Diagram of a Family


family, trauma and healing blog

You’ve seen the stick-figure decals, custom made for the rear window of your SUV. The family is lined up tallest to smallest: Dad, Mom, kids, dog, cat. I guess some family stories are that straightforward. There’s no death and remarriage, no divorce, no adoption, no half-brothers or step-sisters.

My story is thornier.

I was the last of my father’s children. He had a fatal heart attack at age 59, when I was six years old and my mother was 36. He’d married her soon after his first wife died. My father was a doctor, and before she became his wife, my mother was his secretary. She was only six years older than my father’s eldest son, my half-brother Allon.

After my father died, my mother remarried. We’d lived in Maine all my life, but my mother and my brother Bruce and my sister Sue and I moved to Massachusetts to live in my new father’s house. He’s a doctor too. My first father used to bring my mother to see him as a patient. Our new father legally adopted Bruce and Sue and me, but not my brothers Allon and Tedd. They were married with children of their own.

Like my mother, my new father had been married before. He and his wife had adopted two children, a boy and a girl. When they divorced, the boy, who was still a baby, had to be returned to the orphanage because his adoption had not been finalized. The girl, Nancy, stayed with my father. He fought his ex-wife for sole custody and won. When my mother married my second father, Nancy became my little sister.

Try putting that family on a decal.

When I was sixteen and Nancy was twelve, she died in a plane crash. My father was flying the plane. He and my mother and Nancy and I were on our way home from visiting my brother Tedd in Maine. After we crashed and the police and firefighters found us, the others were pulled out quickly, but I was stuck in the wreck. My arm was pinned beneath the engine. They wanted to cut it off to get me out.

When I was nineteen, my father told me he wished I had died in that crash and Nancy had lived.

My memoir, Every Moment of a Fall (Schaffner Press, May 2016), is about the depression that seized me in the wake of these events, and about how I eventually found a way out through talk therapy and EMDR. The transformation in me has encouraged my siblings to seek their own healing from the deep scars that mark us as family.

Complicated or not, we’re like a lot of other families rocked by narcissism, sexual predation, neglect. I’d like to think that our unfolding story holds out hope. Not for some regressive fantasy of familial unity. But for the genuine release that comes from linking arms and facing down hard truths together.


0 thoughts on “Diagram of a Family

  1. Hey Sister-o-mine. Thanks for being so determined to get to the bottom of all the gunk in our family history. I’m wicked proud of you and glad that we, together, are survivors/overcomers!!!

  2. Having read and thoroughly enjoyed “Responsible Girl”, I am awed by your ability to capture and convey the experiences you’ve lived through and by the hopefulness that watching you navigate your own healing brings. This is a poignantly and beautifully told story and I am already looking forward to reading your future books as well.

  3. Fascinating connections. Took me a couple of readings to put it all together. I am that odd character these days who was born into a large family with all siblings sharing the same biological parents and no extra parent/sibling relationships. On top of that, my own two children have been the only two children of their biological parents (so far anyway). It’s uncommon to have so much commonality and I know I am a rare bird. I would love to read Responsible Girl. I think it provide valuable insights for my work as a school counselor. Is it available? Thanks!

  4. Thanks for diagramming your own family, JT. It’s funny that the “rare bird” these days is becoming the person who shares the same two bio parents with his or her siblings. As for the memoir, it’s in search of a publisher right now, so stay tuned. With any luck, it’ll be available before too long.

  5. Hi Carol, it’s Kerrie ~ like JT, I had to read through it a few times to make sense of your family line. Pretty incredible that you are able to live your story out loud and encourage others to find the other side of the ocean, so to speak. Can’t wait for another post!

  6. Carol, Woo Hoo, you did it! You finished your book! Thank you for leaving me the note about it. As I read your blog and the excerpt from your book, all I can think is, “My god, she’s so brave”. I want to show this to my (non birth) daughter. There are similarities. Thank you so much for writing this. I want to read it all.

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