Immigrant Families: Forever Scarred by Forced Separation

Note: Some of the following comes from book three in my Appalachian Families series, which I’m in the process of finishing.

Never mind that President Trump signed an executive order today to stop families from being separated at the border—because, at this moment, they still are. For these families, the damage is already done. I know this only too well.

That’s because the day my children were torn from my arms, I cried so much it’s a wonder I didn’t turn into dust and blow away.

It was 21 years ago, and yet the pain was so great it sometimes still haunts me like it happened yesterday. Then my heart feels so full that I am afraid to cry, to shed my tears, worried they will sweep me all the way down the Mississippi River and into the Gulf of Mexico, where I will end up floating in the Atlantic Ocean. Except once there, I will still be crying, unable to ever stop, becoming one with the water.

I heard the judge that day, the day my world changed forever. But his words didn’t make it all the way to my cerebral cortex. They sizzled inside my ears, bouncing back and forth while my brain tried to grasp their meaning.

How can you take my children?

Before my thoughts could even become words, the judge spoke. “You can appeal the decision.” Then, a few words from my attorney. I didn’t even hear what she said. All the energy I had been holding tightly inside dissipated as quickly as if I was a balloon animal that someone stuck a pin in. My knees gave out and I crumpled to the floor.

I’m sure this decades-old pain haunts my four children, as well. The scars are hidden beneath our skin, and riddled with shrapnel that no one sees. But we know they’re there.

Our scars remain today, and while we tried to overcome the damage done, it was impossible. Too many things happened during our three months apart, words spoken, actions taken, that were irreversible. But the most crucial element, I believe, to hinder our healing, was the individual thoughts we carried with us from that day forward. Why did you leave me? How could you do this to me? When will you come get me?

And then, when I couldn’t go get them—because the law forbid it—this: What did I do wrong? Why don’t you want me anymore? Why don’t you love me?

What I’ve personally heard about the current family separation, which is amoral and inhumane, hit me so hard it took me a good long week to even write about it. My first thought, upon learning that parents were told their children were being taken for a bath—only to not be returned—was of the Holocaust. Similar lies were told then, too. Jews, Poles, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Gypsies, many of their families were torn apart, never to be reunited. My first public comment, on a friend’s Facebook page, was “Can anyone say Gestapo?”


Make no mistake, following a forced separation, these immigrant families will never be the same again. It is unnatural for children to be separated from their parents in this way. The child, the mother, the father—all three will carry these scars for the rest of their lives. Such a separation creates a hole in a child’s heart. A hole that will be filled with sadness, self-doubt, and anger. Anger that may later turn into rage.

While these feelings may diminish over time, they will never completely disappear. At best, they will rise to the surface during stressful situations, boiling over like a pan of hot milk left unattended on the kitchen stove. At worst, they will be buried deeper than our cemetery dead, so far down in the dark earth that you cannot see or feel them.

Being plagued with a gnawing sense of hopelessness condemns you to a life lived looking over your shoulder, forever trapped in the past. This failure to process your feelings will impede your ability to grow, to move forward. Even after you are reunited—if you are. But make no mistake, you won’t be the same person ever again.

Neither will your children.

The best you can hope for is to tap into your own well of resilience, to keep going. To try and thrive. Counseling can help. But even a trained therapist cannot always dispel the fear, or reverse the damage done to these children. Or their parents.

The Department of Homeland Security says that since May, 2,342 children were placed in what the world views as cages. (The practice of U.S. officials keeping children locked up is not new; nor does this number include thousands of other detained children, who entered the U.S. without their parents.)

Aside from the trauma these families must endure, what else has such a “zero-tolerance” policy wrought? Have we returned to a Dickensian era, a land fit only for the orphaned Oliver Twist? I thought internment ended with the Japanese. Have we learned nothing?

Apparently not. Even though we’ve known for more than 100 years that keeping children away from their families is traumatic. President Theodore Roosevelt convened the first White House Conference on Children in 1909. There they determined that “children should not be deprived of (home life)” by being placed in an institution. Instead, they should be placed with foster families.

Later, numerous studies found that children raised in orphanages suffered from “the inability to bond, inability to effectively problem solve, inability to turn to others for help, poor peer relations, disciplinary problems, disruptive behavior.” And the current detention camps make those orphanages look like a playground. Given that these children range in age from babies to teenager, how many of the younger ones have already been molested by an older child? Or a caretaker? Judging from the disturbing video and audio clips, the sounds and sights of sobbing, traumatized children, these places are obviously worse than orphanages, which lost favor with the American public in the 1960s. No wonder the world, including the Pope and the United Nations, has condemned the U.S. for its actions. At least orphans had trained caretakers who comforted them when they cried.

But this basic human right is being denied these children. Children who should soon be reunited with their parents—but aren’t yet.

The very notion that no one is allowed to comfort these distraught children makes me furious! How is that even possible in this day and age, when we know that such cold and callous behavior is abuse? When we know that human touch is critical to good mental and physical health? That such a pattern can lead to severe emotional problems?

As proof, consider the famous artificial mother experiment conducted by psychologist Harry Harlow. He showed how crucial comfort is to humans, when, given a choice between a cloth mother and a wire one, isolated baby rhesus monkeys preferred spending 18 hours a day with the cloth mother, as opposed to spending only one hour a day with the wire one. This, even though the wire mother held the bottle the babies nursed from!

In an op-ed to The Washington Post, former First Lady Laura Bush spoke up about this lack of compassion and empathy. There, she told how Barbara Bush once held and cuddled a crying child who was dying of AIDS, apparently when no one else would.

Let’s learn from her, and do better. We can. We must!

* * *

Dear Readers,

My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 2016. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April 2016.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

A Wheelchair for John

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — One month later, John has a new set of wheels. The motorized wheelchair, a gift from a local woman who knows exactly how essential such a chair is, has given John back his freedom.

I met John four weeks ago on a snowy Sunday, at the intersection of Route 119 and the Exit 1 off-ramp for Interstate 68. Mine was the second car to stop at the traffic light, which had turned red. That position placed me right beside a man in a wheelchair, asking for donations. When I saw he had a disability—one which could cow even the strongest of individuals—my heart went out to him.

John, you see, has no legs, and only one arm. But he has a smile that will melt your heart, and not one ounce of self-pity.

I couldn’t drive away without giving him something. Without any cash, I offered him the only thing in my car worth having: a leftover cinnamon roll from a nearby Cinnabon. We introduced ourselves and John gratefully accepted my meager gift. But as I reached out the window to hand him the boxed dessert, John dropped it. I watched as he tried using his club hand to pick it up, insisting he could do it.

He couldn’t. Torn between heartbreak and not wanting him to feel helpless, I finally opened my car door. Before I could get out, though, the driver in front of me ran toward us. He picked up the box, and then handed John some cash.

During that brief minute or two, I asked John if he received help from our local social services. That’s how I learned he needed a new wheelchair. His electric chair broke, and he was using a manual one that he could barely maneuver on his own.

When the light turned green I drove away, in my warm, dry car. Wearing nice clothes, my belly full. All I could think of was how cold and snowy it was, how light John’s clothing was, and how much he struggled to accomplish such a simple task. A task that, for most of us, would be as mindless as taking our next breath.

I wanted to reach out to other people, to tell them about John’s plight. Before I even changed out of my dress clothes, I posted John’s story on Facebook. “So, since this is supposed to be the season for giving, if you can, please do. After all, it’s Sunday. And it’s really cold outside,” I posted.

Within minutes, several people commented. They wanted to know if he was homeless. Another woman from Clarksburg, about 45 minutes away, was ready to drive here with a wheelchair for John. The only problem was, it was a manual chair, too. By the time we figured that out, I had driven back to the intersection, where I learned that John wasn’t homeless. In fact, he just obtained housing. I took his phone number and promised to help him find a working electric wheelchair.

That happened today, when Tammy Belldina from Rainbow Tire, over in Preston County, finally met John, when she gave him his “new” electric chair. This chair, however, isn’t just another mode of transportation. It’s John’s legs.

Tammy and I, fellow Prestonians, have been working together for weeks now, trying to make this happen. Tammy has a heart as big as Texas. Which is why she insisted on buying a new $200 battery for the chair—so John wouldn’t have to. (Most of us wouldn’t know how expensive such equipment is; Tammy told me these chairs can cost $5,000 or more.)

Along the way, we’ve both gotten to John better. I learned that he knows how to, and can even drive, a vehicle. In the past, he’s held down various jobs. One year ago, though, his other arm was amputated due to blood clots—the same thing that happened to both his legs. I can’t go into details, but John has what seems like a good medical malpractice case, and I hope we can find a good attorney for him.

Meanwhile, Tammy suggested we begin a fundraiser of sorts. That fundraiser begins right now. John supports his family of three (including his daughter) on less money per month than I live on myself. We’re asking you to send him checks or even gift cards that will help him purchase some essentials for his family.

Tammy has a special request. “Let’s make sure that little girl gets some Christmas presents, and John has some warm clothes to wear,” she said.

I’m personally asking you to help John because, for the last month, he’s helped me. He’s given me a reason to focus on someone other than myself and my own problems. Problems that include the death of a spouse and a lost daughter. After a year away from my typewriter, I’m 5,000 words into the trilogy that began with Sister of Silence.

Jesus Christ was right: there is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving. Helping John has helped me. Plus, as Steve Maraboli says, “a kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal.” Who knew, that in giving a stranger some leftover food, I would be the one who was healed?

If you can spare a few dollars to help, I will be indebted to you. Please send any donations to: “Daleen Berry, in care of Friends of John,” Citizens Bank, 265 High Street, Morgantown, WV 26508. I will personally see that John gets every penny, and acknowledges your gift.

After all, ‘tis the season.

* * * * *


Dear Readers,

My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 2016. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April 2016.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Robin Williams: “Oh Captain, My Captain,” You Are Far From Alone

Robin Williams is dead. He left behind a world of grief, even though 99.9-percent of us never met him. We knew him, though, as much as we can possibly “know” anyone through a lifetime of work.

All of this grieving is about losing Mork, Mrs. Doubtfire, Patch Adams, and My Captain, but it’s also knowing that if someone like Robin Williams can succumb to suicide, so can the rest of us.

I found this great tribute on Facebook; if someone knows who I should credit, please let me know so I can. Thank you.

With frightening finality, suicide is claiming more lives than ever before. According to The Montreal Gazette, for every Robin Williams, 200 others have attempted suicide—and another 400 people have thought about taking their own lives. This April, the Awake magazine said more than 20 former U.S. veterans commit suicide every single day. While another 950 try to do so each month.

I’ve been to that dark place—but stopped myself just in time, more than once. Many of the kindest, most caring, and artistic people I know have, too. Some of us still battle our demons, mostly in the privacy of our own homes. Sometimes we turn to booze or cocaine or even sex to numb our pain—because even though they will kill us in the end, they “love” us in the meantime. They are far kinder than the world around us, because they don’t judge us.

“We” self-medicate because society continues to stigmatize mental illness and marginalize those who suffer from it. People turn noticeably uncomfortable when they hear the words “bipolar,” “schizophrenia,” or simply “depression.” They tend to not know what to say, which most likely hampered Robin Williams’s loved ones (and those of Phillip Seymour Hoffman) from talking openly about his illness.

The end result? Families don’t want, or don’t know how, to ask for help—for themselves or the people they care about.

I know this, you see, but I’d rather not. During the last year, while I was under contract to produce not one, but two books, I found myself taking care of my adult daughter, who has gone missing at different times in her adult life. She simply dropped off the map, and we often didn’t know if she was dead or alive.

My daughter is fine, of course. Yet she talks to people who aren’t there, pens thousands of words of poetry and prose at a time, and sits and stares at pictures of people for hours on end. “I’m sending him a message,” she says, when I ask what she’s doing.

She insists she is normal and healthy. Yet she refuses to take a single pill, see a doctor, or give out any private details for fear the government may find her. The brief moments of brilliance we all glimpsed in her as a child still shine through at odd moments, but they are growing more and more tarnished. Every so often, she says she has nothing to live for—and that’s when I really begin to worry.

My family is no stranger to depression or other forms of mental illness. In December 2013, my sister’s suicidal efforts finally paid off. At first glance, Lisa’s death didn’t look like suicide. I believe that’s what it was, though. After a lengthy battle that was born of alcohol, nursed with narcotic painkillers, and which morphed into a full-blown addiction of God only knows what, the drugs did her in.

I had seen her a month earlier, when she told me she didn’t care if she died. It wasn’t until after her death that I realized: Lisa had probably been depressed for decades. I wish we could have traded places, that she would have checked herself into the psych hospital that saved my life, back in 1991, or that she would have followed in my footsteps and gotten the help she needed.

Maybe if we all stopped being so judgmental, she would have. Or maybe, instead of having the entire world mourn his loss, Robin Williams would have ascended a stage somewhere, and talked candidly about what it’s like to fight this demon called depression.

If he had, we would have cheered. He would have received a standing ovation. And he’d still be alive.

* * *

I have four books. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about overcoming depression from domestic violence; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella BooksNellie Bly BooksAmazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

 

Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and Sister of Silence placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

If You Talk the Talk, You Should Walk the Walk

Many years ago as a young news reporter, I learned what happens when a government agency attempts to violate their employees’ right to free speech. They live to regret it. Almost without exception, it pays to be painfully honest when faced with a sensitive situation—such as the death of a student.

In particular, the murder of Skylar Neese. She’s the Star City, W.Va., girl whose two best friends have been charged with killing her.

One girl has already pled guilty to second-degree murder; the other one faces criminal court come February. Since Free Speech Week ends tomorrow, it seems the perfect time to discuss why University High School officials have issued an edict requiring everyone to stay silent about Skylar’s murder. Apparently because victim, admitted murderer, and accused murderer attended the problem-plagued school together. (In addition to relocating students to the new high school after the school year began, there has been a body found on the site, an indoor flood that closed the new building, and a gas leak, among other problems.)

I had to laugh after reading reporter Jim Bissett’s article in yesterday’s Dominion Post. Speaking specifically about UHS, he says classrooms in Monongalia County “aren’t shy about launching intellectual exploration of freedom of speech and other liberties many citizens take for granted—and other societies don’t have.”

“Intellectual exploration of freedom of speech”? What a joke! Exploration is more than talking the talk; true exploration requires walking the walk. It means understanding a person’s right to exercise free speech—and giving them the opportunity to do so.

And what “other societies” is he referring to? He must have been talking about places where the government and those in power restrict speech. You know, “other societies.” Unfortunately, from what I’ve been told, speech isn’t really free at University High School. Many, many students have said talking about Skylar’s murder is forbidden on school property, and at least three adults have said teachers are afraid they’ll lose their jobs if they do talk. That’s because, they say, Principal Shari Burgess has decreed as much. (I tried to contact Burgess before posting, but she did not respond.) But UHS staffers also say Burgess told them county board of education officials created the mandate.

Which it may or may not be true. A couple of people who work for the school system have told me it isn’t. So I went to the Mon County Board of Education office on Sept. 23, where I spoke to a redhead named Beth in Superintendent of Schools Frank Devono’s office. Citing FERPA (the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), the federal law that prevents educators from discussing matters (specifically pertaining to a student’s educational records—a right that can be waived if student safety is in question or if legal authorities request certain information) that could violate a student’s right to privacy, Beth said school officials probably can’t talk until after the trial.

And when I asked her if it’s true the directive to remain silent came from someone at the board level, Beth had no knowledge of it. I told her I would like to find out for sure, and in addition, I wanted to talk to Devono about events that occurred at UHS before Skylar’s murder. Beth said she would inquire and get back to me. To date, I haven’t received a return phone call.

While digging for details about what led to Skylar’s murder, about the social factors and friendships that affect today’s teens, and about how this tragedy has affected not just our teens but their parents, I’ve learned not to take a refusal to talk personally. What I do object to is learning that an educator is in fear of losing his or her job for no good reason.

What’s wrong with saying how Skylar’s death affected you or your students? Where’s the harm in speaking up about how it’s changed the way you teach or why you think we as a society need to pay more attention to our adolescents? Or that we’re missing the mark completely, when it comes to what our values are?

Then there’s the well known fact that UHS has lost several students through violent means in recent years: Skylar was the third murder victim that I’m aware of. There has also been at least one suicide, another student who died in a car accident, and several suicidal students who may or may not have gotten the help they needed. If an entire student body is being silenced about Skylar, then what else might they be silent about? And what dangerous undertow is all of this silence creating?

One parent I interviewed said something profound: If students and teachers are not allowed to talk about what happened, or what led up to it, it stands to reason the police investigation was also affected—because facts about the case could have come to light much sooner, had people been allowed to talk about what they knew or suspected.

This directive also makes me concerned that some students might be loathe to talk, for fear of any educational retribution they believe they might face. Or actually have been told they would. If so, that’s alarming.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case because, by far, the Morgantown-area teens who are close to this case have been more open and willing to talk than almost any adult. Or it could be a teenager’s natural state of fearlessness that’s enabling them to be more honest than their elders.

Ironically, it would seem that UHS teachers agree that free speech can help prevent things like a student’s death. Take teacher Donovan Riggleman, who was quoted in the DP piece: “The free-speech tragedies, he said, are the cases of students who have committed suicide because of such bullying,” Bissett wrote when paraphrasing Riggleman, who was actually talking about cyberbullying. (Unless someone out there can shed some light on it, Skylar’s death doesn’t appear to have as much of a connection to bullying as once thought.)

But do UHS teachers really agree with Riggleman? Do they really believe free speech can help prevent a student’s death? Maybe he’s in the minority. Or maybe it’s only held to be true in cases of cyberbullying. And what about after a student’s death? Should teachers talk about it then—or should they keep quiet, like they’ve been instructed to do? Does anyone really still believe restricting free speech to preserve silence is a good idea?

I don’t think they do.

Editor’s note: Award-winning editor Geoff Fuller (author of Full Bone Moon) and I are writing the book about Skylar Neese’s murder, which will be published by BenBella Books in Fall 2014. If you have information about the case, please contact us using the form below.

My Advice to Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight and Gina DeJesus

It isn’t going to be easy and every day will be a struggle. Maybe not a physical fight to survive but certainly a psychological one. Some days you will do battle just to be happy. From time to time you will even look back and think dying would have been easier. In spite of that, you can do it!

That’s what I want to tell the courageous and heroic Cleveland women, Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight and Gina DeJesus. They were held hostage for the same length of time I was: 10 years, give or take. While there are major differences between our captivity, there are some similarities.

Like I said in my TEDx talk, “Silence Isn’t Golden—It’s Red,” last month: Three years of molestation led to my pregnancy at age 16. The blame, shame, and guilt I had known since eighth grade dogged my every step so I did the only thing I could: I married “Eddie.” By the time I learned he was doing the same thing to other 13-year-old girls, it was too late—I was his wife. When I left Eddie in 1990, three more children were the result of so many rapes I can’t begin to tally them all.

Rehearsing my TEDx talk at Connecticut College in April 2013.

This is where some major differences come in: Ariel Castro, who apparently wanted Amanda Berry’s unborn child to live, wanted Knight’s unborn children to die. So he starved her and punched her in the stomach until she miscarried—at least five times.

My ex was nothing like that. He was not brutal. He is damaged, yes. He is mean, yes. He is a child molester, yes. But Eddie wanted my pregnancies—because they verified his virility. Even if he doubted it himself, they were proof he was a man.

Nor did Eddie imprison me in chains or hold me hostage in our basement,  as Castro did with the three teens he abducted. My chains, though, were equally strong and every bit as effective.

But through it all I had something those teens did not: access to libraries, where I dug and dug until I found answers to my questions. Until I located a magazine article or a book that told me what I needed to know, to prepare me for my escape. To help me know how to survive, once I did get free.

I can only begin to imagine the years and years of work ahead for Berry, Knight and DeJesus to have happy, pain-free lives. The truth is, it won’t be free of pain. There will always be reminders. Sometimes they will come in the form of other victims’ stories, stories like this one. Then you will begin to feel ill—just a general sense of malaise, nothing specific. And you will get a fever blister the size of a nickel—from the stress of reading article after article.

Today I surround myself with reminders of what I’ve accomplished since then. Numerous writing awards hang on my office walls. Signs and pictures and Post-it notes, all remind me where I’ve come from. Who I am. Where I’m going. These positive, external tools give me a boost on an occasional bad day. They are visual cues to keep fighting. To survive, to thrive.

Sometimes they come in the form of an email, like one I received a few weeks ago. “You are saving lives,” was all a reader wrote.

As I told a TEDx audience in April, acting on the red flags around you means you can save someone else’s life. I was referring to the red flags we all need to watch for, to help protect children from sexual abuse. But red flags show up in many situations, especially in ones like this one. Where 10 years of repeated rapes and imprisonment make you long to die. That’s where you need to see the red flags in yourself.

So to Berry, Knight and DeJesus, I want to say this: For now the someone you need to save, day after day, is you.

* * * *

My next book, Guilt by Matrimony, about the murder of Aspen socialite, Nancy Pfister, comes out November 17. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella Books, Nellie Bly Books, Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

Frontline documentary: Isolation was a factor in Sandy Hook massacre

I didn’t want to miss last night’s PBS episode of Frontline, “Raising Adam Lanza“. I’m glad I didn’t, because I came away with some answers to questions other people must have had, too. I find I can also relate to Lanza’s mom, Nancy, who seemed intent on trying the next best thing for her son, whenever the last next best thing didn’t work out.

I can remember dragging my children from one school to another, from one therapist to another, trying yet something else new and different, to keep them from being bullied or to prevent them from being in pain during their school years. We also moved as a way to avoid danger, but in the end the one sure thing that helped my children was what would have helped Lanza: being surrounded by a community of other people who cared about him or were even like him.

It’s hard to know what to do when your children are in pain or have problems. Do you get involved or let them learn how to navigate life on their own? Do you go to the school and hover, or wait to see if your child’s day goes well? It’s never easy, and it must be much harder when you have a child like Lanza.

Asperger’s syndrome appears to be a high-functioning form of autism. The parents I’ve interviewed for the only article I recall writing about it said their children were either brilliant or just this side of genius. But they acknowledged their children had special needs, too.

Whatever mental illness Lanza might have had is separate and apart from his Asperger’s. I’m not even qualified to say, but my guess is having a form of autism could lead to depression or other mental illness. Just as many chronic illnesses can.

But the isolation Lanza experienced seems a significant factor in his downward spiral—as did his mom’s inability to know what to do to help him. I say this because before becoming isolated, a teacher acknowledged Lanza’s involvement in a school club actually improved his social skills.

After watching last night’s show, what’s clear to me is that Adam’s lack of involvement in support groups—not being around people in general, and especially other people like himself, whom he could relate to—caused a regression of his social skills.

And it’s true I’m not a fan of violent TV shows, video games or movies, but if these are the only regular things your psyche is consuming, it seems reasonable you’re more apt to become like the characters in these games. For someone like Lanza, who was cut off from the real world, it seems like those games became his world. And then that world became his reality.

I have to wonder if Nancy’s failure to get her son the help he needed was because she believed she was the only person who knew him well enough to help him. I also wonder if Nancy’s illness—it’s believed she had Multiple sclerosis—prevented her from having the mental energy to do more to get Lanza professional help.

In the end, we really don’t know if the Sandy Hook shooting could have been prevented if Lanza wasn’t isolated, and had gotten medical treatment for all of his health problems.

But we do know one thing: this family’s story is a warning for us all that isolation comes with a price tag that’s just too high to pay. That remaining silent and not asking for help when such help is desperately needed, only makes matters worse.

 

Editor’s note: Daleen is the executive director of Samantha’s Sanctuary, Inc., a new 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to helping empower abused women and their children.

Berry is the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country.Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read the first chapter free, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

To read her award-winning memoir, Sister of Silence, in e-book format (or any other e-book), download a free app from Amazon for your phone, tablet or computer.If you want to read more than 100 reviews, go to Amazon. To view the Sister of Silence book trailer, go to her VintageBerryWine Youtube channel.

Helping Ourselves, Helping Others: Why It’s Crucial For Victims to Come Forward

Regardless of the gender used, this applies to both sexes

If you’ve had an alcoholic parent, or if you’ve been sexually victimized, you are more vulnerable to feelings of shame and self-doubt, along with the belief that all problems are your fault. These factors can also create a drive to be perfect and a deep-seated fear that no one will like you if they learn your darkest secret.

Actress Teri Hatcher understands this. A survivor of sexual abuse, Hatcher said she wants to “help stop the pattern in women to take less than what they deserve, and to help stop the burnt-toast syndrome for their girls . . . I don’t think you have to be molested to be in pain as a woman, to feel like you don’t deserve good things . . . we are all women who don’t treat ourselves well enough. Women walk around feeling like everything is their fault, and if they could only be better they could get something good” (Vanity Fair, 2006).

Before we can begin to help (victims) thrive, we must first help them survive various types of abuse and their own negative feelings. So the silence and secrecy must be shattered. That means anyone who plays a role must be willing to talk about it, instead of helping to hide it by pretending we have no such thing as sexual abuse or domestic violence. It begins with parents who aren’t afraid to ask hard questions, when a child is acting out for no apparent reason. If your child’s been victimized, then you’re only allowing the damage go deeper, by refusing to see it or by failing to obtain the necessary medical care and therapy your child needs.

* * *

When it comes to standing up and helping (victims) who can’t help themselves, a good example comes from my time spent as a police reporter at the Cumberland Times-News. A couple was driving by when they saw a man choking a woman on a city street, so the couple stopped their car and went to help. The injured woman had no pulse and wasn’t breathing, so Rhonda Kennell, a registered nurse, performed CPR. Police said the consequences could have been tragic, if not for Kennell’s help.

“I just feel that’s the right thing to do,” Kennell told me when I interviewed her for a news article. City Police Officer Lt. Brian Lepley said Kennell’s help was “deeply appreciated by city police and . . . just shows that people still care” (Cumberland Times-News, Dec. 16, 2007).

* * *

Jerry Toppins Jr. acted out during his teens, due to family violence. In 1990, Jerry’s dad gunned down his stepmother, Wanda, in Arthurdale, W.Va., in front of Jerry’s brother David, who was then three-years-old. That was years after Jerry’s first stepmother, Cindy, died under suspicious circumstances—and long after Jerry’s own mother, Peggy, barely escaped with her life. When she did, she took Jerry and his sister, Gujuan, with her.

Jerry’s life taught him to advocate for these victims, who are often unable to do so on their own. Abuse victims should “never hide it . . . tell everyone about every detail . . . Don’t die easy, go out kicking screaming and struggling.” For everyone else, who can do something about it, he has another message. “Fight it wherever you see it. Stand up for those you see in need” (Personal correspondence, Sept. 22, 2008).

* * *

So whether it’s domestic violence, child abuse or depression, do it anyway—because you have no idea how you would feel if you do nothing.

Editor’s note: This condensed information is taken from chapter one of the forthcoming Lethal Silence by Daleen Berry. This book is an academic text that looks at several case studies involving families whose lives were shattered by a lethal silence that left children dead, and the role such stressors as child sexual abuse, teen pregnancy, depression and domestic violence played. (Copyright 2011)
If you are a parent and want to better protect your children, or if you’re a victim who has survived child sexual abuse, please go to Amazon and read the foreword of Sister of Silence. Written by renowned (and now retired) FBI special agent Kenneth V. Lanning, it’s well worth your time.