Saturday, November 25, 2017

Author Interview: Mary Mills

Montana author Mary Mills recently published a memoir, My Father's Ledger: Sex Abuse by a Catholic Priest - A Family's Story of Grace, Survival, and Healing. In it, Mary talks about how her Catholic family was torn apart by a sexually abusive priest and the suicide of her mother. But she goes further and tells the story of how the family found the grace to heal again.

Mary recently answered questions for Rose City Reader about her book, resources for abuse survivors, and what she means by leaving a legacy of grace.

How did you come to write My Father’s Ledger?

In 2006 my younger sister (referred to in the book as Rosie) filed a lawsuit against the Jesuits regarding being sexually abused by a family priest in 1965, when she was seven years old. In 2007 I was going through some family documents when I ran across a ledger that my father had kept during that time. Contained within its pages was a key piece of evidence that linked the abusing priest with our family, resulting in my sister receiving a settlement from the church in 2008. The entries contained within that ledger inspired me to tell of our “Family’s Story of Grace, Survival and Healing” My original intent was to write this as a “Legacy of Grace” for my family and for the future generations of our family.

Read an excerpt from the Introduction to My Father’s Ledger here.

Your memoir is an intensely personal account of your family’s abuse by a trusted Catholic priest. Was it difficult to tell such an intimate story?

Yes, at times it was very difficult, revisiting a time in our family’s history nearly 40 years in the past filled with many painful memories. However, I can honestly, say that in spite of the difficulty, writing My Father’s Ledger has been an extraordinary journey of discovery and growth, which has ultimately led to a joy filled pathway of healing and freedom. It is my hope that in telling my story, others will be inspired to find their own path to healing and freedom.

You talk about writing your book being part of you trying to build a “legacy of grace”? What do you mean?

When referring to a family tragedy such as I write about in My Father’s Ledger, I speak of how we are all effected, not only by the family of our origin but also by way of our parents and their parents’, by their family history as well. I am encouraged however, by the belief that one person, in one generation can affect a change that will pass on to many future generations. That belief has inspired me play a role in building a new family legacy from the fallout of those tragedies. The message of healing through forgiveness, understanding, and hope, this is what I refer to as a “Legacy of Grace.” I hope to leave this legacy of grace for my family and our future generations.

Who is your intended audience and what do you hope your readers will gain from your book?

I believe this story resonates with a wide variety of readers, particularly those who have experienced family trauma of which I write -- victims of childhood sexual abuse, survivors of suicide, persons struggling with mental illness -- as well as the family and friends that love and support them. The message of God’s grace, displayed by my amazing family will surely inspire anyone with a desire to understand the plight of those victimized.

Can you recommend any other books about healing after sexual abuse or family trauma? Are any of them personal account like yours?

I have read a number of books by victims of childhood sexual abuse and every story has a unique personality. Though I have not yet read Tempest in the Temple: Jewish Communities and Child Sex Scandals by Amy Neustein, it is in my queue. It is listed on the website resource page, along with several other good books, of SNAP (Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests), a powerful advocate and support organization for victims of clergy abuse.

What did you learn from writing your book – either about the subject of the book or the writing process – that most surprised you?

I have been surprised by the number of people, including family, friends and complete strangers, whom upon hearing my story, relate that they too have had similar experiences. My openness has given them “permission” to say, “Me too” – perhaps for the first time. There is a saying in some recovery groups, “You are a sick as your secrets.” Knowing that we are not alone; knowing that someone else can relate; that there is hope; that they too can move past the pain of their personal trauma – all are powerful aids to healing.

What resources would you recommend for survivors of child sexual abuse? How about for their loved ones and supporters?

Several good books that I have found helpful include:
I’ve also listed a number of online support groups and mental health organizations on the resource page of my website and several are listed on the resource page of SNAP (Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests).

What can friends and family members of abuse victims do to support them?

There is no “one size fits all” answer to this question, however I will say that I believe the most important gift we can offer our loved one is to simply LISTEN. As hard as it may be, allow them to tell their story. If you, as a support person do not feel emotionally able to do this, perhaps you can help direct them to someone who can, such as a trusted friend or mental health professional.
The overwhelming message I’ve gleaned from the books and personal accounts of victims of childhood sexual abuse is that true compensation of these heinous crimes comes from the validating act of victims sharing their stories. In the telling is the first step on the journey to healing.

In addition to writing your memoir, have you found other ways to help you and your family heal from your experience?

Just like I said; first and foremost I try to focus on listening. And in order to be a good listener I’ve try to encourage my family members to share their viewpoint. We all have a story and even though it may involve some of the same issues and experiences, every person sees from their own unique perspective. Try not to judge or tell them that their version is wrong.

What’s next? What are you working on now?

I am very excited about my current book project, Tales of Grace and Mercy, My Canine Companions: Joy and Sorrow Dressed in Fur-Bearing-Love.

After writing My Father’s Ledger I was ready to write something more uplifting and fun. Tales of Grace and Mercy, chronicles the delightful and amusing, as well as the poignant, real life, hard stuff moments shared with my special four legged friends. Readers are sure to be blessed by the love and devotion of the fur-bearing companions whose presence through the joys and sorrows of life’s experiences helped me grow from a broken hearted young adult into the mature healthy woman I am today. Tales of Grace and Mercy is certain to touch the heart strings of the even the most stoic reader.



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