Forgiveness is a highly charged word for many of us. Incest is a word that many people want to ignore and avoid. Incest – a dirty, secret, taboo that seldom occurs is what too many humans want to believe. Putting forgiveness and incest in the same sentence can cause a collective gasp. It also may cause some of you to stop reading. Please don’t!

Somewhere along my healing journey, I forgave my mother, Mary Ellen, my mom. This forgiveness was not a one-shot deal. I forgave her, got angry again, delved further into the wounds and the hurt, let time pass; somehow forgave her again ….. It was a cycle of healing and forgiveness. Each time the forgiveness became stronger and sturdier as the wounds healed further and the hurt dissipated. Oh, the pain and the hurt are not totally eradicated – not do I expect them to be.

As an online life coach for incest survivors as well as other abuse and trauma survivors, I have no expectations or opinion that a client or a survivor needs to forgive anyone. It makes sense that each individual looks inside oneself to find what is needed for that person to heal.

For me, forgiveness was a gift, a surprise even. Forgiving my mother was not something I initially sought. Intellectually I understood the concept of generational abuse. My grandmother abused me terribly and often as a young child. I assume my grandmother abused my mother as a child. Just as alcoholism ran in our family, so did abuse. My grandmother and mother both lived during a time period when there was not the openness, resources, knowledge, educational and emotional support as there is now for survivors of incest and other abuse or trauma. Abusive cycles can be and are broken.

My mother was raising four children without a husband and with her abusive mother in the household. Divorce was not common. My mother never divorced although her husband was out of the house and out of the picture entirely for decades. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, a “broken home” carried a stigma. My mother worked in a job she hated. Bitterness took over her life in most areas. Abuse continued in our household – physical, sexual and emotional. I was the scapegoat; and, I was not the only one hurt deeply. All my siblings suffered trauma of one type or another. My brother, Jim, was punished as a young boy when he would not use and abuse me. He was trained as a young child to be an abuser. That is another story for another day.

I am not excusing my mother’s behavior. It is only an attempt to acknowledge her life at the time and to find a glimmer of understanding. I am somewhat surprised to find so much compassion within myself. I wonder if it is easier for me to forgive her because she is dead.

I had repressed memories of the abuse until years after I left her household. Looking back at my relationship with my mother, a semi-normal mother-daughter relationship existed after I moved out of her house for the last time; and, I then entered more fully into the disastrous, abusive, and torture-filled (domestic violence) relationship with my boyfriend – husband – now ex-husband, Tom M. To someone outside the family, my connection to my mother probably appeared “normal”. (Isn’t that the case in many of our situations? Our childhood looked normal to others. Our abusers appeared normal.)

One time in the late 1980’s, my mother hugged me (which was not a usual action) and gave me an apology for not being demonstrative in the past. She meant demonstrative in a positive sense. She mentioned that she did not learn from her mother (my grandmother) how to show affection. It was the closest to the truth she ever came. Even though it did not seem like much, I now cherish this small, semi-apology and the hug. I believe years later when she died (a few days before my daughter’s birth and I was not there due to my high-risk pregnancy and geographical distance), that she might have had to face her past —–

Writing this post has brought memories of my mother to the forefront. She was a woman who hated to have her photograph taken; and, she would almost always hide her face with a book or a piece of paper if either was available. Books … newspapers … the love of reading. My mother instilled the love of reading into me by example. As a child, during mostly carefree summer days, my friends and I would wait for her to get off the bus as she returned from a day at work. Almost always she had a book in hand. Now I understand that the ride home on the bus was a time for her to escape into the world of fiction. (I often did that as a child.) Yet my mother did not only read fiction. My mother spent her Sunday evenings catching up on the newspapers for the week as she watched television. I know college was not an option for her. It was too expensive. I’m grateful that she shared the world of books, magazines, and newspapers. Knowledge was important to her.


Peace & Serenity

Nature can be hard to find in Chicago unless you go to the lake. My mother loved water. As a child during the depression, several families would go to a lake in Antioch for the summer to save money. My grandfather owned a cottage there which he eventually sold. My mother’s love of nature did not diminish. Simple pleasures such as a cardinal (her favorite) would be noticed by her. I also think she gave me that love of nature and the ability to see nature in a city as well as countryside. I cannot help but briefly wonder what my mother’s life would have been like if her mother (my grandmother) had not been abusive.

Recently I wrote the “A Life Coach for Survivors of Abuse and/or Torture” post ( After writing that, I inquired of myself, how can I forgive this person, my mother, who once told me she wished I had never been born as well as the slew of horrible labels she frequently used to denigrate me? The answers to how I can forgive her or why I do forgive her are mysteries to me. In the deep recesses of my heart is forgiveness. I forgive my mother. Tears well within my eyes; and, gratitude fills my heart.  Forgiveness is a gift I have been given spiritually and one I now seek. To forgive my mother allows me to live my own life in a freer state. This freedom also allows me to experience peace, joy and love on a deeper level. What a gift!