Bastard Child Un-witnessed (Part VI)


She was my sister, but as the un-witnessed child, I didn’t have the right to call, inquire, reach out, or console. I didn’t realize that the need to comfort could be as aching as the need to be comforted. Beyond these feelings, I think about the four generations of women, entangled within a web of secrecy like old tattered rags stuffed into satchels and forgotten among the attic’s treasures.

I say treasures because today I feel rich with the life’s treasures. Every one of those life experiences has made me who I am today. I have a heart filled with understanding, compassion and admiration for the four generations of women who fiercely endeavored to protect their loved ones and the astonishing tenacity of will demonstrated by all concerned.

For fifteen years, my father’s mother faithfully engaged in phone conversation with me to keep me from contacting her son. In my self- centered desperation, I held my grandmother emotionally hostage for those years prior to the eventual meeting with my father. I deeply regret the distress that I caused her. She was only trying to protect her son and grandchildren. I would have done the same. Wisdom sometimes comes only after humiliation and contrition.

In 1944 my terrified mother, abandoned by her one true love and very pregnant, made the journey from New York to California to find me a daddy and erase the bastard label. Her mother,  battling agoraphobia, with her four year old grandson in tow, soon followed. My mother and grandmother had not been separated for the whole of their lives and the move to California would cement this bond until the death of my grandmother.

All sacrifices by these women were made in the name of love and protection−perhaps misguided, but in the name of love all the same. Likewise, my sister and I decided to protect certain family members by keeping our relationship secret, especially shielding her mother from anymore unnecessary pain. I think we made the right decision.

Now, my sister’s daughter has hidden my book, Ragdoll Redeemed, primarily from her grandmother’s eyes.  Perhaps, in time, my niece and I will develop a connection. There have been four generations of secrets born out of shame and deceit.  However, I choose to see the heroics extended by each of these women who tried to protect their love ones.

Given the times and the circumstances, we all took actions we deemed appropriate.  After my sister died, my niece told me that her mother had been her best friend. She didn’t know how she would be able to go on without their daily talks. I feel sad for the niece that I have never met. I feel sad that I will never talk with my sister again. The missing her will be so painful. The missing is by far the hardest part of grieving.

I am deeply grateful for the time that I had with my sister. Over the years, her acceptance and kind words helped me to sew together some of my tattered ragdoll pieces. Eventually, through therapy and other self-help programs, my Ragdoll feelings were patched up, mended and restored such that I finally feel redeemed. My sister’s generosity was a large part of that repair process.



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  1. Thank you for sharing, what must have been for you to write, a very painful remembrance, but for those reading it, a truly amazing and inspiring series. Kudos!

  2. I, too, have thought about the motivation to keep secrets. It is often to protect. I found out some of our family secrets when I did a women’s study class in college and interviewed my father’s mother. I understood then why she had needed to do things “right” (gloves, hats, manners). I decided she was covering the shame and powerless she felt about being divorced when my Grandfather got another women pregnant. I loved her more deeply and accepted her more completely.

    • Hi Gayle,

      I wish statements such as, “You’re only as sick as your secrets” was not said with such finality. In some situations secrets seem like the kindest thing we can offer one another. In this case, for example, I am not sorry that we kept this secret.

      Thank you for meeting me and sharing some of your family history. In ways that I don’t yet understand, everyone’s comments have soothed my heart.

      Blessings, dawn

  3. I’m so glad that you were able to find connection with your family after so many years of distance, even if it was not ideal. These old patterns, secrets, losses, and so much more make childhood and early adulthood such a trial, but your book shows how someone can find herself, heal the wounds, and create a positive healing world around her. Great job with all of it! Blessings, LJM

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