Joan Rough Takes on a Big Challenge of the Jubilación Years : Forgiveness

My current theme of Jubilación, defined as joyful vocation in the elder years, does not exclude challenges. Far from it!

Most people are well aware that aging inevitably has negative consequences and that the pains of youth and middle age continue into the elder years. Fortunately, even trauma and suffering can be met with resilience, compassion for self and others, and continued growth.

When I think of a resilient, compassionate person, I think of my friend Joan Rough. She’s a visual artist, poet, and now memoirist. Her new book Scattering Ashes: A Memoir of Letting Go will launch 5:30 September 30 at the New Dominion Bookstore in Charlottesville. I highly recommend the book, especially to people who are caregivers, have alcoholic parents, or have experienced PTSD.

Joan also exudes the spirit of jubilación. Look at that smile! The guest post below will explain how she found joy in the midst of a lifetime of struggle with her difficult mother.

Joan holding

Joan holding Sam, one of her two dogs. She and her husband Bill also have a crazy cat Lilliput.

Living a Life of Quality

By Joan Z. Rough

Here comes another one! Birthday, that is.

In just a few short months I’ll be seventy-four. But it feels like I just celebrated my seventy-third birthday yesterday. My mother was eighty-four when she died in 2007 and in November I’ll be ten years younger than she was. If time goes as fast as it has been, my eighty-fourth will be here before I know it. There is a lot of work still to do before my turn comes to leave the planet.

I cared for my mother during her last seven years on earth. She taught me much about aging, death, and how not to live. She died an abusive, bitter woman, who’d never made peace with herself and the world she left behind. At the end she lived in denial about her lung cancer, while still puffing away until the day she was admitted to the hospital where she died.

Admittedly, she’d had a difficult life. She was abandoned by her father, abused by her mother who made her work to help put food on the table, and was finally thrown out of her home when her mother told her she was too much trouble to have around. She was seventeen years old at the time. She fell in love and not long afterward married my father, who one day later went off to fight in WWII. Nine months later I was born to these two — a young woman who never had a chance to taste life’s possibilities and a man who fought and killed for his country. After the war it was clear that my father was suffering as a result of the action he participated in and observed during the war. Mom often told me, “Your father came home a different man.” At the time they labeled his problem, “shell shock.” There was no interest in treating him or any other veteran’s sudden mood swings, violent tempers, or the other symptoms of what we know today as PTSD.

For spouses and children living with someone with untreated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, life can be a living hell. The disorder easily spreads throughout the family, due to the physical and psychological abuse from the PTSD sufferer. My brothers and I were abused children … beaten by our father and ignored by our mother who often reported our misbehaviors to him. Amidst all of that there were happy times, but we never knew from one minute to the next when our father would explode. Mom was as afraid of him as we were and she often called him King Kong, when she was angry and upset by his behaviors.

I watched both of my parents live unhappy lives and die without coming to terms with who they were or how they impacted their world. I often found myself making note of how I wanted to live, as well as die. But just getting through the days as caretaker to my mother left me little time for that. After her death I was at once grateful that she was gone, but also filled with anger, hatred, and complete brokenness.

I was well on my way to being just like her … unhappy, ashamed, and filled with rage.

I knew that if I wanted something different for myself I would have to change the way I looked at myself, my life, and the world in general. With the help of a therapist who specialized in working with trauma patients, I started the hard work of putting my own PTSD behind me. I dug through memories, looked closely at my attitudes, trying to put the pieces of myself back together into a whole and happy human being.

As the years pass, I’ve watched my hair turn gray and my eyes grow weaker. My body is missing its youthful bounce. I’ve had a run in with cancer, and watched my grandchildren grow from infants into astounding teenagers. Sometime in the future it will be my time to cross the bridge into another world. But I have revised the way I wake up each morning and take great solace in the steps I have taken to live a rewarding life.

I’ve broken the chain of abuse and misery within my family.

I’ve been able to trade my victimhood for strength and the ability to face the future with curiosity and wonder. I’ve learned how to forgive those who have caused me pain and to be grateful for the adversity that has been sent my way. Without it I might have never learned from the mistakes of those who came before me.

As my next birthday grows closer, I’m taking aim at continuing to live a more mindful life. I believe that kindness is the stepping stone into the world’s future as well as my own. I find great comfort these days in sharing my story, spreading laughter and smiles, as well as keeping myself on the path I’ve chosen.

The words “quality of life,” are mostly used in talking about those who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness and are making a transition toward death. But the quality of everyone’s life is important, whether they are ten, twenty, or eighty-nine. Being able to redefine ourselves at any age, and let go of the negativity, anger, fear, and hatred we all carry with us, can transform our lives and relieve much suffering.

You can buy the book by clicking on the image above. How do you define quality of life at whatever age you are?

Shirley Showalter


  1. Richard Gilbert on September 14, 2016 at 12:12 pm

    Thank you, Shirley, for featuring Joan and her book. And thank you, Joan, for sharing your life here and in your book. I have ordered it! I am eager to read about someone who has overcome so much and gained such wisdom.

    Now, can I have your dog?

    • Shirley Showalter on September 14, 2016 at 12:26 pm

      So glad you did this, Richard. You will be impressed by Joan’s honesty throughout. This was no easy forgiveness. My favorite scene is the one that gives the book its title. Moving and hilarious both. But she’s earned it.

      Now as for Sam, I can’t wait to hear what Joan answers to that question.

    • Joan Z Rough on September 14, 2016 at 1:41 pm

      Absolutely not, Richard☺️ He is now 14 years old and getting a bit senile, but he is the sweetest dog I’ve ever owned. I’m going to miss him when he’s gone.

      I hope you enjoy my book! Let me know what you honestly think!

      • Richard Gilbert on September 14, 2016 at 4:43 pm

        I understand! You know, for a small fortune you can clone him. Just sayin’.

        Looking forward to your book.

  2. Laurie Buchanan on September 14, 2016 at 12:21 pm

    Like Richard, I, too, want to thank you for featuring Joan and her memoir, SCATTERING ASHES: A MEMOIR OF LETTING GO.

    I had the privilege of being an advance reader and I can say—with certainty—that this is a must-read for anyone who is withholding forgiveness, or who needs to receive forgiveness themselves.

    • Shirley Showalter on September 14, 2016 at 12:27 pm

      Amen to your assessment, Laurie. It’s exciting that you and Joan both are publishing with She Writes Press and launching within weeks of each other. Hope you get to share the same stage sometime.

    • Joan Z. Rough on September 14, 2016 at 1:44 pm

      Thank you so much Laurie. I hop it will be helpful to many people.

  3. marian beaman on September 14, 2016 at 2:31 pm

    Joan’s book is honest with a lack of pretension. It reverberates with the same feeling I had when I met her in person over a year ago. My review of her memoir will go live on my blog next week, a day after the big launch – how exciting for Joan and all who have watched this volume come to life.

    How do I define quality of life at my age? you ask. My life is enveloped with gratitude for physical mobility and emotional resiliency. Just yesterday I discovered a letter I had written to a close relative who harmed me long ago (a suggestion from a writing coach). In the closing paragraph I read: “I feel sad and hurt by . . . , but I have let it all go, knowing a loving God and a loving husband have been there for me and given me a beautiful life nonetheless.”

    • Joan Z. Rough on September 14, 2016 at 5:34 pm

      Thank you for your kind words, Marian. And I’m so glad you enjoyed my book.

    • Shirley Showalter on September 14, 2016 at 8:35 pm

      I admire your courage in writing that letter and your emotional resilience, Marian.

      One of the jubilación topics I’m eager to take up is how to take up the tasks of the dying before you are actually dying. Your letter is an example. Stay tuned.

      Glad you are reviewing Joan’s book on your blog. I’m sure it will be insightful.

  4. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on September 14, 2016 at 5:27 pm

    These senior years are for me like the beautiful months of September and October. I savour them in a special way. Being in good health certainly helps! More than in the earlier years, I think of those who went before me and what they were like when they were my age. I cherish both my mother and my grandmother who were very different from each other and often had trouble getting along. I learned to appreciate them so much because of what they taught me about life.

    • Joan Z. Rough on September 14, 2016 at 5:32 pm

      I love these senior years as well, Elfriede. They are filled with a freedom I’ve not experienced before.

    • Shirley Showalter on September 14, 2016 at 8:40 pm

      Yes to the September and October of our lives! Thanks, Elfrieda.

      Parker Palmer has beautiful essays about seasons. Your response made me remember them and prompts me to go looking for them online.

      Mothers and daughters. An ancient theme. How much we need each other. How hard it is sometimes.

  5. Joan Z. Rough on September 14, 2016 at 5:37 pm

    Shirley, Thank you so much for providing your blog as place for me to write about how I’m spending my senior years and the great quality of later life that I’ve found by letting go of the past.

    • Shirley Showalter on September 14, 2016 at 8:38 pm

      You’re so welcome! Thank you (and Bill) for finding time to respond to readers here on a day when Bill is recovering from surgery. May all continue to go well for both of you.

  6. Carol Bodensteiner on September 15, 2016 at 10:56 am

    Congratulations on the launch of “Scattering Ashes,” Joan. I’m so pleased I got to meet you and Bill last spring and honored to be an advance reader of your honest memoir. Letting go of the hurts of the past is no easy task; I struggle with that myself and my life has been a cakewalk compared to yours. I applaud you for finding a way and for sharing that in your memoir. Many people will benefit from reading your story.

  7. Shirley Showalter on September 15, 2016 at 11:05 am

    Thanks for joining the cheering squad, Carol.

  8. Joan Z Rough on September 15, 2016 at 11:20 am

    Thanks so much Carol. It is hard to let go but well worth the struggle it takes. Once I quit blaming others for the way I felt it was much easier.

    I loved getting to meet you as well and hope you’ll come
    Back soon.

  9. Kathleen Pooler on September 15, 2016 at 2:48 pm

    Thanks for featuring Joan, Shirley. Scattering Ashes is a powerful testimony to the value of forgiveness and a must-read for anyone who experiences abuse. Congratulations Joan on your launch. I’m excited to feature you on 9/19 in a guest post on my blog. Thank you for being so open and honest about this important topic. You show us all how it is possible to live a joyful life despite incredible odds.

    • Shirley Showalter on September 15, 2016 at 3:10 pm

      Glad you are part of the blog tour also, Kathleen. You and Joan are both experts in the healing power of memoir!

    • Joan Z. Rough on September 15, 2016 at 9:21 pm

      Kathy, I’m excited to be a guest on your blog and so grateful for all that you have done to support me and help get word out about my book. You are a sweetheart! j

  10. Marylin Warner on September 15, 2016 at 5:57 pm

    What a sensitive, inspiring post, Shirley. While Joan was on her way to becoming like her mother, she was also choosing the road less taken, and inviting us along on the journey.
    Wonderful. Thanks to Joan, and to you for sharing this with us.

    • Mina Akan{Mrs} on September 15, 2016 at 10:07 pm

      Thank you so much Shirely for this very inspiring post. It is particularly apt for me whose life has been truncated by obnoxious widowhood rites that are repugnant to natural justice for almost 30years.Am indeed struggling to forgive them all, my in-laws as this book a must read is not only an eye opener but that elixir, that catalyst I need to fire on and conclude my Memoir. I subscribe please.
      GOD bless you Joan, you have good heart.

      • Shirley Showalter on September 16, 2016 at 12:00 pm

        Mina, thank you for this comment and best wishes for telling your own story.

        If you want to subscribe to this blog, you can use one of two ways. Either the box on the upper right hand side, which will send you a weekly short email with a link to the latest blog post. Or you can simply check the box under the grey comment box when you hit reply. It says Notify me of new posts by email. If you want Joan’s blog, click on her name above, and you will find a place to sign up there also.

      • Joan Z. Rough on September 16, 2016 at 7:56 pm

        Mina, Thank you for your comment. Forgiveness can be a very difficult thing to find, but with time and being open to living an authentic life, it is always nearby. I wish you the best in finding everything you wish for through telling your story.

    • Shirley Showalter on September 16, 2016 at 11:48 am

      Yes, Marylin. As usual, you went right to the nub of the story. Thanks for seeing Joan in this important time in her writing life.

  11. Joan Z. Rough on September 15, 2016 at 9:32 pm

    Thank you for your kind words, Marylin. I chose the road that would help me find my voice and live in peace. Acceptance of my mother and myself was an important part of the process.

  12. susan scott on September 16, 2016 at 2:44 am

    Thank you Shirley for this lovely post and to Joan, all best wishes for the publication of her book. She is clearly a courageous woman in her facing the anger and fear and broken-ness head on in her struggle to break the pattern of abuse. This is always a difficult thing to do as it is usually a pattern with which one is most familiar. Acknowledging the fear and anger is such a huge step at whatever stage of one’s life. This allows us to make conscious choices – whether to be defined by our past or whether to face it head on in order to let it go.

    • Shirley Showalter on September 16, 2016 at 11:50 am

      You are a voice of wisdom, Susan, revealing that your own path is one of depth and courage. Thanks for seeing Joan’s too!

    • joan Z. Rough on September 16, 2016 at 8:16 pm

      Susan, thank your for your affirming words. Breaking patterns that have been with us since childhood is extremely difficult. As adults we are often addicted to those patterns and until we hit bottom the need to make changes may not be there for us to face head on. I’m grateful I got to the point where I knew I had to change.

  13. J E Sargent on September 16, 2016 at 10:48 am

    I’ve often thought of the people in my life as love-letters from God. Some of them, clearly, are positive messages. Others? Not so much! But all are examples, one way or another. How to try to be vs. how to try NOT to be.

    • Shirley Showalter on September 16, 2016 at 12:03 pm

      J E, you have an amazingly large perspective on life, one I aspire to and have found sometimes. Other times, I fail. But I am always grateful to people like you who remind me of the truth. “Love your enemies” is central to my belief system even when I can’t get there yet. Joan shows us that it’s never too late.

    • Joan Z. Rough on September 16, 2016 at 8:21 pm

      I love your words, J E. I have often heard it said that when we dislike someone, it’s because we unconsciously see ourselves in the person who distresses us. If we use that model we can bring change to ourselves and our perspective on those around us.

      • J E Sargent on September 22, 2016 at 12:14 pm

        Exactly! Amen a bunch of times!

  14. Linda Gartz on September 16, 2016 at 11:42 am

    We all have some sort of baggage from our parents — whether from childhood or later. After reading decades of my mother’s and father’s diary entries, I wanted to haul them back from the grave, sit them down, and say, “Now why on earth did you think that would work out?” or “Why did you keep your psychotic mother (to Mom) living with the family for 15 years? –with no thought to your husband or children?” Or (to Dad): “Why didn’t you get a job close to home?” (I think the answer to this question is answered by the “Psychotic mother.” Thanks, Joan, for this reflection on how we can CHOOSE to change the dynamic. I have – and am happy. But it’s a different era. Hard to compare.

    • Shirley Showalter on September 16, 2016 at 12:05 pm

      Linda, you have the kind of wisdom that comes from really delving into a personal archive and being imaginatively present to your parents. You will appreciate Joan’s memoir for another way to do the same thing. I think it was the diagnosis of PTSD that opened the doors of forgiveness and understanding to her. But I hope she’ll jump in to confirm or deny my hunch.

  15. Joan Z. Rough on September 16, 2016 at 8:30 pm

    Oh yes, Linda and Shirley, my diagnosis of PTSD helped me see the light at the end of the long, dark tunnel I’d been traveling through. But it was also my intuitive knowing that I could live a life of peace and happiness, if I broke the patterns of self abuse I’d learned from my parents and began believing in myself, I would find my way through the darkness into the light. We cannot question what makes our parents tick, without recognizing them within ourselves.

  16. Tina Barbour on September 17, 2016 at 10:04 am

    i need to read this book. i grew up in similar circumstances that have left me fearful that i am like my mother–and wondering who i am. Thank you for sharing your story.

    • Shirley Showalter on September 17, 2016 at 10:15 am

      Oh Tina, I’m so glad you read this post. And that you want to read the book. I am certain you will find a kindred spirit in Joan. Maybe you can even travel to Charlottesville for her launch and meet her in person? In any case, all best as you do the courageous work of growing while suffering.

  17. Joan Z. Rough on September 17, 2016 at 10:52 am

    Tina, One of the main reasons I wrote this book is for others like you who might be having difficulty making sense of their lives especially if it has something to do with their mothers. I hope it will help.

  18. Joan Z. Rough on September 17, 2016 at 10:58 am

    Because of a very busy week, I haven’t answered the question from Richard about cloning Sam, since he is getting very old and may soon cross the rainbow bridge.

    I talked to him about it last night, and this is what he said: “Don’t bother with that nonsense. When you brought me home from the SPCA, I was the happiest dog in the world. When I die please go back and rescue another dog who’s had a tough life and needs a good home. I know you know the angels put us together and there is another dog waiting in line to take my place.”

    • Shirley Showalter on September 17, 2016 at 2:11 pm

      Ha! I hope Richard sees this. Perfect response.

  19. Elaine Mansfield on September 17, 2016 at 2:07 pm

    Thank you, Joan and Shirley. Congratulations, Joan. I’ve watched as your book put on feathers and grew wings and now it’s taken flight. I look forward to reading it. A respectful bow to you for facing your personal darkness and finding a way into light.
    After my father’s death when I was a child, my mother turned icy. He’d been sick for 12 years. She was only 44. There were no bereavement support groups then and she had few close friends. Her grief and the family grief went underground and was never expressed or discussed. I felt abandoned by her emotional and physical absence. Forty years after my father’s death, as she sank into dementia, her defenses softened and she began to talk about her grief and weep over her losses. We wept together. I’m grateful we made heart contact while she knew who I was. Even without a softening from your mother, you changed the family script.

    • Joan Z. Rough on September 17, 2016 at 2:13 pm

      Thank you Elaine. It was a softening like your mother’s that I yearned for. It took a while for me to get over the fact that it would never happen, but rather than spend the rest of my life living with bitterness, I decided to move on and become the person I wanted to be.

    • Shirley Showalter on September 17, 2016 at 2:14 pm

      Elaine, no wonder you have become such an expert in the psychology and spirituality surrounding grief. You have lived through the negative impact of assimilated, unacknowledged grief. I’m not sure I knew, or remembered, that part of your own story. Thanks for sharing it here.

  20. Janet Givens on September 17, 2016 at 2:33 pm

    Joan, I continue to be in awe of your courage and resilience as I learn more of your life story. Knowing that there was a better way for you, believing that forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves, learning that there was a label that would help you understand — all have brought you here today. And I’m so glad to know you. Congratulations dear one. (and thank you, Shirley)

  21. Michelle monet on September 17, 2016 at 3:42 pm

    Thank you for this, Joan and Shirley. I am knee deep in writing my painful Memoir (at age 54) and dealing with much unresolved anger towards both parents I love your line ‘I decided to move on and become the person I wanted to be.’ I look forward to reading your story.

  22. Joan Z. Rough on September 17, 2016 at 3:47 pm

    Thank you, Michelle. While I was writing my memoir the unresolved became resolved by my understanding that I couldn’t change my story or my parents. I had to let go of blame and accept what I had been given.

    I hope your writing gets easier for you.

    • Shirley Showalter on September 17, 2016 at 5:49 pm

      Hi Michelle, Joan and I both know how much work it is to write a memoir–even without a history of trauma. But Joan knows better than I what you are going through right now. One of the things Joan did was expand the frame of the narrative. That gave her control in writing that she didn’t often have in life when dealing with her mother.

  23. June on September 18, 2016 at 11:48 am

    Shirley, thank you so much for sharing your friend Joan’s story. Joan, you are liken to a Phoenix,you rise from the ashes. You now choose to rise each morning, taking great solace, comfort, peace. You have decided on how to start your day and to change the way you think about your day.
    How does one define the quality of life at what ever age you are at? I think, as you said, is to learn along the way, to seek help and insight, and to face this day, and the days that lay ahead with curiosity and wonder.
    I will be adding Joan’s book to my ‘must read’ list.

    • Shirley Showalter on September 18, 2016 at 3:48 pm

      June, your poetic description of Joan’s choice to live each day positively shows me you are one of our kindred spirits. We are phoenixes who rise every day and start again to experience fully the gift of life.

  24. Joan Z. Rough on September 18, 2016 at 11:56 am

    June, You have made my day! I have a lot to live up to. On occasion rising to greet the day with taking “great solace, comfort, peace,” is difficult. But I try my best even when I’m feeling low to live each day positively, as if it were my last. Thank you so much for your kind words!

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