“No one knows your name until you draw your last breath.” -- Rumi
By Rosalba Stocco, MSW, RSW
When I first heard this line from Rumi, it left me dumbstruck. What does it mean? It can’t be true. My family knows my name. My friends know my name. I knew my parents’ names. What in the world does it mean?
“It means that people don’t really know you until after you are gone.” That’s what Jacqueline told me. And then the pieces fell together for me. How sad, my children will not really know me until I draw my last breath and then some?
I then thought of my parents: Amalia Semenzin, my mother, and Luigi Cadorin, my father. When they died 20 and 30 years ago, I really thought I knew them. I knew them as their Canadianized youngest daughter.
Rosalba Stocco, here as the youngest one in her family immigration photograph. She says, "For nine years I was the baby of the family and then came my baby brother."
From that viewpoint, my mother was an unhappy woman focused on no debts and never going hungry. She was the woman who told me to "be a good Catholic and go to church.” Her best advice was to “never do what the priests do.” She said, "Follow their teachings and while you do that, remember that the floor of hell is paved with the scalps of priests.”
So what did I do? I decided that there was no room in my life for the church or organized religion.
As the youngest daughter raised in Canada, I saw my father as an angry alcoholic who liked my baking and Christmas. He only spoke to me through my mother. So my mother would tell me, “Your father says that your gym uniform is too short.” So I decided that no man would tell me what to do, especially my brothers. Imagine that going down in an old-fashioned Italian home.
So what did I do? You are right, I became the angry one, just like my father.
As a graduate of a social work program, my mother was an abused woman holding onto her Italian culture. My father’s violent temper was most likely related to the abuse he experienced at the hands of his father as well as his father’s alcoholism. So now I saw them as dysfunctional, backwards individuals who needed to be enlightened.
Yes, I could have been accused of having a certain amount of arrogance. A little bit of education can do that to some of us.
They were hard workers who saved their pennies for tomorrow because tomorrow there just might be a famine.
In Italy, they sometimes went hungry. In Canada, even though by my aunt’s standards we were entitled to food hampers, there was always enough food, wine, detergent and more in our cupboards that would last for another six months. Because they went hungry they ensured that we would not go hungry.
From this I learned that I better stock up and save everything that I can because tomorrow there may be no work and no food. With this influence even on one income with long hours we paid off our first home in six years and still managed three vacations – one lasted five weeks in Italy.
All six of my parents' children believe that our mother played favorites, and of course not one of us felt as if we were her favorite. Our father treated us all the same -- he ignored all of us equally. However, he did say there was only one child that he would take back home in a flash—my older sister. So maybe he did play favorites.
It was only when I immersed myself in the philosophy of Systemic Constellation Work as developed by Bert Hellinger that my parents’ story unraveled with so much more depth, integrity and honor.
My parents and grandparents transformed from these backward Italian peasants who learned farming and cooking in Canada to inspirational survivors of Life’s Turbulent Forces.
They were no longer victims and perpetrators, they became men and women who somehow by accepting the flow of the river of life managed to make something meaningful out of the cards that were dealt to them.
My father’s Post-traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of his early life experiences, compounded by the experiences of war and immigration, overwhelmed him and all of us. Now I carry those experiences that can be interpreted as traumatic as my initiation into my family and my tribe.
My father almost killed every single one of his children as well as my mother – and yet did not. Perhaps by a hair he stopped himself and we are all still alive.
Today I understand and in my heart there is mostly compassion for my father and all of us. Would anyone of his children have been able to endure what he did? Maybe, if we must, we likely would have.
After all, we do have the same DNA, and thus hopefully the same resilience that we can tap into when we need it. At some level, we know that in our DNA we have an ability to survive. I jokingly say, that I come from a healthy, strong, peasant stock. There are no prissy princesses in our family.
(Well, unlikely, however who knows how many generations back we may need to go to find one.)
My mother has been accused of taking us to Canada for her own selfish reasons. Regardless as to what made her determined to come to Canada, I am most appreciative of her choice of countries to immigrate. We are much obliged to this country that we gladly and proudly call home. None of us have a desire to return to Italy other than the odd visit.
We are Canadians who also happen to be Italian immigrants. And with the understanding gleamed from Systemic Constellation Work, it makes perfect sense that my grandfather’s oldest son would follow an unknown sibling to the “Americas.” For it is in this hemisphere, that we have unknown cousins – a mystery yet unsolved.
In my first story, we were a dysfunctional family. A story where we can take the violins out and we can start to compare notes on who had the most dysfunctional family.
In my second story, looking through the lens of a helping professional, I find all the reasons why my parents did what they did and gave them more labels.
Through the expanded work of Systemic Constellations, we are a family on a journey of discovery.
Which makes for a better story? And which story has more truth?
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