This is an edited version of a letter sent by Ellie to her parents. Ellie grew up in California, where she still lives with her husband and child. She has no contact with her rejecting parents who did not answer. I share this with her permission in the hopes that some of you, who despair of ever being on an even keel or being able to move past the longing, can find encouragement in her words. Ellie doesnt whitewash or paper over the pain of being unloved but her words allow us to see that theres a different kind of peace at the end of this hard journey.

To the Mother who couldn’t love her baby and the Father who allowed all of it:

Today I found yet another piece of myself that you, my abusive mother and father, took from me that I didn’t even know was missing. It’s quite amazing how a parent can take away parts of a child while she is so young and unaware, and unable to process what the parent is doing. All a child wants is to love, and be loved in return.

I’m not sure that I’ll ever truly comprehend what you took from me, and how you changed my life before I was old enough have a journey that I chose or to understand that love is not always absolute.

I grew up and I set out into the world to find the pieces of me that were missingand at that time, it felt like it was nearly all of me. As I journeyed, I found that you had taken a lot from me. It took not months, but years to find that one part of me that remained intact. You see, I found that you could invade and encroach upon the parts of me that are humanmy thoughts, happiness, sense of worthiness, and the feeling of being loved and safebut you couldnt touch my soul.

That resides so deep within that I thought it was gone, lost to me forever, unfindable. But my soul was there all along, the one thing that you could never take from me. In spite of all your efforts to be sure I never found myself, I found that you managed to lead me right back to my soul in a profound and intimate way.

You didnt mean to but you did. And that, in turn, permits me to forgive you.

I have found that forgiveness on my behalf doesn’t mean a pass for you for all of your past abuse. It simply allows me to free myself from the effects of your abuse and allows me to move forward, free of the burdens that you tried so hard to make mine. Forgiveness means I understand that you don’t have to ever be healthy or kind or loving. And it allows me to be all of those things and more because your belief that certain things were true about me and your actions didn’t make them so. As hard as you have tried to make sure that I didn’t believe that I could be a loving, worthy individualcomplete with self -esteem and self- loveI have still managed to be all of these things and more. In addition to forgiveness, I have also found empathy, compassion, and strength.

Even as you sought to limit me, you expanded me. You didnt mean to. So in the end, I didnt t need to change you at all; I just had to change what I chose to take away from the experience you gave me.

In search of the love I needed and deserved and which you denied, I traveled a hard and lonely path only to find that I had within me what I needed all along. Not your love but mine.

Godspeed, my Mother who couldn’t love her baby and my Father who allowed it all.

Photography by Lizzie Guilbert. Copyright free.