Season 1 Episode 16: Hope
The seamen took the boat out, roared
so far beyond the dock the water wasn’t grey anymore
but the translucent blue of unsettled ice.
They dropped their nets into the water,
pulled out starfish to collect on the deck.
Once the deck was so full the planks disappeared,
the seamen gathered them in their hands, one at a time
and tore the starfish into smaller pieces.
After separating each limb, they tossed the fragments
overboard, grabbed another, and began again.
They didn’t stop until the planks were clean
though wet and slick like their hands.
They did this to be rid of them, to save their oyster crop.
The men called it—control. At first they didn’t know,
if torn from their center, leaving a remnant of core still
attached to its limb, a starfish can remake itself.
But they learned when they returned after two summers
to find thousands of stars in the water.
- This is the poem “evolution” written by me, k.b. marie
And this is the author’s note to my true story: “Who Killed My Mother?”
First and foremost, I want to thank everyone, from the bottom of my heart, who came this far into the story with me. It has meant so much to me that you’ve allowed me to share my mother’s story with you as I tried to make sense of my loss and understand her death.
I’ve taken you as far as I can, since as of writing this, I don’t know what will happen next. As I mentioned in the last few episodes, I haven’t heard back from the medical examiner or the detective, so I don’t know if there will be a case or if my mother’s murder will ever go to trial. That is why I called this “Season 1” perhaps out of the hope that there might be more of the story to tell one day.
And while I think Joe is the one responsible for her death, I can’t help but ask who killed my mother? Truly?
Was it the father that raped her when she was a child? Breaking her spirit, her mind. Was it the mother who silenced her? Was it the pharmaceutical industry that does a poor job of regulating how and when doctors hand out pills, and what profits can be turned off of over medicating others to the point of addiction. Was it the mental health system who left her largely treated, unsupported?
Or might we even blame capitalism, a structure hell-bent on keeping the poor poor. The sick sick, regardless of who’s lives are destroyed in the process.
I have to say that as guilty as Joe is, I think they’re all a bit to blame. And regardless if Joe ever goes to prison for what he did or not, there are things that I hope will come of this podcast, and if you don’t mind spending a little more time with me, I’d love to share those hopes with you.
Maybe if we both wish hard enough, we can make these hopes come true.
#1 - I hope this podcast helps someone.
My mother struggled with many things in her life. Childhood abuse, alcoholism, addiction, domestic violence, and mental illness. If any of these things touch your life, I hope that hearing her story made you feel less alone.
Maybe you or someone you love has a history of abuse, or maybe you’re still in the thick of it. Or perhaps you’re like me and you’re in the difficult position of watching your loved one suffer, and feeling absolutely helpless, unable to help them.
Whatever the situation, I hope this story made you realize that you deserve better. I want you to know that. It doesn’t matter what happened to you. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or haven’t done. It doesn’t matter if you have a mental illness or an addiction—you deserve to be happy. To experience joy, and love, and I want that for you. I’m sure a lot of people want that for you.
Please know that what’s happening or has happened to you isn’t personal. You’re not being punished. You aren’t a bad person. All of this is simply the result of a bad situation, made worse by a broken system that doesn’t offer enough support to people who need it.
#2 - If you’ve suffered a loss, I hope this podcast gives you permission to grieve.
I probably don’t tell you that in many places—America in particular—it’s almost like we don’t have permission to grieve. Maybe it’s our jobs who expect us to show up on Monday no matter what. Or maybe it’s our own friends and families who are uncomfortable with our feelings and which we would just buck up. Whatever it is, there isn’t a lot of space for grief around here (The Bengsons). We aren’t allowed to fall apart. And if we can’t sleep, eat, shower, or continue on with our responsibilities, it’s seen as a personal failing rather than the byproduct of grief.
I’m also surprised by how many people don’t realize they’re grieving—myself included. This can either be because we were told at any early age to disregard any inconvenient emotions, or because again, we simply aren’t taught what grief is or what to do with it.
But any loss can cause grief, not just when someone dies. The loss of a relationship, a friendship, a job or opportunity. An illness can instigate a loss of the way we used to live. Many, many of us are grieving now with the losses incurred by the pandemic and this grief may be felt for a while still, so I encourage you to do a bit of research for yourself, and see if you have the symptoms, because recognizing your own grief is the first step.
And if you are grieving—this is me giving you permission to fall apart. No matter what the world, or maybe even the people around you, tells you, you deserve this time, this space.
Go slow. Be gentle. It doesn’t mean your weak or pathetic. It means your heart is working. It means you cared about someone or something.
I also hope that if you can find someone in your life that you can share your grief with, a good friend or your family, or maybe even professionals, that you do share your grief. It can be really, really hard to let other people see us in pain.
That was why it was so challenging for me to tell this story. Even though it’s true that my fiction often showcases characters who’ve lost someone they love it was easier to present this grief when I could pretend that it wasn’t my own. It’s very different with we fall apart in front of someone and we’re afraid of what they might think of us.
So my second wish is that if you have grief work to do, I hope that you find the time, space, and support to do it.
#3 I hope this podcast gives you permission to take care of yourself.
Whether it is saving yourself from a more immediate danger like domestic violence, or substance abuse, or if you need to rebuild your relationship with yourself and address your own traumas—whatever it is, I hope this podcast emphasizes how important it is to take are of yourself.
That you’re worth taking care of.
The single most helpful aspect of my own healing has been self-care. Self-care is a practice so often overlooked or rejected in our western cultures. We take pride in the fact that we are busy, overworked, stressed to our cores. But building a relationship with myself saved me. When I came out of my childhood I was so disconnected from my emotional and physical needs that I basically had to learn everything from scratch.
I hope you’re in a better place than that, but if you aren’t, if in fact you have a long way to go, don’t be discouraged. You’ll be so glad that you gave yourself this amazing gift.
And if self-care sounds like some weird, nebulous woo-woo idea and you never know what that means when people bring it up, let me offer this definition.
Self-care are the practices and habits you do that restore your sense of well-being. I’ve also heard it described as a “sequence of pleasant events.” Effective self-care tasks vary from person to person, so it will take some time for you to figure out what makes you feel loved and cared for. There’s a great list that you might like in “Own Your Greatness” a book by Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin and Dr. Richard Orbé-Austin.
But for here are some things that help me: spending time in nature, cloud gazing, stargazing, getting fresh air or bird watching. Hiking or walking. Going to the beach. Journaling. Reading. Exercising. Not eating too much sugar. Mindfulness. Eating in nice restaurants. Getting some kind of body care like a massage, or my hair or nails done, or a facial. Receiving flowers, even if I buy them for myself. Listening to music, practicing gratitude, dancing like a fool. Browsing a bookstore. Talking to a good friend. Or baking myself something delicious.
Whatever it is that gives you joy, I hope you do it. I really can’t oversell you on this idea that you should use your life to do the things that bring you joy.
#4 I hope this podcast will protect a child.
My mother’s mental illness and addiction problems stemmed from her chronic sexual and psychological abuse. I hope that by listening to her story, someone will recognize the symptoms of abuse and step in and to protect a child from being abused.
We can’t underestimate the prevalence of childhood abuse. According to dosomething.org, 51% of girls and 48.6% of boys will experience childhood abuse. 76% of childhood abuse experiences were perpetuated by their parents. In the case of sexual abuse, the CDC says 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 13 boys will experience sexual abuse and that 91% of the time, the abuse will happen by someone they know
We have to keep our eyes open. We have to notice when a child’s behavior changes. If they suddenly dislike an activity, or environment, or don’t want to spend time with a person. If they become depressed, socially withdrawn, or their start doing poorly in school. They might even develop hysterical seizures like my mother did.
Whatever the changes we have to pay attention and if we see something, we have to say something. See something. Say something.
#5 I hope this podcast inspires change particularly in the mental health system and justice system.
America—and I’m sure other parts of the world—need an overall in their mental health and justice systems.
It isn’t enough just to step in and save a child once the damage has already begun. Hopefully more can be done to head off the causes of child abuse before they happen. Now that we know that four or more Adverse Childhood Experiences increases a person’s risk of physical and mental health illnesses, we should do what we can to prevent them. Preventing ACES will also reduce chronic health problems, substance abuse, and a variety of mental illnesses including depression by 44%.
We can do this by strengthening economic support for families, promoting social norms that protect against violence, ensure a strong start for children through early childhood home visitations, high-quality childcare, and preschool enrichment programs. We can invest in skills, teach social-emotional learning, safe dating and healthy relationship dynamics, parenting skills, invest in mentoring and after-school programs. Offer more victim-centered services, enhanced primary care, family-centered treatment for substance abuse and more.
As for the justice system, I don’t need to point out how very unjust it is that a black man can go to prison for life for a crime he didn’t do, while someone like my uncle can have a hundred dropped charges, many of them violent, and escape any significant responsibility for his actions.
Part of this justice system reform should involve addressing rapists and abusers. I wish I could say that domestic and sexual violence like what my mother experienced was a rare occurrence but we know it’s not. The most dangerous risk to a woman’s life is having a partner, and three women are murdered by their partners every day. (https://nnedv.org/content/each-day-three-women-die-because-of-domestic-violence/) We need to teach men and boys not to rape and we need to hold them accountable when they do rather than giving them lenient sentences, or putting their needs, reputations, and well-being above the well-being of the women they’ve hurt. When we don’t do this, when we fail to protect and vindicate the victims, they are left to struggle the way my mother struggled, for the rest of their lives.
I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Would you?
I hope that prisons will stop being for-profit machines that punish poverty, race, and unresolved trauma, enslaving millions, and become instead an avenue for something significantly more useful. And maybe together with a functional and well funded mental health care system we can create something that actually works. A system that protects people. A system that heals people.
So that’s it. These are my hopes for the future and for you and what I will continue to wish for in the coming days. It’s true that we’re reached the end of my mother’s story for now.
And it’s true that I cannot change what happened to my mother. I cannot give her her life back or undo all that pain she endured. But I also refuse to believe that her life was meaningless. That absolutely nothing can be done.
Because I’m still here. And so are you.
The Bengsons. “Joy & Grief.” http://www.bengsons.com/
Orbé-Austin, Dr. Lisa and Dr. Richard Orbé-Austin. “Own Your Greatness: Overcome Impostor Syndrome, Beat Self-Doubt, and Succeed in Life.” Ulysses Press, 24 April 2020.
“Preventing Child Sexual Abuse.” Centers for Disease Control.
“Preventing ACES.” Centers for Disease Control. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/preventingACES.pdf
“Vital Signs.” Centers for Disease Control. https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aces/pdf/vs-1105-aces-H.pdf
“Each Day, Three Women Die.” National Network to End Domestic Violence. (https://nnedv.org/content/each-day-three-women-die-because-of-domestic-violence/)