Bending Toward the Sun by Leslie Gilbert-Lurie is a new memoir out this fall that delves into an interesting concept of whether one person’s emotional trauma can be inherited, in a sense, by their children and grandchildren. Little Rita Lurie lived through the Holocaust hidden in a tiny dark attic, near starving with fourteen other family members. She watched her mother and brother die and after the war wandered for years with the rest of her family looking for a country that would accept them. Many years later, in California, Lurie’s grown up and successful daughter probed into her mother’s childhood and discovered the fear and guilt that remained embedded in her character, and despite a deep mother’s love for her children, the effect of the pain was passed on to her daughter and filtered down even to her granddaughter. Bending Toward the Sun is now on my reading list.
Writing my own mother’s memoir, Cherry Blossoms in Twilight, I also discovered how her childhood pain and trauma permanently affected her, and thus my sister and I. When painful emotions do not heal well, the wounds can affect one’s whole outlook on the world as well as everyday behavior. The parent cannot help but pass on that outlook and behavior to the children. It takes a recognition of the negative thoughts and actions, a willingness to face what has caused them, and an ability to come to peace with them for the ghosts to be laid to rest, allowing a sense of freedom from the past and an openness towards other people and the future. That kind of awareness is rare, unless it is pointed out by someone. The desire and courage to confront the devil is rarer still. And it takes an aware child to recognize aspects of their parent’s behavior that they do not want to duplicate themselves and a lot of determination to be able to resist the strong temptation of that behavior. Our life threads are so entwined.
This inheriting of pain should give us all a stronger urge to settle with our past so that we can live a brighter future ourselves and free our families from the monkey on our back. A good start is to write it all down.