Dark clouds linger over my mind like the stormy Texas morning outside. My thoughts have tumbled thunderously through my brain like a wind shear rotating into a supercell thunderstorm.
The soldiers of Halla are preparing for battle, and their commander is pouring over the battle plans deciding the best course of action for them. I have written copiously, but nothing I can share on this blog. The feelings are too raw and personal, the messages written only for the eyes of the people they were written for. My family members have been the subject of my letters. Those sacred, and personal relationships packed with emotional dynamite that must be handled with care. It is like trying to do a tumbling routine on a balance beam suspended a hundred feet in the air.
Today I have written two letters to two mothers; my biological mother, and the mother of my husband. The love of a mother is uniquely beautiful. I’m not Catholic, but I have always adored the images of Catholicism of the Virgin with her child. No one appreciates and respects Mary and her sacred role quite like a Catholic, and I admire that. She was a fallen mortal and I have no desire to convert to Catholicism. Why do those images of her in Cathedrals across the world stir something in me? It is, I think, because Mary symbolizes every mother who has ever held her baby, a child of God innocent and fresh from God’s embrace. There is no image more sacred to me. She was fallen, she was mortal, she probably made many of the same mistakes I made with my first baby, and yet she was just who Jesus Christ needed to nurture him. He became the Savior for all of us, and it couldn’t have happened without her. I don’t worship her, but I have appropriated her self appointed title, that of the handmaid of the Lord. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so there you go!
No one understands the value of a Mother’s love more than those whose mother is gone. A mother’s love is irreplaceable. When a mother is missing from the life of a child, that child suffers. I have seen it in my own children, when I shut myself away from them because of the pain of depression. It is chaotic, it is fearful, and there is no peace. I pray fiercely every day that my pain and my illness will somehow be turned to good in their lives. Statistical evidence is bleak. Children of depressed mothers are at a substantially higher risk of suicide, incarceration, substance abuse, and a host of mental disorders. I fight desperately to make sure that my children’s needs are met. No effort is spared to overcome this disease and make a good life for them. When suicidal ideation begins, it is thoughts of my children that are the best thing to pull me out. What would they do, and where would they be without me?
Yesterday I took Devin to the orthodontist. It has been four years since he ended treatment, but I take him every six months for preventative care. He opened his mouth and even the orthodontist was impressed with his perfect smile, not a single tooth out of place. His bite is perfect too. He smiled at me and said, “That’s what happens when you get early intervention!” I am healthy enough to give myself a pat on the back. I took Devin in when he was seven years old because he was developing a bite problem. An expander and head gear, only worn at night, along with a few thousand dollars corrected the problem and prevented a long and painful stint of braces. I made an appointment for Wesley to get his preventative care. Layne is also in treatment, and his teeth are looking good too.
Monday I took my Wesley to his last therapy session with his current counselor. His happy face and positive attitude are so different now than a year ago when he would punch himself and talk about how he hated himself. We are going to continue counseling with a new therapist because he is especially sensitive, and my depression is hardest on him. Monday, Layne was punished for disrespecting me. He was so angry that he threw one of his tantrums in the other room. He often has to take timeouts. He is blessed with dynamite emotions that he is learning to manage. After talking to his dad, he came to me and told me he was sorry. I threw my arms around him and we both cried. I told him, “I love you! You know I would give you the whole world if I could, right? There is nothing I wouldn’t do for you. You are everything to me.”
This morning Austin and I had our “snuggle time.” Ben gets the big boys up for school, and Austin comes down and climbs in my bed. We lay together, I tuck his cold little feet into my warm legs, and he digs his little nose into my neck, and we savor this sacred time. I remember having insomnia as a child. I was always cold and the snakes and monsters were always under the bed and in the closet. Some nights when it was so bad, I would go upstairs to my mom’s room and she would let me lay beside her. It was so warm and safe. After a few minutes, I would save up a little of that warmth, hurry down to my bed and snuggle into the covers before it was gone. Better than Ambien! I don’t share these stories to brag, or incite comparison or guilt in other moms, but to show that even a broken mom with depression can love her kids. I could list out all the mistakes I have made as a mom, but I’m trying to silence my inner critic and be kind to myself, so I’ll just say, I’m a broken mom. Still, no one can love quite like a mom can love, even imperfect, broken moms.
Nothing can hurt a mom quite as badly as the criticism, from within or without that we have failed at motherhood. A big part of my recovery journey has been to embrace my imperfection and my children’s imperfection. The house is messy, the laundry is never done, the homework often late or incomplete, the constant bickering and bantering of brothers is always in the air, and often I can be found in my room, writing or drawing to survive until Ben gets home. It is messy and it is ugly, it is beautiful and it is real. It is perfectly imperfect.
I was born on my Dad’s mother’s birthday. Her name was Eva Cutler and when she was about my age, she lay in the hospital, knowing she was slowing dying. She had an appendicitis attack and living in a rural area, preoccupied with caring for her seven children, she did not get treatment in time. The appendix ruptured and there was peritonitis and then sepsis. She would never recover. She had seven children from a young adult son to a new baby daughter. Before she died, she said, “I am most worried about Jimmy. He is so sensitive.” Jimmy, I know him as Dad, was only six years old. He remembers being told his mother was dead and “welcome to the real world.” He huddled in a closet and cried in the lonely darkness. He cherished every moment he had with his mother and committed it to memory. He says he can even remember his mother from infancy.
His father did his best to care for seven children. His oldest sister was sixteen and she tried her best to be a surrogate mother. Baby Ruth, the youngest child was given to an Aunt and Uncle to care for. They survived, but life was never the same as it was. One of the saddest things my dad told me about was memories of his front porch. At one time, he said, it must have been beautiful. Someone had loved it and planted beautiful flowers and climbing vines. Without Eva to tend to it, it fell into disrepair. I imagine the vine overgrown and disheveled, neglected and bereft like the motherless children inside. The delicious meals that Eva used to make were gone, and a young sixteen year old girl learning to cook just couldn’t compete. A proud father, determined not to become the ward project, turned away any help from his neighbors. Eva’s old friends, desperate to help alleviate the suffering of the children, were kept away.
As the years passed, his father remarried. His new wife, Beth, removed all the photographs of Eva from the home. She brought her own children to add to Rex’s seven children and it was a tiny house. I’m sure she was often overwhelmed, and motherhood is difficult even when the children are your own. Beth had overwhelming obstacles to overcome in order to be the nurturer both families needed. She had little love or patience for little Jimmy. This sensitive boy suffered terribly because of his mother’s passing, just as his mother knew he would. My mother’s father’s name was Eldon Dee Henrie. He was born to a wonderful mother named Emily, Emmer for short. By all accounts Emily was a delightful woman who brought sunshine everywhere she went. Her marriage to his father Francis was good, and they had eight children aged 18 to 1. She suffered a stroke while bathing her three little boys in a big tub. My grandpa, who was two, was sleeping in her arms at the time, having been washed and dried. He and his mother fell into the tub. His older brothers, Aure nine years old, and Thomas four, managed to pull him out of the water and likely saved his life. They couldn’t pull their mother out of the tub. When they got help, she was revived, but paralyzed on one side. She passed away a few years later after treatments were unsuccessful. That left my grandpa, her youngest son, at only four years old with no mother.
After a few years, his father remarried, but Victoria was physically abusive to both her biological children from a previous marriage, and Francis’s children. Veryl, Emily’s first child and oldest son, found her beating his baby sister Violet and became very upset. He had promised his dying mother that he would ensure that his siblings were cared for. Eventually the children were given to relatives and Francis and Victoria moved away. I assume the home became so toxic that Francis thought it was his best option.
Eldon Dee at ten years old had lost both his parents and lived with his oldest brother, helping out on the Ranch. The brothers became very close and worked at the Ranch together for many years. Eldon Dee survived. I’m not sure how. He became a loving father to my mother, but his wife Martha, my mother’s mother, was more like a visiting Aunt to her family. She would work all week in the city, and then return to the family home only on weekends. I watched my mother try my whole life to develop a meaningful relationship with her mother.
Martha was particularly taken with me as a baby, so my mom tried to cultivate that bond. Grandpa passed away when I was small and Grandma Martha lived alone in a small apartment. Mom bought me a red toy suitcase that said, “I’m Going to Grandma’s House.” I loved to go swim at Grandma’s apartment swimming pool and at first everything seemed good. I always looked forward to our visits. When I was about nine years old, I stayed at Grandma’s house for a week without my family. After a few days of being constantly scolded, criticized, and ignored by turns, I realized Grandma’s house was overrated. I remember looking in a mirror at the house and wondering why my Grandma couldn’t see anything good about me. I didn’t think I was such a bad girl. The harder I tried to please her, the more her fault finding hurt me. I learned over the years that it wasn’t me that was the problem. Martha could see little good in anyone. My Mom was undeterred by my distinct change of attitude toward Grandma’s house. We still visited her regularly. I tried to be polite.
Mom called Martha every week and listened to her prattle on and on about her daytime television shows, her friend Delma, and her trips to Hawaii. She would send me gifts on my birthday, but never anything I liked. My sister moved to Utah after college and she made a valiant effort to show Martha love visiting her every week. Tiffany said that all she would do was complain including about the frequency of her visits insisting that, “You never come see me.” Later, when she became unable to live on her own, she moved into my parent’s house. I was off at college, but when I came home to visit, I was amazed at how well my mom cared for her. As a career nurse, she was in her element.
Martha was always complaining about Idaho and how cold it was and how dull it was. Mom just listened and tried to make her feel better. My sweet mother was treated like a servant. I resented Martha all the more because of how ungrateful she was to my mom. We all did. Dad couldn’t stand her. It wasn’t until she started spreading horrible sexual lies about our family to my aunt that Dad insisted that she leave. I remember my mom hurting so badly. Not only had her mother spread horrible lies about her family, she had also rejected her efforts to build a meaningful relationship. She was forced to accept that a loving, warm, rewarding relationship would never be realized with Martha in this life. My mother’s mother was missing.
My father didn’t have a mother, but at least he could imagine her spirit smiling down lovingly upon him, the hope of a warm reunion someday. My poor mom had to live a life alongside a mother that was not capable of nurturing her. She was physically present, but emotionally missing. If I had a choice, I think I would rather have been my dad. It is impossible to know what forces created Martha. Why was she so difficult to please? Why did she lie about my family, and by extension, her family? Why was the motherly instinct to love and nurture so blighted in this woman?
A few years before she died she told us that her father, a respected captain of the Salt Lake Police, had sexually abused her. She said that she had kept quiet all these years because she wanted to protect him, but decided in the end she didn’t owe him that anymore. Whether this was just another one of her lies, or the explanation for her inability to love and receive love, I don’t know. Either alternative is bad. Sexual abuse is a horrible stain on a family. False accusations of it are hardly any better. One way or the other, that line of my family has serious problems. I’ll post more about this later.
Back to missing mothers. There are more. My dad’s father Rex’s mother Myrtle died of breast cancer when he was fifteen. My dad’s mother Eva’s mother Eva died when she was just twenty-three. Of my six grandmothers and great grandmothers, four of them died untimely deaths. Two of them left children less than six years old. What kind of damage is done to a family that experiences that kind of loss! The pain seems to reverberate through the generations, as if it cannot be contained by time and space. The suffering ripples in waves through the lives of my cousins. On Eldon Dee and Martha’s line, there are problems with substance abuse and spousal abuse. My sister married a severely abusive husband who almost killed her. One cousin was married to a man who cheated on her. One cousin, a male, was married to an abusive woman. Another cousin was badly physically abused by her husband before her divorce. My Aunt married an abusive husband. So much pain. My overall impression of my Henrie relatives is that they are very kind and generous people who tend to marry abusive people. Our challenge is to love, protect, and value ourselves. My Cutler relatives have the dynamite emotions. We struggle with pride and personality disorders. We tend think we are right and we want to excel. We can be cliquish and overprotective of ourselves. Our challenge is to enjoy the journey, value the contributions of others, and have the courage to be vulnerable.
This post has taken several days to write and took considerably more research than my other posts. I have gathered my information from Family Search records and tried to make it as accurate as possible. Please comment or message me if you have concerns about the accuracy of anything I have written. Researching my ancestors and seeing the trends and events that have shaped my family and my life has been very enlightening. I highly recommend the exercise even if you are uncomfortable sharing the information publicly. I considered for some time if I should include some things like Martha’s allegations against her father. It is extremely sensitive information, but I heard it from her own mouth. The fact is, she said it to me and it is now a part of my story. She is no longer here, so I can’t ask her permission to repeat it publicly. Her father is not alive either and it would be impossible to investigate the allegation against him.
I choose to speak the truth about my family as I see it. My view of history is that we cannot fairly judge those who came before us. They lived in their time and with their crosses to bare. It is for me to learn from their lives and experiences. It is difficult to think that the handsome policeman in his uniform, wearing his prestigious badge could have done such a heinous thing, but it does happen. We live in a fallen world and sometimes people are not what they seem. When they are our flesh and blood, denial is a potent and addictive drug. It would be too easy to blame Martha and keep Walter on his lofty pedestal. There are not many people who achieved high position in my family. I don’t want to believe him guilty. Better to blame the woman that disappointed and hurt me and my family. I can’t.
Martha’s allegations fit too well with what I know of trauma to dismiss it out of hand. Her lies about sexual abuse in my family were likely a projection of her own sexual abuse experiences. Rather than discredit her allegations against Walter, they validate them. Perhaps in watching her morning talk shows she watched one about sexual abuse and heard that talking about it is a good idea. Perhaps in finding her voice at the end, her act of courage and honesty will help others heal. There are no perfect victims and no perpetrators so high in societal esteem to be incapable of this wickedness.
Who was Martha? My mom says that she had a charming side to her that was funny and came out from time to time. I never saw it, but trust that if my mom saw it, it was there. She was pretty as a girl and probably had a better nature when she was young and healthy. Perhaps I would have liked her better if I had known her then. She seemed to have an okay relationship with her husband Eldon Dee. Perhaps if I had known them together she would have seemed warmer in the sunshine of Eldon Dee’s bright light. Her emotional relationships with her children appeared sterile and superficial to me, but perhaps there was more there than I saw. Perhaps she was able to bond with other grandchildren. I adore old people, and she was my only living grandparent I remember, but I could not connect with her. There is a sad emptiness when I think of a relationship that should have been, but wasn’t.
Being open and honest about our families deep dark secrets can have many benefits. If Walter victimized his daughter, it is possible there are other victims. By coming forward with her story, Martha could be empowering other of Walter’s victims and their families to understand and heal from their trauma. That healing could benefit Walter and Martha as they come to terms with their relationship. I think Martha would want this told so that we can learn from her life and the person she was; a beautiful, lovable, broken daughter of God. Not so different from me, really. Can the Savior heal Martha? Of course he can! It may be, in his divine design, that I will meet a healed and whole woman someday who can return the love I have for her. It waits for that day. My sister. My future friend.
As for Walter, I have looked for stories about him and found none so far. I read his diary that gives an account of his hunting and fishing. His career was exemplary, of course. He served in the National Guard in Connecticut and moved to Utah when he was twenty. He was a prison guard and retired a captain in the Salt Lake Police. He had three wives, consecutively, not simultaneously. His first wife died from a seizure. He married again, but divorced eight years later. He was baptized a member of the church at forty-four, and married Martha’s mother, Zelnora just over a year later. They married when Walter was forty-five and Zelnora was twenty-nine. Their sealing in the Salt Lake temple took place a little over three years later.
Zelnora was actively involved in the church and seems to have been a good mother to the five children she had with Walter. Walter had nine biological children, three step-children, and one adopted child. Two children died in infancy. Martha was his youngest daughter. Walter had two other daughters, Isabell who was thirty-three when Martha was born, and Marion who was twenty seven. Martha was born when Walter was fifty-five years old. Her mother was thirty-nine. He died when Martha was only seventeen. That is all I know of Walter and his story. I can’t find any records that give me any indication of the kind of father or step-father he was.
When we allow that each and every person has their story, and that judgement is the Lord’s, we can let go of the secrets, illusions, and false narratives in our families. We can be real about who we are and who our family members are. They are God’s gift to us. We do not own them. We don’t get to define them or distort them to suit our vanity. They simply exist, and we can be honest with ourselves and others about who they are, or lie to ourselves. Let us keep Jehovah’s edict and resist the urge to bare false witness. No lies are more seductive than the ones we tell ourselves. Let us be grateful for the family God has given us; real and broken and perfectly imperfect, rather than covet the one we imagine we have. Living honestly has rich rewards.
I add a few words to my original post. I know that the Lord lives. He is Mighty to Save, the living and the dead. His power is over all the Earth and miracles come when we exercise faith over fear. I imagine in my mind that my willingness to post these things openly will relieve Walter of some of his suffering, that the healing grace of the Master might find him in the hell his sins have trapped him in these many years. I pray that Martha, his daughter might also fully heal from the effects of his sins through the sacrifice of the Son. I pray that all my Henrie and Jukes relatives within the sound of my voice might know that He is mindful of us. He loves us and would that the stain of the past might follow us no longer. Blessed be the name of the Lord!