Losing a child to disease, disability or even death is the worst nightmare for a parent.
I would like to bring into focus the long-term relationship of such a loss for surviving siblings, for children born to replace a missing child, and on their future generations. Every parent wants the very best for their child, as well as their grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. Likewise, aunts and uncles hope for happiness and fulfilment for their nieces and nephews. For this reason, we want to be aware of what is called transgenerational transmission of trauma.
WHITE FLAG, a new book by Judy L. Mandel, our Co-Founder of the replacementchildforum.com, is a most moving testimony of what can be the long-term effect of the loss of a child. Judy’s sister Donna was killed when a plane crashed into her family’s house in 1952; her other sister Linda survived, but suffered third degree burns over 80% of her body. At the time, the newspapers reported on this tragic accident as part of a series of plane crashes in Elizabeth, New Jersey (USA). But who remembers this today, after 70 years? We find, in WHITE FLAG, that these traumas echo down through generations (Wilkinson, 2010). See also blog of 22 February 2022 in Psychology Today.com/us/blog transcending-the-past/202202/Recognizing and Healing Inherited Trauma Part 2: A conversation with Jungian therapist and rabbi Tirzah Firestone.
So, if you pick up WHITE FLAG , you will find compassionate understanding about substance use disorder and the consequences, but the book informs us also about the tragic effects of transgenerational transmission. Trauma affects can reach down the generational lineage and may be ‘hidden’ under the guise of depression, addiction or any other mental or somatic affliction.
The author’s niece Cheryl was surely affected by her mother’s trauma, the many operations Linda had to go through as well as her feelings of low self-worth because of her scars. It’s likely she was also plagued by fears that some terrible, totally unforeseeable, event like the plane crash might happen again. Cheryl may have suffered from her inability to ‘save’ her mother from her long-term pains, to cheer her up or to make her forget. This inherited trauma piled onto a complicated family history and her own lived traumas.
We cannot forget, we will always remember, but we can help transform history into loving memory! For that, we will have to face the trauma, to work through the trauma, to live through the grieving process, hopefully with the help of counselling or therapy. Cheryl, as many others with trauma in their family, was unaware that some of her pain may have been related to the plane crash that happened before she was born.
I believe that finding out the root cause of one’s suffering can make a very significant difference. Research has shown (Yehuda et a., 2016) that members of a family that has suffered trauma can affect succeeding generations up to the third and fourth generation, or even more generations than that (Schützenberger, 1998 ). Those directly affected by trauma may not be able to ‘work it through’, to integrate it as the psy professionals call it, to face it, to metabolize its psycho-neuro-bio-chemical effects. Even the next generation might not be able to do so, as it is bound by secrecy or loyalty to not ‘touch’ that painful zone ever-present in the parent. Often it is the third generation, or even a niece or nephew who will face the pain and acknowledge the suffering and work it through – possibly with releasing effect for the following generations. Also in Judy’s family, the pain was not addressed, as she writes in WHITE FLAG: “We sailed along on the crest of that silence, possibly to preserve (a) facade of normalcy and to protect us.”
I would like to say to Judy today: you are not your sister’s keeper, you are not your niece’s keeper, you are not guilty of surviving them! I salute your courage to creatively work it through in this book, as well as in your previous book Replacement Child — a memoir.
WHITE FLAG is a beautifully written book, poetic and poignant, a haunting story, filled with hope and love, a tribute to Cheryl’s struggles and those of everyone in the family, 70 years after the terrible plane crash.
May it provide comfort and offer compassionate help to families who have suffered the loss of loved ones from accidents, disease and violence, and help them become aware of the dreadful aftershocks that can beset succeeding generations.
This book gives an implicit message: get help, gain trust in life again, do not feel guilty that you are alive and your loved-one is not. Yes, we do feel powerless when we cannot save our loved ones. But WHITE FLAG gives us the power of knowledge, that we can become conscious, that we can work through transgenerational trauma, and when we do, we can lighten the load and clear the road for generations to come.
You can find more information about WHITE FLAG at judymandel.com. Pre-order it at:
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Kristina Schellinski is a Co-Founder of replacementchildforum.com. She is a Teaching Analyst & Supervisor with the C.G. Jung Institute (Zürich, Switzerland) and Psychotherapist in private practice.