“Generational trauma goes on and on until someone in the family feels it.” I heard this while attending a conference on trauma and the epigenetics of trauma. It is a real thing. Quite the buzz word these days. Look around the collective of this country and you will see epigenetics at work. War and terror feed off epigenetics. The current administration is a collective of trauma and it is why so many people find the current president appealing. Women especially. Listen to the women and men coming forward to tell stories of sexual abuse and you will know the depth of hidden trauma, and how masses of people will lie upon lie to keep the truth hidden. I had never heard the word,epigenetic(s) but I knew of this condition from years of working with adjudicated adolescents. I also came to understand generational trauma does not exclude children and adolescents who were not incarcerated. Trauma does not discriminate. I have seen the marks trauma leaves, even the hidden ones.
Because with trauma nothing stays hidden.
I never knew the depths of trauma until my husband felt the pain of his own generational trauma and he took his life. He simply could not feel it anymore.He was close to learning to live with the pain. He was surrounded by those who were close to helping him move forward, after years of peeling back the layers. He found the courage to tell our daughter the truth about what he felt and why. He found the strength to remain in the living for as long as he could. He was exhausted. He could no longer feel the impact of generational trauma. He waded in the muck of truth.I learned a great deal about his past as I grew to understand more about his trauma. It all made sense. I used to wonder about a lot of things, until I made peace with his pain.Until I made peace with how I was never going to ease his pain once it let loose. He got stuck. He felt the pain in his bones, it showed on his skin and on his face. He drank the pain away for a while. He horded his pain. He created the most amazing art I have ever seen to numb the pain. I now understand both his completed and uncompleted pieces of art.
It was not enough.
He left me clues. He knew I would find what he left me, eventually, in the places where I go, in our old house he renovated piece by piece. In the barn he alone built with his hands-and just never could finish. In my text books, in my journals, in the places he knew I would one day find. He left letters, notes, journals and nuggets of his inner life. Not the inner life he shared with me, the inner life he shared with no one. I suspect he had been planning his death, but I could not tell you when he set out on his plan. I do not think it was a last minute impulse. He knew I was focused on getting him well,keeping our family together and healthy. He knew, after 18 years together, he knew I would stop at nothing to uncover the answers, so he left me clues. Did it matter?
Could he have escaped the trauma that took a slice of his soul when he was a child?
I used to think so. I used to think the joy, the complete joy and love he had for our daughter would be enough. I used to think we would find the one thing that would click his brain into working another way. I used to think he was close to recovery from the haunting, close to recovery period. I used to think his art and his brilliant artistic mind would provide an escape. I used to think his nightmares would ease. I used to think we would contain this generational trauma and it would stop with him.
I was wrong.
He had the courage to tell our daughter the truth.He sobbed throughout and it was heartbreaking, but it mattered to him, for her. She held onto his hand and asked questions and then told him she loved him. She was 12. Once his siblings found out, one of them told my daughter to never tell the truth, to lie if ever asked. I wanted nothing to do with any of them. I found it difficult to be around them. I still struggle with this, and I have had to disengage to keep myself in check. To keep me and my daughter in check.
HE HAD MORE COURAGE THAN ANY OF YOU. EVER! EVEEEERRRR!!
I wanted to scream this every time I saw them. They brought people to his memorial he did not like. They did things they were asked not to do. They did their best to make their own hurt go away. To keep the trauma away. I did not understand then what I understand now.
For me to understand what generational trauma did to my husband, I have to also acknowledge what it has done to them too. So I soften and say a prayer. I know now why he had such a difficult time at family gatherings. I know now how the stain of shame literally made him scratch until he bled. Most of all, I am sad he was in so much pain.He had an enormous heart and I am sad it finally broke. I wish the love we had was the salve. For a while, it was. The death of my mother whom he was very close to and the death of his own father,whom he was not close to, took him closer to his own pain,further away from us, and further away from his art.
I know now.
Does it matter?
This is how generational trauma works. This is how generational trauma continues to feed and grow. Families keep secrets. Secretes kill. At the very least, it never ends if no one ever wants it to. There will always be someone in the family who feels it. There will always be consequences for the pain.
It has taken four years to find some resemblance of normal-rather, this normal. It has taken me four years to finally understand this will never go away. There are scars. The landscape has changed, my emotional content has shifted and I am stepping into another layer of learning to live with the residue of traumatic death.
It is an ill fitting piece of clothing. I do not pretend to think what I feel is the same as anyone else who knows this kind of pain. I do not pretend to escape, replace, replicate, or gloss over what we lost and why we lost. We know our pain, my daughter and me- even individually, our pain is different. We do not know the pain of anyone else who had to say good-bye, without saying good-bye.We know our own. This is the one thing that still stings-and I suspect will always. My daughter will say, with a catch in her voice,
I did not get to say good-bye.
The reality is, life goes on and while time comes and goes as do other milestones, I will always know deep in my being, in my muscle memory, the depth of my loss.When the air smells a certain way, when built in memories are triggered, when our daughter grows into a new chapter of becoming a young woman, when I use his tools to hang curtain rods, or fix something that is broken. Fix something that is broken. How is that for a play on words?
I know now this is part of who I forever will be. As much as it has broken me into pieces-it has also put me back together with more of life and more love. This does not mean I am healed.It means I look at life as what is possible and what is not. Much like a fig in winter. The sweetness is gone, but there will be another season. I will always know what my husband sacrificed to end the pain. To end his pain.
Did I buy him a star, or a fucking planet, or a runway or some other insidious, thoughtless thing people he could have cared less for, did?
Did I raise a plaque in his name?
I am raising awareness.
Did I plant a tree?
I did. And only he and I will know why.
Did I go on?
Yes. Life goes on. I have a daughter who needs a mother, a mother like me to help her navigate her own residue of suicide and life without her dad. She is ending his pain and not taking on her own.
Am I dating? ( almost everyone asks me this question). Use it or lose it, they say.
Officially? I have gone on one date.
I do not like this swipe left or right way of dating; it is all emoji, text dating.
No men with pictures of dead fish, dead animals, selfies in the bathroom,or at the gym, or on their motorcycle, or some other weird “pick me” pose, or a wink or a “beer me” sticker,no 90’s mustaches, bad teeth or outdated clothing. I get to be picky and very selective.
Have I given up on love?
I think I will be just fine.