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A Lesson About Sexual Assault Survival

The recent exchanges regarding the sexual assault scandal surrounding our Supreme Court nominee have stirred a lot of passion in my heart.  I am struck by how many politicians haven’t a clue what is going on.  Or, maybe it is that they just don’t care.  Either way, I need to try and bring attention to facts surrounding sexual assault survival.

Why don’t assault victims come forward sooner to confront their assailant?  Are you kidding!?

Let’s just start with the obvious, shall we?  If a victim of assault dares to stand up to an assailant with any sort of power, she (or he) risks her life coming under scrutiny like no other.  For a person dealing with the shame (that is always present) after being assaulted, is so difficult.  To then have to be exposed to shaming by people accusing her/him of “asking for it” or “making it up” or “being confused as to what really happened” is called, re-traumatization.  It is a real thing.  It happens every day.  Why would anyone knowingly expose themselves to further trauma reliving what happened so many years ago.

Which brings me to my next point – the time it takes to regain personal power.  This point is one that is especially infuriating to me.  When someone is assaulted, it takes away that person’s sense of personal power.  Their voice has been taken away.

Please understand that assault’s overall message is, “You are not valuable as a person.  You have so little value, that I can do whatever I want to you.  I can take whatever I want from you and if you say, ‘No’ there will be hell to pay.  So…shut up, don’t say anything and just do what I want you to do.”  That is what every person who is victimized feels. “I am not worth treating like a human being.”

So, with that belief now firmly implanted in a person’s mind, why in the world would anyone expect the subject of assault to stand up and say “Yes, yesterday this guy assaulted me.” (I use “guy” because the vast majority of assailants are male.)  A person who has been victimized always feels shame and as if they are less than.  They do not believe that anyone will believe them. They do not believe that anyone will care.  How in the world can anyone expect them to stand up immediately to face their assailant – if ever?

Which leads me to another point.  Unless you are the survivor of assault or you work with victims of assault, shut up! You don’t have a clue nor do you have a right to have an opinion about when or how he/she should report the assault. Did you know that most people victimized by an entitled jerk do not have the courage or self-power regained until years later to speak about the assault – even to a therapist.  It is quite common for women (and men) to be in their 40’s, 50’s or 60’s before they can talk about what occurred?  Did you know that?  Then shut up!  You don’t get to have an opinion on how it should be reported!  You do not have a right to judge!  You really don’t know what you are talking about.

Ahhh…judgement!  The next point that infuriates me – so many feel they are judge and jury about a person victimized by another.  The entitled always believe that this ugly story of assault is uncomfortable or is getting in the way of their agenda, so they start minimizing the reality of what has happened.  “Well, she must be confused.”  “Too much time has passed, she can’t remember.”  “She doesn’t remember all the details so it must not be the truth.”

Speaking of that, let’s talk about trauma and memory.  The entitled are spending so much time saying that because she doesn’t remember many of the details,  it must be a made up story.  Again – shut up!  You sound like an idiot!  Please take 5 minutes and learn about memory and trauma.  Did you know that professionals who deal with trauma understand that when there are blocks of details that are missing, that the story is more than likely true.  When a person is assaulted, the brain goes into survival mode – also known as fight-or-flight.  During this state, our capacity to remember all details is severely challenged.  People don’t remember everything.  So stop saying that details are missing or fuzzy.  Or if you recognize that, please understand that this brings credibility to the person’s story, not discredit.

As a professional who works with trauma recovery every day, I am infuriated at the harm that this kind of rhetoric does to anyone who has been assaulted.  Those of you who are saying that Dr. Ford has to testify on Monday or we won’t hear her, do not understand trauma survival and talking about it.  Why are you not calling upon some professionals who do understand trauma recovery and how it works.  Why don’t you?  Oh! You really don’t care!

Which brings me to my final point.  When as a nation we elect a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women, it should be no surprised that the party in power doesn’t want to hear about sexual assault.  Too many people in this country don’t care about it and too many people live in the denial that it exists and happens every day!  It is time to change this lack of concern.  It is time that we regain a position of compassion and care. It is time that we regain everything we have lost in the form of human rights over the past two years.  It is time we stand in opposition and vote on November 6th.

I am tired of “alternative facts” running the political and social agenda.  I am tired of having people of color, women, children…treated as less than.  We are all God’s children and we are all entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…without fear of discrimination, humiliation, ridicule. It is time we come together in love again!

Posted in Abuse/Assault Survival.

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Caring For Our Aging Parents Without Tearing Up The Family

I have a number of clients right now who are dealing with aging parent issues. Let’s be honest – it isn’t an easy time. On the contrary, it is quite difficult. There are a lot of things that need to be done and a lot of decisions to be made. All of this while grieving the losses associated with parents who are aging. It is a time that often tears families apart. It is important for all involved that you try to fight against fighting with your siblings.

I have been reflecting on how my sisters and I are handling things with our parents. I don’t think that we have the magic formula, but I do believe we have developed a rhythm and understanding over the past 8 years with our parents’ health issues. I have noticed we are growing closer together rather than apart. Because of this, I thought it might be beneficial to reflect on what we’ve learned for all people going through a similar time in life.

First, it is important to understand that we need to juggle our parents’ needs with their dignity. They are still our parents, need to be respected and at the same time cared for and considered. Spend time and listen to them while you can. If you are dealing with dementia issues, hopefully you spent time earlier listening to them. What is important to them must be considered, but let’s face it. The primary concern is their health and safety. In some cases, they just are not able to make decisions any more and we have to do it. It is for their welfare and tough love is sometimes needed.

Second, consider your other siblings. Who is primarily responsible for day-to-day concerns and decisions? It is important for all of the other siblings to respect and defer to the decisions of those in charge. In our family my sister, Julie is responsible for day-to-day issues. Since she is there Jodi (my other sister) and I defer to her judgement. Do we do this perfectly – no. But Jodi and I try diligently to support Julie since she is carrying the majority of the responsibility. That is a lot of stress on one person. If we are constantly challenging their judgement, we are only causing them more stress and that is destructive.

Next, be sure you are doing what you can. Besides supporting your sibling who is there, find out in what other ways you can help support your parents. My sister has delegated things to the other two of us as best she can. I am mostly in charge of money issues and also communicating to other family members about how things are going. Jodi is a bright spot in my parents’ days. When she comes to visit, it is play time with her. Living almost 2,000 miles away, Jodi isn’t able to do as much as she would like. It is important for Julie and I to remember the fact that she can’t be with her parents very often is hard on her. It’s just a different kind of stress. However, Jodi also remembers to honor the fact that Julie, and then me next, carry the most responsibility on decisions and daily care. Jodi never criticizes or second guesses our decisions. She listens and loves. That is one of the greatest gifts of support she can give us.

Also, be considerate of where your parents are cognitively. One of the biggest adjustments we’ve had to make – and the most difficult is to understand where are parents are cognitively. The brain is a complicated organ. It is very hard to understand. We have had to adjust how we relate to our parents so as not to cause more discomfort for them. Continuity and consistency are two things that are very important to people as we age. Being flexible is hard and change is really hard on them. Be considerate and educate yourself on where your parents are at with their brain health. There are experts that are educated to do assessments on cognition and memory. Listen to them and learn. There are some awesome resources. Understand how you can be of aid, not a hinderance to their needs.

Finally, pray for guidance and direction and embrace the special moments you are given. If you are anything like my sisters and I, this is a new territory that we are not educated to navigate. It is all new. Because each person is different, it is imperative that we understand that each person needs different things and these things may change with each passing day. We are novices on elder care. We don’t know how to navigate the decline without relying on experts and the wisdom of those who went before us. It can make a difference when we admit we aren’t prepared and count on those who are. This is a journey and you are needed. Be the blessing that your parents invested in all of your childhood years. It can be a very special time of sharing memories with someone who has loved you your entire life. Meet them where they are and cherish what time you have left. And at all times, remember your siblings are grieving, too.

Posted in Grief, Love, Relationships.

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My Precious Uncle Larry Joens

Larry Joens, Carol (Joens) Chapman and David Joens on 3/25/17

There are sometimes in life when the pain of loss seems unbearable. This is one of those times. My dear Uncle Larry died on April 11, 2017. The loss of his love, smile, laughter and love of the Cubs will leave a void in my heart forever.

When we love deeply, we grieve deeply. There is no way around it. Grief is the most extreme sense of anguish that a human can endure. And sometimes it feels as if it would be better not to love, so that the hurt never follows. I couldn’t disagree more. The risk of hurt – no, the certainty of hurt – is well outweighed by the gift of love. To experience the joy of God’s love flowing through another is unmatched and definitely outweighs the pain of grief.

I miss my uncle already. My thoughts rapidly switch between heartache and pain to joy and thanksgiving. Uncle Larry was not a perfect man. But, he perfectly tried and was a good and God fearing man. He loved his family, even though we have been known to let him down. He may have been disappointed, but he never stopped loving.

He served his church family and friends with the same love and devotion he showed his family. He loved Jesus and although he didn’t talk much about it. He constantly shared of himself in a way where I know that Jesus would say, “Larry, you are a good and faithful servant.” Larry was love and his memory will always fill me with love.

He always had a smile and a hug. He was one of the best huggers! It was one of those hugs where you felt safety and love. His sense of humor was dry and there was always a twinkle in his eye. I think he got this love of life from the Bremer side of the family. His mom, my Grandma, was always like that. I see that kind of love and humor in Dad and their youngest sibling, Carol, too. It is a Bremer jolliness that leaves us with feelings of warmth and family that I will always remember.

Recently, there was a Facebook thread between Aunt Carol, her cousin (Karen) and myself. I had shared how I remember sitting at Great-grandma Bremer’s dining room table when I was very little. I was on my Dad’s lap and the table was surrounded by men playing cards. I love that memory. I couldn’t have been in school yet, but I remember the laughter and joy of those times. Aunt Carol and her cousin, Karen both shared fondly of similar memories of these family times. It was a family filled with love and laughter. Uncle Larry embodied both. When seeing Uncle Larry, you always felt better than when you arrived. He was delightful and his love spilled out on to everyone.

My most cherished memories of Uncle Larry are pretty wonderful. My earliest memory was when I was very young. I was probably 5 or 6 years old. He was working the summer on a road crew and they happened to be working on the street where my family lived. Mom made some Kool-Aid and helped me set up a lemonade stand in the front yard for the guys working on the road. (It was hot and they were resurfacing the blacktop road.) I was charging a penny a glass and Larry gave me quarters. Every time he had a glass, I got a quarter. I don’t remember anything other than him giving me quarters and laughing at my reaction. It was a wonderful windfall for me and I remember vividly that I thought he was the most wonderful uncle in the world.

I also remember a special time when I was 17 years-old. Larry and Nanette asked that I sing for their wedding. I was so touched and moved that they would ask me to share in their special day. I will never forget the feeling I had. I was humbly honored to be able to share of myself on a day that was so important to them. For a 17 year-old, there isn’t much I had that I could give them. But, I could sing and I was able to give them something that I loved. I am sure neither Larry nor Nanette knew how much that day meant to me. It did and I will cherish the memory forever.

I also have vivid memories of Uncle Larry’s love in action while I was going through my divorce. Larry and Nanette attended St. John Lutheran Church and so did Brad, Steve and I. They attended the early service and we attended the latest service. (There were three services on Sunday.) I remember having just learned that my ex-husband was having an affair and wasn’t willing to give up his girlfriend. It was obviously very difficult for me and I had decided to divorce. To complicate the heartache, my son was the one who told me about the affair. It was difficult for all three of us.

It became even more difficult when a few months before the divorce was final, I found out that a new member of a few months (who attended the one service where I led the liturgy), was the woman with whom my ex was having the affair. She would pass me in the aisle every Sunday while she walked to the front to read the Scriptures and prayers. At first I didn’t know she was the other woman. When I found out that it was her, I was sickened and devastated. How could she start attending the same church, and even worse the same service where I sang?! What would lead a person to do something like this? We had three services and she chose the one I attended.

Every Sunday, I would go to church to sing and leave sobbing and in tears. It was agonizing to pass the other woman in the aisle every week, but I refused to give up my church – she already was taking my husband.

Uncle Larry found out about what was going on and he and Nanette would hang out for a while after their early service. We would meet in the atrium between services and he would visit with Brad and Steve about baseball and the Cubs. Every week, he would wait around and talk to the boys. It was good to see my sons laugh and talk about their first love, baseball with their great-uncle who shared the passion for the Cubs and baseball. It was one of the most selfless gifts of love I’ve ever seen in action.

We never talked about it. But, his presence filled me with God’s strength and I know that if it wasn’t for him, I would have had to leave my church home of 18 years. I got my Sunday hug and the boys got to talk baseball. He quietly filled my sons and I with love and reassurance that would sustain us for another church service with the “other woman”.

That is the way I knew Uncle Larry’s love. It was quiet and yet consistent. He was loyal and faithful to his family. He was a good man in his heart and he tried to live that goodness in his life. He was honest and giving. He was a servant heart and he showed up when he was needed. He was always welcome.

As a side note worthy of mentioning, I need to share about Mom. She suffers with a neurological disorder that mimics dementia, Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus. Over the past number of years, she is often joyful discussing the conversations she’s had with her sister, Deloris and her mother. Deloris has been gone for 11 years and Grandma has been gone for close to 25 years.

Mom will occasionally talk about the phone calls she has with Deloris and Grandma. It is never anyone else, just those two. She shares about beautiful conversations recalling good times together. They are always happy and filled with smiles.

When Julie went to tell Mom and Dad the sad news of Larry’s death, Mom interrupted her. She said to Julie something to the effect of, “He can’t be gone. He called last night and said he was doing good. He didn’t sound sick last night. He just called me.” (Mom doesn’t have a phone.) She couldn’t believe he was gone because she had just talked to him when he called her. He sounded happy and healthy. He was doing good!

There is so much about the human brain that we do not understand. There is even more we do not understand about our God. I believe that Larry wanted us to all know he was good – he is doing well – he is healed. Just as Deloris and Grandma check in with us now and then, Larry checked in with Mom, too. I suppose, it is because Mom is the only one sitting still enough to listen since she can’t do anything on her own anymore. But the message is sound – Larry is good! My heart fills with Joy.

The next two days will be difficult for his family and extended family. He was and remains special to us all. We will be celebrating his life, but we will be grieving as we say “until we meet again.” To know that my dear Uncle Larry will be celebrating Easter with our Savior is wonderful to think about. To know that he no longer hurts and is no longer sick is a blessing. To know that there are few who walk this side of Heaven that are filled with the love he had in his heart, is a reminder of the blessing that is Larry Joens. He was and will always be love and loved!

Posted in Grief, Love, Relationships.

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