I Remember Joanie(‘s mother)

Lynda1948_2I’ve been reading another book by Brenè Brown. The Gifts of Imperfection has encouraged me to examine how I deal with shame. Do you remember the first time you felt real shame?

I must have been six or seven, old enough to have comprehended life and death to some degree. Mostly, though, I thought about putting one foot in front of another in my carefree days. I would wander up and around the dirt road where we lived, try to engage my older sister, and failing that, begin to bug the only neighbor.

I don’t remember much about Joanie. Mostly I have impressions. She had porcelain skin and blond hair. When we played together I felt I was in the presence of one of those angels depicted in the Bible story books. She was never rowdy or very active.

In contrast, I was a dark-haired, deeply-tanned tomboy who created a swirl of dust and noise in my wake. I was constantly being told to slow down, pipe down, stop to think, and take care.

And so, I arrived at her door on that summer morning, prepared to be good as I knocked timidly on the door. “Can Joanie play?”

I don’t remember Joanie’s mother’s features either. I think she was a small woman. Her expression that day, however,  is etched into my consciousness: disbelief, irritation and some sort of abhorrence I couldn’t comprehend.

Comprehension of adults was not a part of my childhood.

Maybe I lingered for a few moments after the door slammed. Perhaps I padded my way down their long driveway, scuffing my bare toes in the dirt and wondering why I was so bad and not understanding what I had done wrong. When I think of that day, my clenching stomach doesn’t give me the details.  Ultimately, I think, I would have barreled down the road to my house and burst through the front door. I probably didn’t tell my story to anyone. No one would have asked. My sorrows hid inside me, buried in the shame that lodged itself in my child-heart.

Was that when I learned that Joanie was dead? Had I already been told and not understood or remembered? Was it during her final illness? What caused her death? Did I ever know? These question in my past won’t be answered.

I know I was in a wrong place at a wrong time and didn’t understand the consequence I had created. What I saw as utter rejection of my core being was probably pain and disorientation, but Joanie’s mother’s face marked a change in how I felt about myself.

I can heal the wounds of childhood. The memories remains as lessons and reminders. They teach me to be grounded in who I am rather than judging myself by others’ (perceived) reactions. They remind me that any one of us can unintentionally leave an indelible imprint in our moments of grief and/or distraction.

These memories also teach me to speak of my displays of ignorance in order to lighten the weight of their impact. Shame isn’t nearly so heavy when I share it.



  1. As children all of us go through such experiences and they do leave deep impressions. Many of mine got resolved and left bothering me in the process of meditation but there are occasions when some of them return to the question, why the adult could not have been an adult in treating a child. That lesson enables me to handle children in a very different way than say my father or other elders handled me when I was a child.

    Brene Brown incidentally is one of my favourites too. Both her books are inspirational and I get people to buy them whenever I come across anyone needing such reassurances.


    • Yes, sometimes without us knowing it, these occurrences tell us stories of who we are. I have been trying for a couple of years to identify these. What I find fascinating for myself is the difficulty of separating the truth from the fiction of who I am when these concepts of myself have been embedded unawares.


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