A Kind of Death

I’ve often thought it would have been a mercy if he’d murdered me. Then, he might have told our daughter that her mother was a good person — “… too bad she died so young; such a tragic accident; icy roads, treacherous weather, faulty brakes…” – or whatever. Instead, he left me to live with the pain of not knowing where she was or how she was, for years and years, while he filled her young mind in all that time with lies, which she had no choice but to believe were true.

Later, years later, after I found her and I tried to refute the lies he’d told her – among them that I was a “bad person” and he’d had to go to great, “heroic,” lengths to “protect her” from me – she insisted, vehemently, “My father would never lie to me!” It’s taken me many more years to realize he was telling her his truth. He’d come to believe, with religious fervor, his own lies. How else could he have lived with himself and justified his cruelty? Cruelty not just to me but also to her.

After I found her, that is, after my book Somewhere Child was published by Viking Press and the book, miraculously, found her, she made me vow, as a condition of our possible ongoing relationship, that I would never speak of or write about her father or the past again. I felt I had no choice but to comply. I believed I could show her who I was over time, without needing to explain in spoken or written words.

I wanted so much to reconnect with her, to heal both of our deep wounds, to repair the bond he’d so effectively broken. She was silencing me, I know now. But I felt at the time, after so many years of anguish, that that was a small price to pay.

This story is long, torturous, and unending. I won’t – I can’t – revisit it all here. (In recent years I’ve touched on the subject of parental alienation in WOW views. You can find them by searching my blog’s archives for “Transformation,” “Little People,” and “Mothers and Daughters.”) Suffice it to add just this now:

In my experience, something happens to a woman when she turns seventy. She turns a corner. She becomes braver, bolder. She rips off the muzzle and tosses it aside. She can no longer be silenced. She’s come to realize, slowly, painfully, that silence is capitulation – in my case, surrendering to lies. Silence is acquiescence. Silence does great harm. I can no longer be silent. I cannot let her father’s evil lies outlive me.

When Somewhere Child was published in 1981, when my daughter was still missing, I learned from countless readers’ letters forwarded to me by Viking Press that I’d written my story not only for myself but for all the other parents whose children had been stolen. Writers, by default, I found, can become spokespeople for a cause. Somewhere Child helped to raise consciousness about parental child snatching in the United States, and it helped to change laws.

What if I had remained silent then?

A photo of me at a recent reading in San Miguel (photo credit: Catherine Marenghi) 

I was reminded of the profound harm of silence in the face of injustice this week, when I heard Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International, read “The PEN International Women’s Manifesto” at the San Miguel Writers Conference here in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, last Sunday night. This manifesto, I later learned, was passed unanimously by all the PEN Centers at the PEN World Congress in 2017. Since then it has been translated into 27 languages. (See the full text of the manifesto at www.piwwc.org .)

The following passage from the Women’s Manifesto hit me like an epiphany when I heard it last Sunday:

“PEN believes that the act of silencing a person is to deny their existence. It is a kind of death. Humanity is both wanting and bereft without the full and free expression of women’s creativity and knowledge.”

My daughter and I have not spoken in several years. It appears we’ve become permanently estranged. I have not succeeded in healing our wounds. But life for both of us must go on. I know where she is and how she is, and she knows how to reach me if she should care to. This is a blessing. For the remaining years of my life, I know now, too, I cannot, will not, must not live a kind of death.

40 thoughts on “A Kind of Death”

  1. Bonnie! I am awed by your strength and perseverance. I can’t begin to imagine the agony of your estrangement, but how inspiring that you’ve made this deeply personal injustice a vehicle for change. I’m proud to have known you (albeit 60! years ago). Jan

    1. Dear Jan — SIXTY years! And still connected. Makes me weepy… Thank you for your kind words. Yes, we all have the power, especially now that we’re 70+ y.o., to stand up and say NO to injustices.

  2. Oh, Bonnie. I have known this truth about you for so many years, but perhaps this is your strongest, most poignant expression of the pain you suffered by the theft of your daughter. Please, do write – for all those mothers who have been separated at the border, whose children have been kidnapped, stolen, taken far from them. You kept your silence long enough.

    1. Thank you, dear Carol. The Women’s Manifesto really inspired me to speak (write) about it again now. We women, especially us older women, must stand up against all kinds of injustice and be heard.

  3. OMG Bonnie! Your story is riveting! How someone as kind as you could have lived with this burden!!
    Bless you for telling your story at last !
    You are an amazing woman and I proud to call you friend.
    Kate

  4. Bonnie, reading your story and feeling the pain as a mother you have had to endure is heartbreaking. I am so glad you have come to a place of acceptance and not being silenced because it will help others to be able know that you understand in a way that others who have not had that painful experience can never fully understand. May your love and compassion help others in their journey.

  5. Bonnie – I may have said this before. But, having worked in a family court for many years, I can testify that parental alienation is a very real phenomenon. It’s difficult to believe if you haven’t actually experienced it, if only in another family. Often the parent that has been alienated is not believed. Often, as I believe you mentioned, the alienating parent comes to believe that the person they (perhaps) had previously loved is evil.

    Glad you have refused to be silenced.

  6. Dear Bon,
    I always marvel at the extent of your courage and honesty. It is an inspiration to everyone who knows you.
    Love,
    Paul

  7. Coming into your story just recently! And WHAT A STORY! Thankful for your courage now and earlier and , I’m sure, in the past part of this story! I do so love your posts and will,search out your book to catch up on your story! ❤️

  8. Dear Bonnie,
    What a powerful and melancholy posting! I didn’t know that she demanded silence. I thought there had been more reconnection. My hopefulness. But you rise above it again by sharing with others on a new plane. Bless you!

  9. There are no words to express what was taken from you! I can only hope that one day, Whitney will have an awakening, that she will realize her loss. Sending love and hugs to my beautiful friend of 66 years! Arti

  10. Bonnie – One week ago, after never having stepped foot in Mexico, I arrived in Riberas del Pillar (just outside of Ajijic) from Santa Fe, NM, with my senior Cocker Spaniel dog, 5 rubbermaid tubs, one suitcase, a couple of tote bags, and a dog bed. For the past few months, I had been donating, selling, dumping everything I owned – extreme downsizing. I had no friends here, other than those I had met thru the local Mujeras del Lago Facebook group. Everyone I know has been telling me how brave I am …….. I turn 70 in two days! Your words have spoken to me. Lucille

    1. Oh, Lucille, I’m so happy to read this! You’re turning that corner marked 70, and it’s SO liberating, isn’t it? I wish you only all good things in your new life chapter here in warm, embracing Mexico. Every day I thank (my conception of) God for bringing me here. I’m sure you’ll feel the same. (Oh, and Happy Birthday!)

  11. Bravo, dear Bonnie! I heartily agree with all the foregoing comments from your friends. Perhaps you need to fictionalise the facts into a new novel, as brilliant as ‘Jamie’s Muse’ so that the next chapters of your ‘relationship’ can still be told but less identifiably? Your friend and mine, Sir J M Barrie, did exactly that with his ‘fictional’ tales of Kirriemuir townspeople (Thrumsians)- and he made a fortune!!!
    Love and best, as always, Sandra.

    1. Dearest Sandra — Thank you for urging me on, as ever. But I don’t feel another book — fiction or nonfiction — bubbling up again just yet. Something (such as practicality) tells me there are way too many books in the world already! — Love to you and all in Kirrie, BB xx

  12. Brava, Bonnie. I can hear the ferocity of your voice when I read your words. I don’t know how you’ve borne the pain and injustice all these years. I don’t think you could have if you hadn’t written about it. Much love to you, always.

  13. Riveting Bonnie. You have reclaimed your whole self. So brave. Your book Somewhere Child should be required reading for so many working with children and families. Actually for all mothers and mothers to be, too. A fascinating book, as a true heartbreaking mystery, in the hands of a professional author who lived it. Bravo my friend. You are free, and fully alive.

      1. A friend offered this when I told her about your post….. translated from the Hebrew….”life and death is on the tip of the tongue”

  14. I read your post shaking. My bones ache with the pain of your loss. Silence, untruths, deception, manipulation, these are all deaths to relationships. And loss…can come back and hit at anytime, exploding our equilibrium when we least expect it and there is nothing we can do for a moment but just fall in. You however, through the power of your words, your beautiful spirit and your example, navigate out of that black hole with enough courage for the rest of us. May you bloom fully through your seventies, follow your own truth and tell your own story without constraint. Our children will do what they will do. While we leave the door open with hope and with love, we deserve to live freely and honestly without being victim to circumstances that were always beyond out control.
    Thank you for your brave words. They continue to inspire and uplift your readers.

    1. Dear Barbara — I have goosebumps all over, having just now read this comment from you. Thank you for your wise words. Yes, our children will do what they will do. Blessings on you.

  15. Bonnie, as always you reveal your heart in the most brave ways. And by writing and revealing these tough parts of life, may you find peace and give us all the same courage. I think you are right, age frees us.

  16. Thank you, Bonnie. Such a heart-wrenching piece you’ve written! I have a granddaughter, I have yet to meet. However, through social media I was able to have a very, very, limited dialogue that was brief and unfulfilling, due to her upbringing. Lies were bestowed upon her and her brother, causing a separation from their biological father, my son. My son struggles with the consequences of the long ago (20 years) decisions. His struggles tug at my heart! My son and his wife were 19 and 17 respectively, trying to be responsible newly weds, and parents within 1 year of their union. What I learned from your post is, I can now understand the situation my daughter-in-law found herself in, and more clearly see her “possible” perspective at that time, so many years ago. I have been angry with her for so long. I feel more compassion, today – and maybe a little less anger – as I practice “taking what I like and leaving the rest! Your story widens my limited perspective!

    1. Thank you, dear Chris, for sharing your story too. So many people, I’ve learned, harbor heart-wrenching stories such as these. It’s good to know we’re not alone.

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