A few weeks ago I sat next to Angela Rochon at Marcus Grill, enjoying the Christmas luncheon hosted by Detroit Working Writers. Angela recently had her first book published, a memoir called Fatherless. I remember many meetings over the years where Angela shared her writings for this book with the DWW critique group. I always enjoyed reading about her Italian relatives and the kitchen flooded with various ingredients and aromas. It reminded me so much of my Chaldean family and culture. 

Angela’s book is really about her father, Angelo. His family was joyful, hard-working, devout, and kindhearted, except for Vito, the murderer. Born to a widwo who was widowed again, Angela helped raise his half siblings. Sicilian immigrants in steel-city Youngstown, Ohio cherished this thoughtful boy. World War II brought him to Algonac, Michigan, as a leader of men.

“Hope and love were his signature features,” said Angela. “The village embraced him, commending his kindness.”

Angelo became wealthy, but haunted by the memory of hunger. He built a church and treasured his family, who soon became fatherless.

During our lunch, Angela and I spoke about how we each felt writing our memoirs, the healing power in the process. We traveled centuries back, visited family stories we never knew existed, understood the root of some feuds, and in our hearts, reconciled a lot of relationships. Through our memoirs, we also shared beautiful memories, including our culture’s customs, cooking, and celebrations.

Fatherless, which spans two centuries, describes Ellis Island immigration, world wars, the Great Depression, national prosperity, and recessions. In it, there’s a reconciliation after a fifty-year feud. Angela writes, “Instead of Ancestry websites, Aunt Agata and I researched our ancestry at Ellis Island, sharing the date with our family. We discussed details. Our memory mining conversations became her gifts to me. Mine were her brief diversions from her deteriorating health.” 

In writing memoir, happy scenes comfort us while difficult ones arouse a painful past. But they also help us understand and stop reliving that past. When you take the time to look at a situation from beginning to end, when you write it down, you’re able to see it from a different perspective. Maybe you blamed one parent for an incident without having sat down and putting yourself in his or her shoe. Taking the time to look at your memories objectively and to make sense of them helps you come to terms with your feelings, with old wounds. It shows you family patterns, such as in Angela’s case, sudden deaths at early ages, resilience, and reconciliation. 

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As a psychiatric therapist and an educator who held management positions in university and secondary schools, Angela’s experiences led her to teach memoir writing, guiding reminiscence groups, grief support, and doing public speaking. She continued writing throughout this time, winning awards for her poetry, as she published work in newspaper columns, magazines, and academic journals. She earned the Toastmasters International DTM. 

For her memoir Fatherless, Angela went as far as doing genograms that placed six generations in relation to each other, prompting memories and giving her reader concise visuals. Genograms graphed generational effects of tragedies and joys and focused on medical, genetic, or emotional relationships.

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Writing memoir is healing, and it’s also fun. Angela recalls a grandchild calling the Statue of Liberty “the Statue of Literally.” 

“It is,” said Angela. “All my genes literally are from Italian immigrants to New York City.” 

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Contact A. M. Andino Rochon at a.m.rochon@aol.com to comment or schedule Mining Memories or Introduction to Genograms events or speeches.

Some upcoming events:

 

02/07/19:

Legacies of Life Memories, 6 PM, Algonac/Clay Library, 2011 St Clair River Drive, Algonac MI 48001, Reservations requested at 810 794-4471

 

02/21/19:

Legacies of Life Memories, 6 PM, Algonac/Clay Library, 2011 St Clair River Drive, Algonac MI 48001, Reservations requested at 810 794-4471

 

02/28/19:

Legacies of Life Memories, 6 PM, Algonac/Clay Library, 2011 St Clair River Drive, Algonac MI 48001, Reservations requested at 810 794-4471

 

03/05/19:

Legacies of Life Memories, 11:30 AM, Port Huron Senior Center, at 600 Grand River Ave, Port Huron MI 48060, 810 984-5061, 800 297-0099

One thought on “The Healing Power of Memoir

  1. Thank you, Weam, for conducting this very informative interview. Angela sure has an interesting background. It was very enjoyable to here her suggestion on picking one positive memorable situation to write about and to do it long hand, in your own handwriting. I’m going to try that this holiday week. Thanks again.
    Bob Wonnacott

    Like

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