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  • Writer's pictureMj Pettengill

Marya's Mother: What's in a Name (Again)

Updated: Dec 26, 2020


Grandmother and Granddaughter
Grandmother and Granddaughter (Two Marys)

Before, and specifically, during the crafting of my third novel, Down from the Tree, I focused on my mother; hence, my own deep inner healing commenced.


She was not my sole focal point, but I had become active in maintaining her wellness and the ongoing restoration of her health. When she faced a variety of serious illnesses, I stepped up. I took on the role of healer in a way that I never imagined.

Not only was this vital for her physical state, but it was also a decisive element in our shared personal history. I spent a great deal of time devoted to comprehending her and our shared trauma bond in my adult years. Of course, this did not begin with her. It never does. We are not merely born, and our experiences start when we take our first breath. It is not so easy and straightforward.

I became a student turned master in ancestral, intergenerational, and cultural trauma integration. My work with the nineteenth-century paupers was just the beginning. Unearthing and transmuting historical trauma and ancestral wounds is a way back to the light. The journey is beyond reflective. The ripples of reaching back, being able to face and acknowledge what came before us will alter our present lives in ways unknown until realized.

While studying psychology, I was drawn to the mother/daughter bond, borderline personality, and PTSD. Eventually, I expanded. Our society tends to focus on the mother wound and how everything ultimately traces back to the mother.


In many ways, I believe it is unconsciously related to Eve and that whole apple experience. We cannot forget how Mary Magdalene was portrayed as a prostitute, keeping the feminine in the gutter. But that is the theological end of things that will be discussed at another time. My point is that all of us—mothers, fathers, daughters, and sons—are worthy human beings that should be considered with the utmost respect and care in our life journeys. Sensitive, life-altering issues are not solely reserved for mothers and daughters. Yes, it is frowned upon for men to show their emotions, but that is an outdated philosophy, crumbling away with other restrictive ways of being.

When I traced back my mother’s life, with her help, I was stunned. She endured many hardships right out of the starting gate. She was hospitalized at birth for some months. While in Boston children’s hospital, not getting nurturing from her mother (the other Mary Jane), her twin sisters were taken away. This is an iceberg tip for yet another time. I will mention that these circumstances were the inspiration for part of my second novel’s plot, The Angels’ Lament. Children being taken from their parents was not uncommon.

So, as my mother lay dying, I tried to write a novel. It was not really working. I mean, structurally, I was in it. Emotionally, I was not present, not until she actually died. At that time, I removed the first twenty-something chapters and began again. It was a compelling experience for which I give thanks. Together, Samuel and I gathered our souls’ fragments and viewed the world without our mothers in it.

I am always learning more because I remain open to endless possibilities. It wasn’t until I was well into motherhood that I finally solved the riddle about why my maternal grandmother’s name was Mary Jane, while mine is Maryjane. That doesn’t have to be mysterious. However, I did ask, and it seemed to be perplexing to all—most of all, me.

I remember my mother often writing it as two names, at which time I would question her. She would shake her head. It didn’t matter. Maryjane, Mary Jane… what difference did it make? To me, it mattered. I asked her if my name was supposed to be written as two names or one. She never gave me a definite answer.

I got my first social security card based on an application that she completed. There it was, two names. When I replaced it, I corrected the spelling.

So, getting back to that time when I cracked the case. My mother gave me a box with my baby books—albums, announcements, and baptism records. I was stunned. Throughout these mementos, my name was written in her hand as two names. I called her on the phone and talked about it with her. I asked if she and my father meant for my name to be Mary Jane. She said that she thought so, that someone at the hospital had made a mistake. Okay. There it is.

In my mind, I am meant to be Maryjane. It’s all good. Then, last week, my cousin, who lives in Nova Scotia, where my grandparents are from—shared a post. Our grandmother was named after Mary Jane Road in Bear River, Nova Scotia. Our great-grandfather told him so. My sister called and delivered the news.

Hold on a minute! So, decades after my grandmother passed away, and a few years after my mother died, I hear this from my long-lost cousin via my sister?

With a warm heart, I had to smile as I looked it up online. Yes, there it is, Mary Jane Riley Road. Somehow, I am now complete. Not that I wasn’t before. I only thought that I was. This is a prime example of how life never ultimately begins with us. Even when we think that we know our past, we seldom do. There is always more to it.

Whether familial or cultural, our history matters. Even if it is ugly and messy, it is us. We carry our history with us in ways that we cannot imagine until we peel back the layers and look. We might not like what we learn, or we might love it. Knowing makes all the difference.

It’s time to return to Nova Scotia and take a stroll down Mary Jane Riley Road.

4 comentarios


moonbeneathherfeet
moonbeneathherfeet
01 dic 2020

Hello, Peter. Taking the time to unravel (untangle) the familial roots is challenging yet very healthy. It gets messy at times, as I wrote in the blog. It is well worth it. I wanted to understand my beautiful, deeply-wounded mother was much more fruitful than being angry and resentful. I needed a road map to find the love that. In time, was buried deep. Perhaps when we are younger, moving through our developmental stages, building bonds, surviving, we cannot adopt this attitude. I have often said to family members, "when we grow up, it is time to renegotiate our roles." Being locked in old roles that no longer serve us equals dysfunction. This goes for siblings (especially siblings) as well. For example,…

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moonbeneathherfeet
moonbeneathherfeet
01 dic 2020

Dear Francis, I chose Francis because I feel that it is what was intended upon your arrival into this world. However, it is important to be comfortable with whatever names emerge as we navigate our paths. I am so pleased to know that you are inspired and motivated to flow and carry on. Both sides of our creative energy can be daunting at times. It took time for me to embrace the quiet phases of my process. I refer to this as the void. We need to catch up with ourselves, possibly emptying the excess we are carrying, making room for new thought-forms. I also believe this is anchored in self-trust. I'm not sure about the exact time that I will return …

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petercmurray26
petercmurray26
01 dic 2020

I can relate to the tie to my mother much like you have. All the pain that she had throughout her life, I took with me until my healing began and I let a lot of it go. Some of it was already leaving before she passed as I had given up being angry about past transgressions as she became older and I figured some of my own stuff out through my own therapy sessions. I also can relate in regard to the writing aspect that you talked about it. It is very hard to write a story based on ones past when a relative is still among you. I had tried that with my mom before and I so…

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frankshort.published
01 dic 2020

Deat Mj,

I'm delighted to learn that your third novel will soon be available. Whilst I must admit that I envy your prolificity, I am sadder to imagine the pain you have had to deal with in serving your mother and writing your latest book.


Are you going to Nova Scotia? When do you plan to return? I am curious fall colors, not jaundiced yellow.


Love your work and posts. They encourage me to move ahead.


Talk to you soon, I hope.


Francis or Frank. You choose.


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