Monday, March 16, 2009

On Being Someone's Son or Daughter

Kelly Corrigan takes what might have been a fairly standard story of survival, and reframed it, most charmingly, as a coming of age narrative. We see here a headstrong girl, under the most severe adversity, turn into a genuinely strong woman.

—Carolyn See, author of Making a Literary Life

Kelly Corrigan addresses a difficult subject in her memoir, The Middle Place . (Corrigan's blog link) The narrative begins with early childhood memories of a dynamic yet embracing father and continues on to weave in a story about cancer survival while she addresses her placement within the proud Irish-American family fabric. I agree with Carolyn See in the quote above- that the expected story would have been a survival story about one woman's experience with cancer. Yet, Kelly Corrigan, skillfully leads us into our own understanding of family relationships and their meaning within our lives.


The documentary interview was finished. I was at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport preparing to return to Puerto Rico, steeped in my own memories of the past, when a series of mechanical irregularities (failed plane saftey test!) waylaid me to the Clarian hotel in the Metro area where I could thankfully give into Kelly Corrigan's reading experience. I was with her as she grew up on Wooded Lane in Philadelphia where she had the usual conflicts with her family, school and life in general. She was a young girl fighting for her place in the family and in the world.

Corrigan takes us to a memory land that we may never have actually lived but one that we all have lived enough. Let me explain. Our general life patterns overlap and we become adults. For most of us, we have a life defining shift that usually involves deep pain. It is that common human experience that provides a place to connect with the true story of a real person in a real life. Corrigan's honesty compels you to read on and wills you to understand how someone under great stress can find the will to continue activily participating in life while struggling to survive cancer. Corrigan is in the Middle Place-that place between childhood and full adulthood-a comforting place boxed in by childhood memory and young adult security. She writes that when she found out that she had cancer, she immediately need to call home-the location of her home still being where her mother and father live even though she is married and has two small children of her own. I was particularly perplexed about the location of this "Middle Place". After I read a bit more, I was grateful that she didn't have to confront it's passage too early in her life.
What happens in your life when you are not someone's son or daughter? That's how my life is now with both parents gone. It's the natural course of events and most will arrive here at the uppermost generational tier. We hope it's not too soon. We hope were ready for the next phase. We hope we can breathe at this higher altitude. When our parents die, we feel like a child again. The feeling of our home, a feeling of situatedness evaporates with their death. Then the work of locating home inside, begins and we start learning how to parent ourselves.
In this uppermost space resides the location of possibility where we can learn to take on the responsibility of creating (recreating) the family feeling in our lives. We decide to continue or begin some of our own family traditions. In this place of hope, we may learn to be the unconditional givers to those we love. Here we may learn to create our own family, which may include close friends. Or maybe, we will need to create a family that is comprised only of friends. In this place, it is possible to broaden our concept of family to combine all of humanity. And it is here where we may begin to feel that it is necessary to act- to offer assistance to all who are suffering.

I often wonder when will we redefine our realm of responsibility -our boundary of concern -so that we will not tolerate another day of hunger in this world. When will we be able to overcome the fearful hesitancy that keeps our hands in our pockets instead of reaching out to those in need?
When my parents died, I began to understand that I had to take some of this responsibility for others upon myself. Do we have to lose our parents to begin to understand that we must continue to foster empathy and compassion in this world? That we have to share in the responsibility and care for all of those who surround us? Must we wait for our losses to eventually push us into broadening our area of concern to include not just people, but animals and the environment too?
It is my hope that when we all encounter the passage from this Middle Place to full adulthood that we re-think our position in this world. Personally, I hope to find the right balance between my values and my actions in order to live a life completely harmonized by integrity. I hope to foster within myself pure motive guided by empathy and the best for all concerned. May all humanity make it successfully through this Middle Place. And when the time comes, may we all graduate into the Upper Place with the will to live in peace with each other; be it our family, friends, neighbors, and also extended out to all religions and to all countries. I am confident that this understanding of the Upper Place represents a kind of graduation for all of humanity.
May we all find ourselves living this vision of peace.

Today, more than ever before, life must be characterized by a sense of universal responsibility, not only nation to nation and human to human, but also human to other forms of life.

Dalai Lama


  1. Cynthia, you are such a sage... Such truths, close to my heart. Parenting ourselves, as you say, is a difficult thing to face, and you are right that if we can look outside ourselves more, to support and assist others, then that can help all concerned.

    Thank you, light and blessings to you x

  2. What an enlightening post, Cynthia. It's living and looking at things from a new perspective, that's for sure. I like the term parenting ourselves- there's so much truth in this. Just recently I thought to myself, when my mom goes...who will be left to pray for me? Thanks for this post.

  3. You have put so eloquently what i have been struggling to say all along.

    In my case, the parents didn't die, they left the building, via the abandonment door.The result is the same, however, compassion for others is brought about by loss and trauma.
    I have been given hope through blogging, Cynthia, that there are plenty of people on the humanity and compassion path. It is beautiful to see.xx♥

  4. I will definitely read this book. I am amazed at what you have lived through, but touched by how you've come through. Your spirit strikes me as very intact, which to me is a very high plane indeed.

  5. You've put into thoughts so many things I currently feel now that I am an 'adult orphan'. Yet, at the same time, I do feel a certain freedom and maturity without having parents there - I feel more liberated than I used to feel, but of course there is the constant background feeling of missing them both so much.

  6. Fhina (Woman of Importance), you are a dear. I know that so much of what you share through your post and live in your life is on the same wave-length. Thank you for your visit and comments.<3

    Ms. Lucy, I too, used to wonder what my life would be like if my mother were not around. I remember many years ago, while I was taking a long walk by the San Diego Bay, I thought. So this is what it would be like...the absent feeling...only I was wrong. I didn't anticipate the years of yearning for her and knowing I would never see her again. That took some time to work through...rather, I still miss her and I guess that feeling just softened with time...Thank you for honoring us with your thoughts. <3

    Natalie,So sorry that you have gone through so much. May your heart be filled with so much love and support that you no longer feel that parental loss. Thank you for your deep reflection about your life experience. You honor me, dear friend, and all who read Oasis with your honesty and willingness to share. <3
    Rudee, as a nurse who deals with loss so often, I know that your experience with this issue is profound and I deeply appreciate your comments. Do read the book,I think that you will have so much insight into the story.

    French Fancy, I thing what you are saying is that some of the comfort and security from parents comes with it's own obligatory strings, right?

    I know also when your parents are sick and aging there is a lot of stress. I have a friend who took care of her sick mother for many years, her life was placed on hold. Also, it's sad.

    When considering family roles too; it's hard to change when family has placed you firmly within a particular situation/role. Living in France must provide you with a feeling of liberation...embracing the new everyday.

    Thank you for your comments...may you be filled with a warm memory of your parents...and the freedom to celebrate life.

  7. It’s good that a travel delay allowed for quality reading. This one looks interesting. Great review! Glad the documentary went well. You turn even the worst experiences into times for growth and reflection.

  8. A beautiful post Cynthia - one I can relate to in many ways. Having recently lost my last parent it brought an unexpected loneliness which I managed to survive by reaching out to others in need bringing the needed balance to my life. Interesting how death brings life into such prominence...

  9. Sarah Laurence, yes, travel seems to throw my mind into thoughts of possibility for change. Don't you think it's the emotional extreems (be they highs or lows)that create pressure to reflect? Thank you for your comment and your visit.

    Janice Thomson,so sorry to hear about your loss. It's true that many of us gain balance by reaching out to others. Your comment is such a help to those in similar situations. Thank you for sharing your thoughs. <3

  10. A fascinating post and an excellent book review.
    I think we will ever be fascinated by stories of families. I think you should write yours. So much to tell --and you would write it beautifully.

  11. Elizabeth,
    Thank you for your comment and encouragement. I do appreciate all that you share and write about as well. A family story...hummm...
    Take care <3

  12. Parents can be missing even if they still live, which I venture to say might be even more troubling than death.

    We read to know we're not alone, right? I do long for that Upper Place.

  13. Cynthia, there is an award for you on my blog.A few posts ago.xx♥

  14. This sounds like an interesting book. I am in the "sandwich" situation in life with a young grandson that lives far away and an elderly mother whom I help care for -- both of whom I worry about. Sometimes children can be more caring and responsible than their parents ever were.

  15. Oh, if only we would heed your words Cynthia. Enjoy your weekend, xv.

  16. Dear Cynthia, thank you for this interesting post. As a former nurse, I think I would find this book very interesting.

    I still have both parents alive, but getting quite elderly now, so I still feel like that little girl of theirs. Thanks for giving me some insight into how I will feel when they are gone.

  17. what a gentle and inspiring post...thank you.

    and I will definitely read this book!


  18. Willow, so true, and I too long to live in the highest expression of humanity. <3

    Pat,yes,the sandwich place might be our residence for most of our lives...mine just became open-faced a bit too soon. And your comment is so true...children have a feeling of making up for the lack of nurturing they received. A mille of <3's to you!

    Natalie,oh, gosh, I think I'm caught up now. Thank you, dear friend!

    Charmaine, Thank you for reading and your comment <3

    Vicki, thanks for the visit and support...and may you have a lovely week and weekend as well! <3

    Dianne, Thank you for reading, I know that your art is a way for you to express all that goes on in your maybe your expression of loss will take a new and beautiful creative form. <3

    Linda, I hope you enjoy the book, as I did; I think you will enjoy Kelly Corrigan sense of humor, too. A good laugh makes most stressful situations so much more tolerable! <3

  19. Hey Cynthia, superb message, as a matter of fact, this week that I've felt so bad physically, I 've missed my mother a lot. I can relate to you in many aspects since both my parents are gone, however, you have a family and that makes you whole, I have a brother, a boyfriend and my lovely Tina and all my close friends, and you are one. MY mother used to say that sometimes friends are better than family and they will be with you till the end. She said this because my dad's family wasn't that nice to her when my dad died. She was alone here and she only had her kids .
    I think compassion can be achieved when your parents are still alive. Did I understand you correctly, you said that you became more compassionate after your parents died? I think compassion can taught by parents. My mother was a very affectionate and compassionate woman, she taught me how to be very compassionate. As you know she was a devout Catholic and I believe she must have been a nun in a previous life, she would always tell me imagine all the suffering the Virgin Mary had to experience watching her son be spat at, belittled and crucified. SHe would always relate things to Catholism and saints. She was so sweet. I watched a video last night and saw her. I have bronchitis , I had to go to the doctor today because I hardly slept last night.
    take care and keep being compassionate.

  20. Hi D., what a difficult time of it, bronchitis and watching a mom video; sometimes we just have to give in to the healing time. I too think that compassion can be taught to young people by their parents...mostly we teach how to hold back (because of fear for their safety?)'s only when we're older that we realize that we have to reach out anyway. Some know it earlier...may your life be filled with sunshine, soon, dear friend and spiritual sister. <3

  21. Cynthia, as you suspected, this post is so timely for me...and it hits so close to the heart. I am in the yearning for my mother phase, and finding this the hardest part of all.

    Thank you for sharing, and giving me hope. xoxox

  22. So sorry, Rapunzel, that you are in the yearning phase. What a difficult ache in the heart to carry around. May you soon begin to feel a well spring of joy pouring from your heart as you recognize and appreciate the love that your mother brought into your life. <3

  23. Thanks Cynthia for your message, my message is a bit late, but while working I don't get on the internet so much because I see if as work,


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