In the waning weeks of my mother’s physical life, I was sitting next to her on the sofa in her tiny, neat-as-a-pin apartment, talking softly, tenderly to her. She was frail and calm. A departure from the mother I knew who always carried a match in one hand and a stick of dynamite in the other. On this day, there was no hint of feral anger. No blast of antagonism to repulse me away. Dementia had stolen all of her protection. Had left her features velvety smooth. Her heart defenseless.
My mother had been sexually brutalized many, many times during her life. No human— no child—can withstand such harm. It is not possible. When anyone forces their energy into another, whether it is physical, psychological, emotional, religious, verbal, it is an assault. Assault causes injury. Injury creates pain. Pain unresolved expands into trauma. The powerful, powerful force that is trauma becomes lodged in our body, in our emotions. And does not let go.
It was always a bad-luck day when, as a child, I found myself trapped alone in the family sedan with my stepfather. He was an angry man. And his children were his target. As soon as the key hit the ignition, he would start: excoriating, humiliating and generally berating me for faults real or imagined. Leaving no flaw of mine unexposed. Firing contempt straight into my young heart. I didn’t know that he was force-feeding me hatred and lies. I thought it was truth.
My mother with her sublime bakery skills, her intuitive understanding of color and balance in her sewing craft work, and her sensitivity to creative energy, had “the touch” for transcendent artistry. But over the years, she became isolated in the pain that had solidified into the living, breathing entity of trauma. And that trauma turned insurmountable as she aged. Creativity became more and more of an emotional challenge as trauma and its vicious lies robbed her of any joy.
Sitting so close to her on that sofa that day, her eyes clinging to mine, I longed to return to her the beauty she had offered this world, despite the crippling anguish of her personal despair—trauma, that highly skilled enemy combatant, had never, not once, left her side.
As I was waxing poetic over her impressive artistry and her creative accomplishments, describing her as a true artist, and lamenting the fact that she never had the opportunity to flourish, she bowed her head and whispered, I never had the opportunity. I never did. She was in that moment defenseless against kindness. And broke down into heaving, convulsing sobs. Guttural, feral cries breaking through the wall of imposed silence. Gurgling up from a bottomless pit of bleeding wounds. Wounds she’d kept buried for a lifetime, now exposed.
In those moments, witnessing my elderly mother in such intense agony, I was terrified that I was actually killing her with kindness. And that is the legacy of trauma—its ultimate, infinite stranglehold on a haunted heart. Where love is refused entry. Where love becomes the deepest cut of all.