“Art is a kind of innate drive that seizes a human being and makes him its instrument. To perform this difficult office it is sometimes necessary for him to sacrifice happiness and everything that makes life worth living for the ordinary human being.” ― C.G. Jung
I have now written to the conclusion of my new memoir, Mem: Life Lessons I Learned from My Amish Mother. In the next several weeks, I will be reading it for flow, adding more here, and subtracting there. I will also be mindful of the words I use — I want the language to properly convey the insights I have gleaned from my reflections on my journey of healing my relationship with Mem.
Writing this book has been a healing process in itself. I had organized all the letters I kept from Mem ever since I left home, and as many letters as I kept copies of from me to her. Reading them this many years after they were written, and 11 years after Mem’s death, gave me new insights into Mem’s character. I am including many excerpts of her letters in the book, which gives Mem her own voice.
In many ways, I wish I did not feel compelled to write and publish this book. What I am writing will not be welcomed by my siblings. As far as I know, all of them still think of Mem as having been a martyr and a saint, as do many of her other relatives. Because I no longer buy into this myth, they will likely distance themselves from me.
I believe that each of my siblings grew up with a different mother than I did. The reason I say this is because Mem had her favorites and her scapegoats. For some of us, that could shift. For others, it was their fixed role. As long as I believed the myth Mem created — that she was good parent and Datt was the bad one — I stayed on her good side. But I paid dearly for one little criticism or defiance of her.
I often ask myself why I feel compelled to write this book. My life would be so much easier if I didn’t. But for some reason, I know I must do this. Like so many times in my life, I hear Mem saying, “Oh Saloma, why must you always do things the hard way?!” Just like all those other times, I have no answer to this question.
When I shared the first two parts of my introduction, I received exactly the kinds of affirmations that I hoped would come from sharing this part of my life: affirmations, support for the book, and best of all, those of you who can relate to this book in a very personal way. To those of you who have endured abuse, I want to say I am so sorry. And remember, this was not your fault. This is perhaps the most profound discovery in my own healing process. If you hear the messages I have heard — “That was so long ago.” “You need to learn to forgive.” “You should stop thinking about it or talking about it, and bury it forever.” — trust your own experiences and memories and find people to share your story with who will validate them. Trust your own memories. It will help you heal.
You, my dear readers, are the reason why I must press on with this book, even knowing the estrangement it will surely cause from my family. Thank you, thank you, and thank you again.
Here is the last part of my introduction:
Two summers ago, when I found myself confronting my Mem issues, I wrote another letter to her spirit. I poured out my heart and soul in that letter. I didn’t stop until I had written nearly 150 pages. I had intended to continue it, but I stopped when I got to the point in my life when I married David. It’s as if I had now reached safe ground, and there was no need to continue.
That fall I began braiding a rug for a wedding gift for a young friend. I braided it on my front porch until the weather turned cold and then I moved my operation to the third floor of my house. After this rug was completed, I decided to braid two rugs for my front hallway. After those were done, I braided five more.
Through writing and braiding, I was working my way towards forgiving Mem. Forgiveness is a long process for me. Some people feel they can say they forgive and it’s done. I seem to make it so much more complicated than that. I can just hear Mem saying, “Oh Saloma! Why do you always have to do things the hard way?!” I felt I needed to understand where Mem was coming from or what motivated her to do what she did, and I wanted to know that she would not have repeated what she’d done if she had seen her mistakes.
After many hours of braiding and contemplating, I finally realized that I will never know what motivated Mem to treat me the way she did. Nor will I know if she felt remorse for these wrongs. But to continue to harbor resentments would be a burden I no longer wanted to carry.
As I continued practicing the homespun art I’d learned from Mem, it was as though I was braiding together three strands to form forgiveness: honesty, humility, and compassion. I felt that I needed to forgive her for her sake as well as for my own. That makes little sense when I know she is no longer of this world. But here are the thoughts that led me to this conclusion.
When I die, I imagine my spirit will live on in this world as long as there are people with memories of me. If I leave this world without reconciling with people whom I have hurt, it can cause unhealthy attachments that can prevent my soul from advancing. If these people can find it in their hearts to forgive me, my soul will be freed.
Whether I was freeing my spirit, Mem’s spirit, or both of ours, I felt I had let go of the hurt of the past with Mem.
I realized at some point in my musings, that I was the same age when I was braiding all these rugs that Mem had been when I left the Amish for the first time.
I ask myself why I feel compelled to write about Mem if I have truly forgiven her. I don’t know the answer to the question of why I feel compelled. I only know that I do feel compelled. Sometimes writers don’t have a choice but to follow their muse. I am following mine, and trust that I am meant to write this story and that in time I will understand the reasons why.
There was a time when Mem was trying hard to get me to “reconcile” with my older brother. What she really wanted is to get me to submit to his rule in the family. One day, unbeknownst to Mem, David took a little video of her urging me to visit Joe. I am sharing this video for the very first time. I must say, I never knew I could be so timid as I seem to be in this video. My voice is so small…
I realize my timidity is because I could either go along with what seemed like a benign suggestion that I visit Joe, or could be truthful and tell Mem I don’t want to visit Joe, and furthermore I don’t want to be pressured about that, and by the way Joe knows I’m here, so he can come visit if he wants to. I knew the family pressure would be brought to bear if I did this, so I capitulated. I have a close friend who watched this video back then, and she said, “Liar” when she saw me acting the way I did. She did not even know all the dynamics, but she knew I was not being honest — even to myself.
28 thoughts on “Mem: Life Lessons I Learned from my Amish Mother, Part 3”
Saloma, not to minimize your circumstance but just share. The first time I had a hint of my mother’s abuse of me, I was in my late 20’s. I was getting my nursing degree and in my pediatric rotation. Abuse was topic of the film we watched in class. It occurred to me I was an abused child and was shock. Over the next few years I managed to fully understand my feelings, forgive my mother, and move forward. I did confront my mom on the abuse and she did not allow me to even finish my thoughts and feelings. I drooped that pursuit. I remember being in the bedroom of my firstborn at the time with silent tears unfolding down my face. Wondering how she could do and say some of the things to me she did when I was a child. Saloma I asked myself if she ever loved me. The answer was yes, she did. Over the years I thought about the limited stories my mother shared of herself. I realized then that my mother did the very best she knew how. She did the best she knew how…….. I could no longer feel robbed of a childhood I thought somehow was cheated. That was very freeing to me. People are human and become their own experiences with skin. My mom worked extremely hard and perhaps was not aware as I that abuse had happened to her as well.
Knowledge is powerful and if used in a way that honors God and His word, then my hope is that we end up with a forgiving heart. To go through life with bitterness, anger, or sadness only hurts us and the people we love most.
Thank you for sharing your heart and life Saloma. May you find peace and understanding.
In His Love,
Melody, thank you for having the courage to share a bit of your story. That image is so heart-wrenching of you talking with your mother in the nursery of your first child, with tears dripping down your face because your mother could not hear you. I know that feeling so very well.
I am so happy you have come to peace with your memories of your mother. Each of us has to find our way.
I have heard that sentiment before, that a mother had done the best she could. It is not up to me to judge whether Mem did the best she could, because the mother-wound is the same whether she did or didn’t. The answer to whether she loved me, is that I know she did when I was little. However, once I began showing signs of having a life of my own, I have to say the answer to that question is, “I don’t know.”
I agree, “To go through life with bitterness, anger, or sadness only hurts us and the people we love most.” However, I believe for those of us who sustained a mother-wound, the emphasis should be on healing more than on forgiveness, because the ultimate goal is to heal the wounds by working through the bitterness, anger, and sadness. As one of my counselors used to say, “Sometimes the only way out is through.” Healing is essential to thrive in our lives by living in accord with our purpose.
I find forgiveness comes much more naturally from a healing heart than from a wounded one.
May you also find peace and understanding. And thank you again for your thoughts and your story.
Saloma, I have nearly completed your first book Why I Left The Amish. I have to thank you for the courage to write about your past, I have not the courage to even speak of my horrendously torturous childhood. Your openness brings to me some healing and comfort that I have never received in my 66 years and I thank you for that.
I look forward to reading your other books too. Know that you have made a difference.
Suz, I am so sorry to hear about your childhood and I am glad that my life story brings you some healing and comfort. May you find the courage to speak of your experiences, even if only to the people whom you trust the most. I find it so healing to receive validation and understanding. The other day, I was with my dear friend, Marie, who is 88 and has been my support and surrogate mother as I work through these issues. I was telling her how much I appreciate the understanding, the kinship, and the love that she gives me. She said something so achingly beautiful: “This is what you should have had your whole life.”
I pass this one to you, in case it helps remind you for the same.
Thank you so much for letting me know I’ve made a difference. It means more than I can say.
I wish you peace and understanding.
Saloma, Like me, you’ve written your story because it has helped to bring you peace. For me, I needed to put words to paper in order to organize the chaos that was going through my head. It brought balance and a different perspective. Our minds jump all over the place and putting our thoughts in writing brings us new perspectives when we go back and read what we’ve written.
We’ve also written our stories because we have something important to say and there are many out in the world who need to hear them, so that they might bring some perspective to their own lives.
I know your book will be an important one. Keep on writing!!
Joan, you are right… this has helped bring me peace. I found a quote today that I just love. It’s be Flannery O’Connor: “I write to discover what I know.” This is what you say, that it brings a new perspective. I agree wholeheartedly.
Thanks for your support, Joan. I will be introducing your book to my readers soon. So glad you wrote it… you are one of my role models for having the courage to write about an abusive mother.
I wish you a successful launch for “Scattering Ashes” — in just 4 days!
Would it be accurate to say that Joe had more lifes experiences with your Datt as compared to your mem? What would say the percentage would be? Was it Joe (on his own) that caused/said/did the standing offense with you? I would be happy to give you much more input from a boy/mans perspective if you wish…either way and no matter what it would be better for Joe to face the truth. All people should be accountable to think about the truth first and foremost because the wishy washy stuff tends to get in the way – cause confusion and excuses… of the truth. Do you remember all that preaching on Matthew 18:15-17? In my experience I have never gone as far as to go to “the church” but the first part certainly affirms saying the TRUTH to your Mem/Datt/brother/sister etc.! As far as the good ole “turn the other cheek” if the brother hears the truth and avoids addressing it with the truth…I would indeed turn the other cheek AND WALK AWAY…(peace will go with YOU) and leave them/him with the truth. (unlike what we were taught turning the other cheek does NOT mean we should be as “doormats”)
I think I understand the feelings you get when rug braiding…whenever I do anything here at the farm using one of my fathers old tools i get a really different feeling than when i am using one of my own hand tools. What may be kinda strange to some people, I can tell you one thing for sure, when I am actually on the land I get an even closer feeling toward the creator than even my father and I really appreciate this. My creator made this beautiful land for many, many of my forefathers not just my Datt and me. Time marches on!
With regards to the healing process, some have compared it to the 5 stages of grieving a death…I agree with the separate identified stages of grieving but I completely disagree with the order. One thing for sure, if one has trouble keeping track or making sense of things journalling/ even writing a diary of thoughts can really help, 1. not only getting to the TRUTH, but 2. being able to use hindsight wisdom on ones owns thoughts to organize a better and more positive position moving forward.
We Amish and Mennonites were taught to remove/eliminate ones “self” from the situation and to “take on the life of the family and the group” rather than having too much freedom…if one has any independent thinking at all, this does NOT work very well since I believe more than anything, getting to the truth while seeking inner peace goes hand in hand. Anything we are working on must be true and so we cannot avoid freewill, because everyone has it including most importantly the “one with the upper hand” Our Bible says that “the truth will make us free” and I believe this with all my heart. Saloma, I believe you and David are on the right path. My dearest friend always tells me “keep taking baby steps FORWARD” even if once in a while you have to look back just a little as you are gaining strength. The truth is always valid, and when most are either naive, in denial or disrespect it, THE TRUTH becomes even more important! Seek the Truth Speak the truth and Never give it up.
Delmar, Joe was clearly in cahoots with Mem… his whole life long. He regarded my father with disdain. Mem had basically plugged him into the role of her emotional partner, so he and Datt were adversaries, essentially.
I wholeheartedly agree that the healing process is going through the five stages of grief… I have said this many times, and I’m also with you on the order of them. I wonder if those vary depending on the culture?
Yes, the elimination of the self. I know all about this concept. Yet some people became self-centered and gained control and power over others, leaving little room for the rest of us to form our own.
I absolutely agree with you about speaking the truth… at least my truth. My siblings seem to have a whole different set of truths.
Thank you very much for your support in this journey we call life!
wow i am surprised to hear that about Joe AND Mem. personally my only brother was also closer with mem than datt, but in our family dynamics my datt was an awesome datt and Christian/Mennonite and when push came to shove I “fought for my father” like crazy and we got things straightened out BEFORE mem and datt died. Most of the boys/men from our background have a much closer bond with Datt than Mem (unlike what the English/worldly society say in their sociology and psychology). Another thing that seems a bit unique (in the Amish/Mennonite world) to me is that your Mem sounds like she was the person who had “the control” of things in your family…maybe it was that she was so much smarter and stronger than Datt??? Oh this would sure have caused some issues that other families around you would not have had so much trouble with…The more I understand your situation, the more it is evident that there were multiple layers of very unique dynamics at work and in fact in many areas it seems like you were more Amish than your Mem and Datt and Joe is some ways. I think this is one of the main reasons it would be very difficult to rationalize and adjust to the situation you innocently found yourself in. In addition to all this all the so called norms in the 5 stages of grief would also be thrown completely outta wack, etc. I would have to admit that you had/have a much more difficult set of dynamics to work through then most. The good news is I can discern that both you and David are “real pilgims” and no matter what anyone else says or does…the Truth will make you free! as well.
Saloma, your voice isn’t small any more!!!! I’m so proud of you for being so brave. For discovering your own personal way of healing your heart and doing it regardless of what your family may have to say about it. Your right, you have to have a healing of some kind in order to forgive and we all have to go about it in our own way. Yours is by writing and sharing with other’s. You are choosing to listen to your heart rather then allowing other’s to silence it. I believe you were meant to write these books, to give you healing and perhaps to help other’s do the same. Your planting seeds of hope.
Pamela, thank you very so kindly for your support. Whenever I need it, I know I can count on you.
I think you just brought something to light for me. Perhaps I have allowed others to silence me for too long and that is part of the impetus for writing this story.
Yes, I am convinced that healing and forgiveness are intertwined. You cannot have one without the other.
You have your own way of planting seeds of hope, Pamela. I hope you know how much it means to have your support.
Have a joyful weekend!
Seeing you in the video made me squirm. I wanted to run to you and rescue you. I felt like I was in a room with my grandmother again trying to keep peace so she wouldn’t criticize me, berate me, or make me feel like a bad person.
I remember once she told me I should send a thank you note to her friend for something she gave me. I don’t even remember what it was. I was in the midst of all sorts of upheaval in my life and all she could see was how her friend would view her. It was always about her.
I wrote her a letter because I knew what her response would be-to cry and carry on and be the victim who only wants what’s best for everyone. She would shut me up. A letter was more gentle to myself. I simply asked her in the letter to allow me to send thank you notes when I felt the need to. Mind you, this “suggestion” of hers was one small straw on the camel’s weary back.
She was livid! She would not address me by name on her response letter she was so angry. And, of course, she did exactly as I knew she would. Between the lines of her words the letter read, “How dare you contradict me!” “How dare you be disloyal to me.” In a nutshell, “How dare you be you.”
I still feel anger about the pain my grandmother inflicted. She never asked me for forgiveness. She never humbled herself or looked at her behaviors. She went to the grave acting cold towards me. She was a mean person sometimes.
But I’ve learned a lot through the years. Who I am to God. What my responsibility is toward myself and others. That I sin and act mean sometimes. That I can say “I’m sorry.” That in Heaven there is perfection.
Fran, I know the behavior you are speaking of… so very well. I am so sorry your grandmother did not treat you like you had a self or celebrate you for who you were. It sounds to me like you managed to maintain a self (and self-dignity) in spite of her self-centered behavior. Good for you!
I have several letters like that from Mem, when I dared criticize her. It was like one of her slaps across my face when I was growing up. A slap in the face is so symbolic of someone attempting to annihilate the “self.”
You are absolutely right, none of us are perfect. But most of us are able to sincerely say “I’m sorry” when we have been thoughtless or temporarily mean. That makes all the difference.
Thank you, Fran, for your thoughts and comments.
a offensive slap across the face (and discipline with NO LOVE) is a sin no matter what group one is in.
Hi Saloma, I have just finished both of your books and have just found your blog. I can’t wait for your new book to come out. You have had a hard life and I am so glad you found true love with David. What an incredible journey you’ve had. Thank you for sharing your story with us. I, like you, have always had to ask “too” many questions about everything which can be good at times or bad, depending on the people you ask. This is a question for you, I don’t know if you’ve already answered it on your blog as I’m still going through posts, and please don’t feel that you need to answer it at all, but has your brother Joe ever read your books and was he ever held legally responsible for any of his abuses? It’s one of those “questions” that lingered in my mind while reading your books. God Bless you and keep being the strong woman that other women look up to.
Connie, thank you so much for reading my books and finding this blog. I appreciate your compliments as well.
I am so glad David and I are able to share our lives with one another. I honestly cannot imagine what my life would have been like without him.
I do not know whether Joe has read my books. My guess is that he has because he would want to assess the “damage” to his reputation. On the other hand, he may be playing the martyr, and have them convinced that he is innocent, or that he’s had a change of heart. I have not had any contact with him since my sister, Lizzie, died in 2009, two years before my first book came out.
No, Joe has not been held legally responsible. I would have to be the one to do so. The only other family member who would have been so inclined was Lizzie. I would be taking on my whole community in the process because they would support Joe. As would my other siblings.
Thank you, Connie, for comments and questions.
Saloma, it might not be that you do things the hard way…it is that Mem thinks you do things the hard way. Do you think you do things the hard way? Does David think you do things the hard way? I see you as having the courage to be yourself and the sense to see injustice and do something about it.
Here is another quote from Claudia Black, PhD: “Forgiveness is not forgetting; it is remembering and letting go. It is a cleansing of your pain and anger. It does not mean selling your heart, soul, or integrity to have peace.” That cleansing of the pain and anger has its own timetable, unique to each individual. That is OK.
I wasn’t able to watch the video–it kept stopping, and then I’d start it back up only to have it stop again. I will try again in a few days.
Thank you for sharing your life.
Denise, I think I have always needed to do things my own way. Mem interpreted that as “the hard way.” When SHE already had it all figured out, and all I had to do was do things HER way. This would include being quiet about the injustices in my life, and later about my past… if I just keep the same secrets she kept, at least her life would have been easier.
Mem was right about one thing… honesty is hard work. It requires looking truth in the face and dealing with it, even when it isn’t pleasant. Mem could never seem to do that. And I could never do what she did.
I think Mem often tried to make me a carbon copy of herself. All her life. And she couldn’t. She saw that as a failure of her motherhood, which is so sad.
I love that quote, “remembering and letting go.” That last part comes after the healing, I think.
You may have an outdated player, which could be the reason you aren’t able to view the video.
Thank you so much for your thoughtful questions and comments.
I hope you have a joyful week.
Do you know what kind of a player is needed for the video?
It does seem like “remembering and letting go” comes after the healing, and possibly over and over again. We will always remember, I think.
I called Apple Care and learned that Safari doesn’t work with some things. So downloaded Google Chrome and I am able to listen to the video. I see that you were “shut down” in this conversation with Mem.
Denise, I’m glad you were able to solve the problem. I use Firefox for things like this.
Let’s just say this… it was not going to be okay for me to say I didn’t want to visit Joe. My actions show that more than Mem’s do, I think.
I agree with your earlier comment… we will always remember.
Have a wonderful week!
I feel sad for you that you couldn’t be honest and say that you didn’t want to visit Joe.
in light of this introduction I feel VERY curious about the life lessons you learned from Mem.
Denise, I would be now. At the time, I was still unaware how I was being manipulated sometimes.
I’m so glad you are interested in the book. I will keep everyone updated on its progress.
One difference between your Mem and mine is, Mom could not die until I returned home one last time after being told she never wants to see me again. It was then that she asked if I can forgive her for the ways she used me? When I told her I have already forgiven her, the tears ran down her face and she said, “Maybe now I can die.” Ten days later she died in peace. Although we made peace, it took years to deal with her abuse and heal.
Katie, that is so heart-wrenching. How hurtful that your mother didn’t want to see you. What a loss for you AND her. Honestly, Katie, you are one of my favorite people in the whole world… how could she do that?
I am glad that you were able to reconcile with your mother. This may sound harsh, but it almost sounds like it was about her… so she could die in peace. Was she at all concerned about your healing, I wonder?
I can imagine that it took years to heal from this. I keep thinking I have healed from my Mem issues, and then I find there are more layers. I discovered another one while writing this book.
May you continue to find peace, love, and understanding, Katie. God Bless you!
No, Mom knew nothing about healing. She never healed from her childhood. I doubt that my grandparents healed from the abuse they received.
And so it goes, on down the generations, doesn’t it? That is the conclusion I came to, though Mem vehemently denied she was ever abused. The latest discoveries I made make it so plain that she was.
Thank you for your insights, Katie.
Saloma, There is a website called “Out of the Fog and this is most helpful in understanding people with severe personality problems. Because the amish do have a history of marrying someone too closely related many generations, this is the reason for a lot of the compulsive behavior patterns. It seems to run in some families more than others. Thanks so much for sharing your journey with your Mem. Also the comments and replies have been most helpful. I have been struggling with how to deal with my feelings towards my mother and her behavior towards me, and how she functioned and also how she related to the outside world. It has taken me a long time to be able to understand and give it a proper place. I am now 73 and I am finally done with it. I have at last found peace and understanding.