Thanksgiving 2019 | Family, Loss and Forgiveness by Deanna Ramirez
Trigger Warning: Touches on childhood abuse and death.
Last night, I learned my grandfather passed away. I said my goodbye on Monday morning. His eyes, narrow slits, peered at me briefly. I think he saw me, though I don’t know for sure.
I haven’t seen my grandfather for nearly two years. He and my grandmother lived with my aunt. She and I had a falling out years back. She doesn’t like me around. So I’m no longer invited to birthdays or holiday celebrations.
I come from a family of enablers. Many family members who protect and huddle around those who do bad things. It’s a systemic issue, starting at the top. That’s how disease is. It begins at the pinnacle, then spreads as far as it’s allowed to reach. If nothing fights it. If no one uses antibiotics or anti-viral practices, it spreads its infection everywhere.
The vicious cycle of abuse continues in families so long as enablers are present. So long as enablers don’t acknowledge their part in it. This cycle distanced me from most of my family. Family that I moved to Oregon to be near.
I wrote a micro-poem months ago and shared it on Instagram: “Silence. The most underrated weapon.”
I know this to be true. Sickness. Evil. It flourishes with silence. In abusive families, it’s silently demanded. My experience with this broke my heart. My family rewarded the silence and shunned the truth when I spoke out. Speaking out, talking about it at all, met with discomfort, curiosity, judgment, and nothing at all.
As a child, I experienced the worst violation. Never did I speak of it. Guilt and shame kept me quiet. Confusion and the inability to understand why it happened kept me silent too. I’ll spare you the unnecessary private details and include only those aspects surrounding it.
Breaking my silence set me free. And it didn’t set me free. It was not an instant band-aid. Speaking the truth was messy and confusing in ways I couldn’t expect.
In fact, breaking my silence at twenty-six years old led to the destruction of a marriage and my family as I once knew it. Instead of relief, it filled me with a fear of people “knowing”, and many unexpected emotions for me to process. I didn’t process them.
The problem with silence is that in its power, it creates a habit of it. I became great at burying my feelings. Making them go away completely. It wasn’t real. I needed to believe that. When things aren’t real, they can’t hurt you.
Cousins and Truth
A few years ago we had a “cousin retreat” at the beach. I’m the eldest of eighteen cousins, most of which live in Oregon. We rented a large beach house. Many of my cousins and their families showed up, and all was fun and light-hearted. Until…
One cousin asked me about my childhood. About the thing I kept silent about. My stomach flipped when she asked. But I saw her eyes. I don’t know how long ago she learned of it, but she had questions and concern and I could see she needed answers. I did not owe her answers. But I love my cousin and don’t want her to speculate on details of that nature so I answered each question she asked. Other cousins trickled into the room we occupied. They had questions too.
The next day, a family member that wasn’t part of the private discussion said something to me at breakfast. He felt it was inappropriate that I talked about my childhood trauma during our happy gathering. He seemed to think I started the conversation and offered the gory details of my childhood unsolicited. His side remark punched me in the gut and I felt embarrassed and ashamed.
An aunt who joined our cousin beach retreat stepped in to comfort the family member who shamed me. “If you want to talk about it, for some perspective,” she said, concerned. She ignored me standing there in the kitchen. Standing there in disbelief. Everyone else quiet, eyes down at their breakfast.
I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs that day. It hurt me deeply. Instead, I’ve only screamed in dreams. Vivid dreams where I screamed everything I never knew I wanted and needed to say. Just writing this – the pain is there still.
Remembering that moment at breakfast with my cousin, whom I love, still makes my heart ache. It chokes me up. How could he not understand? How could he blame me? Why would he shame me by scolding me like that?
It wasn’t his fault. My aunt shielded him from the truth. A family of enablers protecting the wrong people. In doing so, many of my family members had the wrong information. Can’t fault them for that.
Still, it hurts. No family member outside my immediate family (except for one aunt who sent a text message) expressed compassion for what happened to me. No sympathy or empathy. Only judgment, questions, and now, separation and exclusion. No invites to Thanksgiving dinner.
And I buried it. For the past few years, I have replaced disappointment and hurt with anger and no shits given.
I’ve spoken of the beach house incident twice to family members. Or tried to. Always, it came out in this feverish, don’t-know-how-to-say-it way. I searched earnestly for an understanding response. A sign of support. Both times, it left me feeling worse than I did before. Sorry, it was inappropriate of me to bring it up.
Now, I save this topic, in any capacity, for my entrusted circle. It consists of few people. They know who they are. (My sisters, especially. I love you!)
This is my first time writing about it. My vague it. Because I still don’t like to call it what it is.
The reason I share now, with you…
Because Thanksgiving is a time for reflection. My grandfather just died and my brain is on my family. As death does, it claws reality up to the harsh surface and forces you to face it.
My whole life, people preached grace and forgiveness to me. “Forgiveness sets you free.” “Forgiveness is for you, not for them.” My small, developing brain hard-wired itself to silence. As a child, the only way I could forgive was to pretend it never happened at all. “Forgiveness” is an enabler’s favorite tool. It’s evil’s favorite control device.
Not to say forgiveness has no place. However, if someone violates you, forgiveness is a default expectation. It should not be. We should not force forgiveness down throats of little girls and women, young or old. It’s confusing. It is harmful.
Thanksgiving 2019 – Empowerment
This Thanksgiving I’m taking back my power. Yes, it’s cliché, but dammit, it’s a good cliché!
I’m thankful for the family I have that supports and loves me unconditionally. My brothers and sisters. Mother and stepmother. My husband and children. They know my truth and never judged or shamed me for it.
I believe in forgiveness. This Thanksgiving I forgive myself. The little girl who silenced herself to survive.
I forgive the young woman that broke her silence, changing the dynamics of her family forever. I forgive the single mother who believed she failed her children time and time again. A mother who wasn’t always emotionally or mentally present in the months and years following divorce.
My forgiveness of self won’t happen overnight. I type this and share it with you to make myself accountable. I have much healing to do and it won’t be easy. Not with the ease in which I fall back into the bury-it-and-forget-it mode. Not with the small hurts that occur from extended family who open up old wounds. My wounds require serious naturopathic therapy. Deep cleansing and flushing out of toxins.
Forgive yourself this Thanksgiving.
Now that I’ve shared personal information in vague detail, I hope to inspire you to contemplate forgiveness and what it means for you.
This Thanksgiving, I implore you to focus on YOU. To those who experienced abuse, for those who suffer in silent guilt, it’s not your job to forgive your offender. It’s our life’s work to forgive ourselves. To reclaim our power. Erase the stigma we have of ourselves. Practice true self-love. It’s the only way we can be free. And the only way we can truly give love to those around us who deserve it.
This Thanksgiving I’m thankful for you. Thank you for reading my words and my truth. Thank you for your support and love. xoxo, Deanna
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