Hello from the other side

It started like any other appointment with my body worker. Sometimes I have a profound experience with her and sometimes it’s a lovely tune up. When my grandmother arrived in the room to speak to me from beyond I was beside myself.

I’m not here to convince anyone of anything. I have several friends who are mediums, whose work I probably would have distrusted if I hadn’t known them so well before this came to light. It’s been quite a journey from skepticism to the space of openness I’m in now. I want to share my experience, but you are not required to “buy it.” I’m not selling it. I’m sharing with an open heart.

I can tell when Susie’s energy shifts. Something big was happening. I was laying on her table going to the soft, supported place I go to in that room. She started by saying, “There’s an apology… Is it the men who violated you? No. I keep hearing that Adele song ‘Hello from the other side.’ It’s women. It’s all the women. Your mother’s lineage.” Goosebumps.

I asked if it was Lola or Grace. The two women I knew well before they passed on. She said yes to Lola (my grandmother) and no to Grace. But then laughed and quickly corrected herself, “I wasn’t supposed to say not Grace, Lola is at the front.” A detail which made my Mom chuckle later saying, “Grace would have moved her out of the way if she wasn’t being counted.”

She wanted to apologize to me for her silence. And give me the opportunity to ask her the questions I have.

Six months ago I had the most difficult conversation I’ve ever had in my life. I sat down with my Mother and asked her about her abuse history. It had come up once, almost in passing, when I told her about my sister’s first assault. I remember thinking, “Where was this information 10 years ago when I told you about me?” And then refocusing on my sister who was in crisis and needed my immediate support.

We had never discussed my assault. Not since I first told her. I should tell you that the way I told her was sloppy and awful. I didn’t know how to say the words. I didn’t have the word “rape” because it wasn’t for years that I would understand that that is exactly what happened to me. I was 13, and understood rape to be a masked man jumping out of the bushes. Not someone who doesn’t stop despite your pleas, someone I’d wanted to kiss and not more. I woke up the next morning to a note that said “God will forgive you” and we didn’t talk about it again for almost 20 years.

I approached my Mother with love and curiosity. I wasn’t angry at her response. In fact, I felt I had more clarity about it after learning she’d had her own experience. I wanted to ask her about what happened to her. I asked what happened to her Mother. I told her I wasn’t angry or resentful, didn’t want to judge her parenting or place blame. But rather that I believe in inter-generational trauma. That to provide Lola with a healthy Mother meant understanding my own story. And perhaps understanding my own story means understanding hers as well.

I don’t think either of us took a deep breath for about 2 hours. We were both struggling to speak through the years of silence but did so because of love. Because of Lola. Because the truth needed air.

She didn’t remember the note. I imagine she was both in shock and trying to decipher what I had actually confessed. She didn’t know about her own Mother’s history. I can’t tell you why that question was on my heart, but it’s just something I knew in my bones. Lola (my daughter’s name sake) and I were so very close before she died when I was around 5. She was my person. I have often said I speak about my assault because generations of women past and present have felt unable to do so. I felt compelled by this idea that I am carrying not just my own story, but my Mother’s, her Mother’s, and on. Her lack of knowledge of her own Mother’s history was not surprising. It was a dead end and that satisfied my need to ask. She left me with, “You don’t get a manual. I know I didn’t get it all right. But I hope you know how loved you were. You couldn’t possibly be more loved.” I know that’s true.

And then Lola came to me. I’m so overwhelmed by this as the narrative I had to fight to undo is that “no one came for me.” I had for so long been widely left to my own devices, to come up with my own means to cope, to process alone. Wasn’t I loved? Didn’t anyone want to protect me? In the following years of depression and self-destruction, why didn’t anyone come? Even though I have done so much work at dismantling this narrative, understanding that a lack of knowing how to help was not indicative of a lack of love. But Lola came for me. Across a million miles. I don’t have words for what that means.

She was clear that she was here to answer my question. Susie says “She’s like, let’s do this. What do you want to know.” She kept physically nudging me. I was probably in a bit of shock, in spite of feeling so calm.

I could ask yes or no questions. She had also suffered sexual abuse. It went on for some time. She suffered in silence believing that she was protecting her sisters from it happening to them. She did know about my Mother’s assault. In the way that a Mom knows, there were signs, a gut feeling. But felt unable to address it as it would bring up her deep wounds. (They never talked about it). She carried guilt, both that she didn’t help my Mother but mostly that she never helped herself. She had no idea her silence would effect anyone but her. That is what she wanted to apologize for.

I asked if this history went back beyond her. Yes. She said they were with me. They speak through me. That my voice is so loud because of them.

I asked her some other things. Clarifying childhood memories no one else could corroborate for me. My little Lola is always talking about Lola being with her, even though no one has provided her with that language or ideology. She is. There are other things I wished I could have asked. I didn’t obviously come prepared for this. But it was perfect.

I don’t know if I could have asked for, or even imagined, more clarity of purpose. All the work I do is about healing. Undoing messages we learn and tell ourselves that harm our spirits. Shame. Understanding the history of my family is not about blame or assigning responsibility. I can see clearly that what happened between my Mother and her happened again between myself and my Mom. An inability to show up fully because their own trauma had not been processed. Which is not to say any of us suffered from a lack of love. But my deliberate work to be honest about my own stories, proactive and open to my own healing, is to end that cycle.

I believe this is the same thing we see with body image. Often (not always of course) handed without malice or ill will from parent to child. What we don’t heal we pass on. Much of the time in ways we can’t see.

So grandma gave me permission to share her story. And for the first time so did my Mom. Because our history is not ours alone. They bravely are allowing their stories be told to shed light where there has been darkness for so many and for so long.

It’s been so hard to work on my new book “Letters to Lola” as it’s all of that. Being honest about where I’ve been. Clear about what I want for her while allowing her space for her own experience. I know so many people who live with a list of questions about their Mother. Why she made the choices she did, who she was before. Though it may seem counter-intuitive, I believe the best way to give my daughter her own autonomy is to be transparent about myself. Thank you grandma, for everything. I’m ready to open a vein and write.

Erin Brown