and this was where the climax arose. The letter Ann writes helps us understand her mother’s behaviors a little more, opens the reader up to Ann’s true feelings about her family, and expands more on the curses that disrupted their family structure. This letter also exposed more of Ann’s mother’s actual mistakes. In addition to this, I also really enjoyed the hopeful message at the end and Ann’s use of relevant quotes and poems to describe her experience. Although the book held my interest, the lack of the use of identifying names caused some confusion at points, but even though this small nuisance may have caused a little bit of disruption while reading the novel, it did not disengage the reader, because Ann Stone’s tone, delivery, and structure of the story helped cover this slight issue. With all that said, maybe Ann could have used aliases if she wanted to maintain discretion to help with the smoothness of her story telling, After reading Ann Stone’s My Family Compass- A journey through family deception and secrets, I realize that dysfunctional family makeups affect many people’s paths to happiness and causes suffering, setbacks, and a cycle of mental deprivation and bitterness. If this is the case, it may be necessary to “acknowledge it, confront it, and release it,” as Ann Stone puts it. All in all, I rate this book a 4.5 out of 5 because it is an interesting read that will keep your attention and should benefit all people especially those who are born into a dysfunctional family structure and those enduring a family trial or tribulation.