So many of us are caught up not only in trying to find out who made us stressed and miserable but also in storing the information and cataloging it for future us. I call this “baggage handling” because after a while, we have so much past misery that we need suitcases to put it in. We may even need to hire a Sherpa to carry them if we have a whole set.
My grandmother Francesca was so good at recalling past history (mostly negative) that she could have been a curator for the Smithsonian. As a child, I would always ask her why she looked so unhappy. Her answer was always the same: “ Because I suffer.” She’d go no further, but her face would become even sadder and her hands would go up in the air as she recited one of her many invocations for God to help her in her hour of need.
There was always an aura of mystery around my grandmother’s suffering, as if it were so unspeakable that it could only be alluded to in veiled words.
Every once in a while she would add a teaser: My mother abandoned me!” This was all said in Italian, which adds incredible drama. If she had said, “My bra is killing me” in Italian, it would have sounded like a death knell.
I kept asking my mother to explain it to me, but she would slough it off with “It’s and old story, and you wouldn’t understand.” Years later one of my uncles gave me the whole scoop. It was indeed a good candidate for a made-for-TV movie. It seems Francesca’s father died when she was eleven, and after a year her mother married a man twenty years younger. This was virtually unheard of in Italy at that time, because of the discrepancy in age and the fact that my grandmother who lived with her mother was about to embark on her teen years. Her aunts deemed that it would bring disgrace upon the family if my grandmother lived with her mother and her young husband. And so Francesca was sent to live with her aunts, who lived next door.
Even after my grandmother married and moved to the United States, bringing her mother and stepfather with her, she continued her litany of despair and treated her mother like she was the black plague.
The abandonment issue became the centerpiece for her quilt of suffering. it never occurred to her that she could let it go and move on.
There are many individuals who spend their lives carrying the torch of misery from the past. We need to learn and grow from the past, but do not allow it to take the joy out of the present.