In Part I of this series I introduced the concept of generational trauma and gave examples from my father’s side of the family, along with some of the principles you need to be aware of when trying to exorcise your own family ghosts. Now I’m going to turn to my mother’s side to illustrate further principles.
My grandfather Harold Blackburn was a pilot in World War I. He volunteered on the day the war broke out, 5 August 1914, and saw combat in France and the Middle East. He came home from the war and got married, but it didn’t work out.
My grandmother had an affair and everything blew up. My grandfather went to court for custody of my mother. In 1935, this was very unusual—but he won. My grandmother was ejected from the family and went to Cornwall with her second husband.
The shame of being abandoned by her own mother—who prioritised an affair over parenting her daughter—was absolutely crippling for my mother. Like my father, she never recovered and those painful feelings passed on to me.
When I started researching my family, I was interested in my grandfather’s war records. I searched the National Archives site to see what they had. I found some things of interest, but I also found my grandparents’ divorce papers. I didn’t give them much thought—but I put an item on my to-do list to go to the Archives.
A couple of years later the item was still there. So I put a date next to it… then another date, and a third. After missing that I sensed I was avoiding something. I picked a date I knew was free, put it on the calendar and committed to it.
From the moment I got up that morning, I hit obstructions. There were issues at home. I was late getting to the train. Finally, I got to London and caught the tube down to the National Archives. For those of you who are unfamiliar with them, the Archives are in London, just south of the River Thames before the Kew stop.
I decided that, as it was a nice day, I would get off at the previous stop and have a nice short walk over a bridge to the Archives. They don’t call it the Underground for nothing. I got off at Gunnersbury and found it was nowhere near a bridge. So I ended up walking about a mile and a half around three sides of a square to get to the Archives.
By this time, I was desperate to go to the loo. And, of course, the Archives are geared up to receive visitors arriving from the Kew stop—so I still had a long walk around the entire building. I looked on my map and saw there was a service lane down my side of the building. Surely there was a side gate?
I took the risk.
I paced down the lane and, sure enough, there was a gate—a great big locked service gate. I stood there, staring at the building with my grandparents’ divorce papers. In between there was a gate with razor wire along the top. Looking at those layers, like one of those Japanese paintings of mountain ranges receding into the sky, I finally got it: those papers did not want to be disturbed.
As soon as I realised this, peace came over me. I took a few minutes to settle down as I realised it was going to be tough. I turned around and there it was, hidden behind an overgrown hedge—a side gate. Twenty seconds later I was inside.
The reading room was on the second floor. I got half-way up the first flight of stairs and—bang!—it hit me: a huge attack of vertigo that flung me hard against the wall. I had no idea where up was. I reeled dizzily around the stairwell until I could grab a railing, haul myself up to the first floor and sit down.
I had been carrying those energies in my unconscious for all of my life without knowing it.
Once I understood they were there—i.e. became conscious of them—they couldn’t stay there. They crashed into my consciousness and I was completely unprepared for them. Twenty minutes later I was able to walk up to the reading room and reach those papers. It was the saddest document I’ve ever read.
This episode reinforces some of the principles from the first example, but it also sheds further light on the process.
When you’re dealing with generational trauma you’re dealing with energies that are very old, very dense, very painful—and have a life of their own.
When you’re dealing with generational trauma you’re dealing with energies that are very old, very dense, very painful—and have a life of their own. They want to be left alone—yet they also need to be healed.
Working with these energies, it can feel like you’re dealing with the supernatural. That’s why I use the phrase ‘living with ghosts’ as this blog’s title. Generational trauma has long been recognised in the church, where it’s called ‘generational sin’*. Church prayers to heal it almost read like medieval exorcisms.
What is also evident in this episode is grace. Peace came when I accepted the situation, and the way forward was revealed. If you consciously engage with the process, grace will manifest and smooth the bumps as much as possible. Grace also manifested in an episode I share with you in Part III.
* Deuteronomy 23:2 is an example of inter-generational shaming for sexual impropriety: “No one born outside a legal marriage, or any of their descendants for ten generations, can fully belong to the Lord’s people.”
Photo: Marriage of Wing Commander Harold Blackburn MC AFC and Violet Lister, 1921 (Hallett family)