Thursday, March 1, 2018


     By far, this is the hardest chapter to write. As of this writing (spring 2017), I’ve had few meaningful conversations with practically anyone in my family in quite a while.
     Things have been rough for many years, on and off. But, when my tumor was discovered and removed, things improved – for a while. But, then it all unraveled again. I’m sure most of my relatives think it’s because of my instabilities, but I think it’s due to a combination of many factors….

   My two sisters and I have three very distinctly different personalities. I am the oldest, and so, of course, they were compared to me at home, in school, church, and other places. I was the skinny one, the one with the best grades (National Honor Society), the most athletic and on and on. That had to be difficult to “compete” with. I love my sisters, but we don’t really have 
anything in common, other than we “popped out” of the same mommy (with the same daddy). My sisters are also gifted. Joyce is an excellent chef and baker. Jayne is an excellent educator.
  My mom and I go back and forth. Sometimes we are close, and other times we avoid contact, since we sometimes agitate one another. This has been true since I left for college many moons ago. We have some things in common (like our outspokenness) and many things not in common (like her domestic capabilities in the kitchen and throughout the house compared to my incapacities like that). I recall her happily ironing my dad’s handkerchiefs, but at the spot where my ironing board is in my condo, my sign says, “Ironing Bored,” and that’s NOT a spelling error. I actually have another sign that says, “The only thing domestic about me is that I live indoors.” Very true!

     Unfortunately, I did not inherit the “clean gene” from my mom. She kept an impeccably neat and tidy home for us all. My sisters and I had to clean up our bedrooms every Saturday morning. [And I mean clean – dust, vacuum, change the sheets….]

     Now, I don't want to label myself a slob, but I sure know vacuuming, dusting, etc. are too annoying for words. I only do them when I absolutely have to. My kitchen and bathrooms are moderately clean, at best.

     Because of this, only a selected few people are allowed into my “inner domain.” And, I like it like that.

     I’m not saying that my mom and I got along perfectly before I went to college, but we did better when I was younger. However, I do remember a big fight we had over what words should be underneath my senior picture in my high school yearbook.
    I wanted the words from Fleetwood Mac’s song that goes, “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow….” She wanted some mushy-gushy love words. She won, and to this day, every single time I browse through the pictures of the graduating class of 1978 from Red Hook High, I’m not nostalgic as much as I am annoyed that I gave in on that one. It’s a black-and-white example about the fact that the words you choose can haunt you forever – even if in a yearbook. To that same end, when I hear that Fleetwood Mac song on the radio, it also agitates me that I didn’t stick up for my opinion enough.  
     My mom has had it rough medically and emotionally for a few years now. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor about one year after mine was removed. She had some similar symptoms to mine, and that’s one of the ways it was discovered. Luckily – hers was much smaller, since it was caught way sooner. Then, she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. This has truly been a hardship, and I respect all caregivers who help their loved ones with this debilitating disease.
     Then, my dad passed away from esophageal cancer. Their relationship had a warm ending, which was unfortunately short-lived, because they had been separated right before his diagnosis. After that, she had colon cancer. And then, hip surgery because she fell. All of what I just wrote about for her took place in only about six or seven years. That’s too much for anyone to handle!
     My dad was a true IBMer. When he died, I gave his eulogy two times – once in the Daytona Beach, Florida, area, where he lived at the end of his life, and once in Poughkeepsie, NY, for a Hospice service, since many of his New York State friends could not attend his first service. I made the other IBMers laugh when I stated, “He died in true IBM fashion – 5:55 a.m. on 12/12/12.”
     Dad worked for IBM in Kingston, NY, and then in Boca Raton, Florida, for many years. Growing up, I remember going to the IBM Country Club on Kukuk Lane in Kingston for swimming lessons, picnics, BBQs, and so much more. That was a very happy time of my life. I still remember the excitement of going over the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge to enjoy a day there. My dad’s being a “Beemer” really had its perks!
     My father had high expectations for me. He expected excellent grades. When I didn’t get a 100% on a spelling test, for example, we “discussed” the words I spelled wrong versus celebrating the ones I got right. This led to years of trying to be perfect, which is never reachable, but this did make me a better teacher later on, congratulating my students for their right answers, rather than criticizing them for the wrong answers on the spelling test. As a side note, he became very upset with me the first time I told him that I wanted to be a special education teacher because he wanted me to follow in his footsteps and work for IBM, too, or become a lawyer.
     My dad and I had lots of arguments over the years. The biggest was when he cancelled my wedding reception with my first fiancé, because during our engagement, we discovered my fiancé had retinitis pigmentosa. My dad was worried about my future, as most dads would, but he handled it badly and apologized profusely for all of it on his deathbed. He realized that the failure of that marriage had a lot to do with the rocky start that marriage had, due to him. That marriage’s failure led to a long, hard road of other failed relationships in my life. I truly believe that a little girl’s relationship with her dad has a lot to do with the choices she makes as she grows up. I know that was true for me!
     I miss my dad every day. I talk to him when I see his picture somewhere in my condo. I know he made mistakes, but I also know he got a lot right. I wish there were some conversations and arguments I could “take back,” but I can’t…. So, I try to focus on what he got right instead of the negative. Fathers of girls have a special place in heaven.
     I will be eternally grateful to my parents for the camping trips they took us on. We had a pop-up “Skamper Camper” that we used for our cross-country trip. Most of the sights I saw when I was only 13 years old I have never seen again. But, when I hear John Denver’s song “Country Roads,” I remember my dad popping that tape into our station wagon’s cassette player, and listening to that song’s words as we drove to California and back from our driveway at 18 Cedar Drive, Rhinebeck, NY.
     As I’ve stated earlier, I have two sisters, Joyce and Jayne. Since our last name was Johnson, all three of us were JJs. That nickname was not fun for very long. And to make matters worse, all of our middle names began with the letter A: Janet Ann, Joyce Aileen, and Jayne Alison. (Or is it “Allison”? I can’t find out, because my sister and I really aren’t speaking at the time of this writing. I hope that will change.)  For some reason, my parents thought this was a good idea. I can’t speak for my sisters, but I think naming your children similarly (either on purpose or just because it works out that way) is kind of silly. But – those similar initials are really one of the only similarities we share….
     We were each born a couple of years apart, five years from the eldest to the youngest, but it seems like a bigger separation than that. When we were young, I was the “Miss Priss.” My clothes were always neat and tidy. When she was young, Joyce was the “tomboy.” She loved mud puddles, among other things. Jayne, the youngest, had a bit of both of Joyce and me in her at different times, and at other times…hardly at all.
     But, now that we’re all in our 50s, I’m no longer too concerned about my wardrobe. I wear wrinkled clothing, and most of my outfits are out of style or the wrong size, depending on whether I am dieting or overeating. I wear T-shirts more than anything else. Guess what? I’m happy with all of that!
     Now, Joyce, on the other hand, is the opposite of that, or at least she was at the last time I saw her. The last time I saw Joyce (2011), she looked well-dressed and was concerned about her hair. The only days my usually unkempt hair looks good is when I step out of the salon!
     Joyce has changed into a woman who genuinely cares about her looks. I turned into the tomboy she once was. But, that’s not the only big difference between us….
     Joyce can cook! She is also an excellent baker. She sure can mess up a kitchen, but the results are phenomenal! My messes in that room are more on the paperwork side (piles and piles of chapters for this book are stacked on my kitchen table as I write this). There is NO room for food in my kitchen – other than in the fridge or microwave oven. I eat in my living room. My kitchen is truly one of my many workspaces.
     Joyce and I have hardly spoken since she left after a visit here in the fall of 2011. Right before that visit, our grandmother had just passed away. Joyce and her husband did not attend her funeral, though she loved Grandma and lived in Florida only a few hours away. Joyce and her husband’s visit to New York State had been planned way before we knew we would lose a relative.
     I was beyond hurt and angry that she wasn’t present at the service that the rest of our family attended in Florida. I was counseled by more than one therapist about how to behave when she arrived here. She stayed at my condo while her husband visited his family in nearby Red Hook.
     At first, I was able to squelch my opinions and questions about why she didn’t attend the funeral. But at a lovely local restaurant, with a lobster bib still on, I “lost it,” and became enraged when she spoke of our parents in a negative way. Her relationship with them is why she skipped the funeral. I was so livid, I walked out of that restaurant mid-meal with the bib still dangling around my neck. Some woman at the bar told me that it was still on me, as I was running for the door.
     My boyfriend, Aiden, literally had to separate us that night because it was so volatile. The next day, Joyce and I cordially said goodbye. I vaguely remember talking on the phone somewhat after she and her husband arrived back home in Florida. But, we have completely left each other’s lives since Dad passed away.
     Joyce didn’t attend Dad’s funeral, either. Though I’ve spent countless hours discussing forgiveness at various doctor and therapy appointments (as well as at numerous Bible study groups), I have yet to let this one go. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to understand her choices. Therefore, it’s better that I’m not around her so I don’t say or do something worse than the silence between us already is.
      It is truly amazing to me how siblings from the same parents can see certain things so differently. Her version of our childhood situations is one way and mine is another way. That doesn’t make one wrong and one right. It just makes us separate.
     My sister Jayne did attend the funerals I’m discussing here. But, just like Joyce and me, we don’t have much else we do (or did) in common either. She’s the mother of two girls. I haven’t spoken to either of my nieces for a very long time. I was very close with the older one when she was a little girl, but now she doesn’t like me. I’ve never been told by anyone in my family exactly what I did to cause a rift with her, so all I do is speculate.
     That speculation led to more problems between my mother and me because she would constantly speak of her two granddaughters with me as if I wasn’t affected by all of their stories and how I wasn’t included in any of them. My nieces ignored me for birthdays and holidays when I was still acknowledging them with cards. But, my mother would rattle on and on about occurrences in their lives. When I asked her to please stop, which I did at the suggestion from my doctors, she stopped talking to me altogether. I firmly believe that everyone has the right to say what subjects are the ones that are off limits to discuss.
     At first, I had asked my mother politely not to talk about my nieces, L. and G. But, phone call after phone call, she continued to do so. My doctors helped me to write a script, keep it near the phone, and then read it to her if she brought them up one more time.
     Of course, she did bring them up. I was silent and listened to five or more minutes of it all, and then I read the words that had been prepared. She became furious with me, and the call ended very badly. At the time of this writing, we speak for a few minutes to thank one another for the “obligatory” birthday/holiday flowers or cards. We also are sometimes able to talk about our various health conditions.
     What I have never understood about my sister Jayne is why she didn’t help
repair my relationship with her daughters. My mother taught us to respect and appreciate our aunts when we were children. I miss terribly the relationship I once had with the elder niece, L., and I never really got to know the younger niece, G., very much.
     The little bit I did learn is that G. really disliked me. I’ve never been spoken to by any other child the way she did when I used to gather with my family. I stopped sending cards with money to my nieces and then just cards altogether after I was ignored for so long.
     My sister Jayne sent me one lovely card after I did recognize her 50th birthday by sending her one of those booklets about the year she was born. It had facts and fun information about the year 1965. Though I had done the same thing for Joyce two years earlier when she turned 50, and I never heard from her, I wanted to let Jayne know I was thinking of her.
     Jayne’s thank-you card was very sweet. She addressed how messed up our family relationships truly are. About this, I couldn’t agree with her more!
     It’s truly sad that I have a very poor relationship with almost everyone in my family. Once, when I had Aiden drive me to Florida to help my aging mom, and I hadn’t seen my sister Jayne in over two years, she met up with my mom and me at a mall for only about one and a half hours.
     When Jayne first saw me, all I got was, “Hi, Janet.” No smile, no hug, no warmth whatsoever.
     For a very few minutes, we discussed “business” (i.e., Mom's doctor appointments and such). We never asked each other one thing about each other's lives. I just mimicked her. You get what you give. If she had a hint of a friendly face when she first saw me, I would have joined in. Instead, I just bit my tongue.

    Then, as we walked in the mall, she bumped into someone she knew. That woman introduced Jayne to her sister. Jayne did not introduce either my mother or me, so I just moved my mom onward. I was so crushed by this, I talked out loud to God as we rolled along.

     My mom was facing me since I was pushing her in her walker. (She brought it to the mall instead of her wheelchair because she thought she would be able to get herself around.) However, she was too sore to do that, so I did it. She just sat facing me and watched me crumble with this most recent hurtful gesture.
     Mom's eyes could read into my soul and see how absolutely devastated I was that my own sister cares so little about me. I have no idea what I've done, since Jayne and I hardly communicate, but it really must be something!
     As I pushed my mother towards the next store, she asked if I was okay.
     “No, Mom. I'll never be okay with siblings that dislike me so much.”
     She patted my hand. When we were joined again by Jayne, I left Jayne with our mom so I could go take my calming-down medicine. How sad that family members cause so much heartache for other family members! To this day, it's never been explained to me why they harbor so much distaste for me. And by “they,” I mean my sisters and my nieces. If I had been told, I think I would remember it.
     I've asked my mother to intervene too many times to count. She says that when she brings the subject of me up, no one wants to talk.

     This is so gut-wrenching for me that Pastor Wes, a wonderful man who guides me at my church, prayed with me before this trip, because I knew ahead of time that my mom was not doing well and that I'd be ignored by other relatives there. He also gave me specific Scripture passages to read about self-control, which also helped.

     And I was right about being ignored. I was there for six full days but never heard from anyone (except for Jayne's brief mall visit). Pastor Wes told me to label this trip “MM” for “Mission Mom” (vs. what “MM” usually stands for in my life – “Mickey Mouse”). As I struggled with being ignored, I just kept telling God that I was there for my mom, and the rest didn't matter.
     But, of course, it did matter. If I knew what was wrong, I could try to repair it. But, I don't know, so I just struggle trying to be nice and as polite as possible. This is no easy task. And, there are many times that I don’t get it right.

     After our short mall visit was over, I initiated the hug goodbye to Jayne.

     She said to Aiden and me, “It was nice seeing you.”

     It was??? We barely talked, and you never asked why my back was in a brace, how our trip went, how my book is coming along, etc. Because she won't talk to me, I shy away from all conversations other than ones involving Mom. Since Jayne allows her daughters to completely ignore me, all respect is gone. I pray that someday it returns.

     I think Don Henley's song “The Heart of the Matter” says it best (even though I believe this is a love song, it applies to family heartache as well).

     So – let me wrap up this section about my family. To end on a better note, I will be eternally grateful to my two sisters for coming to New York State the week I was at the NYU Medical Center. They cheered me up by their brief visits (with chocolate) as I recovered there from brain surgery. They didn’t have to leave their busy lives to help care for me that week, but they did.
     My parents came to care for me when I got back home. The month of August 2009 was filled with delicious meals prepared by my mom or at their favorite restaurants in towns from long ago when they lived here. I enjoyed the drives around the various towns so they could visit with friends they hadn’t seen in years.
     My mother helped me with the wraps that I wore around my head to cover the huge, ugly scar where some of my hair had been shaved off to prepare for the surgery. My dad enjoyed going to watch Aiden pitch a game or two for his softball team. All four of us got along because we were all so grateful that I survived. Little did any of us know that, though we were back together, it wouldn’t last for very long….
     I have some cousins whom I once stayed in better touch with than we do nowadays. I hope when I put this pen down, I get to see my cousin Craig’s family, because they live the closest to me. (Elsewhere in my book, my other cousins are mentioned.) I was at one time very close with their parents, Aunt Valerie and Uncle Bobby. Though my uncle’s personality was almost opposite to his brother’s, my dad’s, I have loved him very much. My mother and her sister-in-law Valerie had their ups and downs, but their relationship has improved tremendously.
     I still remember when these members of my father’s family lived on Long Island and I went to visit them each Thanksgiving after my immediate family moved to Florida. I can still smile about the times I would watch the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in their living room, go shopping the next day for Black Friday with my aunt, and then help them cut down a live Christmas tree the next day for them to decorate after I left.
     Those Thanksgiving weekends were some of my fondest adult-life memories of Turkey Day. I miss that whole family now and again throughout the year, but at Thanksgiving time, tears come to my eyes when I recall when we were all so much closer. Nowadays, I just send cards to my cousins’ kids for birthdays and holidays. I wish I could see them more, and I wish I heard from them more.
     In the fall of 2016, I watched a “Dr. Phil” episode about a 74-year-old grandmother whose teenage grandson was afraid of her due to her outbursts.

This woman had long ago suffered a brain injury from an aneurysm, as well as having many other problems in her life. I connected with her so much as I watched her angry behavior. Our similarities were frightening:
·       public outrages
·       temper tantrums
·       resistance to change
·       bossiness
·       poor judgment.

Though the term “brain injury” was not stated, I know from all of my research that an aneurysm is one form of acquired brain injury.
Her life's circumstances had torn her family apart. One of her daughters had contacted Dr. Phil, and then the grandmother, named Sonia, and her two daughters were on his show.

At the beginning of watching it, I kept thinking two things:
1) my editor's “no more additions – your book is getting too long” and
2) Dr. Phil better really help this woman.

     Dr. Phil seemed aggravated with her rude behavior for a while, but then, he didn't. Dr. Phil stated that a brain aneurysm alters the way you function. He truly helped this family by offering her treatment in places specializing in care for people needing special attention.
     When the show was almost over, her two daughters got out of their seats, and hugged their sobbing mother. They all were so angry in the beginning of this episode, and by the end, the family took a turn towards repair. 

     I sobbed the first time I watched it and each time since (it's saved on my DVR list).

     Thank you, Dr. Phil, for giving her the help she deserves, and thank you, Dr. Cooper, for allowing this entry. I pray my family comes together like Sonia's did!
     So – that’s it for my family chapter. I’m quite sure some of the details I’ve told here will be disagreed with by whoever reads this book who is in my family. But that’s okay, because this is how I remember it. I just pray that we do all come together before it is too late.

     Rest in peace, Aunt Jen, Cousin Heather, Grandpa Johnson, Grandma Johnson, Grandpa McColl, Aunt Margaret, April, Grandma McColl, and Daddy….

     As one writer put it: “I believe the hardest part of healing after you've lost someone you love is to recover the 'you' that went away with them."                                                                          

     [And, Daddy, I am trying my best to live up to your last words to me, “Be nice to others, Janet.”]


For the coming year, I will be excerpting, weekly, material from this fine book by Janet Johnson Schliff, M.S.Ed.. She wrote it over a three-year period, with some coaching and editing help from me, through my business, The excerpts are from the almost-final version. The book is now available from and from its publisher, 



Janet Johnson Schliff was on WKNY  Radio 1490 at 9:10 a.m. on Thursday, March 1, Kingston, NY.

Janet Johnson Schliff spoke at 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 3, at Barnes & Noble, 1177 Ulster Avenue, Kingston, NY.

I attended, along with almost 40 other people. The talk was especially well received, with several questions at the end, as well.
Congratulations, Janet!

Janet Johnson Schliff spoke at the Starr Library in Rhinebeck, NY, at 7 p.m. on March 6. 

She will speak at the Golden Notebook Bookstore in Woodstock, NY, at 2 p.m. on March 17. 

She will speak at the Morton Library in Rhinecliff, NY, at 6:30 p.m. on March 28. 

She will appear at RCAL in Kingston, NY, at 4 p.m. on April 3. 

More signings will be coming up, and a feature about her by John DeSantos [845 LIFE] will appear in the Middletown Times Herald-Record on a Monday in March, which is Brain Injury Awareness Month. 

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