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Grieving and Mourning

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Châteauguay, QC
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Sometimes I think I’m going to die from the sadness. Not that anyone ever died from crying for two hours, but it sure feels like it.

As a survivor of child sexual abuse, you have a lot to grieve for.  You must grieve for the loss of your feelings.  You must grieve for your abandonment.  You must grieve for the past and grieve for the present, for the damage you now have to heal, for the time it takes, for the money it costs, for the relationships ruined, the pleasure missed.  You grieve for the opportunities lost while you were too busy coping. 

And sometimes the losses are extremely personal:

“I don’t remember ever being a virgin.  It wasn’t fair.  Everybody else got to be one.  It has always really hurt me.  I still have a real anger that that was taken away.  Nobody asked.  It was just gone.  I didn’t have that to give.  I know that’s just “The American Dream”, but I heard that dream the same as any other woman did.  Whether it’s important now or not, it was to me.”

If you maintained the fantasy that your childhood was “happy”, then you have to grieve for the childhood you thought you had.  If your abuser was a parent, or if you weren’t protected or listened to, you must give up the idea that your parents had your best interests at heart.  Part of grieving is replacing the unconditional love you held for your family as a child with a realistic assessment.  Your childhood may have been completely awful.  On the other hand, there may have been a lot of good times mixed in with the abuse.  If you have any loving feelings toward your abuser, you must reconcile that love with the fact that he abused you. 

 You may have to grieve over the fact that you don’t have an extended family for your children, that you’ll never receive an inheritance, that you don’t have family roots.

You must also grieve for the shattered image of a world that is just, where children are cared for, where people respect each other.  You grieve for your lost innocence, your belief that it’s safe to trust.  And sometimes, you must even grieve for a part of you that didn’t make it:

“I went down to see the children inside me. The first one I noticed just sat on the curb in my abdomen.  She’d sit there with her head in her hand, looking very sad, or she’d be jumping up and down, being manic.  Then there was one in my heart who would sit in a room behind a door.  She’d open the door and peek out and then shut the door, ‘cause she got scared.  Then there was the one who was dead.  I’d been waiting for her to wake up.  And one day I was lying in bed crying, and I said, “Okay, it’s time for you to wake up”, but she was dead.  I sobbed and mourned that a part of me had died.  The part of me that had really wanted to believe in the good of the family and the good of everyone just died.”

Some survivors grieve not just for themselves, but for the abuse that was done to the people who abused them, for the generations of victims continuing to perpetuate abuse.  A woman who was abused by her mother explains:

“There was a lot of grief, lots of tears realizing I didn’t have the kind of family I thought everybody else had.  It really hurt.  It still hurts.  It comes in waves.  Those kinds of tears go real deep.  It’s a sadness for what I didn’t have; it’s also a sadness for my mother.  It hurts that she’s so sick.  It hurts that she never realized her beauty, and still doesn’t.  Because she had so much self-hate, she had to abuse me.  For a long time I was angry about that, but then there was a stage of grieving for her because she is beautiful, she is loving; it’s just that her sick side is overwhelming to her.”



Buried grief poisons, limiting your capacity for joy, for spontaneity, for life.  An essential part of healing from traumatic experiences is to express and share your feelings.  When you were young, you could not do this.  To fully feel the agony, the terror, the fury, without any support would have been too devastating to bear.  And so you suppressed those feelings, but you have not gotten rid of them.

To release these painful feelings and to move forward in your life, it is necessary, paradoxically, to go back and to relive the experiences you had as a child – to grieve, this time with the support of a caring person and with the support of your adult self.

What you need to heal is not fancy or esoteric.  It is remarkably simple, though for many survivors it has been hard to find.  All you need is the safety and support that enable you to go back to the source of your pain, to feel the feelings you had to repress, to be heard, to be comforted, and to learn to comfort yourself.

And in this way, a transformation takes place.  Once you have fully felt a feeling, known it and lived in it, shared it, acted it, given it full expression, the feeling begins to transform.  The way to move beyond the grief and pain is to experience them fully, to honour them, to express them with someone else, thus assimilating what happened to you as a child into your adult life.


You may feel foolish crying over events that happened so long ago.  But grief waits for expression.  When you do not allow yourself to honour grief, it festers.  It can limit your vitality, make you sick, decrease your capacity for love.

Grief has its own rhythms.  You can’t say, “Okay, I’m going to grieve now.”  Rather you must allow room for those feelings when they arise.  Grief needs space.  You can only really grieve when you give yourself the time, security, and permission to grieve.

“After I had been in therapy for several months my whole self began to respond to that environment, within which I could allow my feelings.  There were weeks I entered the building, went up the stairs, checked in with the receptionist, all with a smile on my face and cheerfulness in my step.  Then I’d enter the office, my therapist would close the door, and before she’d even get to her chair, I’d be crying.  Deep within me I held those feelings, waiting until I knew there would be time and compassion.”



In order not to stifle your feelings of grief, take this period of mourning as seriously as if someone close to you had died.  One survivor, whose abusive parents were still very much alive, spent many months dressed in black, telling everyone her parents had died.  Another woman wrote a eulogy for her abuser, imagining herself at his grave, telling everyone exactly what she would remember him for.  A third held a wake.  Rituals such as these can be powerful channels for grief.

“I wrote a divorce decree from my mother, because I kept having these dreams of wanting to cut the umbilical cord and her not letting me.  I just couldn’t figure out how to separate from her.  We weren’t talking.  We weren’t seeing each other, but I was still feeling too connected.”

You may not be inclined to ritual or ceremony.  You may simply cry a lot.  As one woman put it: “I hadn’t cried in years.  It’s only recently that that’s been restored.  I’m not sure I’m happy about it.  It’s like Niagara Falls at times.”

However you grieve, allow yourself to release the emotions you have struggled all your life to smother.  Grieving can be a great relief.

Own Your Own Pain

for Alana and Irma


by Patricia Roth Schwartz

Own you own pain.
Why not?  It’s yours.

You’ve hawked it, pushed it, pimped it –
Your body, breathing, life, guts, luster,
Sweetness, softness,

Pays the price.

So own your own pain.  Why not?

You’ve eaten it for breakfast,
Sung it to sleep at night,
Rinsed it out in the basin,
Watched it rise with the bread.

So – take it, turn it,
Let it slither,
Into blood-beat, breast-bone, cell-song, skin.

What you possess
Cannot possess you



Write about what you lost, what was taken, what was destroyed.  Write about the extent of the damage.  Write about the things you need to grieve for.  This is a chance to give voice to our pain, and to write about how you feel about your loss.