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  • Writer's pictureAutumn Lamb

Week 9: Phantoms of the Past

Haiti. Cambodia. Palestine. Gullah. Legacy. Song. Memory. Resilience.

In one line, this looks like a random collection of places and concepts. Through the lens of intergenerational trauma, these words represent families and individuals – how they navigate the horrors of the past, history currently in the making, and build resilience for the future. Interwoven are stories that connect.


People connected to place. Place connected to event. Event connected to memory. Memory connected to all. All with the potential to be disconnected and create phantoms that hide in the shadows. Shadows that lurk in the dark, looking for a way to connect people to the place, event, and memory.

Laughing in the mountains of Haiti. 2016. Author's personal collection.

Learning how long-lost memories of traumatic events altar people on a cellular level and create intergenerational trauma reminds of my own family, layered with the Harry Potter series and his quest to learn the truth of his family.


Breadcrumbs trails were left through the story that revealed piece by piece what happened to his parents, who he was, his connection to Hogwarts, and the multitude of elements seen throughout the books and movies.


I find story such a powerful way to bring difficult concepts into framed tangibility that can be watched, thought about, discussed, and wrestled with. Understanding intergenerational trauma, epigenetics, phantom trauma, repressed memories, or remnants of suppressed history are difficult to engage with at a surface level. Story removes the potentially inapproachable language of academia and philosophy and brings these concepts into the everyday. People can watch a movie like Harry Potter easier than asking an estranged relative what trauma they experienced that left lasting impressions on future generations. They can read a book like Beloved by Toni Morrison, or Music of the Ghosts by Vaddey Ratner, and see how slavery and the Khmer Rouge impacted families and countries and how that plays out within individuals. And through the act of watching or reading a story, they can catch glimpses of their own story unfolding.


This week prompted me to purchase a book and workbook to dig deeper into some of my own trauma, to look for ways to connect better with my children, and to break the cycle. In the light, shadows lose their power. By shining light into the recesses, I can be part of a new story, filled with resilience, joy, and love.



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