Oct 01 2007

Letting Go

Posted by Jane Devin

at 9:43 pm under Other Writings, Human Interest

All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.   - Havelock Ellis

I like to remember her as a little girl shakily racing down Valmar Place, wearing my roller skates, (three sizes too big for her tiny feet), screaming my name in excitement.  She didn’t know how to stop, but she knew I’d catch her – sweep her up like the little doll she was to me – and plant a kiss on her sweet little moon-shaped face.

Regaining her four year-old dignity, she’d wobble on the sidewalk holding onto my arm with both hands.  For every step I took forward, she would slide back a foot, and I’d pull her ahead, proud of the strength in my eight year-old arms; enormously proud to be a big sister.

“Did you bring my private milk?” she’d ask.  Yes, I’d say, of course.  The small red carton of Meadow Gold from my school lunch (private because it served only one), was always Deborah’s.  I detested milk almost as much as I detested school, which was always slow torment for me – a place where the clock was a medieval torture wheel, and all the adults tended to sound like the whawhawaha teacher on Charlie Brown.  I preferred my punishments to be swift, so I could get back to the really important things, like imagining what a colony on Mars might look like, or wondering if finding an Indian boy on my Tootsie Pop wrapper would really get me a free one from the store. 

No matter how much my mind wandered though, my thoughts were never too far from Deborah.  I felt responsible for my little twig of a sister, as protective as any mother, except our own.  When her dark eyes filled with tears, my heart broke in equal measure.  When her arms reached for me, I reflexively picked her up.  When she had a bad dream and stood by the side of my bed, I pulled back the covers so she could crawl in next to me.

I potty-trained her, taught her to read and write, taught her how to dance to Proud Mary like an Ikette – and then I left home at 16 on a sudden desperate whim, without saying goodbye.  She never did forgive me.  When I saw her two years later she was an angry, scowling fourteen year old.

“I slept with your picture under my pillow,” she seethed. “I had to wonder every day if you were dead.”  Her words filled me with shame.  I wanted to scoop her up like I used to, kiss that angry moon-shaped face, and tell her how sorry I was over and over again. “Leave me alone,” she said.

And eventually I did.  I had to.  Years did not mend the divide, no apology would suffice, and the little girl I loved deeply and then selfishly abandoned as a teenager turned into someone I did not recognize.  A woman steeped in rage, and full of violence.  Blackouts, excuses, justifications, no help sought, wanted, or thought to be needed.  She had become a woman not unlike our mother.  In my eighth month of pregnancy, with no argument preceeding it, just a sullen mood, Deborah suddenly kicked me in the stomach.  I was stunned, but luckily not physically hurt.

I let go of my baby sister after that, and the pain was sharp and deep.  I felt an enormous amount of guilt and shame for abandoning her, and blamed myself for causing the anger that seemed to spark all of her other furies.

Yet when I held my newborn daughter in my arms for the first time, and felt that immense rush of love swell my heart, I knew – and I promised her – that I would never let the hand of violence take any part of her childhood.  I knew – and promised – that I would protect her from anyone who might cause her harm.

I kept that promise, and the sharp pain of disconnecting from Deborah eventually turned into a dull ache, and finally into a place where only the fondest thoughts are kept as sentimental keepsakes.  I can remember her, us, and realize now we were both little girls. . .with separate minds and free will, who traveled different roads as adults.

I was, at one time, my sister’s keeper. I am now the keeper of sisterhood memories, and I choose to remember my sister as a sweet moon-faced girl with her head thrown back in laughter, and her dark eyes full of love and hope.  I choose to remember a time when my arms were strong enough to help pull her along the path. 

The last time I saw Deborah, we were both in our 30’s.  She was still angry. 

Have you ever had to let someone you loved go in order to keep your own life healthy?   A toxic family member, a loved one, a friend?   If so, why?  Do you have any regrets, or are you still comfortable with your decision?

37 responses so far

37 Responses to “Letting Go”

  1. Julieon 01 Oct 2007 at 10:23 pm 1

    I hope you can someday reconcile with your little sister. I was my sister’s Deborah. I adored her until the day she died. She left our midwest home in the middle of the night after waking me to tell me to take care of her stuffed panda (which I was rarely allowed to touch with my dirty little hands). When I awoke the next morning I learned that she was gone. My mother cried and made me promise I would never leave and my father sat on the front porch glider and said nothing. It was sometime later that I learned my sister had gone to California. There’s more, much more . . . but please reach out to Deborah as my sister, Connie, did to me. I was angry, I was rebellious, my life basically sucked. But, Connie never let me keep her away, even after she had three children of her own. She was the one constant in my life. I’m now 54 years old. Connie passed away nearly 10 years ago and a day never goes by that I don’t miss my “big” sister. I am so thankful that she never let me abandon her.

    Violence made the decision for me, Julie. It sounds like your sister Connie was very special. I’m sorry for your loss. - Jane

  2. Luckyon 01 Oct 2007 at 11:43 pm 2

    Jane, it sounds like she truly was reaching out for help of some kind. I do not know what haunted her to do the things she did. But the love of a sister can never be replaced. When was the last time you spoke to her? Not sure, I probably would have done the same thing, at least for a long time until she got the help she needed. She sounds so troubled. My sister and I have had some pretty good rumbles in the years, but nothing so disturbing as that.

  3. Lonnieon 02 Oct 2007 at 12:05 am 3

    She sounds bipolar? Such a hard decision, but when people won’t get the help that they need, and believe they don’t need help, and nothing can sway them, what can you do but save yourself……and hope that eventually they’ll come around to seeking assistance. And if they won’t forgive you, no matter how many times you’ve apologized, you cannot keep feeling guilty.

    I had a boyfriend in college, my first real love. I thought I was going to marry him. He was terrific in every way except one. He was completely possessive and jealous. He said it was because a prior gf cheated on him, but I didn’t think that was the whole picture, more his personality. He ALWAYS had to know where I was, who I was with, where I was going. I tried working with him on this issue for two years…he’d always promise he’d get better about it and never did.

    I didn’t want to live my life under his microscope, although in every other way we were totally compatible. Breaking up with him was hard, but yes I think i made the right decision and I don’t regret it.

  4. Pattyon 02 Oct 2007 at 6:18 am 4

    It seems like all I have ever done is “let go” in order to survive. It stems back to when my father left me when I was 8 (1955), then my mother and brother shut the door on me at the age of 37, their choice. Although there was no valid reason for them to do this as it was all over my son who was in high school at the time and my mother expected my son to take her to the hospital to see my brother. The strange part is, she never called him to ask him, and I nor my son didn’t even know he was in the hospital.

    I lived down the street from my mother, who opened the door for my brother to live there. He was 38 at the time and on drugs and an alcoholic. It was so hard for me as I would be outside walking my dog and my mother would pass me on the sidewalk and I would say “hi Mom” and she ignored me like I was totally invisible. She did the same to my son, who worked weekends where my mother worked.

    I cried and cried for many years, and finally pretended I had my mother and brother in a chair and told them what I thought of them. I felt better, but the pain in my heart just never mended.

    I forgave my father around 1987 when I visited him at his graveside. He had been gone 11 years by then and I walked up to his grave and knelt down and my life poured out into tears all over his plaque in the ground. From that day forward he became my father again in thought only and I reached out to him when I needed support.

    I never did get to see my mother or brother again as my mother past away in 2005. I didn’t know it until 4 months later when my brother called me to tell me. By this time I didn’t even recognize his voice, I didn’t remember what I called him … did I call him Robert, Bob or Bobby. Nothing seems comfortable when I spoke his name. He called to tell me my mother died 4 months earlier AND to top it all off, her last words were “don’t tell your sister.”

    Even though I got to a point to accept what my mother and brother did, when you hear these words, it goes back to when my mother closed the door on me in 1986.

    I did speak with my brother often over 5 months but the problem was he was stuck back to where he was 20 years ago. He never grew, had the same issues except he did stop drinking and drugs. Unfortunately I couldn’t connect with him any longer OR perhaps it was fear he would harm me again. We stopped talking again 5 months from the day he called me about my mother. IF only he would have allowed me to express to him what I felt over the last 20 plus years, maybe things would have be different. But I wasn’t allowed to and had to “suck” it all up.

    This past February (2007), I received a phone call from an attorney notifying me that my brother past away. My brother was 60 1/2 years old. He died in a charity hospital all alone, and he too told everyone he had no family. His death nearly destroyed me as we were only 15 months apart and I never, ever stopped loving my brother.

    Letting go, well this isn’t how it really is at all. You don’t truly ever let go. There is always something that reminds you and with me, I have my mother’s hands and they follow me wherever I go. The thoughts of my brother are still very raw as I can hear his voice in my head.

    There is nothing left of my mother as I found out after my brother past that my mother was cremated and scattered over the Atlantic Ocean. My brother’s body went to “science” and more than likely he too will be scattered over the Atlantic.

    Letting go is not all that I deal with at nearly 60, I deal with abandonment issues as everyone in my life goes away. Not sure which hurts more, letting go or being abandon.

    I do have a son, soon to be 40 and my greatest fear is he will move out of the state I live in and I will be all alone.

    Someday I would love to write a book about me and my life but haven’t got a clue how to start. Although finding your website Jane … is a wonderful gift to me as I connected to you.

    Thank you for the opportunity to respond to your article and what you have experienced in your own family with your sister.

  5. Saraon 02 Oct 2007 at 6:41 am 5

    It sounds to me like you did what you had to do. Your leaving didn’t cause her to become an angry, scowing 14 year old, or ” a woman steeped in rage, and full of violence. Blackouts, excuses, justifications, no help sought, wanted, or thought to be needed.”

    Sure, she might have been mad at you for a while, for leaving, but I think ALL 14 year olds are scowling and miserable. haha I’m sure I was.

    And in no way can you feel guilty for her actions as an adult. Sounds like she has an illness, and you can’t blame yourself for it. If her actions are uncontrollable, such as kicking you in the stomach, you were right to protect your daughter. Unfortunately, too many women are in dangerous situations, and don’t/can’t leave to protect their children, and themselves.

    Obviously we don’t know all the details, but you might try reaching out to her (if you haven’t) to see if you can get her help. I have a friend with a schizo brother, and their life was turned upside down, her whole life. It would have been so much easier and safer if they could have cut him out of it. I have a toxic cousin, and have cut out some toxic or mentally draining friends. You have to, to protect your self, your mental health, (and your kids). And from what I understood, it sounds like you left at 16 to protect yourself from someone at home (your mom?).

    *shrug* All we can do in life, is do what we feel is right, and try to live without regret.

  6. Freidaon 02 Oct 2007 at 8:57 am 6

    Dear Jane,
    Patty could write a book and she doesn’t even know it, or she does, but knows how much real, hard work that really takes.
    I would love to read her book, or maybe just her comments.
    This is a very ‘affordable’ way to write, and tell a story…through you…dear Jane.
    I love to come here and read the comments, although I may not like alll the ‘threads.’
    Our libraries are filled with trees, and it’s nice to think, maybe we can eventually save them.
    Money seems to me, to be at the ‘root’ of all jeoulousy, and hatred, and maybe your sister was jeoulous and I know she probably ‘felt’ self hatred and took that envy out on you.
    She was, or is, probably a good person at heart, at least I would like to think most people are.
    Containing our emotion, and finding ways to vent them, like coming here…is so nice.
    There’s always hope…that money can’t buy, and reaching out to those like me.
    Please don’t ever give up, on your sister…she is hurting inside and lacks self control, and so, do I, and many others.
    People often hurt others when they are trying or ‘feeling’ that hurt within themselves.
    And, often they, and me, find it so difficult to work and please others…because it just hurts so bad…inside.
    There’s always hope…and expressing it…and getting lots of excercise…and having an outlet for all that energy is so good.
    Especially when we feel tired, or tried, or worn, or unworthy.
    Love Always,

  7. Jonion 02 Oct 2007 at 9:12 am 7


    I was the one who was “left go” by my older sisters. They never seemed to want a “baby” sister, for some reason. They actually resented me and never grew out of that resentment. My one sister who was eight when I was crawling on the floor was told by my mother to pick up a broken vase on the floor, before I could get cut. Well she wouldn’t pick it up and I did get a gash on my forehead. She told me (not too many years ago) she felt guilty that she had deliberately let that happen. This same sister, has done really mean things to me since we’ve grown up. She tried her best to break up my marriage, shortly after I had married. People who know her very well, have told me she is very jealous and I was too blind (or stupid) to see that.

    The one who was only 3 years older than me, treated me so hatefully all my life. She tormented me through out all our “growing up” years. I’ve never felt like a part of my family and still don’t, and they haven’t changed in all these years. Actually, I don’t know why I even want to belong to them. It’s strange, but she is the one I felt closest to all these years, even though we’re not. My oldest sister, is almost 20 years older than me and had already left home and moved away, so I never felt any kind of bond with her.

    Whenever they hold some “family” event, I get called at the last minute, to join and most times don’t even get called at all. It’s far easier for me to stay away than to join in anyway.

    My father, who stayed away as much as possible, because he didn’t want any of us, told my sister, a couple of years before he died, about how mean she was to me when we were growing up. She later told me that. I didn’t even know he knew how she treated me, since he wasn’t around that much. When she told me this, she said, “I bet you hate me” and I told her, no I don’t, that she is my sister and I love her. Then she repeated the same thing to me again, and I told her again, that I loved her.

    I’ve always wanted so desperately to “belong” to my family, but I guess I never will. I sometimes wonder why I even want to belong to them when they’ve caused nothing but pain and still do.

    Jane, please don’t blame yourself for how your sister feels. She would probably have grown to feel that way whether you had left or not. It probably has nothing to do with your leaving her. You did what you had to do and she was lucky to have had such a loving sister for as long as she did. You sound like the kind of sister I would love to have. If she is still living, I hope she remembers how you “mothered” her. If she is still living, I hope you can “find” each other again.

  8. powerful1on 02 Oct 2007 at 12:18 pm 8

    Jane, I’m not sure if your sister is bipolar or not but I was recently diagnosed as bipolar. It is important to know that few bipolar patients are dangerous so there is no need to feel physically threatened. If your sister decides to seek treatment by a health care professional the disruptions to normal family life will be minimized. A good doctor will be able to prescribe the proper medication based on her symptoms. Between monitoring the effects of the medications with the changes in her personality the disruptions to normal family life will be minimized.

    Disruptions are more likely if the person has not yet been diagnosed, or misdiagnosed, or for whatever reason doesn’t take the prescribed medications. I can tell you since I have been taking my medications I feel like a new person.
    The best course of action for any support team is to seek help as soon as possible if the behavior of the individual is beyond what could be considered reasonable or normal even if the individual denies there being anything wrong and sees nothing unusual in their behavior.

    Help them to identify triggers i.e. stressful life events that are likely to spark the episodes of mania or depression. These might be memories of events like deaths, anniversaries, traumas, or the like. Keep a record of such events in their journal and learn to insulate your bipolar family member from them.
    Living with bipolar disorder requires fighting not only your own irritation but also, and more importantly, the fears of the bipolar person. They have a craving for being in control of situations, which is rooted in their fear of losing control and the attention of the family. With a lot of patience love and care family and friends can help abate these fears and provide help and support in social situations.

    Manic episodes with psychotic features like hallucinations (voices, sounds etc) can occur with bipolar 1 individuals. What seems real to the patient might be construed as nonsense or lies to others. It is important to understand that “reality” is different for the sufferer who is simply recalling the experience as perceived. Acceptance of this relativism of reality goes a long way to curbing anger in such situations.

    Individuals who happen to have Bipolar disorder can lead full and productive lives with the correct treatment, a positive attitude, a sense of humor, and a great support system of friends and family.

  9. Elaineon 02 Oct 2007 at 2:31 pm 9

    I can empathize, in my own way, with your situation regarding your sister.
    I think that all too often we are taught to believe that it is completely reprehensible to let go of someone who we are closely related to. Blood is thicker than water right?
    There is a lot of social pressure to fix it (or at least pretend it’s great!), shame when you are the “ender”, and tremendous guilt for leaving someone with whom the same genetics are shared, especially when we know they have some serious emotional issues.
    In my case I have somewhat ceased my relationship with my parents based on religion and how theirs causes she and my father to behave self righteous and tell everyone they know how disgusted they are by some of my life choices.
    It wasn’t violence, or even my lack of love for them, that made me end it. I realized that without some basic human acceptance to my wishes and their blatant refusal to end the toxic comments to both my children and I, I knew I would never be able to move forward as my real self unless I moved on through life with out them.
    I believe that once I let go of the fear that I should be somehow condone their behavior for my children to have grandparents, or because the commandments in my religion told me to, or simply because they were my DNA contributors, I was able to gain confidence enough to “left the dove fly” so to speak.
    There were no harsh words, in fact I still speak to them, but in my heart, I let them pass already. I don’t wish them dead but they don’t carry any weight emotionally with me now either. And it’s okay. I accept that for me it’s the best way to stay on track and real.
    If you don’t do what’s right for you to maintain your good attitude and wellness, and if you don’t protect your children from the badness or scrutiny that they didn’t ask for, then who will!


  10. Beverly F.on 02 Oct 2007 at 5:29 pm 10

    When my sister and I were young, I felt like you did. I was so happy and loved my younger sister so much. She was beautiful to me and I told her that I would always be there for her and take care of her. I am five years older.

    My sister and I have had a turbulent relationship at times but we were too far apart (Washington DC for me and Cali for her) to realize that we wouldn’t get along great if we ever had to deal with each other day to day. She moved to the Midwest where I live a few years ago. We got along for about 3 months and then didn’t speak to each other for two years. She decided she needed to get away from me and couldn’t “deal” with me. It hurt me really bad. I was changed forever, because I always thought my sister would be one of the “Top 5″ for me. The “Top 5″ to me are the five people that I would call and have to talk to if something important happened in my life.

    During the two years that we were not talking, I ranted to both my parents about it. I was so unhappy and really wanted to “fix” the relationship. It was very difficult because family functions were not the same and it broke my heart to see her around and be snubbed.

    I told her all along if she ever wanted to try and fix things, we could meet for lunch just the two of us and discuss our situation. I refused to do it over the phone or email. We met for dinner and talked for a couple of hours. I asked her if she would be willing to go to counseling to fix our problems because we couldn’t seem to fix it by ourself. She was willing. We went to see a therapist for about 3 months and since then have been able to get along. It makes things so much better for the both of us and my expectations (being the caretaker and the “fixer”) were understand and her expectations (of being seen as an equal and not a “baby” sister) were met as well.

    So far, so good. We have been okay for about a year and a half. Things have changed tremendously. The realization that life would never be as I anticipated it with my sister but that we could have a relationship that works for us, is a nice relief.

    The hardest thing about it all is that someone has to be the bigger person. The person that says, “I really want to fix this” and “What can I do to make this relationship work, because it is really important to me” and “I am sorry for what I did to hurt you”. I guess if you try all that and still are rebuffed it probably hurts pretty bad. I was lucky that didn’t happen.

    I do believe family is the most important thing for me. Of course, there are certain things that can’t be overcome, like violence, abuse, drugs, etc. But if a relationship can be built, I always am ready to look honestly at my faults and what I can do to relate differently and help heal the situation.

  11. VIVIANon 02 Oct 2007 at 7:19 pm 11

    Having read Janes articles, and talked to her in chat and on the board, there is one thing I am very sure of. Jane did what she had to do . for HER and Her Daughter. She lived it and i would bet her first thought was to protect her unborn baby,. Jane had no way of knowing what her sister would do after the baby was born. And she wanted to take no chances with her Child. She promised to her self to keep that baby safe, and that is what she did. If more abused woman who have husbands or others around who abuse them , if they had the guts to do what Jane did, there would be a lot more safer children in this world. i bet that was one of the easiest decisions she has ever made. it would have been for me

  12. allisonon 02 Oct 2007 at 10:13 pm 12

    Your article has got me broken up.
    I am torn in different directions by it, here’s why.
    I lost my only sibling, my baby sister in 1993.
    I was 7 years older, it was just us two, so like you.
    She was 27, 4 months pregnant at the time, murdered by her drug addicted spouse who then turned the gun on himself.
    My husband and I immediately took the three little babies and raised them with our own two daughters. They were only 4,3, and 5 months. We did the best we could, we healed, we loved, we sought counseling. Our son (the three year-old), was clearly a drug baby, and I now believe suffered a degree of autism as well. There were just so many things going on with him, Lying, stealing from everyone in the family, bizarre behavior, he had ticks, adhd, it was a nightmare. We loved him, tried to help him, he hasn’t got the ability to love us. On top of his organic problems which he was born with, he suffers post traumatic stress from the loss of his parents, my sister in particular.He was so devoted and attached to her, I believe somewhere inside he knew she would be gone soon. Gone in an instant. We have have struggled with the fact that he couldn’t even attend a full day of school without being a total disruption. I would drop him off, and my phone would be ringing to come get him before I could even get back home. Of course then it became bigger problems as he got older. Getting arrested 10 times sent to Juvenile Hall 7 times, including finally being removed for a four month program. He has never in 15 years been able to feel any remorse or regret for any of the horrible things he’s done. We are $6000.00 in debt with his fines. Our house is full of holes in the walls where he has kicked or punched them, a scorch mark on the side where he made a homemade blowtorch one day. Oh it just doesn’t end.
    I know that he loved his mom. But he can’t now. He is a sociopath. Counseling has not helped him because he refuses to cooperate, he sees nothing wrong with himself at all.
    He has no relationship with any of us, including his two actual sisters. He chooses to make the street thugs his family. His anger and rage was directed at my husband and I.
    He knew we were going to evict him in a few months when he turned 18. We had no choice, for our own survival. He left four months ago, and I know he won’t be back.
    I will always feel sad and guilty that we could not make him believe we love him.
    A mother doesn’t get over these things. But he does not want our love. I fear he will be dead or in prison eventually.
    As someone who has lost the only sister I had, My heart cries out to you, go to her, you don’t want to lose your little sis,
    But as someone who has suffered the complete rejection of someone I wanted to love and protect, and now I can clearly see, he must walk his path alone, I do really understand letting go.
    Oh Jane, life is tough

  13. A.P.on 02 Oct 2007 at 10:39 pm 13

    It was self preservation and desperation, not selfish abandonment. You did what you had to do! I imagine a hungry, cold 16 year old (my son will turn 16 in February) with nowhere to go, no money, no employment, no family or home and it breaks my heart Jane. Maybe you had a relative’s or friend’s home you went to , but the reality is that there are literally thousands of teens who have run away from home for similar reasons and are living on the streets barely getting by. You rose above it and became the strong, caring, nurturing mom, friend, writer you are today.

  14. A.P.on 02 Oct 2007 at 11:05 pm 14

    Teen runaway statistics:


  15. Jane Devinon 02 Oct 2007 at 11:35 pm 15

    I’m amazed at the courage shown in these stories.

    Patty, heartbreaking story about family hurting family, and how deep those wounds go. Writing is cathartic. You can start with a journal….check out Journal Revolution. Or read “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg to get started on your journey. Once you start, you’ll be surprised at how the words flow.

    Lucky, I last spoke to Deborah about 15 years ago. She had only gotten worse. Through the sparse family grapevine I have, that trend has continued. I’ve learned that I value my peace more than I value blood relationships, and choose to make family instead out of caring friends.

    Vivian, easiest and hardest, both. You understand.

    Elaine, that social pressure is so much there….and it takes a great amount of self-care and willpower to pull away from family members when they’re toxic.

    Beverly, it takes two to mend a relationship and I’m so glad you and your sister both made the effort.

    Allison, another heart-wrenching story and one that so many families can relate to, even while you feel alone. It’s difficult for others to understand that there are people who do not have a conscience — but they exist — and they do not all end up in prison. Some end up becoming business leaders, parents, coworkers. (Have you ever read “The Sociopath Next Door”?) No matter what position they end up in, they leave pain in their wake. It’s so hard, though, when you’re a parent. . .and you want so badly to heal them, fix them, and make it all better. . .but life only hands you so much power.

    A.P., I left home with four dollars in my pocket and a grand plan to camp out on the beaches of Santa Cruz, where I would become a boardwalk-roaming Beatnik poet. Instead, I ended up in some place called Milpitas where I took on two full time jobs in food service so I could afford the rent on a dingy, furnished studio apartment. The days and nights at the Burger Pit and Diana’s Ice Cream Parlor were not nearly as romantic as I imagined but yes, I made it. Many kids don’t. Some don’t have the know-how, and so many get caught up with the streets and all that entails and don’t know how to get out. I was very lucky.

    It also helped that, back then, you could be any age and go by any name you wanted. . .we didn’t need three pieces of ID to get a job, rent an apartment, or cash a paycheck. We could invent ourselves in ways in the 70’s and even the 80’s that just aren’t possible now. (One of those inventions landed me my first writing job, but that’s another story).

  16. Pattyon 03 Oct 2007 at 7:00 am 16

    Thank you Jane and Freida.

    Jane, I will look into the books you mentioned and see how things work out.

    Feida, you are so right, it’s painful to write and I have done a lot of private writing when I needed an escape. I would write, read it, reread it and then destroy it. It was a form of release for me.

    Here is an article I wrote for the town paper after my brother past. I never sent it to the newspaper but I wanted to so badly.

    The Mussleman Clan Has Left Elmwood Park
    The Musselman’s have been in Elmwood Park for 60 years and leave behind a mark in the history of a small community.

    Early summer of 1947, Robert and Paula Mussleman settled down in East Paterson at 244 Roosevelt Avenue with a one-year old son named Robert. In the fall of 1947, a daughter was born and they named her Patricia.

    Paula Musselman, in the early 1950’s, owned her first business located at 241 Market Street called “The Beauty Lounge”, of which, burned down and she reopened “The Beauty Lounge” at 158 Market Street, right next door to “Boro Sweet Shoppe”.

    Robert Musselman worked as a mason and a member of B.A.C. Local #2 in New Jersey. Robert Sr. worked on the new building of St. Leo’s Catholic School leaving behind his perfectionist as a mason.

    Paula’s parents, Josephine and John Romanowski were immigrants from Poland (early 1900’s) also settled in Elmwood Park in the late 1940’s until Josephine past in 1976 with John preceding Josephine in 1950.

    The Musselman children attended and graduated from St. Leo’s Catholic School and also participated in the Brownies and Cub Scouts. Both Robert and Patricia attended Elmwood Park High School.

    Robert Jr. also left his mark behind in Elmwood Park as he struggled through his teen and adult years leaving gray hair on most of the Elmwood Park Police Department. Some police officers and detectives that come to mind are: Ferrera, LaPlaca, Toine, good ole Charlie Fournier and Judge Joseph DeLuccia.

    One of Judge DeLuccia quotes to Robert (1966 at age 20) as printed in a newspaper article Robert’s grandmother saved was: “You have no one to blame but yourself. I’m sorry this has to be done, but I have no alternative but to send you to the county jail for a while. I’m sorry this has to be done.”

    The words of Judge DeLuccia’s still stick out in my mind 40 years later. “You have no one to blame but yourself”. If only the community knew the struggles within the Musselman family perhaps life would have been so different for my brother. Robert continued to struggle with addictions until our mother became ill in 2000.

    My father, Robert Sr. passed away in 1978, my mother Paula passed in 2005 and now my brother Robert Jr. passed away February 4, 2007. I left Elmwood Park in 1987.

    I am here to honor and remember my family as they are a part of the history of this community, whether good, bad or indifferent we all left a mark somewhere in town. The Musselman family may be gone from Elmwood Park but we will never be forgotten.

    I did an online obit for my brother:
    Letter To Family And Friends / Patty Musselman (Sister)

    One of the things my brother Robert always knew about me is I use to write and write to release my thoughts on paper. Sometimes throughout our lives together this was an easier way to communicate, as I knew my brother would always read my words.

    As each of you stop by in memory of my brother, a father, a past love or a friend, I thank you so much for stopping by.

    For my brother’s children, Robert, Stephen and Jacqueline, it hasn’t been easy for any of you throughout your lifetime, and for this I so apologize for all of your pain and heartaches.

    My brother and I had been estranged for over 20 years by his choice, but I am thankful for 2005 and having the opportunity to speak with my brother for nearly 6 months. It was then that I finally was speaking to a sober man and during this time he shared all of his pain that stems back to his childhood. I realized during our conversations he was stuck at the age of 20, although a mature man at 60, but life stood still and only then in 2005 was he dealing with the past in the present.

    I was able to share with my brother what I knew about his two sons and daughter and sent photos of his three granddaughters. I was lucky enough to have some recent photos of Jacqueline’s children and a older photo of Robert’s daughter.

    Robert, Stephen and Jacqueline, your father loved you all very deeply, and he knew in 2005 what he did was so totally wrong and he just didn’t know how to make it better. I just told him to please, if your children come to your door, open the door to them. I am so thankful to hear that at some point in 2006 Robert opened the door to his daughter and they were able to spend some time together.

    If our father Robert, grandfather to Robert, Stephen and Jacqueline, were alive today, he would be 102 years old. Alcoholism is on the Musselman side of the family and has been a “leach” on the back of the Mussleman clan for well over 170 years as our grandfather was an alcoholic. (The Musselman clan has been in America well over 250 years.) I do not want to see alcoholism continue in our family anymore and I am so proud to know that this family has stopped the pattern.

    I know it may be hard for some of you to forgive your father for not being in your life and his actions, and I pray that someday you all will come to peace with him. I understand how you all feel, because your father and I experienced the same thing with our own father, and in my case also with my brother and mother. Although I forgave my brother in 2005 for shutting me out of his life for over 20 years, I really didn’t need to because I didn’t blame him for what happened. I always loved my brother even during these missed years and will miss him and love him forever.

    Robert, Stephen and Jacqueline, I hope and pray the three of you begin a bond together and get to know one another and support one another through the years of your lives. Don’t give up on one another no matter how difficult things are, as there is no greater bond in life than brothers and sisters. Your children need to know one another as cousins because what you bring together with each other will filter to your children. It’s time to open the closed doors in the family.

    I need to also recognize my brother’s other daughter Sandy who past away a short time after coming into the world in May 1968. Sandy was such a beautiful and perfect little girl who was not ready to stay with all of us. My brother still carried the pain so deep in his heart even still in 2005. I feel Sandy was there to guide her father upon his death.

    If I can help any of my brother’s children with questions they may have, please don’t hesitate to contact me, as my arms and heart have always been open to all of you. I will respect and honor whatever you decide.

    For my brother, you are finally at peace, a peace you so needed for many, many years. I pray you will look down upon me and guide me through the rest of my life. I pray you protect and guide your children and grandchildren as they go forward with their lives.

    I love you,

    Additional comments:

    What happened to Robert started on July 14, 1946, the day he was born and he carried each pain, each heartache, each disappointment, each betrayal to himself and to others with him very fresh in his mind.

    For friends of his from his childhood, he remembered every single one of you and all the good times and bad times. He even remembers Father Edwards not believing him and giving up on him as a child.

    Unfortunately for Robert, trying to drown out his childhood and young adult hood with drugs and alcohol, once he became sober in 2000 everything that he experienced in life was still very fresh in his memory.
    As you can see, letting go is never easy and you really never, ever let go in life. I think you just learn to deal with it, find some sort of peace and just go forward.

    Thank you again Jane and Freida.

  17. Freidaon 03 Oct 2007 at 8:17 am 17

    Dear Patty,
    You said, “…you are so right, it’s painful to write and I have done a lot of private writing when I needed an escape. I would write, read it, reread it and then destroy it. It was a form of release for me.”
    Wow, that’s what I’ve done all my life…and it’s nice to know I was a normal kid and adult…just like you.
    Keep writing, and I will continue to read, as much as I can anyway…actually I’ve not been a great reader…I find it difficult to read really long texts, or novels, or books…and rather like reading condensed comments…and spurts or short stories…
    Whenever I set out to read a ‘great big book’ I found myself thinking of myself rather than the characters, LOL.
    My parents didn’t have much education, and didn’t encourage me to read, in fact, instead, they discouraged ‘that,’ like it was a waste of time, when there was so much work to be done, so, in their opinion it was a frivolous pursuit.
    My Dad’s name was Robert…he was so proud, and I loved him so much.
    When he was dying of lung cancer, he fell into my arms…and more, or less, asked me to forgive him.
    He said, “What did I do to help you kids? Why didn’t I do more, and I wish I had.”
    He knew he did the best he could do, yet he felt so guilty.
    He did a bunch, and he had a great load on his shoulders.
    When he was seven years old…he saved his family from starvation.
    He found food for his sisters and mother to eat, when his father had left them.

  18. mishon 03 Oct 2007 at 8:40 am 18

    That was a very moving story. Im sure it helped you move on and heal. I hope it also helped your nephews and neice in their journey.

  19. linda woodson 03 Oct 2007 at 10:17 am 19

    That broke my heart.
    I think we have the same mother. And, possibly, the same father (Warren Beatty).

  20. mishon 03 Oct 2007 at 10:43 am 20

    Where did the money (on the war) counter go?

    Mish, when the influx of visitors from Rosie’s site came, my host said I had to lighten my page, so we went bare-bones for awhile. It’s back up now. - Jane

  21. Jonion 03 Oct 2007 at 12:32 pm 21

    Writing is good. I have written alot of poems. Very dark poetry, very sad. But it helped at the time. I have them in a little journal. I left my one son read them and they brought tears to his eyes. But when you are going through a bad time, it’s good to get it out like that, on paper. It’s a release, of sorts.

    Allison, how wonderful that was for you to take in your sister’s children and how brave.

  22. Lizon 03 Oct 2007 at 1:54 pm 22

    Boy, can I relate to the “toxic” relative. Mine happens to be my mom. When I was 16, I found out she was having an affair. At the time she was married to my stepdad, whom I was not fond of. He had a violent temper, and a “social” drinking problem. When I confronted my mom, she acted hurt, but then decided to take advantage of the situation, and used me to cover for her. She would say that she was going out with “the girls”, then come home after midnight….meanwhile my little sister & I would have to come up with excuses for her, and endure his temper. 20 years later, and a different husband, she is still up to her old tricks. I now have 2 children, and a husband of 22 years. When my mom’s actions started becoming obvious to my kids, that’s when I had to put up the wall. We still can get together occasionally, but it’s a very generic situation. She knows very little of the life I have made for myself & my family, and honestly, it’s so much better for me. You can only be hurt & disappointed so many times before you finally take a stand. I think it took turning 40 to start putting things into perspective.
    I love your website, Jane. You’ve got a new fan!


    Thank you, Liz. Aren’t the 40’s an awesome time? For me, all the lessons I’d repeated over and over again finally began to click. - Jane

  23. VIVIANon 03 Oct 2007 at 2:34 pm 23

    The thing that jumped out at me reading Janes article, was when her sister kicked her in the stomach, knowing she was pregnant. To me that was an attack on the baby, What might she have done if she was around when that baby girl was born?? How could she have someone in her life that would be a threat to her. baby?? there is nothing Jane could have done differently, to keep that baby safe from potential harm. if there was, she would have gone to the ends of the earth to do it, we should all know that by now. This was her sister, she had to remove herself from. The hurt must have been hoorrible for her. But she had to think of the baby FIRST and formost. and she did and that was right. So Jane i hope you do not have any guilt in what you KNOW was best for you and your child.

  24. Sandyon 03 Oct 2007 at 3:46 pm 24

    Hi Jane, I’m new to your site. I found it through the Rosie O’Donnell blog, and I have to say I’m glad I did.

    I read your post about the hard times you had with your sister. The story and then your question at the end touched me deeply. I want to thank you for asking about something I rarely get to speak about…especially to someone who understands.

    We have three kids, now all grown. The first two are biological. We adopted our third child, a daughter, when she was 8 years old. She had suffered years of physical and sexual abuse both from her parents and in foster care. Two days after her adoption (which followed a 6 month pre-adoption placement…a trial, if you will), K had her first full blown tantrum. She screamed and cried for hours, tearing the underneath of the upper bunk mattress, breaking dolls heads off bodies, and carried out other destructive behavior for about four hours.

    That was the kickoff point. From there, we tried to hold it together as best we could over the next several years. Trying to reward good behavior…Although, whenever we said something like ‘If you can behave at the store, we’ll bring you to McDonald’s later’, she was sure to misbehave as much as possible…and then the dreaded tantrums decended upon us when the consequences were dealt.

    Around age 12 she started to become more violent. Breaking windows, throwing furniture, punching holes in walls. Of course, we had help from therapists and social workers (In fact, I am a former social worker.), but no one could get a handle on things. Oh yes, they diagnosed her…Borderline Personality Disorder, PTSD, Depression, and a question of Bipolar Disorder. All kinds of meds were prescribed and she took them, for a while. Once, she kicked my husband in the chest and broke his ribs, she raised her hands to me and my other children repeatedly, one time breaking my finger. We had the police at our house often…it was so humiliating. She ended up in and out of psychiatric hospitals and treatment centers until she was 16, and she ran away one last time.

    She got involved with an abusive boyfriend, and used to call me and tell me all about his violent and sexually perverse behavior. I’d give her advice, but she never followed it. During the last six years, she has given birth at least twice. She ‘gave’ her first daughter to the child’s aunt, because as she said, “I never bonded with that one, anyway.” I know she has been arrested for violence many times, and has had a number of psychiatric admissions since she was 16.

    When she finally left us, we walked around shell-shocked. It was as if we had been in a war zone for all those years, and you know what? We had been. Fortunately, our other kids have made it through all of this with not too much scarring. They’ve both had some problems, but seem to have pulled it together in their early adulthood. We are lucky.

    We moved to another state five years ago, and never gave our daughter directions to get here. I did give her our phone number, though, so I heard from her every couple of months for a while. (No one else in the family wants contact with her.) But it’s been almost 2 years since our last telephone conversation, when she spoke to me about her new little baby girl. She sounded drugged and didn’t even remember how old her baby was…9 months that day. That child had been in placement for several months. Although I’ve mentioned that she has had psychiatric help, she has never been consistent in following through with their advice. In fact, she usually says she does not need help. She has always adamantly refused to even discuss the horrific abuses she suffered as a child.

    I have no idea what’s going on with my daughter these days. I do know that I love her so much…I always will. But I can never go back to the chaos and pain that she brings when she is around. I can’t have my husband, children and grandchildren go through it either. It hurts too much.

    I don’t regret my decision to keep my daughter at a far distance, but I do regret that it ever became necessary. My comfort is knowing that my other family members are safe from all the violence and craziness. If I were alone, I would probably still try to reach my child whatever way I could…and I’d be batting my head against a wall, because she has no interest in changing. At least her babies are away from her for now.

    The story is so much longer, and sadder than I’ve written. But this is enough. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.


  25. Alisonon 03 Oct 2007 at 4:14 pm 25

    I used to get hung up with boundless sympathy, perpetual loyalty, the need to rationalize someone’s unacceptable behavior through understanding. In my experience that has only served to make the offending person feel more at ease with treating me in a way I eventually was unwilling to tolerate. I think it also feeds their disrespect for you. It took quite a while for my heart to harden to the point where it became easy for ME to set the bar at a height I was willing to accept being treated at. I don’t mean if someone loses their temper with me they’re outta here– it’s just how I expect to be treated generally. If you need help with a substance problem, I’ll try to help you. If you have emotional problems, I’ll try to help you. But I won’t let someone think it’s OK to not make an effort and expect me to bear the brunt. I think it boils down to having self-esteem and the realization that you can only do so much for someone who isn’t willing to help themself, friend or family. And sometimes it’s less a case of us deciding to let go as it is agreeing to accommodate someone’s preference to be left alone. That’s OK, too.

  26. allisonon 03 Oct 2007 at 4:20 pm 26

    Sandy, I know exactly how you feel.

  27. Jane Devinon 03 Oct 2007 at 5:36 pm 27

    Sandy, what a heartbreaking journey you’ve been on. I wish you peace in the years ahead, and I hope that your daughter will eventually find the right kind of help at the right time, when she’s ready to accept it.

    Alison, this is so true: “And sometimes it’s less a case of us deciding to let go as it is agreeing to accommodate someone’s preference to be left alone”.

  28. Dennison 03 Oct 2007 at 5:38 pm 28

    I just read your story. It was like you jumped into my heart and brought out the words that have been hidden , hidden for no other reason then the fact that my siblings still cannot or will not accept the reality of our brother. I love him, but I had to let go 6 months ago , its been hard, guilt , shame can creep in, but i have to remind myself why i let go and how toxic he had become to me. Pray for him please. I love him and had to let him go.

    Silent prayer said, Dennis. Rare that adult siblings reach a concensus, so I’m not surprised that yours have different ideas, but as you know now, you have to live by your own truths and do what’s healthiest for your spirit, even when the added pain of disagreement is thrown into the decision. - Jane

  29. Dennison 03 Oct 2007 at 5:41 pm 29

    Alison on 03 Oct 2007 at 4:14 pm 25 ….. AMEN…..i am not alone….

  30. Kathyon 03 Oct 2007 at 7:19 pm 30

    Hi Jane,
    Gratefully, I found your website through Rosie. Your writings, and I have read everyone available, have deeply touched me. You are a master story teller and do it with such kindness, compassion and grace. Please do not stop what you are doing on your website. If anything can be done to make it easier for you to stay, please, please just ask.
    “Letting Go” drew me in. It was as though I was character in the story. So many things I had hidden away came racing to the surface. My story is similar to the stories so articulately wriiten by yourself and your readers.
    When I finally said goodbye I felt a tremendous sense of relief, and the quiet that came from not having those confortations made it heaven on earth for me. I never looked back, put all of my energy into healing and never, ever doubted the decision I made. I now realize, after reading the stories and crying for the past 12 hours, that I never stopped loving my abuser. Maybe we never do. Leaving was my only way to survive and be happy. Thank you for giving me the nudge I needed to look back, grieve and validate my decision to go.

    Easier to stay when there are people here, reading and sharing their own stories, Kathy. Thank you. I appreciate that “quiet” you speak of after ending a bad relationship. Like we finally get to step back into undefensive posture. . .relax. . .heal. - Jane

  31. Alisonon 03 Oct 2007 at 8:15 pm 31


    It was also my brother I was referring to in my post. I don’t know what your brother is going through but mine has had a serious drinking problem for years, has tried to commit suicide twice, is emotionally unstable and, more than anyone I’ve ever known in my life, he seems to have been born with no common sense. Seriously, it’s astounding how bad his judgment is. Example: He gave his girlfriend an ‘authorized user’ credit card which he never inquired about until she dumped him months later and he found out she’d run up $12,000.00 in charges. I had to pay for the bankruptcy attorney. It was always one calamity after another, yet he would never be wiser the next time. Everytime something like that happened he’d be depressed and suicidal and I’d be frantic to try and get him on an even keel again. I’ve paid his living expenses for months at a time when he was broke, bought him clothes, new computers, cleaned his apartment, tried to find him a job with health benefits, bought him a used car when he needed it. I would plead for him to address his drinking through AA, contact his local social services office for psychological help. It was obvious he needed something for his depression. No interest in getting help.I lived with a constant knot in my stomach, always worried I’d get a phonecall that he’d killed himself. My younger brother had already committed suicide some years before. I tried calling healthcare professionals to ask how you can infuse a desire to live in someone that just seems hell bent on self-destruction. It wasn’t until I finally just accepted with resignation the fact that I can’t live his life for him. If he kills himself it will be a choice that he made, and I will hope in death he finds a peace that he was unable to find in life. I have since stopped bailing him out financially and rushing to visit him when his life hits a rough patch. Believe it or not, he is actually more self-sufficient and more in control of his life than ever before. I really think I was doing him a disservice by always trying to clean up his messes. He still is an alcoholic but he’s at least much less of a worry to me because I truly am at ease with ‘what will be will be’. I know I tried. I hope your brother comes around as well. Sometimes space and time can do wonders.

  32. Prudyon 03 Oct 2007 at 9:06 pm 32

    Thank you for sharing this, Jane. It was very generous. I know it must have been hard. I appreciate your giving your readers a forum to respond. I chose to semi-sever ties with my sister several years ago; we are both middle-aged. Her manipulative ways are too toxic. We’d had a big blow-out, then made up; then she started up again. I told her I would always be here for her should she ever decide to treat me with respect. I told her if she was not going to treat me with respect, I wouldn’t be in communication with her, wouldn’t participate in a charade of pretending all is well and at the same time having to endure her sarcasm and manipulations. We correspond only with a card and signature at the holidays. I always hope she is well, and never wish bad things for her. But I have to say that I don’t really miss her and I don’t want to mend things if it means putting up with her seriously ill temperament. It’s very strange to feel this way, or rather to not have feelings toward her at all anymore. I don’t hate her and I don’t even feel anger. I just don’t really think of her. I wonder if anyone else can relate to this.

    Raising hand here, Prudy. I can relate. Deborah was my little sister — the one I mothered, or tried to — but my family was never close and there are members I’ve not spoken to for decades and rarely think about. I did recently connect with an Uncle and his wife, super-nice people, and I actually learned a lot about my mother I didn’t know from her brother, but outside of that I’ve made no attempt and don’t want to. Family, for me, should represent those who love us and want the best for us. If there isn’t that in blood relations, then they really aren’t family to me, just withered branches on the DNA tree. - Jane

  33. Michelleon 04 Oct 2007 at 9:55 am 33

    Wow…I cannot believe how people go through private pain. You see them on talk shows and we chalk them up as something WE have made into almost “freak shows” -sadly! Jane- it is amazing how you write and yet we can ALL feel the story is OUR story. I cannot even write how I feel, I am exhausted after reading everyone’s post. (from crying) You hear from the daughter, the sister, the brother, the mother, the child….I firmly believe that we are all touched with some pain point in our families. Maybe I am thinking too deeply, but we all have the “family secret”…wether it be alchohol, sexual abuse, physical abuse, mental…etc., I have recently realized that the ‘abuser’ was the abused, and generation after generation it follow’s, till someone breaks the cycle. But the mentally ill….oh it breaks my heart. HOW fair can it be that someone loses thier mind and no one is around. How fair for the little boy to be born with problems because of drugs, SO UNFAIR! Afraid to trust for help, to relinquish control, yet to have no control at all. Or the sense to “sense” you are not right. To have never ‘bonded’ from birth to anything. To find that an addiction can keep u from being afraid of yourself.
    Scared to death to be alone, and yet completely understand if my family had to leave me so they could move on. I would like to share my ’story’, have been offered to write books, started on 2, but the story is never ending and keeps changing. But Jane, I am behind you 100% for letting the toxic go. Sometime’s you have to. Listen to the ’still small voice’, your gut will tell you… You my dear- is a mother/sister/aunt I wish I had…..you chose your daughter’s safety, what greater love. Your daughter I am sure will be a well-adjusted young woman just the fact you seem to really care what affects her. You let your sister go after trying and trying, you did not give up on her, the fact you are writing this story is a fact of that. To let her go and yet think of her still, pray for her, wish her well, is probably the best thing you can do for someone who cannot help themselves apparently. You have broken a cycle it sound’s. I wish more people would keep the children away from abuser’s. It took great strength, I am not sure what feeling would take that place….but not shame Jane, there is too much shame, that is how this all start’s it seem’s. I have always told my children to not keep things in the dark, for then the shame can grow, and ultimately destroy. Your readers are awesome and I feel so touched. God bless you…..

  34. Freidaon 04 Oct 2007 at 3:00 pm 34

    Dear Jane,
    You should have some reference here to “The Forgiveness Trap” you wrote a few months ago, not the comments just your article.
    I think many might find it enlightening, or interesting. Seems there is a connection, at least to me.
    “Letting Go” is difficult, yet necessary, when your health, or your loved ones are in jeopardy.
    Love Always,

    P.S. I’m getting ready to dive into your next ‘post,’ and looks like I’m really going to enjoy it!

  35. Prudyon 04 Oct 2007 at 11:32 pm 35

    Jane, thanks for your response. Funny how I had convinced myself I didn’t really feel anything, good or bad, about my sister — till I read your response to me. It hit me that I do feel pain about it and have not really gotten over our rift. I just have shoved it under the rug. Maybe that is inevitable, and not necessarily a bad thing. The fact that I can not have her or the rift hovering over me like a helicopter IS good. And the fact that I still have moments of pain perhaps is a humbling thing. I’d like to read “The Forgiveness Trap.” I have trouble sometimes “forgiving” when I think that doing so, to the person involved, will be misinterpreted by them that they have license to continue their bad behavior toward me.

  36. mishon 05 Oct 2007 at 6:17 pm 36


    Hi Jane
    How are you? Guess what?…………. I can copy and paste! Go figure LOL :)

    Way to go Mish! :-) JD

  37. Sandra Wilsonon 05 Oct 2007 at 8:55 pm 37

    As I weave through your lives~I listen to my favoite radio station.
    I enter my favorite artist~Joni~ and with todays connections~I find myself drifting~along with Shanon Colvins “Diamonds In the Rough”
    My own personal soundtrack~words written…

    Dear Jane~
    Your writings~Thank you
    one of the rare chances of knowing a single human from birth to death…
    I have four…

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