Some folks have a hard time with the December holidays because they live alone and they mourn the loss of their sweet childhood memories of Santa, Christmas carols and family togetherness. For those of us who lived an abusive childhood, “getting through the holidays” means something different. It means reliving some of our most awful memories and having to dig deep to find our strength.
The holidays, for my family, were especially bad because of school vacation and we were home with my father, who didn’t work (due to disability). He had two whole weeks to terrorize us without Mom home. He played horrible tricks on us, like pretending to shoot Santa off the roof and leaving pig’s blood in the snow for us to find on Christmas morning, and stomping on gifts which had been wrapped and placed under the tree, as a punishment for minor infractions.
But worst of all, for me, was the discovery on December 23, 2003 of my mother’s body, buried in my back yard. My brother had killed her and buried her there months before and the police finally found her that day, two days before Christmas. So great was my pain that I tried to commit suicide but was stopped, in time, by the police.
My brother is now in jail and I’m left to make sense of this whole thing. And December is the hardest month of them all. I have a goal for this month, and that week in particular. I want to get through that week on a steady keel. I have to make a sense of peace with that day. I have to find a way on that day to honor my mom and mourn the loss of my brother. I want to remember what happened with the respect and love for my mom that it deserves. I do not, however, want to be weak and entertain thoughts of suicide.
If that is not how that week goes, I know that I have support from family, friends and my therapist. I have to allow myself to reach out on that day if I need help. I must not take a drink; and if I decide that suicide is my only answer I must decide that I don’t want to be a voice for abused children across the country.
Whatever happens during that week, the one and only goal that I refuse not to succeed at is this: I will remain alive—if for no other reason than the only people who can truly change the way this country treats domestic violence/child abuse are people who have lived through it and survived. I have something to say on the topic and I will not give up until things change or I die of old age.
December 23 is a day with horrific memories attached. I am not trying to minimize that day; but I am trying to find a way to survive the memories. Mom, I know you watch over all of us so please help me find the strength to make it through that day without a drink and without suicidal thoughts. Mom, I will always love and cherish you.
Stacey M. Kananen
Advocate, Author, Abuse survivor
Co-founder of Amnesty for Abuse
Stacey Kananen’s father violently and sexually abused his entire family. He vanished in 1988 and 15 years later his wife went missing. Stacey’s brother had killed both parents. Stacey cooperated as a witness until he told police that she helped him with the crimes. She was arrested and her trial, which aired on CNN’s In Session, ended with a not guilty verdict after her attorney proved that she had been railroaded.
Now that her personal life is no longer private, Stacey is using her story to make waves. She and co-author Lisa Bonnice have signed a publishing deal with Berkley Books. They created the Amnesty for Abuse program to address the dynamic that stops families from asking for help: fear, shame and hopelessness. She states, “If a program like this existed during my childhood, both parents would be alive, my brother would not be in jail and my family would have been spared years of anguish and terror.”
Sink or Swim–the Stacey M. Kananen story (Berkley Books, 2012)
BBC Documentary: America’s Child Death Shame