Thursday, May 18, 2017


Today turned out to be a time of reflection on life and death and change and permanency. My own personal losses—parents, child—and losses affecting many more people.

I've always thought of myself as more of a skeptic. I like proof, two or more reputable sources, things I can touch or see or hear. But the losses I've experienced have taught me an unshakable knowledge that death is...not. I've had too many experiences—things I've felt or seen or heard—that can only be explained if there is far more to our existence, our reality, than what can be interpreted by our very human senses.

I am changed by every person who has come into my life, from the people I've met out in the world to the characters that come to life on book pages and screens. And even if they leave my presence, leave their bodies behind for me to bury, leave when the book ends or the screen goes dark, I am better for it.

And even if they are not in my sight or hearing or touch, there is a part of them, a permanence, an energy, that will never, ever cease. It will transform and return in some way. In the very physical sense I had of my mother holding my hand, or of my father squeezing my shoulders, or of my daughter watching while I painted my home office sunflower yellow. In the stories that seem to write themselves, the words that come unbidden in conversation, the urge to speak to a friend.

I am left tonight ever more certain that no one has actually, really departed, and that while I may sometimes feel alone, it is, in reality, quite impossible.

The story continues. It will always continue in some way. Energy can be neither created nor destroyed. Only transformed. And us with it.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Fear Not

My greatest fear
Is that I’ll leave no trace
That I was ever here.

And I know that fear is irrational.

I have children
Who are growing into
Amazing young adults.

My partner would argue
That I matter to him.
My friends tell me
I make a difference.

They make a difference
To me as well
So I suppose I can understand that.

I was always the kid
Who worked behind the scenes
So that someone else
Could have the spotlight.

A lifetime of being told I wasn’t
Attractive enough
Thin enough
Tall enough
Smart enough
Popular enough
Talented enough.

A lifetime of being told
I wasn’t enough.
I didn’t matter
Except to help others achieve greatness.

The one thing that 
Brought me joy
Was writing.
Creating worlds and characters
Playing out my fears
And dreams
And challenges
On paper, under different names
Gave me an escape
From all the not-enoughness.

But I didn’t share my writing.
That would be taking the spotlight
Meant for someone else.

I wrote a book
And it got published
But it didn’t change anything.

I started writing
About things I was going through
About abuse
And depression
And anxiety
And trauma.

People started to take notice
And asked to share what I’d written.
I said yes but I didn’t understand
Why they liked it.

It wasn’t happy
Or inspiring
Or hopeful.

It was pain
And darkness
And tears
Shed alone.

I wrote another book
And had fun sharing it
But still nothing really changed
And the not-enoughness
Followed me.

Finally I stepped
Out of the shadows
Out from behind the scenes
And began to speak
My truth
My experiences
My pain
My longing
My fears
My hopes
My self.

And people responded
By saying lovely things
That I didn’t understand.

They said they wanted
To be here for me
To fight for me
To celebrate
Each step I took
In my own healing.

They said I was strong
And courageous
And beautiful
And talented
And inspiring
And even things like
Funny and charismatic

And quirky 
Though I think that
Might not be
A compliment.

I hear and see their words
And I still don’t understand.

If you knew me
Really knew me
My failures
And mistakes
If you saw
My apathy
My ignorance
The times I didn’t care enough
Didn’t try hard enough
Didn’t love enough

You would not say these things.

I don’t think I’m
Particularly inspiring
Or funny
Or beautiful
Or strong
Or brave
Or talented.

I see so many others
Who do so much more
Than I could ever do.

My lifetime of experience
Tells me that these people
Are the ones who 
Deserve the spotlight
The admiration
The praise
The love.

And yet that leaves me
Hiding again
Crying myself to sleep
In the hopes
That tomorrow
I will feel worthy
Of living another day.

I don’t like that option.

And what of all those
Who feel as I do
Yet are unable
Or unwilling
To speak
To share?

Perhaps the truth
Is hidden in paradox
That I cannot see
How others see me
The impact I have
The difference I make.

Perhaps the truth
Is that I can only be
Who I was born to be
Even if
A lifetime of experience
Tried to defeat it.

I can only shine
My own light.

All I can do
Is follow the joy
And do those things
That make me come alive
And shine.

And if my light
Shines on others
And they perceive it
As strong
Or courageous
Or beautiful
Or inspiring
Or loving

Then it is no less true
Because I know my own imperfections.

And if I practice
Following the joy
Speaking my truth
Sharing myself
Then perhaps
I can catch a glimpse
Of that light
And know
There was nothing
To be afraid of
After all.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

On Family

Seven years ago today, I wrote about family, about finding it and losing it and recreating it. 
Seven years later, these words are still true.

*    *    *
I've been resting and talking and reading and trying to work through the fallout that inevitably happens when you try to go home again. In one sense, what I did was so easy. I flew on a plane to my mom's house several months after she died, cleaned it up, packed much, donated more, and drove home.

In another sense, it couldn't have been harder. I flew to the house where my mom suffered and died, slept in the same room where nurses and aids and family and friends cared for her in her last weeks, sat in the same chair I'd sat in months earlier while stroking her still-warm body, only seconds after she'd left it behind on her journey. I relived every moment of our trip in December '08 and again in April/May '09, discovering priceless information about this very complex and very convoluted family that would throw me into a deep and sudden awe and compassion upon finding one treasure, anger and betrayal at the next discovery.

But that's what family is for, is it not? To leave future generations with enough burning questions and obsessions that neither genealogy researchers nor therapists will ever have to worry about job security.

In my family, in that house, with those memories, I'm still confused. Information I discovered that had never been shared with me before, information that made me see my parents with part-awe and part betrayal, not knowing in that moment if I loved them or hated them, but only knowing I couldn't walk away.

My brother and I, who could barely be trusted to be left alone when we were kids, lest one of us injure the other seriously enough to require medical attention, went through 65 years of collected possessions, including possessions my mom had inherited from her mom and dad and from her mother-in-law. We opened every box, unwrapped every piece cushioned by well-worn newspaper or paper towel. It was a life autopsy of possessions and we, the examiners, separated and examined and weighed and tested every piece.

Numerous times, most notably when I was eyeing the growing stack of boxes for me to take back home and then visualizing the interior of a minivan and trying to figure out how it would all fit, I would wonder why I had come to do this in the first place.


It seems instantly an easy enough answer. I wanted some remnants of my childhood, as did my brother. I wanted some mementos of my parents, ones that focused on the happy times. I didn't want my brother to have to do this all by himself. And I wanted to get the place cleaned out so it could be rented. Another family, new life, new dreams. I think Mom would have liked that.

But was that really it? Digging through boxes and papers and clothing and endless amounts of plastic utensils and wet wipes and matches, the detritus of a life lived and loved and suffered and lost, what did I really find?

I found that family is a need, not a noun. Family could have been brutal and unforgiving, it could have meant growing up battered in mind, body, and spirit, and it also could have been children's laughter on the swingset, a surprise trip to the zoo to put the blue elephant key in the box and hear the narrator tell you about what animal you're viewing. Family is the need to always display some photographs and never others, never quite explaining if the hidden ones are being sequestered away to be forgotten or in need of more precious protection than hanging openly on a wall.

Photo copyright ©2001 by Sheyna Galyan All rights reserved
Family is a beginning and often, an end. Family is where we came from, that lifeline to who we were and how we came to be this way. Family is our excuse, our answered prayer, our legacy, our mark on the world. We love it and hate it, run to it and rebel from it.

Spending one week immersed in this family, in these memories, in this house, I was nearly ready to walk away. But I didn't, and now I'm home in the midst of these memory-filled items, not sure whether to mourn or rejoice, whether to use these objects as jumping-off points for discussions about the great-great-grands and how their lives were similar or different, or whether to pack them away until I can look at them without feeling such a hollow sense of loss.

I sorted and cleaned my way through a person's life, learning as I went, and found a woman I hadn't completely gotten to know, and now never will. Then I spent a week trying to return to my family, my mind ever on the challenges of the road I was taking. And then when I got home, I buried myself in a collection of political thrillers, looking, as the characters are, for order within chaos, duty within impossible moral choices, fleeing a past that may never be gone, and in fact parts of which are sitting in my living room.

I went for family, I stayed for family. And yet I feel like I'm leaving with a different sense of family. Gone is the omnipotence; what remains behind is the shattered life that found comfort in collections. And after picking up the pieces, I moved toward a family that I want simply to be honest and decent and caring.

You can't go home again, but you can define home and family for yourself and build it, out of the tools you inherited from your family, or the creative adaptations you learned because the only tools left to you were so morally broken they weren't worth using.

I did it for family. Which one—then or now?  Neither, actually. I did it for what family means to my heart and soul, where family means the most.

Originally posted on Interstate Insanity
Reprinted with permission
Copyright ©2010 by Sheyna Galyan