“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” ~ Khalil Gibran
I am about to relive a painful time in my life but at the same time, I know the positive cathartic effect that sharing my story can have. The names of the people involved and the specifics of their lives are not so important. My parents were both highly educated professionals, devout Muslims, as well as loving parents of several children.
It was a dark and fresh night in May. The weather was getting warmer. I turned in as I always did around 10:00 p.m. In the middle of the night, I awoke to sounds of a scuffle and shouting. I instinctively knew that something was horribly wrong as banging, yelling, and crying came through my closed bedroom door. I was scared enough to hide in my room but still could not have imagined the horror I found when I finally opened my bedroom door and looked into the hallway.
How do you feel about what happened?
I found both of my parents stabbed to death and my sister bleeding profusely but still alive. In the haze of sleep, shock and fear, I recall hearing my sister’s 20-month old daughter crying and ran to her. My young niece quieted immediately upon seeing me and she and I would be inseparable for the next three weeks while her mother recovered from her injuries. That young child was my focus and my salvation.
Bad things happen in life sometimes. This is the stuff you see in movies and on TV. This doesn’t belong in my simple life, I thought. When you live through traumatic events like I have, you sometimes fear that they will happen again. I was 21 years old at the time, but I still imagine bad things happening to myself or to a member of my family today. Although that fear has never taken control of my life, it would be dishonest for me to say I don’t think about it and think about it often.
How did this experience affect you?
I believed at the time that isolating myself was the answer. Hold onto the pain and never share it. Don’t let other people see it. Don’t tell people what happened because in some way, maybe I felt guilty for surviving. I lived this way for years.
What are you learning about yourself?
People who knew me knew nothing of these events. Some of my friends still don’t know almost thirty years later. I have learned that this is not always the right way to deal with this. When I share my story with others, I learn about myself, my strengths and weaknesses, and others’ capacities for empathy. I build connection. I am learning that I am not alone out there in the world.
How are you working with this experience?
Every time I share this story about my life, I have felt touched by others’ reactions and empathy. Where in the world would I be without empathy?
Today, as I raise my children, I teach them about being strong in the face of life’s unexpected swings and also about feeling with others and showing empathy.
Female, The United States of America