We often talk about respecting our Elders and our Ancestors but an Elder is someone who has earned respect by their behaviour, not just the fact of living on the earth for 50 + years or being a blood relative. I went to a Women's Circle a few years ago where we were asked to name our mothers and our grandmothers.....I am Anna, daughter of Susan, daughter of Hilda. There were some women who felt supremely uncomfortable with that identification because they had spent years healing from abuse and neglect inflicted by their birth mothers or grandmothers. Just because someone gave birth to you does not make them a respected elder.
In the discussion about native cultures and Shamanism we hear about ancestor worship, elders leading the tribe, and matriarchal lineage. We are told earnestly that to disconnect from our ancestors is to lose our identity and disconnect from who we are. That this disconnect can lead to depression and illness. How do we reconcile this idea with a dysfunctional family now? If adult children in dysfunctional families feel that it is their fault and their responsibility to fix the problem they return again and again to try and mend the rift, only to have wounds re-opened and more abuse heaped upon them. If it is an abusive man beating a woman, she is told that it is healthy and good to walk away and start a new life. If it is an abusive mother or grandmother, walking away and starting a new life is called abandonment. Men and women are made to feel guilty that they are not in touch with their birth mothers or taking care of them in their old age, no matter what the story. You must forgive your elders and you must sacrifice your life, time, energy and money to take care of them when they are elderly. Love and light! It is your duty to do this! Shame on you for not visiting your grandmother in the nursing home! How can you call yourself a spiritual person if you don't forgive the abuse and love your Mom!
Learning to forgive and heal does not mean that you need to return to the abusive relationship. If the abusive person has not changed and is not ready to make amends, the same cycle of hurt just starts again. Just like an abused women should not return to an abusive marriage, continuing to romanticize the mother-child or grandmother-grandchild relationship and keeping the connection even though no reconciliation or change has occurred is pointless, fruitless and damaging. It may be very hard to admit that you need to end the relationship with your parents; maybe the hardest thing that you will ever have to do.
This does not mean that you have to sever the connection with your ancestors and your family lineage. You are genetically part of this family and always will be. You can participate in honouring the family, learning about the family, and even doing Shamanic healing around ancestor wounds, and still not need to re-kindle a relationship with a violent or abusive parent. Respecting our elders does not mean condoning or forgetting trauma. In our pursuit of spiritual transformation, we can work on trying to understand why it happened and letting go of the anger and pain. Saying 'I forgive you' is not the same as saying, 'You can hurt me again!'
(This article has grown out of many conversations with people in the Sacred Cauldron Community. It is not meant to apply to any one person or story.)