Leaving My Father’s House


Is the salute not perfect?

“I recognize that in writing we fictionalize ourselves as we do in storytelling. In telling our stories, however, if we can allow the story to move with its own momentum, we can distill our truth from our fiction.” Marion Woodman.

I brought the remains of Mom and Dad to the lake last night. I realize this is a morbid subject and just so you know it gets worse. The story is complicated by the fact Mom spread little parts of Dad all over the Northwest, keeping a smaller portion of him for herself, which we found in the back of her closet after she passed. Mom and Dad decided on cremation at least twenty years ago. They paid for the service and the urns but never revealed what we were to do with them? You know, for all eternity kind of thing.

Now if we go by mom’s example, Nancy and I would travel back to their beloved state of Washington, leaving bits and pieces of Mom at her favorite locations, Donahoe Road, Rilfe Lake, Stillwater, the library, maybe we’d even venture up to the Butchart Gardens in British Columbia, or down to her beloved Lake Oswego. It’s against the law to do that sort of thing, not that Nancy and I are concerned with petty laws, but it would require a lot of sobbing, and we will not be caught strutting about, spreading ashes, and perpetuating falsehoods about menopausal women. It’s crass.

The truth is Mom and Dad have been harbored in my sisters garage for over a year. Stacked in white boxes, their names neatly scrawled on the side with an indelible black marker, resealed with packing tape. I’m sure this was not the eternal nap they’ve been dreaming of, not even close, especially if you’re familiar with my sister’s garage. 

So yesterday Nancy brought them to me and I in turn brought them to the lake. This was Mom’s favorite place during her final years and I thought it appropriate to put them together, in the middle of it all, flanked by a vintage tire sign my Dad suspiciously acquired.

The interesting part (for me) is I’m reading Marion Woodman for the first time, she recently passed away, and came into my world through Elaine Mansfield, a fellow writer who has admired her work for decades. So I pick up the first book I could find by Woodman and ironically it is called Leaving my Father’s House

Leaving your father’s house is both a real and metaphoric image of finding your own masculinity (both women and men) but also making reconciliation possible with the maternal side of the self. Her story focuses on evolving femininity which has been harnessed by a patriarchal society and can only happen if you leave the metaphorical building, the actual space, but also the expectations. Something about finding your true self and having the balls to act on it. See, right there, I’m so in my sandbox, playing with conflicting ideas, words, images, merging Marion’s thoughts with my current experience, as I desperately try to contain the sand of my deceased parents. 

“The epiphany of that which had hitherto been hidden requires not only an ego to which it can manifest itself, but, to an even greater degree, call for an act of attention and devotion on the part of the ego an aptitude for being ‘moved,’ a willingness to see what wants to appear. Erich Neumann

Eternity is a brutal, silent wall notes Marion Woodman, no phone can reach my parents, not even to speak three words. I love you. So I hauled the boxes out to the back deck balancing a generous glass of red wine and wad of tissues. Larry shadowing me, unsure of the protocol for this sort of thing. I face-time my sister Nancy so we could do this together. 

Reverently I open the boxes, ignoring the salty tears sliding unchecked down my cheeks, Larry carefully unseals the bags, releasing their meager remains. In the presence of each other we gently merge them together, Dad first, than Mom. I put them in a decorative urn I purchased so long ago I can’t remember when or why. I’m sort of horrified, humbled, and despairing all at the same time. It’s not a good or bad place to be but you don’t want to stay there.

“People in the real world always say, when something terrible happens, that the sadness and loss and aching pain of the heart will “lessen as time passes,” but it isn’t true. Sorrow and loss are constant, but if we all had to go through our whole lives carrying them the whole time, we wouldn’t be able to stand it. The sadness would paralyze us. So in the end we just pack it into bags and find somewhere to leave it.” Fredrik Backman

I remember the last time I left my father’s house. I’d given up my apartment in San Jose and was waiting out the three months before my wedding. Larry lived in Portland, Oregon at the time and I was preparing to move in with him but only after we were officially wed. God forbid we live together one minute before those vows were spoken, witnessed, and signed. To pass the time I taught aerobics at the local community center, in-between packing up my old room, and dealing with the final details for the wedding. 

Moving into Larry’s house (apartment) right after marriage didn’t get me too far in terms of finding my own feminine consciousness and definitely not my masculinity. I was sort of shuffled from my father’s home to Larry’s home without any sort of respite. I remember one of our first fights was over the temperature control, he didn’t want me fiddling with the settings, as if I was not capable of understanding my own comfort level, which in all honesty, I was not. But trust me I knew when I was cold!

Eventually we moved into our own home but it wasn’t until I had my first child, a daughter, that I suddenly discovered aspects of myself I hadn’t noticed before. Beginning with a maternal instinct on overdrive, but I was also filled with this protective urge, so powerful I believe I could have committed murder if someone attempted to harm my child. I know, where did that come from? “A man does not have a womb, and the embodiment of his femininity is, therefore, different from a woman’s,” notes Marion Woodman. Larry’s maternal instincts were less dramatic. I remember the time he came home from New Orleans with matching dresses for our girls, how he kissed and coddled them, but he also taught them how to be alone, unavailable, detached. All good lessons.

So I was finding myself in the story of my own life. Isn’t that how it happens? I learned about need through my children but also about my own needs, not only as a person, but as a woman. I wanted things in this life, but I put them aside when I should have been in hot pursuit, I told myself I was raising the kids. I’d get back to it someday when I had more time. What a crock of shit. I wanted to write, maybe only to understand myself, but I was afraid, full of self-doubt, and lacked the necessary courage. Total wimp.

I believe at times I took this frustration out on the kids, on the man who seemed to slip in and out of my life (Larry traveled heavily when the kids were young), and most significantly on myself. I became proficient at organizing, fueling, encouraging, committing, negotiating, disciplining (loudly), listening, and nurturing others, in the pursuit of this blissful ignorance that didn’t include my own needs.

Slowly, over time, maybe during my graduate studies, I found the courage to write down my thoughts, to express myself, even when everyone was glaring at me because they couldn’t understand why I was “wasting” my time and not doing something constructive. I kept going, as if an energizer bunny, I wrote every chance I had, and only wanted more. It was a thirst I could not quench. When I’m immersed in the pages I forget time exists, or the dog, kids, and husband for that matter. 

Today I bow down and thank God for the privilege of writing, I thank Larry for the shift from skeptical to encouraging, I thank my children who bought me a writing course to enhance my potential,  I thank my readers for Living in the Gap with me, and I thank Krista Tippett for inviting me deeper into this space.

This morning I grab a cup of coffee and sit outside, near the water, near my thoughts, near the place I poured my mother into my father. I feel good although my eyes are still puffy. I watch the ducks fuss with the ducklings on the edge of the beach as I fuss with my thoughts on life. Then it starts to rain. I know. I know. How lucky am I to be sitting in the rain, as if the whole world is mourning with me, and the drops landing on my shoulders are soft as a mother’s touch. Surging with joy I sit in the rain and let it sooth me. The drowned rat look goes good with the puffy eyes.

“When your parents die, you feel everything you’d expect to feel, feelings so well-documented by so many others that I won’t even bother to list them here, except to say that everything that’s written about mourning is all the same, and it’s all the same for a reason – because there is no real deviation from the text. Sometimes you feel more of one thing and less of another, and sometimes you feel them out of order, and sometimes you feel them for a longer time or a shorter time. But the sensations are always the same.
But here’s what no one says – when it’s your parents, a part of you, a very tiny but nonetheless unignorable part of you, also feels relief. Because finally, the moment you have been expecting, been dreading, been preparing yourself for since the day they got sick, has come.
Ah, you tell yourself, it’s arrived. Here it is.
And after that, you have nothing to fear again (adapted),” Hanya Yanagihara.

When the rain stops I return to the books waiting for me by my chair, open my computer, and as if quenching a deep thirst, I write. I’m sitting beneath my parents but no longer overwhelmed by their presence. I have left my father’s house, and although my sense of self changes from day to day, sometimes hour to hour, at least I know who I am at the moment. Marion Woodman says that’s why we have to keep in close touch with our story. If our imagery becomes concretized, if it ceases to come out of the living reality of our bodies, then we are worshipping stone gods and we are on our way to becoming like our gods ~ petrified.

“The hidden conversation of those who have gone before us, joined to ours. Their time then, ours now, somehow living and breathing together.” David Whyte

I’m Living in the Gap, finding myself, come stir the memories with me. 

Where do you want to rest for all eternity? Meet me in the comments. No whining, copy your message, it takes three tries before the comment will publish. Deal with it. I just poured my mother and father into a jar for goodness’ sakes. 


Anecdotes:
  • Larry says, “we should secure that thing, what if it falls during an earthquake or something, I do not want to be the one vacuuming up my father and mother-in-law.” 
  • Jewish proverb, “God could not be everywhere and therefore he made mothers.” 
  • “Whoever said that loss gets easier with time was a liar. Here’s what really happens: The spaces between the times you miss them grow longer. Then, when you do remember to miss them again, it’s still with a stabbing pain to the heart. And you have guilt. Guilt because it’s been too long since you missed them last.” Kristin O’Donnell Tubb






8 Comments

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  1. Beautiful. Such an interesting Marion book to pick up first. I hope you'll read more. When I wrote my book, I was scared. I was becoming very deaf and disoriented with an inner ear dysfunction (it started in the 1990s, but took a nosedive in 2013) and didn't know how I could pull it off and promote a book. Marion wrote, \”DO IT!!\” She didn't want to hear my excuses. I'm now planning a workshop in Ohio. I am deafer than ever. Here comes fear…. How can I pull it off? Something in me said yes to the request because it's about the Aging, Wisdom, and Harvesting the Gifts using mythology and dreams, including a dream of Marion, and all the inner work I love. I got out Marion's \”DO IT!!\” note and put it on my altar. Then I wrote the titles for the workshop and began pulling the parts into a whole. Thanks for the hat tip to me, Cheryl. I'm so glad you've met my beloved teacher through her books.

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  2. Thank you Elaine, you have been inspiring me through your work for years! I remember you mentioning Marion in earlier posts but the last post about her death just caught me. I have two other books of Marion's on order. Can't wait to dive into the pages. Good luck with your workshop, the attendees are the lucky ones, you are such a gift. \”DO IT.\”

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  3. Your writing is… magical. Real and authentic. I love the third antidote. Guilt is a predominant feeling after a loss and it becomes something one wears constantly, like an undergarment. Sadly, guilt is there even before the loss of a parent. You keep asking yourself, \”Did I love them enough?\” A marvelous, wonderful post.

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  4. Thank you for the lovely comment ~ you sort of made my month! I keep reading it to my husband ~ magical. I agree there is this razor shape edge of guilt that tends to draw blood when you least expect it. I remember the last few days of my Mother's life, I was up at the lake, my sister called to let me know Mom had taken a turn for the worse. I raced home and was at her side for three days before she passed. We thought we would have so much more time. I feel enormous guilt that I left her for even a minute. Then I pull the knife out and realize life is not predictable or perfect. We do the best we can with what we know. I'll never know if \”I loved them enough,\” but it was vivid and full of devotion. Welcome to the Living in the Gap tribe Jean, so honored to have you.

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  5. Beautiful and brilliant! Long before when I was still in college, I’d also left our house to find myself searching for my identity in an empty apartment. Early musings got me thinking that I’d rather have my remains in a peaceful land amidst the forest and near the ocean so I can have serenity even after life. Thanks for this masterpiece!

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  6. Wow! What a kind and generous comment Ronnie. So glad to hear you’ve considered your final resting place and hopefully shared these thoughts with your loved ones. I am wrestling with these very same issues while I have the time and letting my family know what I’m thinking. Thanks for stopping g by Living in the Gap and taking the time to comment. Your words are greatly appreciated.

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