The Cornwalls - circa 1964
Ah, the joy of family photos -particularly those with small kids. I do not look happy. I can't recall this moment but I recall the feeling.
There is Chris in the back left - he was a great brother and a dutiful son. I miss him. My dad was probably trying to make some kind of joke to get us all to be happy and laughing. Phil, my youngest brother on the bottom left was probably being imaginative and pretending he was launching us all into space or something.... My mum was likely being very proper and trying to simply get a nice family photo for our wall. As I said, I was probably sitting there bawling because, Bruce, my middle brother to my left in the picture was likely bugging me in some way or I was just cranky and tired. Who knows but, valiant effort photographer, valiant effort.
Now that I am 52, I think back on my past in a different light than I did in my twenties and thirties and forties. Gad, I am aging -but it's better than the alternative! I still feel like the wild child I was at 19 ...some days.
Anyway, I think of my family life as a child differently now. Not just because I have had years and thousands and thousands of dollars of counselling but also because distance from my own childhood loans a different light to it all. My family life was tempestuous and brutal at times. Bad s--t happened. My dad and mum had issues that they both brought into the relationship long before we were twinkles in their eyes. They were folks with difficult pasts and little resource to resolve their own childhood traumas. I wish they had found the kind of amazing counselling that I managed to find for myself along the way. I would like to believe they did their best - even if some days their best was less than optimal.
My father was abusive in different ways throughout his life. He grew up at the hands of an abuser and so the cycle carried on through him. I do not mean to say he was awful all the time. This is where, now, the child Gillian has healed (though the scars ache some days). I can remember the good stuff too. My dad was the guy who drove me to soccer every week and stayed silent to my mum after I was kicked in the teeth or dinged my head off the goal post. He knew I could tough it out and he didn't want her to stop me from playing. He saw my potential in sports and arts and supported my efforts and abilities. He didn't seem to want me to be a different person than who I was (and who I still am in many ways).
He was the one who supported me when I wanted the drum set for Christmas - though my mum put the kibosh on that one. Apparently drums weren't a ladylike choice of instrument in the sixties... He drove us all over North America on family vacations. He bought us treats. He got to be the good guy when my mum was mad at us.
He did his best despite the errors he made in raising us on our paths to adulthood. I can't say that I've totally let it go because I know our potential as adults was impacted by the abuse. It takes something away from a person and it takes a very long time, if ever, to restore that sense of self-pride and ability. For many victims of abuse, you never get it back fully. You simply learn to be an advocate for goodness and understanding. You educate. You watch for it in younger folks and help them along their paths if you can. You show your scars and explain the road you have travelled. You use the lesson of your parents lives as your greatest inheritance. This is how the cycle is broken. This is how you learn to understand and, perhaps, forgive. You needn't forget. Remember your path. Remember the road you have travelled. Remember the good and the bad in the people who raised you. Allow yourself the time and the space required to heal. Forgive, if you can.
The pain carried and doled out by others is not yours to carry forward through time. It's okay to put it down. You deserve to be joyful. If you have good memories of people who did bad things, that's okay. There are acts of kindness in each life. If you have not yet dealt with parental issues or abuse, please get help for yourself. You deserve to be unburdened and to find a life of joy. There are many resources available and your path is your path. You do not need to follow a prescribed path to wellness. Be kind and gentle with yourself.
I wish I could travel back through time, to England, to the houses of my grandparents or their parents before them and provide a healing energy on those homes. I wish I could unravel that painful history and give my parents a better life. I'm grateful for the life they have given me and the opportunity to sit here today, to write this piece and share it with you. I hope they can see from beyond and know that I am sorry for their pain, that I understand and that I am well.
Love heals. I breathe in the healing love of the world and return it to the world with my own breath exhaled. We are one. We are connected and together, we have all we need to heal and live well.
On this Father's Day, I remember the guy who did his best and let him know, in the great beyond, that I am well. I am strong. I am grateful for my life. Thanks Dad.
-Gillian Cornwall, c.June 15, 2014
Summer in Ontario
at one of the many lake resorts we were lucky enough to visit
Me, Phil and our Dad
If you are being hurt by someone, there are resources to help you:
Victoria Sexual Assault Centre: http://vsac.ca/
Kids Help Phone: http://www.kidshelpphone.ca/teens/home/splash.aspx