Drawing strength from family history and role models

  • My Grandfather Anderson was the son of Swedish immigrants to Minnesota. My grandmother was Irish. So I'm fourth-generation Swedish and Irish.

    My Grandfather Anderson was the son of Swedish immigrants to Minnesota. My grandmother was Irish. So I'm fourth-generation Swedish and Irish. Courtesy of Susan Anderson-Khleif

 

There is a nice TV ad where a woman tells how her ethnic DNA test showed her where her strength originated -- from her family genetics and history.

Knowing your roots and benefiting from them can be a great source of strength when we face life's challenges such as dealing with grief.

So it's not an accident many people are interested in personal DNA testing because they gain a lot from knowing their family genetics and history.

But you don't need a DNA test to follow this line of thought. Many of us can trace our personal qualities, values, and beliefs to our family history, experiences growing up, and from positive family role models.

Others learn from bad childhood experiences and set out to do better with their own lives and families. Looking into your own family history is worth doing -- it can be a big help in finding the perseverance to deal with long-term grief.

On one side, we are Swedish and Irish, my father was an only child. My parents were a World War II marriage at Cimmeron Field in Oklahoma -- they were both pilots.

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When I was growing up in Brainerd, Minnesota, people didn't really talk about ethnic origins because the town was mainly occupied by similar people from Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, as well as some Irish and German backgrounds, all about third or fourth generation, so the immigrant languages were pretty much gone.

All that remained visible is the food and holiday traditions, and lots of blond hair!

I was in my 20s before I started looking more deeply into family roots.

On the other side, my mother was the third child of Oklahoma wheat farmers. They were a mix of Irish, German, English, and Scottish. Both sides shaped my views and gave me the independence and ambition to follow my own path.

In summer, monthlong trips to the farm in Oklahoma were wonderful, riding horses, playing in the barn, loving the animals, fetching fresh eggs for breakfast (from the chicken coop), watching my grandmother cook farm meals -- homemade egg noodles, custard pies, southern fried chicken. And eating them!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The father of my own Grandfather Hicks was a child in a covered wagon when they "ran the Cherokee strip" as "Sooners" and claimed wheat land to become among the first Oklahoma settlers.

Winters and the rest of the summer spent in Northern Minnesota were secure, cozy, happy, fun -- the Mississippi River, ice skating, four seasons, swimming, fishing at the lake cabin, golfing, wonderful holiday celebrations with family and friends.

Mom was a great hostess and social. Dad was a wonderful father and successful in his business. We followed the Swedish traditions since Grandfather Anderson was a traditional Swede.

We always hear about the importance of positive role models -- and it's so true. If you are lucky to have grandparents, parents, uncles and aunts, and/or family friends who were good role models, you are fortunate.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In my case both my father and mother, and all four grandparents were such, each for different reasons. So I got a nice mix of independence, responsibility, appreciation of close family relationships, interest in others, optimism, and confidence.

But the point here is -- that in times of great stress, as when we experience grief, we can draw strength from these earlier life experiences, family history and genetics, and influential role models.

So it's worth …

• Reflecting on childhood experiences that made you strong.

• Looking into your roots. Sometimes they are different from the family stories.

• Thinking about the good advice you've gotten over the years

• Remembering positive role models and lessons learned from them

• Drawing on these memories to help you manage grief and related hardships.

I've done this and it helped me a lot.

• Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow has a Ph.D. in family sociology from Harvard, taught at Wellesley College, and is a retired Motorola executive. Contact her at sakhleif@comcast.net or see her blog longtermgrief.tumblr.com. See previous columns at www.dailyherald.com/topics/Anderson-Kleif-Susan/.

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