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The Ancestors You Would Rather Forget


Ancestral Healing

Some of the most meaningful work I engage in, both personally and professionally, is around ancestral healing. Our family just marked the one year anniversary of my grandmother’s death. My grandmother, Allene Hope, who I knew as Mammie, was a maternal figure for me throughout my life. At her funeral I had the absolute honor of giving her eulogy.

A bottomless well of unconditional love

In her eulogy I briefly described her early life and how it was marked by intense poverty and unspeakable cruelty at the hands of her father. With that upbringing, my Mammie grew up to be the last thing anyone would expect her to become, a bottomless well of unconditional love.  Everyone who knew my Mammie would agree with this summary of her character.

In this past year I have felt my Mammie’s presence very near to me, in a way that I have not experienced since I was a young boy sitting at her side. Her presence has filled me with both a confidence and a creativity that is difficult to describe. In the past year I have begun to write again, both prose and poetry, often about the topic of ancestral healing. It is also in the past year that I have re-engaged in my work as a therapist and have recently begun leading a men’s group focused on healing a wounded patriarchy. As the father of a young boy, this work feels even more relevant and urgent.

The ancestor I would sooner forget

Being inspired by the spirit of a grandmother who inspired everyone she met makes logical sense to me.  What I am having much more difficulty coming to terms with is why my thoughts and curiosity regularly turn toward her father. My great-grandfather was one of the cruelest men I have ever known of. I find it sickening to acknowledge that I am his great grandson. And I find it inexplicable to admit that much of my time and energy is now being drawn toward understanding him. What good could possibly come from thinking and writing about a man who hurt one of the most important people in my life? And yet, that is where I find myself, and I am now moving forward in faith that this journey might yield something of value for me, personally, for my family and for all of you who travel with me on this collective path.

A love that defies logic

My great-grandfather escaped with his mother as an infant from his abusive father. I find the story of her flight to safety and the lengths that she took to get herself and her baby safe so inspiring. I am then sent reeling when I remember what a malignant force of evil he went on to become. It is in this state of confusion and tension that I wrote this poem, and I dedicate it to the wounded healers, like my Mammie, who take the hurt that they have been dealt and answer with a love that defies logic.

Why We Must Remember
by Daniel Hope 

A mother is crossing a river at night, pursued
with a baby strapped crudely to her back
She swam to survive
she swam to give him life

He would one day grow up
to become a monster
but for now he looks
upon the world in innocence

Some drink to forget
but he grew up and drank to remember
Remember that night on
the other side of the river
where he was nursed
out of his fear
and was reminded that he was chosen

But he would never remember for long
and in his forgetting
he wounded in all directions
and poisoned his own family well

And that is why we, his descendants
must remember
Remember that each night
brings with it some light
and that each day
brings with it shadow

And each is ours to hold
as we hold on to one another
in a quantum field
of love and grace