Stories are often hidden from what we know and see. Actually they are right in front of us if we choose to see.
The music starts and I begin to dance. Just a little bit. Just a little bit. R-E-S-P-E-C-T! No one can move me like Aretha. In my younger years, I did not know her story. Her life. Her pain. How much we are connected.
Have you seen the movie Respect? Aretha Franklin was a motherless daughter.
I have heard her story as told by other motherless daughters as they share their own mother loss stories. Physical and emotional abandonment. Childhood sexual abuse. Emotional abuse. An overly controlling father. Marrying the first man who shows her attention just to escape. Escaping the horror of one relationship only to jump into a more terrifying, more controlling relationship. Repeating the past. Over and over again.
Aretha is paralyzed by the haunting pain of her childhood abuse. At about age 8, she is sexually molested by a family friend while other adults are partying just a floor below.
Aretha’s family consists of an overly controlling father. A mother who leaves her to live with her father. A grandmother who tries desperately to mother her and two sisters who compete with her. Her mother leaves when she is young, probably about 6. The scene shows her Mother driving away and Aretha running after her. A scene is fixed in the young Aretha’s mind and plays over and over again. Haunting her. Her mother dies soon after. Leaving Aretha with the grief of loss, guilt, and shame.
We know that these young girls are vulnerable to abusers who see them as easy prey. They are often told by their abusers that their personal relationship is a secret and not to tell anyone. The guilt of mother loss keeps them quiet about their abuse. Their shame is paralyzing. They do not realize it is not their fault. Predators use the trauma of mother loss to their advantage while the young girl believes again, it is her fault.
Abandonment and shame from abuse become the armor she wears through her lifetime.
Music was a reflection of Aretha’s life. Writing and singing about emotional events, music was her escape. It was what pleased her father, and what almost destroyed her.
It is not until she is an adult that she hears a different story about why her mother left as told by her two sisters. The conversation turns to sharing the horrible fights and the fears that drove all three sisters to the roof to get away from the yelling. Aretha does not remember this. She is stunned by this new information.
As we have talked about age of loss in previous blogs and podcasts, when mother loss happens from 6-12, magical thinking happens. These young girls believe that they are the cause of their mother leaving. They often say that “mothers do not leave children, so it must be my fault that she left.” This belief results in destructive behaviors in the adult women. Co-dependency. Alcoholism. Striving for something that is beyond their reach. Holding onto old ways of life. Craving for a mother’s unconditional love and nurturing from anyone. We see Aretha doing all of these things.
We also witness Aretha as she enters the Individuation process. She stands up to her controlling father. She leaves her abusive first husband. She confronts her controlling record producer. We see her “becoming.” Even confronting the racism beliefs of her abusive husband and manager. The musicians she choose were a bunch of racist red-neck southerners.
Feeling safe and unconditional love from her second husband, she begins her grief process. Although she still cannot bring her demons of abuse and abandonment to the forefront. He stays with her as she spirals into the abyss of alcoholism.
In a drunken stupor, Aretha visualizes her mother. Coming to her. Holding her. Loving her. This reconciliation starts her journey to healing.
In desperation, she seeks God. Finding God and her faith turns her around and brings her back to the church who loves her. The movie ends with a rendition of Aretha singing “Amazing Grace” which is sung from her soul. She once was lost but now found.