I had my aunt visit recently, the one who was also assaulted by my father. When I visited her a couple of years ago, she was very accepting of what I had to say and even offered to put some pressure on my mom to write me a letter.
After visiting me she visited my mother, and you guessed it, went into denial. She wrote me a letter expressing her hope that my mother and brothers and I would all be one big happy family again. I just got it and I’m crying.
I know, I know that family members do this. That they go into and out of denial, and seldom are able to really handle how bad it is. However it really hurts. Why do I always have to be the strong one? Why can’t I have the steadfast warrior support I deserve?
Here is the response I wrote:
“Dear Aunt J
I really enjoyed your visit. Thank you so much for coming.
You know, I’ve learned a lot in my life in connection to what happened to me. One thing is that people have a very hard time holding in their hearts that it is as bad as it is. It hurts. It is an exceptional person who can do it, usually one who has had to face her own hard truths unflinchingly. I am able to do this for others, and I understand it is a rare gift. It feels better to pretend it is something that can be swept under the rug or that it’s not of much importance. That’s how I understand your letter. I forgive you for wanting it all to go away, and I understand the impulse to put gentle pressure on me to make nice with my mother, which demands that I pretend what she did wasn’t horrific in it’s own right, and give up my right to a confession and apology.
Here is why you should resist that impulse to condone and minimize, however. That impulse is what protects people like Graham. That impulse is what keeps people from calling the police and getting children to safety, or calling child protective services. That impulse to hide from the truth of a horrific situation is why he is not in jail right now, why he got away with raping a child, with aggravated sexual assault. That impulse is why I have chronic discomfort, every day from the vascular damage and scarring he inflicted on me, scarring and nerve damage that in part result from medical attention my mother could have gotten for me, but did not. If we do not stand up to insist on a world where children’s bodies are respected, and those who violate them are held accountable, who will? If we contribute to a climate that sweeps it under the rug as not important, then we are part of the problem.
It is important and healthy to face the truth. It is good for the soul, and our own personal integrity. It is good to be accountable for harm we have done to others and make amends. That is why I am requiring that my mother confess to me what she did, to make amends by confessing in writing. I have proof, in the form of the scars, that she did know, right after it happened. Those wounds were very severe, and not something a mother would not have noticed in a 5 or 6 year old child. She knew, and she covered it up, instead of going to the police or even a doctor. I got no stitches, no antibiotics, and as far as I can recall, no painkillers. I’m not sure if you tore when you gave birth, but I imagine it is like that. My doctor has given me some strategies to manage the pain and vascular problems I still have, but my body will never be the same. Those ongoing effects could have been prevented if I’d gotten stitched up and removed from Graham’s reach right away. Imagine a child going through that alone.
It is a small thing I am asking for. I am asking only that people face the reality of what happened as unflinchingly as they can. I survived it, I healed it. I deserve that small thing from people who love me, and I respect myself enough to insist on it. If it means I have no family, so be it.
I was so honoured that you and uncle T believed and supported me. It filled a deep place within me. Although I understand that denial is part of your own grieving process, and that it is difficult to stay connected to the truth of what happened in the face of my mother’s denial, it still hurts. I understand, and I forgive you, but I want to inspire you to do better.
Accepting the truth, even a horrific truth, unflinchingly, has its own gifts. It makes us stronger, and less able to be manipulated by others. I would not go back. I am proud of who I have become by overcoming, and wish that for my mother and older brother, and for you.
May you be blessed in all ways possible,
your niece. “