his month I spent two weeks, unplanned, on the other side of the country from where I live.
My grandmother was dying, and my brother and a friend and I traveled to sit with her in her final days.
Many times in the past few months, I’ve been asked by friends and clients: How do I know if I’ve got intergenerational trauma? And how do I heal from it if I do?
I thought about this question as I was sitting with my grandmother, singing to her, holding her hand, laughing, and crying.
And also wondering, as the days lingered on: was she holding on so long because of the near-death experiences she had as a teenager in the Holocaust?
Three of our father’s four grandparents died in Auschwitz, long before he was born.
My brother and I wanted a different kind of death in our family: a death with love, togetherness, and gentleness.
For me, this month, that was what healing intergenerational trauma looked like.
If you don’t know where to begin, or even what to ask, start with this idea from my practice of family constellations:
The body loves truth.
So no matter what happened to our ancestors, even if it was horrific, there’s a relief that happens in our body when we learn that it happened. That is “healing” — even as we grieve the tragedy.
Find out your family’s stories.
Ask your parents what they haven’t told you yet. Tell your children what has been kept secret.
Do your own research. Follow your hunches.
Why does it matter?
It matters because our bodies are implicitly aware that these things happened.
We experience the effects as a low background hum most of the time — the unnoticeable normalcy of being alive.
We feel a low grade anxiety or worry and we don’t even notice. We feel anxious when traveling, and we just think it’s our personality.
We feel a baseline skepticism about the possibility for happiness. Or maybe a subtle contempt for people who seem to be optimistic or hopeful about the future.
These are the small clues our bodies are giving us that point to unnamed griefs from the past, from our parents, grandparents and further back.
While it’s not a panacea, finding out what happened is one piece of truth that you can offer to your body to say, “I make sense. This happened to us. No wonder I’ve felt vaguely off my whole life… no one ever acknowledged this.”
Ask a friend to hold you as you grieve what you learn. Get the support you need to face the truth. If you’ve been curious about getting support from me, email me. Or reach out to someone else you resonate with. It matters.
It’s always difficult to face loss, but it’s costlier to carry on indefinitely with unnamed tension of the unacknowledged.
Sending you so much love as you move forward towards your own fullest expression,
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