Letters from Elsewhere

My guest today, Lillian, has spent long years trying to come to terms with her childhood. By doing so, she has learned something about herself.

I loved you, Mother. I tried for my entire adult life to deny that fact. In the end, I had to admit it.

Forgiving you was different. That was impossible.

You denied me the security and refuge every child should have from a mother. You denied me a sense of safety for all of my childhood and teenaged years. I was so afraid of you I couldn’t breathe in your presence. One day you were soft, warm and loving; the next heartless and cruel. You would tell me lies that you insisted I accept as truth…until I believed they were the truth.

Bipolar, psychotic madness. How does a child understand that? She doesn’t. She grows up believing that it is her fault…that she is the cause of her mother’s unhappiness.

Poor, Daddy; he did try to protect me, especially that last night I lived in your house. But you broke his arm in as many pieces as you had broken his spirit. And you almost killed me.

You didn’t take my life, but you took much away from me. You took my confidence. You took my ability to feel. You took my home. You took my child…my son.

It was Ann who made me face your mental illness. My cousin told me how she had found her mother’s and our grandparents’ lack of protection inexcusable; and yet, she came to understand that they, too, were victims. Not so much of your abuse, but victims of loving you so much that they couldn’t fight you. I imagine that was true of my father, too. They told Ann that you loved me, that it would have been wrong for them to take me away from you, even though they knew they should have.

Am I supposed to accept that? Am I supposed to understand that it was easier for them to watch me be hurt by you than for them to hurt you? Yes or no, that is what I have done. I forgave them long ago. They loved the woman you were when you were well, the woman I had glimpsed from time to time.

My beautiful, dying cousin brought me home, to the house where you were born, and where all the women in our family were born before you, to the only place I ever felt kindness and comfort, and she helped me to see the life I could have, to accept if not understand, and to open my heart—a heart that had slammed shut that night you almost killed me. Whenever I look into the faces of her beloved children, I feel my heart opening…slowly, gently, but not completely. I am afraid.

I have been told that until I forgive you, I will never be able to love the way I should love, I will never have a sacred heart. I have been told that until I forgive myself, I will always have a wounded heart. I raged against that. I hated the man who said it. I see now he was right. All these years I have been as angry at myself as I have been at you, blaming myself for you…for your behavior…for you not loving me.

I want to love. I want a sacred heart. I have reasons to love now.

I stand perched on the edge of this canal, listening to the ghost-voices of the canal boat captains, the mule drivers, and the ancestors who lived, worked, loved…forgave…on this homestead. I listen to the women who also stood on this velvety berm for two hundred years, their stories told in their letters and journals in the attic—some ill, some unhappy, some needing forgiveness. Their stories—your story…Ann’s story…my story—giving me strength and hope.

I raise my wounded heart, bathed in the tears of an ancient willow tree, and I forgive you. I forgive myself.

I love you.

Lillian

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About Tears of the Willow

The guarded and wounded Lillian, who at first believes that she has no capacity for truly loving anyone, learns that she has a depth of love that knows no end. Through her new life at Willow Wood, her family’s ancestral home on the banks of the Delaware Canal in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, she is forced to address her past at the hands of a mother who abused her, a father who didn’t protect her, and the child she had been—the child she had convinced herself caused her mother’s illness.

About Marie Murphy Duess

Marie_Murphy_Duess_headshotMarie Murphy Duess is the author of the novels Holding Silk, Ashley Hall, Tears of the Willow, and two nonfiction history books, Colonial Inns and Taverns of Bucks County and The Delaware Canal, From Stone Coal Highway to Historic Landmark (The History Press). She also authored the true story titled Joshua’s Ring.

She conducts and develops creative writing workshops, motivational presentations, and lectures for colleges, historical societies, and writing organizations. She also served as a photojournalist covering a medical mission to refugee camps in Bosnia-Herzegovina for a humanitarian aid organization. She is a member of the International Women’s Writing Guild, Independent Book Publishers Association, History Novel Society, and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association.

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