Ever since my mother died, and later, my father, I have had a hard time looking at family photos. It hurts too much. It hurts to remember what was lost, but I think the truth is, it hurts more to remember I was loved. Because in my family, love was a patchwork of mental illness, violence, and abuse. Love felt unsafe, love meant to harm.
Sometimes my brother will send me photos of our family over email, but I never look at them too long. They are always old photographs, though, photographs from before. Photographs that capture how he sees things in his memories, happy, mostly. He's older than me, so its almost like we had completely different lives.
For a long time after my mother's death, my father tried to convince me that we had been a happy family. Maybe we were. I don't know. I mean, we were a version of happiness before she died, before the gun night, before I was touched. Then again, there were so many before's and afters. By now, my life is divided and then quartered by them.
I just didn't expect it to feel as involved and enduring as it does—all the sadness, and the hunger; the anger and the wild, oscillating feelings. I am learning that the penalty of unprocessed grief is the unstable state of the body.
Every morning, I look in the mirror and ask myself: how much more is there to go? And then I remember all the things I'm trying to let out:
The pain I feel for having been sexually abused as a girl and as a young teen; the pain of having seen the bloody and bruised flesh of my mother's body after she was the recipient of my father's fist; the pain of watching my father and brother fight. The pain of my father holding my mother and me at gunpoint. The pain of being raped. The pain of never knowing healthy romantic love and lately, the pain of not becoming a mother. The pain of my lost childhood, and the private lonely pain of being a woman, the fear of aging, and my vulnerability. The pain I feel over my fear of becoming invisible. And when that is through, I let out the pain of burying my mother and not having my mother to hold me. Then, I let out the pain of burying my father, and after that, I let out the pain I feel toward my brother because he is a stranger to me; because he doesn't know about the pain in my body—he is too sheltered in the forest of his own sorrow. And then I let out the pain of not knowing where I belong, wishing someone would tell me.
I'd like to make some new photographs.
The thing is, healing one's life is a continual process of breaking and becoming. Of being and becoming again and again. My grief does seem to ebb and flow, but I'm learning to be comfortable with it. You see, I suspect there is much to learn there—lessons of compassion, empathy, forgiveness, and self love. And anyway, my will to live is strong.
It always has been.
I know, in time, I'll be happy again. I mean, what's the hurry—nature doesn't rush itself along, so do we have to?
Everything happens at the right time.
Jocelyn M. Ulevicus has a background in Social Work, Psychology, and Public Health. Her work focuses on exploring the terrain of family violence and re-humanizing oneself after trauma, and has been published in magazines such as Mindful Matter, Entropy, and Life in Ten Minutes. Ms. Ulevicus currently resides in Amsterdam and is finalizing her first book, a memoir, titled The Birth of A Tree, which was recently long-listed for the Santa Fe Writers Program 2019 Literary Award.