The fear of losing my parents shadowed my every moment. Neither loud nor demanding, it lurked silently in the background. My mother suffered bad health for several years before she died. I watched the deterioration in her health, and although I believed I was in touch with the situation and prepared, retrospectively viewed, I wasn’t.
My mother suffered. This translated into her everyday relationships. The disrupted sleep, fear of yet another hospitalization and death made her irritable. She felt I had let her down and this rift remained between us. When she died I stood looking at the flowers on her casket and wondered how I would manage. My children were five, three and one.
My father remained healthy but chose to live in another state. As he aged I worried. Initially he refused to move south because of the cold. In his time, he reconsidered and moved nearby. I vowed to be a better daughter, to support him wholeheartedly into the sunset of his life. It gave us a magic opportunity, and as his health failed I assisted. We both noticed his decline but walked together toward the inevitable.
His death hit me hard. In the last four years we had enjoyed a deep and loving friendship, and now my best friend was gone. It left a terrible hole in my heart. Around the second anniversary of his death, I felt stronger. All those firsts, which break open the healing, were behind me. Joy entered my life again slowly.
Something nagged me, poking at me until I gave in. I kept seeing my father who on his deathbed said, “I am so sorry. I wish I could have left you more.” It stunned me. My parents — after a late start in a new country — educated me, supported me and left me a small amount of money. How could he feel this way?
I thought of the times I had shared my parents’ incredible journey, and one morning it hit me. Their story, I had that. All I needed to do was write it down.
I spent a lot of time thinking it through and realized that I knew so little. How could I write a book? So it began, plan upon plan, and endless timelines. I researched; learning history, fleshing out character traits, and reading other people’s accounts. Often I felt overwhelmed. Then I began to eat the elephant one bite at a time, and things began to flow.
Looking at the story like a giant puzzle, I began to seek the answers. As I read more and took notes, the word count rose. Despite my trepidation, I began to understand myself better. When examining a situation, I realized why I felt or acted with a certain bias. By fleshing out my parents’ lives I found parts of myself.
The love and gratitude I felt grew as I realized how difficult the journey had been for my mother and father. I felt alone, but never in my life to date had I been stripped of everything; identity, possessions and beliefs. Looking back into the sepia colored past of the interwar years and WWII, I found tools to help me in my pampered life.
At times the pain of writing the scenes threatened me. I left the computer exhausted. Then I looked at the evolving body of work and began to see it as a tribute to the lives of those who fought for our freedom, those who found themselves caught in crazy politics and those who lost family, friends and homelands.
Without it registering at a conscious level, I had begun to build a platform upon which my story would rest, a credible basis of history, sociology and experiences. I felt strength surge back into me alongside curiosity and desire. Although I stood alone with no siblings or relatives, I stood on this wealth of experience. No one could take it away.
The immobilizing effects of grief lessened with time aided by focused activity. My memoir gave me purpose and validation. It helped me to discover who I was. My mother only spoke to me about two things in her past, both heart wrenching. Recalling her disclosures, I cried, though she did not. Life had wrung her well of tears dry.
My father assumed the role of story teller in my life, but when it came to the end of WWII and the Displaced Person’s Camps, I realized he had omitted a painful part of his life. He had hidden this extremely challenging time in which he had no home, no country, and no future. Suddenly a lot of things made sense, and behaviors I judged as a younger person, I now understood.
A well of compassion awoke within me, seeing the brokenness which society denies but family befriends. I looked also at my brokenness realizing I had a choice. Writing helped me feel, release and understand. I found my roots, a place to rest and made an incredible discovery. To be healthy, I had to let go pain, attachment and grief.
My mother’s broken heart killed her ten years short of old age. She couldn’t let some of it go. Inside her it festered, eating away at her health and optimism. My father’s philosophy differed, and his deeply spiritual nature supported him. Yin and yang stood before me, the power of purposeful positive choice illuminated for me to see.
My book Schicksal, which tells a fictionalized version of my parents’ story, is a great gift. Grateful for the obvious things I discovered, I am overjoyed by the left field learning opportunities I have been given. I have grown in ways I could not even have begun to imagine. Merima Jackson