Note: The author of the heartbreaking and deeply moving tribute to her sister “Diana” below is a long-time Kidpower Advocate. We are inspired by how Diana was truly a force for good for people in her life and for our world, despite her struggles. Her sister’s words – “If Diana had learned Kidpower skills as a child, I believe she would be alive today!” – make us more determined than ever that every child – every person – everywhere will have the opportunity to learn how to take charge of their safety.
With huge gratitude and sorrow,
A Sister’s Loving Farewell & Call to Action
The gentle spirit of my beloved sister, Diana, entered this life in September of 1968. She was the second of five daughters born in Iowa. Diana was remarkable, but given the circumstances of her life and what she endured as a child and teenager, she was actually extraordinary: Her courage was arresting. Her tender heart, rare and wondrous. Her mind, magnificent and precocious.
My sister’s life emerged inside a cauldron of challenges. While she was uncommon, I sadly know her challenges were (and are) not: Her story will resonate with many and her bravery could inspire a generation. So, I am called to tell her story, honestly. Her legacy demands nothing less.
Truth is also both liberating and healing.
Truth can also be a weapon of judgment, projection, and hurt: My sisters have requested privacy, in part, to understandably protect themselves against the judgments of others, or backlash by our abusers—therefore, I’ve written this tribute and farewell in a way to anonymize Diana and her family.
Diana’s Remarkable and Tragic Life
Our beloved mother died when Diana was just three years of age; I was nine months old. My father was confronted with the reality that he was a single Dad with five girls, all of whom were four years old or younger. As most fathers would desire, he wanted nothing more than to keep his family together. So, he decided to remarry. My sisters and I joined this newly blended household and our family expanded to include a stepmom and two teenage stepbrothers: Diana was five years old.
The sexual abuse at the hands of the seventeen and fourteen year-old stepbrothers started shortly thereafter, hidden from the loving eyes of my father. He left the relationship within five years and custody was granted to my stepmom. Without my father’s protection, physical abuse at the hands of my stepmom and stepbrothers was layered on top of the sexual abuse.
My sister mastered bravery at a very young age. Even though she was a mere two years and five months older than me, she would use her body as a shield to protect me from physical harm and abusive hands: The same hands that landed her and my dear older sister in ER rooms and was the cause for reconstructive jaw surgery when she was in her mid-thirties.
When our father, who served our nation as a Navy corpsman fell victim to World War II induced PTSD, it was Diana who grabbed a map at the tender age of eighteen and alone drove the 1,180 miles from Iowa to Connecticut to bring him home and lovingly provide the care he so desperately needed. That’s extraordinary.
Though her desire to live was ultimately abused out of her, remarkably, her spirit remained gentle and unmistakably kind. She was a nurturer. She loved me with fierce and unwavering tenderness: It was a motherly love—the best life has to offer. With relentless and creative determination, she managed to put meals on the table from a bare pantry. When my sister’s winter coat was simply too small for her to wear anymore, Diana took hers off her back, gave it to my sister, and managed the frigid cold in her spring jacket. She made sure I took a bath after a sweaty day of play. Instead of handing or throwing me a towel, she would wrap me with the towel in the most warm and loving embrace. She hugged me and I hugged her back. I felt loved. I felt adored. I felt protected. Those hugs gave me faith. They gave me resiliency. They gave me hope. People tell me I give the best hugs, and now as I write this, I realize it is my sister Diana who taught me to hug with uninhibited, liberated generosity.
With enthusiasm, she would play the role of adoring fan and encourage my sisters and my rock star rendition of Keep on Loving You by REO Speedwagon. On occasion she would take the tennis racket and play lead guitar or switch to the pots and pans drum set. She probably preferred us to play Pink Floyd. Diana loved music. She adored children. While living in California, Diana’s home became the local hang out for the neighborhood kids. She offered them her undivided attention and genuine warmth and curiosity as she taught them to cook, play games, or simply hang out and discuss life. She enriched their lives.
As a child, Diana excelled at bravery, protecting her sisters, playing the clarinet & piano, cooking, drawing, theater, woodwork, competitive swimming, loving the color green and canned Hershey’s syrup, acing state exams, tutoring her younger sisters, and effortlessly getting A’s and making the honor role even though she attended four high schools in three different states. At one high school, she and her best friend—the captain of the cheerleading squad—found an old tattered mascot suit. She put her sewing and imagination skills to work and revitalized Maynard the Minute Man. While her personal identity remained a secret, she gave life to the mascot and brought contagious playful spirit to her school sporting events. In middle school she managed to save her drowning younger sister at the local swimming pool while the stunned teenage lifeguard watched. She was resilient and tough beyond measure.
As an adult, Diana excelled at loving children, loving cats and canned Hershey’s syrup, being a loyal friend, eating sushi, pottery, cross stitch, gardening, pharmacy, and random acts of kindness. She was also very stubborn and would often have volatile outbursts of anger. Her outbursts were surprising and sudden and typically misplaced; they were also the predictable outcome of having no control over her own sacred body as an innocent child.
Her fierce stubbornness both served and hurt her. The song, “I Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty was her anthem and served her as she determinedly found a way to pay for college, get far away from home, and make a life for herself in spite of it all. But her stubbornness failed her when she refused therapy to help her process and heal from childhood trauma.
While Diana was attending pharmacy school, she worked as a bank teller. Assuming a bank would give college scholarships, one afternoon a blind man approached Diana to ask for a scholarship. She asked him to come back at the end of her shift and promised to help. Diana proceeded to take the young man to the financial aid department at the local University and guided him through their scholarship process. By her grace, he received the financial aid necessary and attended University. She was his blessing. The bank acknowledged her kindness and excellence by giving her the Employee of the Year Award.
As a pharmacist, Diana became the Pharmacy Manager of a Long’s Drug Store. The pharmacy was dead last in every single performance metric compared to 25 other regional pharmacies. Within 69 days, Diana had impressively transformed the pharmacy and it ranked #1 in all performance metrics—WOW.
Diana craved the ocean, and it loved her back as she managed to live near the California coast for many years. She loved the idea of travel, but did very little of it as she was too busy working inhumane hours at the pharmacy or giving her money away to those whose primary role in living is to take from others. The fact that she travelled very little was a source of great disappointment.
End of Life & My Prayers
The surprise and delight she managed to extract from the world changed over time. While she remained proud of her sisters as well as her nieces and nephews, her survival and coping skills ran their course as the unmetabolized trauma drained her mental and emotional well-being. The exhaustion of living the abuse, the mental toll of unrelenting flashbacks, her hard-earned wealth snatched away by her (then) husband inside her marriage became too much. She lived in utter anguish and despair the last several years of her life. In desperate need of relief and rest, she extinguished her own beautiful magical sparkle on May 3rd, 2021.
Diana is survived by four sisters as well as numerous sister- and brother-in-laws, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins. Her abusers are still alive and have yet to apologize or be held to account by any form of justice. Iowa recently banned the criminal statute of limitations on child sexual abuse, so while there isn’t hope for my generation, there is for survivors 33 years of age and younger.
As a kid, I never imagined the true meaning of singing Keep on Loving You to Diana during all those home bound school snow days: Now I know. Diana, my precious sister and soulmate—“Baby I’m gonna keep on loving you. ‘Cause it’s the only thing I wanna do. I don’t wanna sleep. I just wanna keep on loving you.” I’ll hold you dear in my heart Diana, forever. Everyday I’ll pray for your peace. I’ll pray you find unstoppable courage to confront that which is hard and scary. I’ll pray you learn the value and practice of putting firm boundaries next to generosity. I’ll pray you discern between good and bad people. I’ll pray that you forgive, and that you are nourished by the freedom and lightness of forgiveness’ medicine. I’ll pray that in your next life, you’ll be surrounded by nothing less than the relentless and unwavering tender love you gave me. And from that love, your brilliance, creative genius, and gentle loving kindness will flourish and be the beacon of light I was utterly blessed and honored to experience. When listening to Bette Midler’s Wind Beneath My Wings, we would joke that you were the wind beneath my wings. Truthfully, you have always been the wind beneath my wings. You have made me one of the luckiest people on the planet. Thank you for protecting me. Thank you for guiding me. Thank you for all those enormous hugs. Thank you for tutoring me, attending “parent” conferences, and driving me to college. Thank you for nurturing and loving me and giving me hope. You were my sun, and I, your rose. You are my hero, and I will forever honor you. Thank you for you—all of you. You helped me take off, and now I soar.
Call to Action
Support Kidpower International
Kidpower International is the global nonprofit leader in personal safety education for all ages, teaching skills for strong relationships and the prevention of harm to children, teens, and adults. This organization has immeasurable integrity and success. We have no doubt that if Diana had learned these skills as a child, she would have had more resources and skills to respond to childhood abuse and transcend the struggles the abuse caused her as an adult. Likewise, Kidpower supports the personal well being of adults—including survivors—through workshops on boundaries, emotional safety, and/or self-defense.
Donating to Kidpower is the perfect way to honor Diana and her life, and to support our healing as we grapple with our incomprehensible and staggering loss. Please consider donating now. Any amount, big or small, is appreciated. Please feel free to share this honoring-of-life request to anyone in your community.
If you are a grandparent and suspect your grandchild is being abused, do something. If you are an Aunt or Uncle, do something. If you are an older sibling or cousin, do something. If you are a neighbor, a coach, or family friend, do something. I wish I could say with confidence if you are a teacher, report it. When the social services visited us on numerous occasions, we only got our asses kicked, again and again and again. WE WERE NEVER REMOVED. So teachers, just know your reporting may actually (actually, will probably) result in more child abuse. A better way to protect children is to teach them the 10 People Safety Skills taught by Kidpower.
And for the children out there who have endured physical or sexual abuse by anyone, tell an adult who can help you. Keep telling until you find an adult that will help. Reporting is not necessarily the same as helping. Getting help means you are safe from the abuse. So keep telling an adult until you are safe from the abuse. And when you are old enough, press charges against your abusers. As the Catholic Church has taught us, physical and sexual child abuse thrive under shame, secrecy, and fear. Be brave. Confront your abusers. Know that our system of justice will likely fail you, but your efforts will help the system improve, and your actions will spare other innocent children in the future, perhaps your great great grandchildren.
For the children out there who survived and became adults: Seek justice, yes, but also immediately begin your healing journey. Know that you are precious and perfect the way you are. Know that it IS NOT your fault. You are both a survivor and a victim. You did nothing wrong. Sexual abuse is complicated because it can involve pleasure, but you were absolutely violated and abused in the most wicked of ways. Reclaim your sacred body: it is beautiful and precious and yours. Exercise. Make peace with your skin, your hair, your face, your curves, your weight…everything. You are beautiful and deserve beautiful things and to be loved, cherished, and adored. You are worthy of dignity and love.
Read Toni Morrison as she masterfully humanizes the most villainous of characters. Tenaciously seek to find the humanity of your abusers as your forgiveness will be salve for your heart, mind, body, and spirit. Yes, it is abundantly easier said than done. I’m on my own journey of forgiveness, and it seems a treacherously long, fiery, windy, foggy, and never-ending road, but one I’m committed to walking.
Take Responsibility—Turn Around
If you physically or sexually abused a child or children, take responsibility. Don’t run away—turn around. It can’t be undone, but you can empathize with those you abused, feel regret and remorse, apologize, and do something to make it right. You are worthy of love. For some, your abuse may have been a result of you being abused yourself. Stop the cycle. Forgive yourself. Apologize. Read Toni Morrison. Donate to Kidpower. Stand up for a world free of child abuse and incest.
In addition to Kidpower.org:
1. Two-time Gymnastic Olympian, Aly Raisman, partners and supports Darkness to Light: End Child Sexual Abuse, an organization that empowers adults to prevent, recognize, and react responsibly to child sexual abuse through awareness, education, and stigma reduction. Their impact is global and based on research.
2. Dear Sister—a book by/for survivors and those who love them.
3. Free workbook from Alia for teachers/social workers/families working with children who survive abuse.
4. An article discussing alternatives to calling police when abuse is happening in families/neighborhoods that are overpoliced and abused by police.
5. Musician Allison Russell writes and sings with exceptional grace and transcendence about life generally and being a survival of child incest specifically. Check her out! Her song 4th Day Prayer on her most recent album—Outside Child—is breathtaking.
Note: The author is open to communication. Contact us for further information.
Published: August 17, 2021 | Last Updated: August 17, 2021