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The Scars We Bear

By Shelah Miner

photo-14Six years ago this week, my son Isaac, then three, came home from the hospital. He’d been there for weeks, battling a MRSA infection. We thought that with some antibiotics and rest, we’d put the whole scary experience behind us. But there were complications in our future, and even two or three years later, I wasn’t sure that Isaac would ever run, or that the places rubbed raw in my heart from that experience would ever heal.

This morning, he took off to school on his bike, ready to run the mile in PE. He has a gnarly scar that runs the whole length of his thigh, but unless he’s displaying it proudly for everyone at the swimming pool, you’d probably never know. This fall, for the first time, I didn’t pause on October 19th and think about the day we almost lost him. I guess that means we’re all healing.

In the most recent issue of Segullah, Sarah Dunster’s “Skeletons” explores her fears about the scars her daughter bears from living her early childhood against the backdrop of her parents’ destructive marriage. Dunster says:

The patient moon;  it beams
down on the pale face of our child:
blood, on your hands. It means
a suffering too great to bear
do you know what it means?—

Two years of our skeletons,
her ribs that showed too clear, and
her eyes that asked me questions:
who. Why. Where.

Do you remember where you were
that night, that day the leaves
came down in cyclones on her hair?
I spooned your iniquities
through her open lips; you held me
then. But now, oh now—
what grief I hold, In memories.

While Isaac’s illness was no one’s fault, I think all parents feel a certain amount of guilt over the scars they’ve placed on their children through their own actions and choices. I wish I were a mother who had never argued with her husband in front of the children, but I’m not. I yell at my kids so often it’s not even effective any more. None of them will have the chance to be exposed to four-letter words at school because they’ve all learned them at home, from me. Sometimes I would rather escape in a book than indulge in a cuddle. I’m sure I’m building resentments in my children that they’ll carry into adulthood, just as we all bear the scars of our childhoods, even those of us who had happy (mostly) functional families.

So yes, we all have scars to bear. But over the last six years, Isaac’s femur has been straightened and strengthened, and the skin has faded from angry red, to pink, to smooth and white. I have friends who have grown up in homes so difficult and dysfunctional that it seemed impossible that they might be able to live in and raise happy families themselves, yet they are. Yes, they work at it every day. They undoubtedly work harder than people like me, whose childhoods were not a constant struggle.

Our two youngest children, like Dunster’s daughter, also know of loss and tragedy in their early days. Both came to us after being abandoned at birth and living in an orphanage, where they were kept dressed and fed, but not loved. They came to us bearing the scars of these experiences. And while I know that loving parents and a family won’t completely make up for that time, the changes I’ve seen wrought in my babies’ lives, even with my yelling and my “good enough” parenting is remarkable. When Eli, our youngest, came home seven months ago, he spent a lot of time making what I called, “the creepy face.” It was part smile, part grimace, part shimmy, and it make my older kids giggle every time. And that’s exactly why he did it. It got a reaction, and when he made it, for just a minute, someone would laugh and smile back. And it made me sick every time he did it because I hated that at seventeen months, he’d learned the trick of getting attention. I haven’t seen the creepy face in months now. This is a victory.

I don’t want this to come off as too simplistic and Pollyannish. Dunster’s daughter probably still does carry some of that experience with her, although her ribs may not show too clear, and her eyes may no longer ask questions. My kids’ scars, whether written in their hearts or on their legs, will probably never disappear entirely, but we are managing, doing well, running fast, and maybe even thriving, despite them.

Anyone feel like sharing the skeletons and the scars that you bear? Did you find that time healed them? Did it take more than time? How much do you think that good experiences later in life can make up for difficult ones early in childhood?

About Shelah Miner

(Co-Editor-in-Chief) teaches English at BYU and French at a Salt Lake City middle school. She has an addiction to her Audible account, hates making dinner, and embraces the chaos of life with a husband, six kids, a dog, a lizard and four rabbits.

12 thoughts on “The Scars We Bear”

  1. I have to make a choice every day to overcome childhood trauma. I have been trying to leave it all behind through therapy (multiple times) taking twice as many religion classes than required by BYU, by reading texts from world religions, from reading self-help books, from studying literature, from getting a minor in psychology, from hours of journaling, etc, from practicing yoga, etc. If I don't consciously choose to repattern my thoughts and behaviors, I fall back into emotional choas. I do hope for a complete healing at the morning of the resurrection. And when I create a balance between taking care of myself and serving others, then I can go quite a long time being healthy, happy and helpful. What doesn't help is people criticizing me, shaming me, and wagging fingers that I need to just "get over it already." And more than anything else, I wish for myself greater compassion towards others who have suffered — emotionally or physically. I to improve dramatically in offering the Balm of Gilead to others.

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  2. I think forgiving ourselves (or forgiving myself) is so essential. & remembering the good things we do. We may yell & hide at times, but we also are there. We nurture. We do our best. Emma's scars are, luckily, fainter and fainter. And mine, too. I hate to think where I'd be without the atonement, and the spirit, however. Scars, in a way, also make us who we are. God has a way of turning them into strengths. ….it is conforting to see your kid grow and become more snd more OK, even after going through something very difficult. Someday, we might even look back & think of these ecperiences as precious, holy even.

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  3. And I think you both talk about, but not directly, something I've learned while parenting these babies of mine. It seems like there needs to be an extra degree of intentionality to life when we bear deep scars. Sometimes, like Karen pointed out, you have to be intentional every day. Sometimes, you have to take what seems like steps backward before you can move forward. Sometimes, people will judge and second-guess you. But Sarah's right– there is the atonement, and these scars do have the power to make us stronger than we would otherwise have been.

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  4. I think that some of the hardest circumstances create the strongest, most committed people. Of course, unfortunately, it can go the other way, too. I am overall pretty happy with the way I've turned out, but there are still moments where all of a sudden something happens or someone says something and I am instantly back there in one of those horrible situations/memories. It's hard to not project the past to the present reality once in awhile.

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  5. Loved reading this Shelah! And was surprised to realize how much time has passed since Isaac's ordeal. I've thought many times about the day I ran into your husband (were you with him?) at Target & he sent me immediately to my pediatrician. Charlie had a MRSA infection on his leg as well and I know seeing Ed was not a coincidence. I have felt very fortunate that Charlie escaped relatively unscathed & wonder why our sons experiences were so vastly different.

    And now I'm battling cancer & every day I'm worried about what this experience is doing to my kids. I can't take care of them or be there for them day to day. And deep down, I know they're ok & are getting the essentials from others which isn't a bad thing, but my heart aches for them too. Mostly because I'm selfish & I think about how I would've felt if my mom had cancer when I was 12 or 10 or 7 or 4 & how scared and worried & anxious I would've been. I know there will be some scars beyond the one I have from last month's surgery. But I also know there have been blessings and changes and realizations along the way that I wouldn't trade. I feel like some scars are badges of honor & represent some of our hardest fought battles. And they can remind us who we really are, where we've been. And I've always wondered why our Savior, in His perfect resurrected form, was allowed or chose to keep His mortal scars? I'm sure part of it is to testify of who He is and what He's done but I wonder if there's more to it?

    You are a very talented, very insightful, very inspiring person.

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  6. it's hard when you've been wounded and are still in the scab phase. scabs can crack and bleed and hurt…and the deeper the wound, the thicker the scab. some of them take a ridiculously long time to heal, to scar. but scars? they don't hurt any more. scars remind you at times of what has happened, and give you an opportunity to reflect on how far you've come, and the strength you've gained by enduring the trial. sometimes you need external help to get some wounds to heal and scar over. thankfully, help is available in many forms (friends, therapy, medication, medical assistance, priesthood blessings, god.)

    a few months ago during a particularly difficult time when i was feeling particularly dented, my husband sent me this quote, saying it reminded him of me.

    “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
    ~Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

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  7. I was diagnosed with a condition 5 years ago that has made me undergo several brain surgeries, and I have shaved my head various times, to relieve the pressure on my resultant scars. I realized that I can no longer do that, because when my 11 year old son sees my scars, he flashes back to that time of absolute uncertainty as to whether he was going to be able to keep his mommy. His scars aren't visible, but they are there. They manifest themselves in his anger at me, when I cannot function, when he feels overlooked and forgotten. He gets angry at my limitations, not because he hates me, but because he remembers how fun it was before I got sick. Having a mom that can't run around with you, or misses out on stuff because she is stuck in bed is scarring. We are working through it, slowly but surely.
    Thank you for writing this article. It made me feel a little less useless, and a wee bit more hopeful.

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  8. I feel so inadequate with all these elegant and heartfelt comments and the post – amazing. But I feel I must add my voice. I LOVED this – loved the part where you say you yell, swear and all that stuff that I do. That I try so very hard not to. I am so comforted by hearing that others aren't perfect, because dang I feel like when I go to church we all put on our perfect hats. We all have scars and we will all cause scars, but at least we love too. I pray that my love out shines the scars I leave.

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  9. Sara- I've been following along with your treatments on Facebook and I'm sorry that you're going through this. I also know that even though it's got to be horribly wrenching not to be able to do the things you want to do with your kids, I also know you have a great support system to help carry you and your children through it.

    Julia– you're absolutely right about the difference between scabs and scars. I wonder what I can do to help scabs heal faster! And that quote is wonderful.

    Kiar- I'm glad that you've been able to find the things that trigger the scars to come out for your son. I hope you both find healing.

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  10. The pain from my childhood and youth has lessened with time, but never left. I have learned that I can feel joy even in the presence of that pain. But like Karen said, it is a daily choice. Lots of therapy, meditation and prayer. I would say that the good experiences I have had living with my husband and children have made up for my past. At least I am happy I lived through it all to be with them.

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  11. Shelah — and every single commenter — this brings tears to my eyes and heart because of the "sorrows that the eye can't see" that every one of us bear. I've wondered, too, why Jesus kept his scars as a resurrected being, but it's those scarred hands that are always outstretched to us, to heal and offer hope. Maybe to remind us that our own scars are holy, as Sarah suggests,to remind us that we can do the same, offer hope and healing to others because we have suffered.

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