Why Bother Talking About Family Trauma?
I remember my mom often said, “Don’t dwell on the past.” But dwelling on the past and learning from it are different. To dwell means to put your stakes down, inhabit, and abide. To learn implies to realize, comprehend or get the idea. Though our past is behind us, it has a way of continuing to influence us, especially if we experienced any childhood trauma. At the age of twelve, my father committed suicide. Though my three brothers and three sisters and I all experienced the same trauma, we did not all experience it in the same way simply because of our age.
Learning From Each Other
At the time of my dad’s death, my youngest sibling was nine, the oldest was twenty-one. We all went to bed one night knowing our father was alive, but the next day, everything in our lives went sideways. Suddenly, mysteriously and without any explanation, my dad had vanished from planet Earth. Back in the 1970s, suicide was not a topic families discussed openly and for that reason, my mother’s explanation to me about my father’s death went like this;
“Your father is dead.”
“His heart just stopped.”
Her commentary on his demise left me with a load of suspicion and finding out the truth became paramount to me. In a large family like mine, the older siblings always knew more than me. If I asked an older sister for the truth, she would tell me. Indeed she did, yet her honesty left me reeling in confusion.
Though Dad’s death was an enormous life changing event for each of us, no one ever said anything about it. In essence, we were all left to ourselves to sort through the rubble and find our own way to survive. And most of us did.
Though my dad’s suicide is ancient history, only recently has it become a topic of discussion among my siblings and me. And in talking about it, I’ve realized I was not alone in some of the issues I wrestled with. It seems most of us grew up with a certain degree of mistrust, a bit of anger, some shame and a lot of confusion. As adults, we learned to cover our imperfections with busyness, appearing more confident than we felt and though we had it all together, and maintaining an emotional defensive stance. Communicating with my siblings about our shared trauma, all of us longed for trustworthy intimacy, but letting down our guards was often, too much of a risk.
Talking about the past with some of my brothers and sisters has given me insight into their struggles as well as my own. Sharing our common sorrow has brought us closer together and made us a little more empathic toward one another.
Why bother talking about family trauma? Denying the bombshell that blew apart a family does nothing to mend broken hearts. Whereas talking about it can lead to understanding each other a little bit better and comprehending why it is the way we are.