Today is a meaningful convergence in my life. For one, this marks my 100th column for The Daily Times. I promise you no one is more shocked than I that this day would come. I'm so thankful to The Daily Times staff for their help and support, without which this certainly would not have occurred.
The second part of my convergence is that today marks the 54th anniversary of my mother's death. Franklin D. Roosevelt rightly proclaimed that Dec. 7 would forever be a day in infamy for us as a nation. Nov. 3 is such a day for me.
You never got to meet Sylvia Price. From what I hear, you would have liked her. She was said to be a devoted wife and mother, and she apparently took an active role in supporting the PTA and other of her children's events. One of my few memories is that she directed a play at my elementary school, but I refused to be in it because I had to wear tights or slippers or some such clothing which I was just too embarrassed to wear. Again, my memories from those early years are woefully lacking. I do remember making trips from our home in Providence, R.I., to Mass General Hospital in Boston, or to Miriam Hospital, which was located directly across the street from my elementary school. Wow, it just dawned on me that I must have spent many moments at recess knowing my mother was being held captive and detached from me just literal feet away yet not fully comprehending the reason why. Here I am 62 years old and that thought still brings tears to my eyes for the young boy who so needed and missed his mother. Give me just a moment please.
OK I'm back, but I actually did take a few days to come back to this column. That memory hit me like a proverbial ton of bricks. It came with no warning and literally disabled me from continuing with my task. I wrote some time back about this also occurring when I took my wife to see the movie "Stepmom" starring Julia Roberts, Ed Harris and Susan Sarandon. It is a very moving story about a young mother who is dying of cancer and about to leave her two young children, who by the way, just so happened to be about the same age as my older brother and me when our mom died of cancer. The only part of my story missing in this one is that my younger sister was not in it.
I don't recall having much foreknowledge of the movie. I only knew it was playing at the old Centennial Theater and I could take my wife to a movie for a whopping $3. Man, what a sport, eh? I had two separate breakdowns during that movie, each lasting approximately 10 minutes. During the first, I was clueless as to what was occurring. I just had this overwhelming sense of sadness and grief.
During the second such outburst, I realized that while everyone else in the theater was watching Susan Sarandon die of cancer, I was watching my own mother figuratively die right before my eyes. At that moment, while I was in my 50s physically, emotionally I was an 8-year-old grieving the loss of my mother.
I make no apology for my outbursts and certainly feel no shame. The point I hope to drive home in this article is that your spouse has hurtful experiences from his or her past, memories of which can arise out of nowhere and with a ferociousness for which they will likely not be prepared. It is precisely at these moments when you, more than any other of the billions of us on the planet, can be a source of comfort, and care and healing.
Now please note that when your spouse is undergoing a memory of a traumatic and hurtful experience, he or she is likely not going to be very pleasant and loving or easy to be around. He or she may snap at you, yell at you, throw a fit or have any number of reactions comparable to those of a hurt young child. They are not doing this on purpose, but hopefully you can purposely choose how to respond. If you choose to join them in any form of negative emotion you might want to cancel any plans you may have had for a joyful time together for that's not likely going to happen.
On the other hand, if you can somehow choose to minister to his or her pain with soft comforting words, a gentle hug or anything else a young child might appreciate your chances of responding appropriately are increased. Hey, maybe a candy bar or big bowl of ice cream could help. Please don't talk down to your spouse as if he or she really is a child -- they are not. It's just that at that particular moment they are hurting and they need your comforting.
Oh, that more couples would be aware that the painful experiences of our past have a dramatic and powerful impact on our relationships today. Men, the chances are pretty high that you pay the price at times for men who have hurt your wife in the past. Again, this is not purposeful and mean-spirited. It's more likely that you just said or did something that connected with an earlier memory. Wives, please note the same about your husbands. He does not mean to lash out at you at these times, but if you have just somehow reminded him -- consciously or unconsciously -- of a hurtful moment in time he will quite likely take it out on you.
Again, these can be moments of immense healing and growth, but only if we handle them well. Marriage provides numerous opportunities for practice.
So, as I close, I do so with a tribute to a mother I never really got to know, but who I would like to thank some day for giving me life. That indeed is a whole 'nother story. For now, let me just encourage you to be extra gentle and loving and sweet to your mate. They need you, and you need them, and together you really can have a wonderful marriage.