Saloma Miller Furlong
Author and Speaker

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Mem: Life Lessons I Learned from My Amish Mother, Part 2

Three years later, in February of 2014, I published my second book, Bonnet Strings: An Amish Woman’s Ties to Two Worlds. That summer I realized that even though I have written two books that recalled memories of my Amish childhood and I did not shy away from writing about the abuse I endured at the hands of my father, my brother, and my paternal grandmother, my readers still do not know the whole truth. When I wrote these books, I was not yet ready to name someone else who had abused me.

I have often thought of myself as someone who is willing to look truth in the face and deal with it, even when it isn’t pleasant. I have seen first-hand how problems do not get solved when there is denial that the problems exist in the first place. It is easy to see when someone else is in denial, but so much harder to detect in myself.

It’s not like I have been in complete denial about this abuse. I dealt with it to an extent when I was in intensive therapy as a young mother. I’ve been able to talk with a few people about what happened — but only with those who could hear it. Those closest to this person would defend her, and then I would doubt myself.

I am referring to Mem. She is the only one of my abusers with whom I identified. How could I not? She was at first my nurturing, loving mother, and my very survival was in her capable hands. This is what made the abuse so devastating. When she began taking out her frustrations on me, she betrayed the bond that she had so carefully formed with me when I was a baby and a young child. Because she was the person on whom my survival depended, it was impossible for me to understand how she could be wrong in punishing me so severely. So I internalized the punishments and thought it was all my fault.

For as long as I could remember, Mem had played the role of the martyr and the saint — in fact she played it so well that it had become part of her personality, so that it was hard to see her otherwise. She had created the myth that she was the good parent who did no wrong while Datt was the bad parent who did no right. It was as if the burden of having Datt for a husband was too much for her to bear, so she looked to others for support. For years, I felt her pain, often to the exclusion of my own. People who knew Mem bought into the myth she had created, including my relatives. I saw her that way myself for a long time. And then when I was in counseling, I realized that I didn’t have one good parent and one bad parent, as I’d been brought up believing.

My relationship with Mem is as complicated as she was. She was at times a soft, nurturing, caring mother, and at other times cruel with her whip or leather belt. She wanted me to conform to the Amish ways, and yet she rebelled against them herself. She married someone who she knew from the start would not be able to be a good father to the children she bore, and yet she tried to change him into one. She played the martyr for being married to Datt, and yet she became the lonely widow when he died. Once she knew she was on her way out of this world, she secretly supported my endeavors, all while garnering sympathy from the other Amish that I’d left. And when she knew she was dying, she asked us not to cling, and said that it was “her time to go” seemingly without any thought about why someone might cling — that perhaps there were relationships that needed mending.

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