The Healing Power of Memoir

A few weeks ago I sat next to Angela Rochon at Marcus Grill, enjoying the Christmas luncheon hosted by Detroit Working Writers. Angela recently had her first book published, a memoir called Fatherless. I remember many meetings over the years where Angela shared her writings for this book with the DWW critique group. I always enjoyed reading about her Italian relatives and the kitchen flooded with various ingredients and aromas. It reminded me so much of my Chaldean family and culture. 

Angela’s book is really about her father, Angelo. His family was joyful, hard-working, devout, and kindhearted, except for Vito, the murderer. Born to a widwo who was widowed again, Angela helped raise his half siblings. Sicilian immigrants in steel-city Youngstown, Ohio cherished this thoughtful boy. World War II brought him to Algonac, Michigan, as a leader of men.

“Hope and love were his signature features,” said Angela. “The village embraced him, commending his kindness.”

Angelo became wealthy, but haunted by the memory of hunger. He built a church and treasured his family, who soon became fatherless.

During our lunch, Angela and I spoke about how we each felt writing our memoirs, the healing power in the process. We traveled centuries back, visited family stories we never knew existed, understood the root of some feuds, and in our hearts, reconciled a lot of relationships. Through our memoirs, we also shared beautiful memories, including our culture’s customs, cooking, and celebrations.

Fatherless, which spans two centuries, describes Ellis Island immigration, world wars, the Great Depression, national prosperity, and recessions. In it, there’s a reconciliation after a fifty-year feud. Angela writes, “Instead of Ancestry websites, Aunt Agata and I researched our ancestry at Ellis Island, sharing the date with our family. We discussed details. Our memory mining conversations became her gifts to me. Mine were her brief diversions from her deteriorating health.” 

In writing memoir, happy scenes comfort us while difficult ones arouse a painful past. But they also help us understand and stop reliving that past. When you take the time to look at a situation from beginning to end, when you write it down, you’re able to see it from a different perspective. Maybe you blamed one parent for an incident without having sat down and putting yourself in his or her shoe. Taking the time to look at your memories objectively and to make sense of them helps you come to terms with your feelings, with old wounds. It shows you family patterns, such as in Angela’s case, sudden deaths at early ages, resilience, and reconciliation. 

Angela9-page-001.jpg

As a psychiatric therapist and an educator who held management positions in university and secondary schools, Angela’s experiences led her to teach memoir writing, guiding reminiscence groups, grief support, and doing public speaking. She continued writing throughout this time, winning awards for her poetry, as she published work in newspaper columns, magazines, and academic journals. She earned the Toastmasters International DTM. 

For her memoir Fatherless, Angela went as far as doing genograms that placed six generations in relation to each other, prompting memories and giving her reader concise visuals. Genograms graphed generational effects of tragedies and joys and focused on medical, genetic, or emotional relationships.

Writing memoir is healing, and it’s also fun. Angela recalls a grandchild calling the Statue of Liberty “the Statue of Literally.” 

“It is,” said Angela. “All my genes literally are from Italian immigrants to New York City.” 

Angela2_WeddingPicture.jpg

Contact A. M. Andino Rochon at a.m.rochon@aol.com to comment or schedule Mining Memories or Introduction to Genograms events or speeches.

Some upcoming events:

 

02/07/19:

Legacies of Life Memories, 6 PM, Algonac/Clay Library, 2011 St Clair River Drive, Algonac MI 48001, Reservations requested at 810 794-4471

 

02/21/19:

Legacies of Life Memories, 6 PM, Algonac/Clay Library, 2011 St Clair River Drive, Algonac MI 48001, Reservations requested at 810 794-4471

 

02/28/19:

Legacies of Life Memories, 6 PM, Algonac/Clay Library, 2011 St Clair River Drive, Algonac MI 48001, Reservations requested at 810 794-4471

 

03/05/19:

Legacies of Life Memories, 11:30 AM, Port Huron Senior Center, at 600 Grand River Ave, Port Huron MI 48060, 810 984-5061, 800 297-0099

The Path of Consciousness

It was a full moon, a Wolf Moon in January of 2016. We were on a family trip in Cancun, Mexico, on a tour of the Riviera Maya. Before 3:00 pm, I left my husband and children and walked beneath a wooden archway with the words “Path of Consciousness” printed in Spanish and English.

The trail led to the Mayan ceremony I’d signed up for which included a Temazcal steam bath. This relaxing mystical old-age rite is good for the soul and mixes a spiritual journey with an encounter with the basic elements of our planet: water, fire, earth, and wind. I came upon a narrow pathway to the right, with a bowl of incense beside a large shell. Over it, a sign read:

“Enjoy a relaxing experience and feel yourself being reborn with this mystical old-age rite. The Temazcal steam bath is good for the soul. It mixes a spiritual journey with a truly delightful encounter with the basic elements of our planet: water, fire, earth, and wind…”

I went into the narrow road that seemed hidden within beautiful trees. The road led to a round area where three men dressed in white trousers prepared the burning of large black stones. They greeted me and asked that I take a seat on the bench, besides an Indian couple who also happened to live in Michigan. I then watched as the men continued to make the black stones hotter and redder.

During the ceremony, we had the opportunity to reflect on our negativities and then to throw them away, using maple syrup chips, into the incense bowl that the shaman came to us with. We drank a bowl of tree sap, were asked to close our eyes and dream in our new vision, and we were blessed by the shaman in the Mayan language. Then we were led into a sweat lodge.

Shaman Ceremony at the Riviera Maya, Mexico

The sweat lodge was dark, with only four lit candles. Soon the hot stones were brought in by a wagon and piled in the middle of the room. The room became warm, and when the men poured aromatic water over the stones, producing steam, it became hotter and hotter.

“I will eventually blow out the candles and the room will be completely dark,” he said, both in English and Spanish so all seven people would understand him. “If you feel you want to leave, that’s okay, just clap your hands and we will help you out. But I ask that you stay and take advantage of this opportunity. Allow the prayers to transport you to another place in time. Allow the steam created by the herbs and hot stones to envelope your body as it purifies your spirit, then experience a rebirth as you abandon to the warm shelter of mother earth’s womb.”

He talked about the feminine power, the importance of women in this world, how they are the backbone of society and therefore, need to be treated well by men. He then talked about the four elements of our planet. Not long after he blew out the candles, with the steam rising higher and the room getting hotter, I did have this urge to escape, to clap my hands. I tried to stay still, but I felt very uncomfortable, and then I asked myself, “What am I afraid of?”

Suddenly, I relaxed. I relaxed enough to listen to the answer which I was afraid to look at. I received much wisdom in this submission and remembered my teachers from Lynn Andrews’ school who had also held sacred space for me as I faced my dark side, and how facing my dark side has also helped me find the light.

We walked out of the sweat lodge into a waterfall of pure water. We returned to the circle for another drink, and to give gratitude. The shaman thanked us for keeping this thousands-year-old Mayan tradition alive by our participation. We thanked him for this amazing opportunity.

The last time I had gone to Mexico was twenty years ago, to chaperone my niece and her friends for their Spring Break. Back then, shamans were not a part of any excursion. Back then, few people had ever heard the word shaman. Luckily, today is a different story. Today that tradition is not only alive and well, but it’s available to everyone who understands and appreciates the healing and rejuvenation it provides for us and our Earth.

Here I am two years later, that one experience not having left my mind and spirit. Knowing I can’t easily go to Mexico for spiritual ceremonies, I decided to create a similar community in my neighborhood. So I started The Path of Consciousness, an idea born from the little hideaway in the Riviera Maya, Mexico. Similarly to the Temazcal steam bath, this community is about reconnecting through ancient teachings and tools; releasing what no longer serves us; healing and transforming ourselves through writing and storytelling; and creating a better world for our families and communities.

This year, we’re having our first yearly spiritual and writing conference and retreat, where you’ll have the opportunity to enhance your personal and business life with various ancient teachings, including writing and storytelling. It’s close enough to drive to and far enough to find peace,  spiritual growth, and writing time at an affordable price.

Date: October 5-7, 2018

Place: Colombiere Retreat and Conference Center in Clarkston, Michigan 

For more information, visit the homepage https://thepathofconsciousness.com/