I’ve mentioned in previous blogs how certain dates haunt me. I don’t know if all abuse survivors are like this, but one of my coping mechanisms while I was being attacked was to focus on counting syllables on my fingers to distract me from what was going on. While this method served its purpose for the time being, I think maybe it created other mind tricks that aren’t so helpful—like fixating on dates of notable events.
The month of April is a weird one for me. It has many happy memories, yet also very dark ones. Some happy memories are the births of two of my sister’s children. It is also my brother Rickie’s birthday in April. He is spending yet another birthday in jail, serving a 30-year sentence for the murders of both of our parents—he killed our father because of the severe abuse, and our mother because Rickie was so enraged that she didn’t do enough to protect us.
April is also the month of the last family holiday dinner in 2003 with our mom before she was killed that fall. That Easter Sunday, in 2003, my brother was living with my partner Susan and I. While we were at work, he bought enough food for a huge feast, and when we got home everyone was at the house for dinner. It was a wonderful, happy day. He made ham, turkey, potatoes, veggies, the whole nine yards. He really did enjoy cooking for everyone. After dinner we played in the pool for awhile. It’s hard to think back now and realize that he was still struggling so much because of the abuse of his childhood, because my sister and I had managed to go on with our lives—not without our scars and issues, but we were able to soldier on.
It is kind of strange that when my siblings and I were growing up, we never celebrated birthdays as a family. Even still in 2003, my brother considered his birthday the worst day of the year. He always refused a greeting or even a card on that day for as long as I can remember. Our birth dates were bad for all of us. For my brother, it was used as a constant reminder of why my parents had to get married. He was made to feel responsible for everything horrible that happened in our lives. To say the least, he hated birthdays.
Strangely though, when my sister had her first two kids, five years apart in April, Rickie always made sure he got them birthday presents. Although his presence was scarce over the years, he showed up for some of the parties my sister and her husband had for them. I think, in his own way, he was hoping that would help him stay connected with what our childhoods should have been. He, for a few years, tried to stay close to the family and grew very close to our nephew.
To this day, I am sad and happy during this month. I will hold the happy memories of family gatherings forever in my heart. I will treasure the twenty-plus hours at the hospital waiting for my sister’s first child, my nephew, to be born. I will always remember the birthday parties. Those are the happy times I treasure.
I will also remember the many years of birthdays and family gatherings that I have missed since 2003, when my family was blown apart. Mostly, I will always remember the pain that my brother’s birthday brought to him year after year. I wish I had realized how much pain from his past he was still suffering from. These are the sad times that weigh heavy on my mind, and all the syllable counting in the world cannot help.
Stacey M. Kananen
Advocate, Author, Abuse survivor
Co-founder of Amnesty From 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 From 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, April 2013)
BBC Documentary: America’s Child Death Shame