What will they think when I die?

I’ve been away, once again helping out my mother who is moving. She is aging quite rapidly and she and my step-dad will soon be moving to a retirement home where the environment is conducive to elders who have difficulty walking and/or remembering. The place has no steps and dinner every night from 5-7.

Mom and I perused her old family memorabilia, boxes marked “archives” of both her parents and grandparents. We’re talking things dating back to the 1890’s. I learned my grandfather was a ladies’ man and even back in 1915 a guy could travel (by railcar for which he saved a hundred tickets) to faraway places and dance, see shows and meet a lot of women. He also was an intellect, graduated college with his master’s degree and ended up becoming principal and eventually superintendent of schools. His life story, in pictures and words, is impressive.

I’ve another grandfather who was equally impressive for not having gone to college but still attaining great success in the field of literature. His determination and personality allowed him to succeed despite his lack of formal education.

On the heels of these great men, you’ve got my well-educated parents and siblings who have acquired many higher degrees amongst themselves.

Then, you’ve got me. My family practically laughs at a mere bachelor’s degree. What the hell have I got to show for my life? What have I done with it?

Well, I’ve got a bunch of pitiful journals filled with whining about sexual abuse, PTSD and major depression. Is that something?


Truthfully, I feel less successful than any of my family members. I struggle on an emotional level that doesn’t show in any generation prior to me.

When I die or age and my personal belongings get disbursed, my kids and husband will be getting an eye and ear full when they read the crazy shit I’ve felt and lived through. I didn’t save too many of my accolades (there aren’t any) but I do have a stack of suspension notices from high school. I redeemed myself in college with good grades but my emotional health took a good 20 more years to catch up.

My kids will read my old journals and think, “Wow, I had no idea Mom was so fucked-up.”

They will wonder how I hid my lack of self-esteem and depression from them.

I’m sure what I write will challenge the very image they have of me as a woman and their mom.

I’ve tried to carry on the image my family raised me in — despite my own shortcomings — intellectual and academic success is important.

But, where does that leave what I’ve done? What about the importance of building emotional stability when one grows up lacking such a thing? I want to show my struggles and recognize my progress. I’d like to go full circle. If anyone reads all of my life through my writings perhaps they will see where I’ve come from and where I’m going. Not yet, though. I’m still traveling the journey of piecing the past into my present to make an explainable future.

That’s where my old journals come in. I will go back, refer to my pain, recognize the reason and heal the inner child by moving on without that baggage. That, my friends, is my goal.

My depression, thankfully, is being controlled and I think the time has come to put things in order. So when people read my private history they will see more than a sexually abused woman. That is not who I am.

I previously defined myself as such, in order to heal the pain from that experience but it is no longer a label I want to own. I’d like to be recognized as a woman who fought to gain power over her painful childhood through self-exploration with the guidance of doctor’s, psychologists, other supportive people and antidepressants.

Admittedly, I no longer define myself as a survivor but I will forever be a person who suffers from Major Depression. I know this because when I don’t take my medications I get stuck; I can’t see a future — when I’m depressed all I can see is a negative past and feel pessimistic in the moment.

When I die, I hope others will see emotional strength is as important as intellectual abilities.  Some people have to work harder to get peace of mind but it is attainable. 

I want them to think, “Shit, for what this woman went through she kept her eye on the goal and did a hell of a lot of hard work through psychoanalysis, soul-searching and emotional healing to get to the good things in life.

5 responses to “What will they think when I die?

  1. Thankfully I was never sexually abused, but I can relate to all of the other things you say. I burned a whole lot of my misery journals some years ago and have never regretted it. Would this be an option for you? Sorry if this sounds presumptuous. I hid my depression from my son until last year I admitted it and it was okay.

    • Your comment did not sound presumptous at all. I like the name Misery Journals because the years I wrote in them were miserable! Hmmm. You’ve offered an interesting idea that never occurred to me. Throw away all my journals? You know, if I did that, they wouldn’t have the hold that they currently have on me. Instead of going back and trying to understand each journal entry and the misery I felt I could simply discard them. What a liberating idea!

      My oldest son knows of my depression and that I’m on medication. He once asked, “What would you be like if you weren’t on medication?” That question afforded me a chance to share a simplified version of depression and its symptoms. I know, the real lessons in my children’s lives will take place, not in the reading of my past journals when I’m dead, but in the shared interactions now.

      I thank you for your bluntness. I love it! –Daylily

      • I’m so glad you didn’t mind my comment. Of course you have to do what you feel is right but for me going back was like quicksand so I just lit the incinerator up one day and tossed my past misery away. All the very best to you and thank you for replying and reassuring me!

  2. WordsFallFromMyEyes

    I so, so deeply relate to this – hiding the fact, the reality of your depression (you from your children, me from my one & only son – but do you know, my son now – only NOW tells me, he remembers I used to “just cry for no reason” and he was commenting I don’t do that any more, do I?) I was so pleased to tell my son no, I don’t. I don’t know your situation, have not yet read deeply your blog, but I can tell you, I have only begun antidepressants in the last 4 years of my life. My family was so RIFE with mental illness, I was determined to not be like then (proving to myself I wasn’t, but not being diagnosed the prescribed). Well, that just gave me years actually decades, of utter endurance & pain within. Suicide was a CONSTANT thought.
    What I’m trying to say, is, if you don’t take antidepressants, I really hope for you to know there is no shame in it. IT SAVED ME.

    To your feeling inferior to the accomplishments of your family – well, I too admire your grandfather & his literary skill. It’s just natural to some – & blessings to him for it. But what are YOUR blessings? I really think it would do you good to look at YOU not them, and to NOT EVEN ASK THEM ‘what’s your big accomplishment in your life COMPARED TO THEM?’ Don’t ask them. Don’t be interested in their estimation of you. It is your life and you owe it to YOU to find YOU, what YOU have – not compared to family or compared to dead family members, but right now: who are YOU, what do YOU want to do with YOUR life? That, I truly feel, would bring you happiness to realise, & do.

    I don’t feel inferior to family, but I do feel very, very separate from them. I am not proud of my family’s history of non accomplishment INCLUDING ME (yours is of achievement, mine; underachievement!) – but if you have journals full of as you described, you HAVE TO, HAVE TO know, those experiences thwarted your potential. If no-one else sees that, or knows of that happening to you, let them fall by the wayside of the path you YOU are taking.

    I sincerely, sincerely wish you good – & for you to look at you more, not them.


    • I truly was touched by the encouragment and kindness you’ve offered me. Of course, what you say is so right. I must not compare myself to the family I grew up in but how does one not do that? I was raised by their standards so it is really all I know.

      I am moving toward the idea of burning my journals as I think I am holding onto the pain of the past that is written inside each one. I pass judgement and think I feel compelled to explain each sentence and word in order to justify myself. I would be better if I stopped doing that and just let the past go.

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