Betsy Graziani Fasbinder became a second mother to her first son when she married his widowed dad. Filling Her Shoes: A Memoir of an Inherited Family is a series of snapshots of the moments of becoming a second mother to a little boy whose first had been taken. This is a sweet-bitter, happy-ending story of family, revealing that love and loss, grief and gratitude are not opposites, but co-habitants in any family and that patterns of past family abuse can be broken. Filling Her Shoes has been honored with a Gold IPPY Award, a Booklist Starred Review, and a Pinnacle Achievement award as well as being listed by Readers’ Favorite as a “memoir to read”. Drop In with us as we learn how to adapt, adjust, become better versions of ourselves in order to gain what we do not have — love, in the form of a new husband and two sons, upon whose gentleness and kindness Betsy’s sense of motherhood depended. What is the role of a dark past? How do we replace the narrative we tell ourselves?
Betsy is also the host of a bimonthly podcast, The Morning Glory Project: Stories of Determination. In it she interviews survivors, thrivers, innovators, and trailblazers to figure out how it is that they endure. She author of the critically acclaimed novel, Fire & Water and her inspirational public speaking how-to, From Page to Stage. She has been a family therapist since 1992. How do all of this elements weave together to help all of us? Drop In with us to find out ~Leave a comment for radio show guests
What’s the story behind the story? We’ll find out on Dropping In. Our guests are today’s original thinkers. Conversations that spark new ways of seeing what’s going on. We bring it all to the table. Diverse perspectives, controversy, loving and singular voices. Magically stories reveal the common threads that link us. Experience the joys, the fist pumps, the detours and the hard-won truths of those who blaze the trail so that we might do the same and now here’s your host Diane Dewey.
Diane: Welcome to Dropping In everyone. Today we shake it off and find out that the new first couple president Joe Biden and Dr. Joel Biden are not going to be scowling at us from their photographs or swatting away their hand holding that they are truly a loving, enduring couple who have withstood personal tragedy. Joe Biden lost his wife and young daughter in a car crash in 1972. Then Jill Biden stepped in his wife and mother to two young boys Beau and Hunter. They’d already been critically injured but miraculously recovered. Our guest today Betsy Graziani Fasbinder knows firsthand about this landmine of family fusion. She writes about it in her memoir Filling Her Shoes. Welcome Betsy.
Betsy: Hi Diane. Thank you so much for having me this morning.
Diane: Lovely to have you. You are a polymath with this book. You have a podcast called The Morning Glory Project and a novel Fire and Water, a suspense-filled story of art, love, passion and madness. What more could you want? Another non-fiction book From Page to Stage also published by She Writes Press. These can all be found on your website betsygrazianifasbinder.com. We do have a bio for you but please introduce yourself in any way you’d like to. Tell us who you are.
Betsy: I am a believer in stories. That’s the fastest way I can say it. My whole life, both my intimate and my professional and my social life has been I recognize only in looking back at it dedicated to either telling or helping others to tell their stories. I’ve been a therapist for nearly 30 years. I help writers write their stories. I’m a public speaking coach and help people tell their stories. I write and tell my own. Then of course with the Morning Glory Project I feature survivors and thrivers and innovators and trailblazers of all kinds sharing their stories of determination. Diane, I really believe and I’ve come to believe even more firmly that stories are our most intimate human quality. In sharing them it’s how we build bridges to one another. It’s how we come to understand ourselves first and then each other next so that’s what I do. In my family life as well same thing.
Diane: Well it’s one of the oldest forms of communication. It’s family stories passed down to generations. It’s people sitting around a campfire. I’ve listened to your Morning Glory Project podcast interview with Pam Houston and your reflections on how the Trump Administration triggered you both. You are both survivors of domestic abuse and violence. Maybe all of us were somewhat traumatized in terms of abuse of authority. What happens now feels like a bit of a reinstatement, the restoration of what’s sacred, branches of the government, our Constitution, trust and us as a people. That was a sense that I got from reading your book Filling Her Shoes. In order to move this family you had to acknowledge and respect what was sacred the memory of the deceased mother Janet. How did that happen for you?
Betsy: Excuse. Our sound cut out just there for a second. The memory of a deceased did you say mother or brother?
Diane: The memory of the deceased mother Janet who was your husband Tom’s first wife, his late, late wife. Thought I felt as though this whole recognition of what’s sacred. It was so thematic to me both in our times and in reading your book. I just wondered did that come naturally to you. How was that for you?
Betsy: My husband was widowed young. His wife was taken far too soon. I happened to have known her and I knew of their son when he was born. When after her death, some significant time after her death Tom and I began seeing each other. I stepped in and I realized that if I was going to love this man that he came as a package. That I was stepping in to the shoes of someone taken too soon. I knew that from jump but I also just knew that losing a mother is just such a poignant thing for a child and that I wanted her memory celebrated. The truth that came out to me as I was writing the story and I hope in sharing it is that what I discovered was that I had this tremendous gift. I had this inherited family whom I loved. I was so joyful in having it but that it came as a result of a tragic loss.
What has been true in my life for the last nearly 30 years of my marriage is that grief and gratitude, love and loss those are not opposites. They’re cohabitants. They’re roommates. Very often we struggle to decide how should I feel about something. It’s like if somebody has a loved one that they’ve been caring for who’s been ill for a very long time and the person passes away of course they’re sad to lose the one they love but they’re also relieved because it’s been such hard work. They often feel so guilty about that. In my own family love and loss, grief and gratitude had to coexist. I just think that’s true for all of us. The same is true as we watch what’s going on in the nation. We can be still infuriated and disgusted by what has happened and want justice to be served and we want to move forward. Those two things do not have to live as opposites. They can cohabitate.
Diane: I think that you as a person just innately have this gift of compassion, being able to walk around and see the other side, see that the loss that your loved one Tom was experiencing and his son Max was experiencing. Yes you mentioned you are a therapist and a good one. I think that somehow there’s something innate. This pain of grief it reminds me so much of grief and gratitude. Grief is the price we pay for love. The pain of grief is just as much a part of life as the joy of it and is perhaps the price we pay for love. The cost of commitments. That’s from Bereavement. That’s Colin Murray Parkes, 1928 quote. He was an English psychiatrist actually. It’s interesting how we’ve now started to really embrace this duality.
I’m kind of reminded of something from the 1980s this idea of position power versus personal power because you certainly recognized, it seems to me that the title mother to Max, the title wife to your husband Tom was sort of paled in comparison to who you needed to be as a person, your integrity, your sensitivity. Yes, your compassion. That also granted you something because personal power can’t be taken away. If you just went in and said I’m the new mom like that’s not gonna cut it. I wondered about this balance of position power and personal family power, personal power in the family and how that worked for you.
Betsy: Well it sort of makes me think of something almost kind of funny because when I launched this book I asked my audience which was we could meet in person then. I asked my live audience when you hear the word stepmother what’s the adjective that almost always precedes it. Overwhelmingly they said either wicked or evil. That comes from all of every Disney movie, every Shakespeare play. We’ve seen the evil stepmother as an archetype. I so didn’t want to be that. I’ve never believed that I have a stepson or that my younger son has a half-brother, all of those disqualifying qualifiers bothered me. I like to think of stepmothers that step into the shoes of a mother taken too soon or a mother incapable of taking care of her children for one other reason or other or fathers for that matter too that they are step in mothers. That on mother’s day and father’s day I wish that we would celebrate mothering day and fathering day because so much of our loving and parenting sometimes doesn’t come from a parent for whatever reason either death or divorce or mental illness or addiction, any of those kinds or neglect or abuse of course in some cases.
I kind of shun the fixed role. I just think my job was to come in and love my family and protect my son. He’d already had the worst thing that could happen to a little kid happen. How could I possibly make that worse by competing with his mother’s memory rather than embracing it, rather than welcoming that? I see as a therapist and as a human, I see lots of families that competition of the role seems to be such a destructive force. I just didn’t want that.
Diane: I think competition is somewhat of a destructive force and I love that you mentioned about step, it’s so interesting to me. Stepping into the shoes, Filling her shoes. That step is such a different step than the hyphenated step of step-mother or half-brother. Max was quite young. How old was Max when he lost Janet as his mother?
Betsy: He had just turned five when he lost his mom. He was six and a half when I first, when his dad and I first started seeing each other and seven when we got married.
Diane: It’s a love story for sure. I think you place that love front and center. I’m reminded by what you just said about of course the evil archetype but also Ann Patchett in conversation with Brooke Warner, the publisher at She Writes Press who published the book Filling Her Shoes. She had a conversation with Ann Patchett recently. Ann Patchett, the author of The Dutch House said I just looked at everything an awful stepmother might be. Ann Patchett is herself a stepmother and she put that into the character into the book. Ann’s stepchildren are now in their 40s. None of this resembles you but it seems to me that you may be, you also worked off opposites. You’re playing counter point, counter to role.
Betsy: I think so too. You mentioned in your opening J and Jill Biden, of course. Jill Biden had a role like mine. She was stepping in to parenting for a mother taken too soon. I was touched during the Democratic National Convention how she talked about our children. She didn’t say my children and my step children. She just said our children. I was really touched by that and thought yes, that’s how I want to view this. If you really, I view my older son, I have two sons. One grew in my body. Both grew in my heart. I see no difference in them other than for one I have an additional task of helping him to remember his first mother. Other than that I have two sons. It is archetype busting in a way but to me it just seems like such the more natural way to be that it seems that the other way that competitive way is an unnatural way that people can see. They have to fight to keep that kind of anger up for all those years don’t they?
Diane: Oh absolutely. The only other thing I would say just to play devil’s advocate for a moment is that sometimes people try to be politically correct. They try to acknowledge the presence of the late mother by saying I’m the stepmother almost as a way of not taking credit for these beautiful children that you have. I don’t know. It’s lame and I think that your way of saying my heart is what takes precedence. These are my children. They love one another Max and Sam which is so heartening from your book as well. I wondered how it was for you. You’re a self-confessed introvert. How was it for you to write the memoir, to bring out all of this tenderness and to have it be seen and experienced by the world?
Betsy: Well, it’s funny. I wrote these stories kind of as they were happening and with never an intention of sharing them. Anais Nin said that she writes to taste life twice. I always say I write so that I can understand my life once. I write it. That’s my process for doing that. I was writing and documenting these stories in journal-ish form while I was stepping in because I didn’t want to burden my husband or my new son with my own worries and angst about it all. I just didn’t think that was fair. I wrote them for myself only. It wasn’t until my son was in his teens that I got invited to read at an event that was devoted to the theme of motherhood. I thought well maybe one of those would work but I asked him first.
I wouldn’t have aired it publicly had it not been with his blessing. He was old enough to have a choice at that point. He said oh, that’s fine. He’s very accepting of such things and delightful that way. When I read the story I thought it would be a very idiosyncratic, little, humble story of mine but what happened is when I read that story out loud I had so much reaction from this audience. There were maybe 30 or 40 people in the room. Honestly I probably got 25 emails saying can I have a copy of that story for my brother or for my sister, for my cousin, for my friend, for my neighbor because that’s what she’s going through. That’s what he’s going through.
I began to think I had something. I started to look at the different stories I’d written and assembled them. It was never my intention to share them but back to what I started with I think that the connection, the sharing of our stories is such a bridge from human to human and when we tell them people’ secrets come out. For example I lost a pregnancy very late in pregnancy when I was nearly six months along. It was a tragedy and it was awful but when that happened women that I knew had known for decades suddenly started telling me about their miscarriages. In the sharing of my experience they could share theirs. I didn’t even know that. I had known them for decades but didn’t know they’d experience that. We began to have this support and connection by sharing those things. From those of us who are naturally introverted, we learn the benefits of sharing our story and connecting. If we do it one-on-one or if we do it more publicly as I have done it’s the same. I now consider myself an omnivert by the way. I’m not quite introverted and not quite extroverted so I’m an omnivert.
Diane: You’ve come out of yourself. Well the connection building is worth it. It’s really something bigger than we are as people. I think that it’s a larger purpose. I remember so well reading about it was called a fetal demise. You were carrying twins into your sixth month of pregnancy. I think both of these stories Betsy are underserved that of how awkward it can be to step into the role of a stepmother and how in the dark and how alone you can feel when you have lost a pregnancy. You write in Filling Her Shoes, “Grief and loss. Those bitches never leave” and that’s so true. Thank you for saying it. I think it’s some sort of this acceptance of grief as kind of a friend in the family that it’s a non-linear experience, that it’s going to circle back, that it’s going to be with you forever. Those bitches never leave I think that that’s just so fantastic in terms of a level of acceptance of being real with the situation.
To flip onto the other side. I loved when you unfortunately you did have this experience you and Tom of the children that you had conceived losing them but then you’re headed back to work on the ferry. You live in the San Francisco Bay Area. You’re headed back to work and you see the sun sparkling on the water. You decide to get another route to work and you walk a different route. You come across this old woman with a vendor table and little chachkas set out. You’re drawn to one. It’s these two carved figures of tiny angels one smaller than the other as your twins were. I just wonder if you could speak to this synchronicity, to this specialness of this kind of event, to this kind of message that kind of pierced into your reality at that point.
Betsy: Well on one hand we can look at that like there’s some kind of psychic magic in the universe and all of that and that may be true and that’s a topic for another program perhaps but I think it’s that when you choose to live on and I say that. I say live on as opposed to get over. A lot of people want you to get over grief or loss or tragedy. I think you choose to live with it and move with it. I think that when you make the choice to live with and to move with this as part of your life that you start looking for sparkle. You start looking for joy and miracles and things that are reminiscent but not agonizing. When I saw those two little angels carved and one slightly smaller than the other from a woman who was clearly homeless. She really had a blanket on the on the ground. She was very broken. She was silent. She never said a word and she was selling things like one shoe that didn’t have a mate and broken cups and things. She had these two little angels and I just thought I don’t know the source of such things but I’m going to take it as an affirmation for me. I’m gonna try to give this woman a blessing too.
I think it’s about trying to, deciding where we’re gonna put our gaze Diane, that’s how I think of it, that I could choose to focus only on the loss and the tragedy of that or I could choose to focus on the miracles and the moments that come along that restore. Both of those are true but where do I want to put most of my attention. Do I want to just ignore those things?
Diane: I mean these are the choices you were making consciously. You could feel sorry for yourself or you could focus on the sparkle in the water. You could have had a sort of despondent feeling but instead you were looking for, you were turning your gaze in a certain way and you were maybe inviting into your gaze the positive which I think it is a choice. It’s a conscious choice.
Betsy: I’ll tell you. The other that morning here I was I had carried babies to more than six months. I was going back to work a month later and earlier on in that morning I was all concerned about whether my time, what clothing I should wear because I wasn’t quite back to my regular size. I couldn’t wear maternity clothing. I was working in a financial district. You have to dress a certain way. I was all on a twitter about that until finally I thought it really doesn’t matter. Nobody cares. Nobody will care but me. I just wore a loose-fitting pair of pants and went on with it. Then I encountered that beautiful little miracle.
Diane: Yes, it’s a blessing that you created in a certain way. You kind of made space for imperfection by saying look, I’m going to accept myself first the way I am and you’re right. It doesn’t matter. We’re going to stop for a commercial break here and when we come back we’re going to lighten up because yes, there were sad parts but there were extremely funny parts. We’re going to talk about how Max did mistake your tampon for chocolates that he should put in his lunchbox. Don’t go away we’ll be right back on Dropping In.
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Diane: Welcome back everyone. We’re here with Betsy Graziani Fasbinder. It’s a perfect name and through reading her book Filling Her Shoes I learned the evolution of this name. Each part of it was chosen. We were just talking about the concept of choices. That was a great part of this story Betsy. I think it speaks volumes. Do you want to just recap it for us this name?
Betsy: The story of my ridiculous name.
Diane: Of your name, yes.
Betsy: Here’s how I say it. I have three names Betsy Graziani Fasbinder and not one of them is original issue. They all got changed and for good reasons. I was born Betty House but I was always called Betsy. When I finally went away and I was an introverted school so they called me Betty the whole time at school. I hated it because that was what was on the official transcript. When I went away to college I changed it officially to Betsy. I was Betsy House. Then I got married young. That marriage didn’t last and I had my former husband’s name. When I left him I decided I wasn’t going to take my father’s name. My father was a neglectful and abusive parent. I didn’t really want to identify with him or his family so I took my maternal grandfather’s name which is Graziani. I thought that will be my name forever Betsy Graziani. I thought well that has kind of been an alliterative sound. I like it. I’m proud of it. I created both names. I’m happy with and I’m never changing it again.
Well then when I was getting ready to marry Tom. It was just a week before we were to marry and I was going to keep my name as many women do. Max, who was then seven came in. He said hey, it’s kind of funny you’re gonna be Betsy Fasbinder from now on. I said oh, sweetheart. Lots of women don’t change their name. I gave this very kind of professorial explanation as to why I wasn’t changing my name. He looked up with his big old chocolate brown eyes and said so we’re not going to be a whole family. I thought nothing about my name and all that I’d claimed of it mattered in that moment. What mattered was that we were a family to him. I have this ridiculous name Betsy Graziani Fasbinder. Actually, I love it now.
Diane: Well I do too now that I know the story. There again is the significance of stories. I was I must say always curious about it. Betsy Graziani Fasbinder doesn’t roll off the tongue.
Betsy: No one can spell it. No one can say it. It’s a terrible website name.
Diane: Once you get the hang of it though you never forget. It’s B-E-T-S-Y G-A-R-Z-I-A-N-I F-A-S-B-I-N-D-E-R.com. There you have it. I think the fact again, I mean this is going back a ways because Max is now launched out of your home but I mean just again your choice there that you said look, the way he looked at the world was more important than a political statement about your name. I think that there again your priorities being so heartfelt it gives you this personal power. It gives a story a lot of power.
Betsy: Please note for my own sake of feminism and for listeners of such variety. Notice that I didn’t get rid of the name that I created. I simply added to it. I didn’t want to ditch the Graziani. Whenever I sign any official papers, when I publish my books all of me is there too. I don’t want to give the impression that I was willing to completely be subsumed into my new role.
Diane: It’s your whole soul as we’ve heard one person famously say recently. I think too that in your book Filling Her Shoes there are some beautiful photographs and your grandfather Graziani was a noble character, a huge relief really from other male characters including your father who had a horrid temperament. I think it’s in complete keeping to have Betsy Graziani Fasbinder. The saddest story I thought of many that were in the peaks and valleys was the mother’s day, your first mother’s day when you were with Tom and Max. Nobody made a move. You’re with guys and guys, maybe don’t remember these kinds of things plus they’re a little on the silent side. They’re a little on the non-communicative side. You really stepped up to the plate with non-verbal communication both understanding it, learning their cues, all of it but it’s a bit of a test when you’re at the first mother’s day and nobody says happy mother’s day. You fell back on your own resources. I think you somehow gritted your teeth and then at the end of the day Tom quite spontaneously said to you you’re such a good mommy. That must have been so gratifying.
Betsy: It was and it was at the end of a very troubling day when I was being all pissy about not being acknowledged in as a new mom on that morning and feeling a little embarrassed by my desire to have that. My guys were just kind of ignoring the day. I went and had my little quiet fit in the shower and wept and all that. I wrapped my hair in a towel and came down the stairs and Max was watching cartoons as kids are want to do on such a morning. When I descended the stairs all of a sudden my very sweet, quiet, almost never shouted little boy started screaming. I mean screaming as if he was in pain. I kept saying what, what? I thought, I was thinking he ruptured an appendix or something. I couldn’t figure it out. He just kept screaming and then when his dad came in breathless he started screaming take it off, take it off. Make her take it off.
In that moment I looked and he was looking at the towel on my head. It clicked that his mother was without her hair and wore a turban. Here he saw his second mother descend the stairs wearing a turban. It was traumatic for him. That upstaged my little pissy fit about not being acknowledged for mother’s day. It’s about perspective and scale. I still want to be acknowledged on mother’s day these days. Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with wanting that but in the context of that it was nothing.
Diane: Janet, actually she had a terminal illness and she was a cancer victim. I think it was leukemia. You triggered unwittingly in Max but you also triggered something in yourself which was get beyond yourself you know which is so hard to do sometimes. You also talk quite a bit in the book about how you do cope with trauma. It seems to me that you have a great deal of self-knowledge as a reservoir. You talk about how in your childhood which was fraught with violent episodes. You learned to cope better than your other sibling sadly who bore quite a bit of the brunt because you had a way of slowing down time and saying wait a minute. What is happening? I’m now going to quiet myself. It seems to me that these moments of quieting yourself have really served. Do you feel that even in times when you’ve had to do this kind of like about face? This coping mechanism is it not part of your survival tactic is it not Betsy?
Betsy: Well it is. Diane, there’s a phrase that I use that I don’t really like but is true and that is that not all survivors survive. Not all children from abusive homes or people who have witnessed and endured gun violence episodes or not all people that survive is surviving. By what I mean I’m not talking about the person that got shot or killed. I’m talking about the people who can’t live with that memory. They either disappear into addiction or other mental health issues or even take their own lives as happened in my own family. I don’t know whether this ability to kind of be as you say be quiet with it, be still with it is a gift that I got or a decision I made. I have another sister who is very similar who is my dear friend and survived in a similar way but I do think that it’s something we can teach. I think that for those who sustained a trauma to give them permission to live with it and to not pretend it isn’t so and to provide them the care and nurturance that I was able to find from other loved ones, from later on from therapists and good mentor, teachers. Those kinds of things. It’s a cultivated skill not something that I just magically have.
By the way that skill in this last four years has been really taxed for me. This has been tough. I’ve experienced my own difficulties with watching an abusive person rise to power and get celebrated. It’s very triggering as you started this, as Pam Houston talked about. In fact a poet that I know Molly Fisk recently wrote just right after the inauguration. She said now the rest of you understand what it’s like for us who to watch our abuser die, that to watch that is both a tremendous relief and a horror at the same time. Yes, I do go inward. Other people have other ways of coping with trauma. That’s how I do it but I think it’s also about that decision again of where to put your gaze.
Diane: Where to put your energies. There is in general terms of course you mention it as a therapist the fight, flight, freeze or and then there’s a fourth as a woman. Notoriously women try to connect whether that’s Stockholm Syndrome or another version of it but yes, I think it’s been very difficult for us to try to assimilate a kind of collective trauma. It seems to me that while we were frozen now the thaw, now there’s regard again for sacred things, for humanity, for rights and we start to connect again almost instantly. Almost instantly. It’s like people are talking rapidly again about wow, wow, wasn’t that something that we survived. I have to think you have the Morning Glory Project and it’s about resilience and getting through. You must be feeling like you’re really the right time at the right place in the right moment to be talking about these stories.
Betsy: I have to tell you I launched the Morning Glory Project in October of 2019 so we just had a few episodes under our belt before the pandemic all hit. I have to tell you there were times that I thought oh, who’s going to want to listen to this right now. I mean there’s so much trauma and drama and horror going on. Who’s going to want this? For a long time it was a weekly program now it’s bi-monthly. When I look back and when I look with my co-producer Angela Washington and I often reminisce and say listening to these, now 55 stories of people who have overcome, people who have endured with their humanity intact, people who have sustained a trauma but then sustained themselves throughout it. Of all of the things this whole year that has helped me through honest to Pete the Morning Glory Project it’s helped me.
I hope that for listeners it helps them too but I’ve been really inspired in learning how different people find their way through. It’s different for everybody. One person finds their way through difficulty by being really active and another person by being very still, another person by embracing nature and another person by making a poster and protesting. Whatever it is that helps us sustain ourselves and to get ourselves through to the other side when we can see it with a new perspective. That’s been exciting. It’s been exciting to talk with those people and then doubly exciting share those conversations on the airwaves as well.
Diane: Well I would urge our listeners to tune into the Morning Glory Project. I promised everyone. I want to look at the role of humor and comic relief. It’s in your book Filling Her Shoes. At one point Max you’re making his lunch every day. I mean there’s certain routines that I think are also helping to comfort him. You’re making his lunch every day. Such a personal act and there’s a certain number of chips. I think it’s 16 not more, not less. You’re willing to go there and to help him and in whatever way that you can. He says to you what about that secret chocolate. I’d like some chocolate in my lunch. It turns out that he has gone upstairs and has gone into your bathroom. He thinks that the tampons must be secret chocolate. I’m sorry this was one of the best sunniest…
Betsy: He comes downstairs Diane. Let’s paint the story here. He comes downstairs with his palm and in it lays a wrapped tampon that’s in a plastic sheath with little flowers on it. He says here. Here’s the chocolate because I said honey, there’s no, I don’t have any secret candy bars. I don’t. He said no, no. The secret ones, the super-secret ones. He was just so insistent. Then he slithered away and I didn’t think about it. He came down with this little package in his hand. There I was a new mom. At that point my husband had not educated me about how far he had informed his young son about the biology of life and such matters. Here I was and Tom was gone. I thought you know what? I’m just gonna answer the kids questions only as he asks them. I said sweetheart that’s not a tampon and he said what is it.
Diane: Or that’s not a chocolate.
Betsy: I said that’s not a that’s not a candy bar. He said what is it? I said it’s a tampon. Well what’s that for? I went into this very scientific little explanation of biology that requires such things and as I did I just watched him wilt and wilt and pretty soon his little hand was falling. He just held it up. He dropped his eyes to the floor and lofted the tampon carrying hand up higher and simply said I don’t think I want it in my lunch. I thought oh my gosh, this is one of those moments of motherhood that’s normal. This has got nothing to do with being a stepmother or a half son or any of those terrible things. It’s just got to do with these are those moments.
Diane: It does get you through. I mean it’s connective also these universals. Does he know about biology? Does he know about sex, sexuality? He’s very young still but I mean I think too that you need to hang on to these funny moments just also because the rest of it is sometimes stressful. You’re constantly calibrating, recalibrating and processing and helping others to process. I do think that as much you mentioned a couple of times that Tom and Max and actually then Sam, all kind of sort of deep thinkers, deep feelers, quite intuitive a lot of them but not really conversationalists. You were kind of drawing things out and kind of testing all along the way and not knowing. Going as you could. When in doubt saying well what do you think it is? This is great therapist tactics but I also wondered about you getting yourself through all of this.
You had your sister, you lost a sibling which on top of all of this preceding trauma. I have to think that the loss of your brother who I think must have inwardly taken, you must have internalized some of the anger. As you say some survivors don’t survive. You can’t weigh it and say well dissociation is better tactic than others. You can’t possibly do that but dissociation is a natural thing. You split. You can’t be in the situation. It can’t be processed if your father is hitting you or throwing you across the room as he did with your brother. I mean these are things that you can’t process. This dissociation it’s not about having like a special skill or talent it’s just that the psyche somehow protects you in that moment. In your case maybe because you were more self-reflective during the time that it got you through and you recognized that. During the time that you were assimilating into the new family, your new family, did you see therapists yourself? What were some of your sanctuaries? What were some of your, you say you wrote? What were the other means that you had to cope?
Betsy: Well yes, I certainly have taken advantage of therapy and of the writings of wise people and of my own meditation practice, all of those kinds of things. most especially and I think even for me, it’s different for different people but for me the most important aspect that I had was a deep and trusting community of support in what I call my framily, F-R-A-M-I-L-Y, they are friends and family. Friends who I regard as family and family members who are my deepest friends. Those people with whom I could be deeply and truly honest were a big part of what sustained me. That and my going inward with just me. Not all survivors do survive and heaven help those who either are more fragile or less equipped in whatever way to make it through. I can be heartbroken for that and I certainly, I believe that my younger brother was one of those that was more broken than he let us know. He didn’t confide in a community. He didn’t have or seek the support that he needed.
Diane: Betsy as you opened your whole life is now about sharing and the strength in that. You’ve helped us become better people by reading Filling Her Shoes and now you have From Page to Stage where you’re helping people gain a voice. I’m just going to thank you so much for being with us on Dropping In. you are both an inspiration and a support. Social media handles Betsy Graziani Fasbinder Author. Thank you for unwinding this braid. Thank you for chewing gum and walking at the same time with all of your roles. Thanks to Matt Weidner and Aaron Keller, our engineers and to Robert Giolino, our executive producer most of all to you our listeners. Remember to stay safe, be compassionate and like Bruce Springsteen said join us in the field of hopes and dreams. Till next week thank you for dropping in.
Thank you so much for dropping in. Please join Diane Dewey again next Friday at 8 AM Pacific Time and 11 AM Eastern Time on the Voice America Variety Channel. We’ll see you then.