My Grandma, Veronica (Mellish) Ellis was a writer. No one really knew this outside of the family because she was never published. She just filled out diary after diary, year after year. Who knows how long she had been keeping a faithful diary, but I know she told me once that she wrote something in her diary when I was born so for close to fifty years she wrote and probably before that.
Grandma was a true survivor. She survived a somewhat gloomy childhood where her parents were divorced in a day when such an event put shame upon the whole family. She survived foster care only to have her parents get married and divorce yet again. She survived again by running away from school to elope with my grandfather because he was being expelled from the academy for talking to her in town in broad daylight without an escort. And that was only the beginning of her trials.
Grandma survived losing her first born baby at birth. She survived through Michigan winters and near starvation during the Great Depression. She moved to California and worked for the Department of defense as Rosie the Riveter during World War II. She chronicled the passing of time first by listening to a radio, then a black and white TV and later a color television. She marveled at every new invention in her lifetime. You might think her dairies would be an interesting read. I’ve read a lot of them because she always left them open around the house and invited me and anyone else to read them. She was an open book. I loved that about her. Her diaries mostly contained stories about her cats and her garden and weather patterns with an occasional stream of thoughts about God or her years living in Hawaii before it was a state or maybe her good wishes about someone on their birthday.
My father was never very fond of his mother-in-law. When she wrote us letters, he complained that all she talked about was cats and the weather. He often undermined my relationship with her by saying she was not very close to my mom. And he often told her to get off of the phone when I called. This was a phone in Grandma’s name and she was the one who paid the bill, but my father thought he had business to discuss with me which was more important than a grandmother and granddaughter connecting. So I learned to call when he was in town on Friday afternoons so Grandma and I could catch up.
I’m sad to say it, but my Grandma also survived all her stories destroyed. Before she even died, as soon as he sent her to live in a care home, my father took all of her diaries and had a big bonfire. He told me he had to do it because she wrote lies about him and he said she wrote lies about me too, so it was in our best interest to burn those diaries.
When I heard this, I felt sick to my stomach. It felt like he snuffed out her voice before she was even gone. When I hear from family members that he disagrees with the things I write, I figure he would do the same for me too–if only he was in charge of me. I thank God he is no longer able to control my life. He can’t control my blog or the books I write. He can call me a liar all he wants, but my books and my blog and the truth will outlive him. He can make my sisters cry for him, but unless he can own the stuff he did, the fallacy of ad misericordiam reminds me I don’t have to feel sorry for him. This is a man who beat me into submission as a child and once took away my voice–now that I have it back, he can’t take it again. Oh don’t get me wrong, I care about my father and I have mercy for him, but I will not sacrifice my own truth for his feelings anymore.
Despite recent accusations, I am not–nor have I ever been writing my memoir out of revenge, but simply for my own healing. I’m am choosing to let my voice be heard because he took away my sweet Grandma’s voice before she was gone and I know he would do the same to me. And since he has no control over my blog or memoir, he is playing the victim with my family members so they feel sorry for him and resent me for being the troublemaker for writing a book. But he forgets, he started lying about me to a judge and scapegoating me eight years ago–long before I went to a counselor to get help and discovered I even had a story to tell. So in a roundabout way, I can thank him for showing me in my adulthood, why I felt so oppressed in my childhood and why it made me sick for years of my adulthood. Even if I were never to publish this book, I’ve found great healing through the writing of it.
There’s a social media meme that says,“If only a liar’s pants really did catch on fire.” Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Then we could all see the true liars for who they really are, but unfortunately we can’t. Most dysfunctional families are full of people who lie while accusing the truth-tellers of being a liar.
Once you begin to tell your truth–whether it’s through writing a memoir, a blog or just sharing with family, chances are you will be called a liar or challenged by a sibling or parent. It’s still shocking to me and always a mind-twist when it happens. Remember they are not you and they will never share your perspective. This doesn’t mean you should hide your truth and you should absolutely NOT change your stories to please other people.
My rule of thumb is if someone has lied to me about anything—I don’t have time for them in my life. Until people can be emotionally honest, they aren’t safe people to hang out with.
Most of us want to tell the truth, but one of the biggest dangers of telling our stories is that we might fall into the trap of not being emotionally honest with ourselves when we tell our stories. This might happen because we are afraid to say what’s really on our hearts due to opposition or attacks from family members. It is very important to let all such remarks wash away and focus on what we remember and how it affected us personally—not from a sibling’s or parent’s perspective. It’s not selfish to tell your own story–that’s why it’s called memoir.
I heard recently heard someone say finding the plots in our lives and writing memoir is dishonest because they believe we need to list every event that ever happened in chronological order. Well, there are two fallacies here—the first is that listing every thing that ever happened would be impossible. For one thing no one can remember everything that happened in their childhood or even adult life. Number two, memoir is an art form that requires us to tell our own stories with honesty. It’s okay to use a flash back or alter the order of events as long as those events really happened. You are the author, you get to choose what the themes are and how they will be addressed. Anyone who disagrees is free to write their own memoir.
So if you are planning to write a memoir, you will make it more palatable for your readers and healing for yourself when you take the time to become emotionally honest and analyze what these events actually meant to you and how they have affected your life. This will help you show us your own character’s arc and how you were transformed by these life stories. I don’t want to mislead you, once we choose to become emotionally honest and search our own hearts and even tell on ourselves, it can be very hard work, but it also gives us the satisfaction of knowing our own truth which brings even deeper healing. You are telling your story for you–not your family members.
Maya Angelou never set out to write a memoir about her childhood until she was pressed to do it by someone who saw her story as valuable. Every one’s story counts. Your story matters. It matters to others and it matters to you, so make sure you understand the plots in your own life so you can also accept your healing.
Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.”
I think Grandma would agree. I know I sure do.
So how about you? Who or what has inspired you to tell your story?