Bastard Child Un-witnessed

It was Father’s Day 2012. My sister lay dying from her heroic battle with cancer. Since I too had struggled with the grueling treatments common to breast cancer patients, we often shared aspects of this journey. I knew the end was near. I could feel it in ways that I couldn’t explain nor understand.  Regrettably, I couldn’t call to console or be consoled; a fairly common consequence of an un-witnessed bastard child. In this series of six blogs I will share the story of how four generations of denial, secrecy and being the un-witnessed child led to the last forsaken phone call to my dying sister.

I have written a great deal about the similarities between Marilyn Monroe and me, both of us being stamped with the bastard label. “No one of illegitimate birth shall enter the assembly of the LORD; none of his descendants, even to the tenth generation, shall enter the assembly of the LORD.” Deuteronomy 23. Now I wonder just how many commonalities our mothers did share. Like the pain of being abandoned by the father of their unborn children, the shame, the inability to support their children, the depression, the pills, the vacant eyes. “My father never married my mother, I guess that’s what broke her heart…  When you love a man and tell him you’re going to have his child and he runs out on you, it’s something a woman never gets over.” Marilyn Monroe. In my book, Ragdoll Redeemed: Growing up in the Shadow of Marilyn Monroe, I wrote about that first meeting with my father and the contentious years leading up to that moment. Painful years where my paternal grandparents grappled with placating me while endeavoring to protect their son-my-father−and his family.

In 1974, when I was nineteen, I met my grandparents briefly. My then husband, Bill and I drove to New England to see his mother and I persuaded him to make a side trip to “the grandparents.” While my grandmother was cold and aloof, my grandfather was warm and kind. The first words out of his mouth to me were, “You have eyes just like your father’s.” I would hang onto to those words for years to come because that matched exactly what my mother had said years prior. I would close my eyes and think about what the rest of my real fathers’ face looked like. Did it look like mine? Did he have my hair color? Was his nose like mine? Hearing that spontaneous comment about my eyes from my grandfather was magical. My grandparents were the next best thing to meeting my father.

After fifteen years of phone calls and one face to face meeting with my grandparents, this was my last conversation with my grandmother.  To be continued.


*Picture of me at the age of two, smiles were scarce in those days.





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  1. My condolences on the loss of your sister. I truly hope that your memories bring comfort.
    I can only imagine how hard it was to write this post since it was difficult to read. Profound! You are one special and courageous woman!!

    • Hi Cheryl,

      Thank you for your words. It boggles my mind that I still don’t feel as if I have the “right” to grieve for her. Conditioning is so powerful.

      Thank you, dawn

  2. Dawn, I am so sorry about your sister. I had no idea she was ill, much less that she had died. I guess I have been wrapped up in my own process after my mother’s death on Memorial Day. Blessings, Helen

    • Hi Helen,

      It’s no wonder you didn’t know my sister was ill because I rarely talk about her at all. When you don’t grow up with a sibling, it’s hard to introduce them into a conversation. I had this secret part of my life that I didn’t know how to talk about. And now, on the occasion of her death, the last thing I want to do is get dramatic. It’s not the same as if your sister/sisters died because you were raised with them from childhood. We were adults when we met and numerous circumstances conspired to keep us at arms length, yet, I miss her.

      I do know with absolute certainty that I am not alone in these somewhat odd circumstances. The main difference being that my blog offers me the opportunity to talk about this whereas others struggle through their varying degrees of grief, depending on the depth and breadth of the lost relationship.

      Thanks for being there, dawn

      • angelite(alias) says:

        Dawn, thank you for your candid approach and discussions. I feel that we have a similar experience in that sisters are not always close. I do not have a close relationship with my sister. I wish I did. We were raised together but my family tended to take sides. In other words, in an alcoholic setting; my sister was favored and nutured by my father and I by my mother. It became a very competititve environment. I did not realize it until I was old enough to understand. As much as I tried to become “family” later on, my sister (she was older) would not want to. It is very painful for me today. I always wanted to have an older sister; to confide in and to look up to. My condolences are with you, as greive can last a long time as it still does with me.

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I Did It, I Did It!
Bastard Child Un-witnessed (PART II)