Why did I write the book?
Updated: Dec 16, 2020
As a critical care nurse, when I think of trauma, my mind immediately goes to the adrenaline pumping scenes I encountered in the ICU. Mangled bodies, open wounds, and the need for life-saving interventions hour over hour. I’d never considered emotional trauma in the same category until my courtroom experience. Now, I can attest the effects of psychological and mentally taxing events are every bit as real as the medical emergencies I navigated in the hospital, only the pain medications we used offered patients the gift of amnesia.
When your mind suffers, the body reacts as if the event is occurring again. Your world isn’t disintegrating, but you can’t feel the ground under your feet. Your heart isn’t breaking, but your chest aches. Blood pulses through your veins, but it feels like shards of ice under your skin. With the slightest remembrance, you’re the one who needs life-saving interventions sometimes minute over minute.
The alternative reaction to the suffering is numbness. Like so many who experience loss, depression overtook me after my children moved away. Simple tasks like grocery shopping left me crippled with anxiety. There I stood, paralyzed in checkout line staring at a plastic container of cotton candy. The one my kids used to beg me for, and I refused to buy. How could I explain my mindset to the woman at the register? She’d been married 18 years and her kids were at football practice. Her cart was filled with milk, cookies, and pizza bites; mine had salad and probiotics.
It was through the stories of others I realized I wasn’t alone. Support groups, online and in person, connected me to a powerful community of parents who’d endured the same, and much worse. Fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers told their accounts of being victimized by the legal system. Stepparents, aunts, uncles, and cherished friends shared agonizing recollections of loss. And it wasn't just in the US. The same stories rang true in the UK, Australia, and across the world. For all of us, a child had vanished from our daily lives, but for some their pain had no end. Full engagement in the legal process caused several to lose their jobs. Some had their second marriages fail. Others allowed revenge to supersede their logic. We shared condolences as member’s obituaries posted, but there was an underlying envy their grief had ended. Though our battles varied, their courage inspired me.
But, who did I need to reach? These heroes already knew the emotional suffrage that comes with divorce. These world changers were already engaged with political representatives and leading the fight for court reform. They didn’t need to feel the anguish of a parents’ dignity shattered by a judge’s two-hour assessment of the “facts”; they’d lived it. This wasn’t the choir I needed to preach to. I didn’t just want to tell my story because frankly, mine didn’t compare to so many others. The book needed to be compelling enough to engage the average book enthusiast because that’s who really needed to hear it.
My hope is a reader looking for a good family drama, with a touch of suspense, will select They Can’t Eat You for Supper as entertainment and walk away with a new perspective. Maybe it is the well-intended parent who is so engulfed in their emotions, they don’t see their tactics as harmful. Or is it an employer who recognizes the stress their staff member endures with personal legal proceedings. Teachers should understand how their student’s lives are impacted when "Johnny" says he needs to take a different bus home. The woman with the pizza bites, who guilted her neighbor for not being a “mama bear”, should feel her friend's anguish as she sat on the stand with paid attackers shredding her dignity. If a preacher can empathize with their congregation's financial hardships, I've done my job well. If an adult child of alienation ends generations of abuse in their family, my purpose is justified.
At times, the pain was too raw for me to string words together and do justice to the survivors’ cause. With starts and stutters, I crafted a story of a mother’s journey through life after divorce, alienation, and living with the stigma of being a non-custodial parent. During the pandemic, like so many other creatives, I struggled to fill the hours of the day. I could only knit, paint, or read for so long. All house projects were up to date. My children lived with their father, so I didn’t even have the headache of coordinating virtual school from the kitchen table. I wasn’t brave enough to create a You Tube channel or Tik Tok video, although if the quarantine goes on much longer those are options. And from the gift of boredom, I started turning my pain into purpose.
Our legal system needs an overhaul. Attorneys, magistrates, and decision makers should work to strengthen family bonds after divorce, not erase them. After two years, I can say I’m one of the lucky ones. My daughters live in an abuse-free, nurturing household supportive of their needs. Although I'm not with them as much as I'd like to be, I’m grateful to have the means to see them regularly. The distance has helped me to find creative ways of maintaining our bond. But so many estranged parents lose a lifeline when the gavel strikes. The existing system isolates those without jobs that allow flexibility, safe transportation, or ability to fund support. As you read They Can’t Eat You for Supper, whether you’re married or divorced, Christian or Atheist, a mother or a father, I hope you’ll have a better understanding of the system that’s corroding the infrastructure of our world; our families.