Another interesting facet of the ‘replacement child’ discussion is the idea of expanding the term to include the child who is born after a mentally or physically challenged child. In some families, the subsequent child may be looked upon to live out the hopes and dreams that parents had for the first child–that were thwarted when they discovered the child’s disability. I hadn’t specifically thought about this until a friend, psychotherapist Elayne Savage, PhD, brought up the topic when we spoke today. She has had a good deal of experience treating adults who identify with being a replacement child, and says that replacing a living sibling in this way can have similar impact with regard to identity and rejection issues. (Dr. Savage is also available for consultation.)
Although Replacement Child doesn’t deal specifically with this notion, many of my stories in the book point to a complicated dance around my sister Linda’s — I hesitate to use the term — disabilities, that were due to the plane crash and the burns she suffered at the age of two. I certainly felt guilt at being the one spared from the crash, especially in the face of her continued struggles with her reconstructive surgeries, physical limitations and extensive scarring. So, as Dr. Savage pointed out–I had a double wammy of replacing my sister who died, and being the replacement for my living sister to be all that she could not be for my parents. Hmmmm—complication upon complication.
A replacement child for a physically or mentally challenged sibling carries the responsibility of living up to parents’ expectations for the first child that may undermine their sense of a unique identity. It may be another overlooked aspect of family history that can have far reaching implications in our choices, our relationships and our understanding of ourselves.
This past Friday’s interview with Women’s Memoirs was chock full of great questions from the loyal followers of this great blog for women memoirists. We talked about how to get around dicey family issues, whether to write that controversial family saga and risk the wrath of family members to tell the truth. How to reconcile imagined scenes and the inner workings of a “character’s” mind in your memoir. And–what to do with your manuscript once it’s written–then published.
I hope you enjoy listening in to the recorded interview at www.womensmemoirs.com as much as I enjoyed our conversation. If you have any other questions for me, you can either leave them here on my blog, or on the Women’s Memoirs blog and I will be happy to answer you in those forums. If you’d like a personal answer to a question, you can leave your question on my blog and mark it PERSONAL, with your email address and I will not post the comment–but will answer you individually if you like. (All of my blog posts are reviewed before posting live.)
Listen in at www.womensmemoirs.com!
Women’s Memoirs has been kind enough to invite me to guest blog and be interviewed as part of their blog this Friday. You can listen in to the program at 3:00 pm EST (12 noon PST) by calling in at Phone Number: 712-432-0600 (access code: 998458#). Submit your questions ahead of time on the blog site as comments on my guest blog. A recording of the show will be posted on the website next Monday (2/22).
They have a great website, by the way, for anyone who is interested in memoirs by women or in writing their own. Check out Women’s Memoirs, write me some good questions in the comments section of my guest blog to make it a great show!
Women’s Memoirs Interview:
Date/Time: Friday, February 19, 2010, 3:00 PM EST (12:00 noon Pacific)
Phone Number: 712-432-0600 (access code: 998458#)
Last night’s episode of Private Practice on #ABC centered on a terrible choice parents had to make to save only one of their twins who suffered from leukemia, and not the other. They had conceived and delivered a new baby in order to use the blood from his umbilical cord to treat their twin girls, but it turned out that there were only enough cells for one child to benefit. My head spun around all the replacement children in the story! First, little Trevor, the new baby, was born specifically to heal his siblings and save his family. Then, one twin was ultimately treated with the cord blood when the other took a turn for the worse and could not be treated in any case. So, the surviving twin would certainly feel the impact of being her sister’s replacement for her parents. My only hope was that they all sign up for ongoing therapy at the Practice!
I scheduled a flight this year on the 58th anniversary of the plane crash that took my sister’s life, changed the lives of everyone in my family, and was the very reason I was born. Usually, my sister Linda would have sent me a warning email or called me to tell me not to plan a flight on this day. But, she’s gone now, so no warnings came when I planned this trip to LA for a book signing.
It was the last actual booksigning scheduled for the launch of Replacement Child, and I made it into a mini vacation for me and my husband to explore California together a bit. The northeast has been pretty brutal this year and I looked forward to thawing my bones a little as a bonus. Another bonus was that I got to see some old friends who are out there.
That part was truly special, to catch up with old friends and to remember myself as I was when we were all just teenagers. It is amazing what we didn’t know then–about ourselves, and about the individual challenges we all faced within our families. Talking to my two childhood friends I realized that although Replacement Child may be anchored in a unique tragic event, the family issues within its pages are universal. We all have internal barriers to our happiness and success that we had to surmount, either from our parents or siblings–or just circumstance. Parents were different with their different children, and each had their own experience–some better than others. Sometimes we barely recognize the description of a parent told from the point of view of our brother or sister. For many of us, it’s taken the better part of our lives to understand the reasons we may have sabotaged relationships, or chosen the exact wrong person to marry, or failed to take the risks needed for our success. But, what I discovered from my own writing is that it’s never too late to claim your life and to live out your dreams, whether they are lofty ones or just the hope that we can be quietly happy with someone who we love, and who loves us.
Oh yea, the rest of the trip was fabulous! California is a beautiful wonderland. Maybe that’s my next dream, to live in those gorgeous hills near the ocean where you can almost feel your spirit lifting out of your body and screaming in delight.