Joinings and Separations

by Lietta Ruger

We are gearing up for an eventful weekend. We will be driving son-in-law to the airport to return to his base in Germany on Sunday. He is stateside with his family on Leave, after 15 months in Iraq, and needs to return to his base on 15th. The plan is that the family (my daughter and 3 children) are to fly out a few days later to relocate in Germany. The wound in the plan is that one of the children, 12 yr old will not be going with them, rather remaining behind to go live with her bio father for couple years. The wound in that is very painful to me and a long, complex story.

There is wedding on one of my nephews on Saturday evening, out of town, about 150 miles. We need to return same evening as my husband is scheduled to give the sermon in church this Sunday. It was my turn last Sunday and his turn this Sunday. We then drive back out of town to take son-in-law to airport about 200 miles away. Then a few days later to drive his wife and 2 children to airport and at that point is when my 12 yr old granddaughter goes in a different direction. I think it will be a very difficult weekend for us ahead.

There will be the joy of the wedding and seeing family, and the sorrow in saying goodbye to other family and the wound of the separation for my granddaughter.

I am plainly speaking very unhappy with how this is playing out for my daughter’s family as the plan has always been for the past 18 months while he has been deployed, for him to come home safely from Iraq, and then get the entire family moved over to Germany. At no point along the way was there even the slightest consideration that my 12 yr old granddaughter would not be going with her family. Her bio father has steadfastly maintained that he will not sign the permission release that is required by law to obtain her passport. He is unmoveable on that issue and has instead wanted daughter to remain behind and live with him.

I have found that to be uncharitable and very much a destructive force on the family, as well as not in keeping with civilian duty to support the military families while their soldiers are on the warfront in Iraq. It never entered my thinking that his resistance to signing the permission for her to go would win out in the end. He was in an unfortunate situation where he was hospitalized recently for damage he sustained to his skull…and we are given to understand it was indeed, a close call. That incident has been used to garner an unfair emotional leverage regarding his daughter’s empathy for what has been told to her was his near-death experience. She has reacted with authentic feelings of loss, confusion and compliance and agreed to remain behind and live with him.

The wound is that she is making the sacrifice as she is aware that the family desires to relocate to Germany and her bio-father will not give the necessary permission to facilitate obtaining her passport to go out of country. She seems to be making a decision to unburden her family, her mother, her sister and brother, her step-father so that they may make this relocation and be together after 18 months separated. She seems to be making a decision of compassion regarding her bio-father.

The wound to me is that the decision was placed on her small shoulders and not resolved by the adult parents. The wound to me is the burdens she will bear in being separated from her family and alone in a completely different environment with her bio-father and his fiance. The wound to me is what anquish she may have at 3 AM in the morning when she is all alone with herself and her thoughts and her grief of loss. The wound to me is that in this rock and hard place decision forced on the family, it was the 12 yr old who is forced to bear the biggest burden and biggest sacrifice.

I have advocated my own position with regards to other less attractive alternatives, like the family remaining behind and enduring another separation…which in itself is an unfair burden to the small ones in the family, ages 3 and 4 yrs, who are missing out on the influence of their father during these critical formative years. My daughter has had to make some impossible choices, and I respect that as much as I can, yet, my heart yearned for her to decide on a choice that kept the family together and as intact as possible even while a heavy burden fell to her to deal with raising 3 children in the absence of her husband and partner.

After helping to support her and the children during this 15 months of her husband’s deployment, following events as they unfolded on the political horizon with regards to the progression of the war in Iraq, at the last moment, it seems, when he was at last safely home, there is this no win situation with unlikely choices to be made, and tensions were running high in us all. Needless to say, there has been a kind of boiling over of emotions, an untimely falling out of sorts over the choices being made and I am not feeling exceptionally wise or like a tribal elder in the matter. Well perhaps I am at that, and perhaps as such, I am feeling the acute ache of having to give counsel in exceedingly difficult double-bind type situation.

For now, I am keeping my silent vigil, as all the words have been spoken and said, the decisions made after all have had their turn to say their thoughts and feelings. I feel this is how it might have been for others in other cultures when facing forces greater than their own ability to manage or control or realign. And at this point I turn in my own woundedness to the Creator force for strength, courage, endurance, and wisdom in matters that seem beyond my own abilities to discern or determine.

[Next day]

New Day’s Thoughts

Well it is a new day, and while yesterday’s problems have Not disappeared, changed, improved or gotten worse, it is a new day to look at it all again in a new way.

People in the family are reaching out in what ways they can to help ameoliorate the situation with granddaughter, and each effort that is offered puts me in tears all over again. I am deeply greatful to the supportive, caring manner that family has involved itself in this tragic drama.

There is no way to know what the end result will be and not even a way to know if it won’t, in fact, turn out for the best for everyone. Much of the plan is tied together by contingencies on other factors of the plan being put into place before a next step can ensue. Much can go awry with The Plan in which case alternative plans will have to be built.

I’m still holding my breath, keeping my silent vigil, but actively participating where I can to either influence the outcome or process my own feelings of loss and impotence, as the clock ticks away the hours till the August 15th deadline. That is when son-in-law is to board a plane and return to his base in Germany.

What becomes of the family after that date, while a plan has been made, decisions made, is still subject to all the factors and objectives being met.

Watched Dances with Wolves on tv station this week, again, for the umpteenth time. I never tire of that movie, and it continues to inspire me to try again, to try harder, to accept what appears to be inevitable and to act in grace in the midst of turmoil and disruption.

I also watched shows on PBS called “Back to the Sea” in which two families return to the outports of Newfoundland to live as their ancestors did in 1937, fishing for cod, having their survival supplies come in by boat only twice a year and having to stretch those meager supplies in all circumstances.

The men fish by handline with up to 400 hooks on a line to catch cod. They have to repay the Merchant who brings the supplies in their cod catch which can amount to tons of cod that has to go to the Merchant. If they fall short of the required due, they are then in debt to the Merchant against their next order of supplies. The men have to learn the nature of the Sea in all weather conditions and work from dawn till dusk.

Once the catch is in, all the families then come to clean and process the fish, using primitive tools and preserving in salt…exactly to specifications or the cod will be subject to rot, sunheat, overexposure, over-salted. The families work until the catch for the day is processed, late into the night and then when it is all done, they can all go and eat supper.

The women work primarily all day in the house, cooking (no refridgerators mind you and wood cookstoves), preserving, cleaning, gardening the vegetables that will sustain them through the seasons. It is demanding and draining work given there are few modern conveniences to ease the labor, so it literally beomes a woman’s work is never done.

And if the family gets “relocated” to the mainland, they have to haul their wood structure saltbox houses down to the shore for loading on the raft that will float them to the mainland. They have to build the wood slat rollers that will the house will roll on to the shore and then with sheer brute strength, they all get together and pull the house on ropes over the slats down to the shoreline to then load it onto the raft.

It seems it is too expensive to try to build a new house on the mainland and so hauling and floating their own house becomes the option. That is how the houses that were there in 1937 have, over the years, gradually, all been hauled off the outports to the mainland. It seems that often families could not “make it” on the outports and the government offered to pay them $200 per adult and $100 per child to relocate. I’m not sure I understood the why of that, but that is what the show presented. It seems as people came to the mainland they became more citified. Many yearn to go back to the outports where communities once stood, and this show had two families give it a try to see if they could be all that their ancestors were.

I like to watch these kind of shows, I’ve seen the Pioneer House (Canada), the Frontier (Montana homesteading) , the Victorian House replicating the Victorian era, this one Back to the Sea (Newfoundland) and there is one more recently that I missed seeing. Now I have forgotten what it was about, I had made a mental note to tune in but was not able to do so that week.

There was also a 1960’s filmography of a man in his 50’s who wanted to see if he could go it alone and live in Alaska wilderness for a year. He did, quite successfully, and stayed on in Alaska till he was 80 something years old when his health wore out and his brother insisted he come live with him in the United States.

We don’t get to test ourselves these days in quite the same way, we seem to have more emotional types of stressors and circumstances to navigate, it seems to me anyway. I don’t think we get to see, feel, experience as much satisfaction in ourselves in jobs well done as our ancestors who had harder daily lives to forge out. In each of these shows that I have watched, there is a kind of personal transformation for the volunteers that gives them a renewed sense of connection to who they are to themselves, to their families and their sense of place in the world. And it also seems to me that in these shows, the volunteers who bring their families and children along for the experience find a deeper meaning to how to be family without the distractions we have so much of in our own modern lives.

I am intrigued always by these shows while at the same time knowing I lack the stamina to do half as much as what these folks do, but I always wonder to myself, if pushed to the challenge, could I?

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