The betrayal of sexual abuse is often doubled when it occurs within the family and denial enters into the dynamic.
Her name was Loretta; she was an abuse victim and a SURVIVOR. She was also a devout Catholic and my wife. Cancer killed her 15 years ago. Recently I came across some of her old journals and notes, words she wrote pertaining to her abuse. These words were her innermost feelings poured onto paper. I had never looked at them. Now, with stories of sexual abuse everywhere, I have.
It had been a hard and difficult journey for her and I was along for the ride. I had done my best, in my own feeble way, to be part of the support system she needed. This included her therapist(s), and the friends she made with other abuse victims. Ironically, among the first papers I pulled out from the stack was a letter. It was titled;
1987 – A Letter to my Relatives at Christmastime
This will not be a traditional Christmas message.
Well, it is Christmastime, and the year is 2017. Thirty years have passed since she wrote that letter. And what I want to share here is the message that was in it. It was a message of peace and love. I do not believe she could have written what she did if she did not have her Catholic faith to lean on and support her.
The message was beautiful because the people she had written it to, the people closest to her, refused to acknowledge what had happened to her. They were the ones in denial and she was reaching out to them. The words italicized are directly from the letter Loretta wrote. (They are out of context). We begin with:
It is very difficult for me to comprehend why not one of you has called or written me directly with your questions.
No one would talk to her about what had happened or even question it. She knew they knew and the dancing around this taboo topic was not only frustrating, it was very hurtful. She believed they thought she made it up. That alone broke her heart.
For the record (and some of you know this) I have been in both personal and group therapy for over three years. Does this mean I may be categorized as mentally ill or otherwise dismissed? I hope not. What it means is that something went very, very wrong many, many years ago and it has surfaced, to be dealt with now that I have lived so many years in darkness.
Here she refers to how sexual abuse, especially in the home, was so often ignored and when it did come out, was denied by the family.
She continues, I think I would like you to know that every individual in my group and in the groups across the country struggle with the concept of “forgive and forget.” Some travel thousands of miles to gravesites to try; some go to church to pray every day, some commit suicide; some write—reams of writing, some agonize over the loss of their families, their dreams that everything will be all right, their recognition that things were not all right. Almost no one can achieve “forgive and forget.”
Here we can see how widespread abuse was, even 30 years ago, when it was hardly talked about. How the difficulty within families that were forced to confront abuse could tear that family apart. How that very same thing happens today. Then suddenly, the beauty of this letter (at least to me) comes forth:
In the process of coming to the point of being able to write this, I have also come to recognize that some of you will not be able to respond or will not care to. And that’s okay, for I understand our family much better than I ever did before.
I do wish for each of you, as I wish for everyone in the world, days of peace and contentment with those you love. And I also wish that each of you is able to communicate that love before the opportunity is gone. May your love be clean and open—and may its light create wings in the ones you love.
Lastly, may 1988 be a year of growth for you, and may it bring serenity to accept whatever life brings your way.
God bless you all.
Thomas a Kempis wrote, “First keep the peace within yourself, then you can also bring peace to others.”
Betrayed by some people who were among the closest to her in her life, Loretta found that peace within and then attempted to bring it back to those very people that had betrayed her. And she did it during Christmastime. This is the spirit and beauty of Christmas at is best. And yes, it made me cry.